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October 21, 2014 Celebrate Day of the Dead With Free Patterns and Prints By Meghan Everette
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

    Skulls, flowers, music, parades, costumes, and food; there’s something for everyone in a Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, celebration. Born from thousand-year-old traditions, this predominately Mexican celebration honors ancestors and loved ones that have died with colorful and lively celebrations. Students learn that the skeletons that we associate with Halloween and death are a part of a joyous holiday to celebrate life.

    To start our learning, I told parents that we would be studying Day of the Dead. The November first and second observance days are when believers think the spirits of their deceased relatives rise from the grave. Altars with flowers, foods, and other mementos decorate homes and gravesites where families often sleep overnight to be close to the risen sMain Idea pdf Printablepirits. The holiday is also celebrated in various parts of the United States through parades or processions along with the colorful decorations and symbols. Because the subject of death and spirits can be sensitive, I wanted parents to have the opportunity to talk with their children ahead of time and be comfortable knowing I was sharing knowledge of customs, and not preaching a certain religion or belief.

    The first thing I did was decorate the classroom with some colorful skull images and bright flowers from the local party store. Students immediately believed the decorations were for Halloween, and when I told them they weren’t, their interest was piqued. We read a Scholastic News story to get a very basic introduction to the holiday. Then we watched a student film festival winning cartoon that brought the topic to life. Students read two books, a Rookie Reader about El Dia de los Muertos and Day of the Dead: A Bilingual Celebration, along with a few additional resources. As we read, we added ideas to a main idea and details worksheet. Students also learned text features, such as captions and glossary, as we read.Narrative Paper Outline

    Using the knowledge from video clips and books, students wrote a simple narrative paper describing their participation in a Day of the Dead celebration. They had to imagine what different activities they would participate in by using their knowledge of the traditions and customs of the holiday. Students had fun comparing what events they would rather participate in. Throughout the week students brought in memory pages and photos of their family or pets that had passed. With the help of parents, they recalled important things about their loved ones to share.







    Each day of our study, students created a craft to go along with their reading and writing.


    Painted Skulls

    Students used cotton swabs dipped in paint to dot and draw designs onto precut white cardstock to create decorative skulls. Students used images from the Internet as a reference for designs.

    Painted skulls

    Colored Skeletons

    Small skeletons, cut from dollar store garland, were painted white. Then students used small cotton swabs and toothpicks to add color and glitter paint to the skeletons.


    Painting skeletons

    Painted skeleton


    Bright flowers were made from tissue paper. Cut paper squares and distribute approximately eight sheets to each child. Fold with a fan fold and secure a pipe cleaner around the center. Then gently pull each layer up towards the middle to create a flower.

    Day of the dead alter

    Tissue paper flowers


    Students listened to mariachi music and saw many images of guitar playing skeletons in the book, Day of the Dead. Using a simple pattern, and with the illustrations as a guide, students made their own guitars.

    Day of the Dead guitars

    Download directions to make a guitar.


    After reading about processions and candles decorating the graves of family members, students made their own candles. They traced three different sized circles of orange, yellow, and white and added them to the top of a white rectangle with a flame. Similar candles were in the Day of the Dead.

    Day of the dead candles

    Bread of the Dead

    One tradition we read about was bread shaped like people or skeletons. We divided store-bought dough and created "bread of the dead" on tinfoil. I brought the dough home and baked the bread for students.

    Making bread


    Day of the dead bread

    Sugar Skulls

    Six cups of sugar and two egg whites mixed by hand is all it takes to make sugar skulls. Using a plastic ice cube mold, pack in the sugar mixture and then gently turn the molded skulls out on a pan. (Search on "skull shaped molds" for a number of online vendors where you can purchase molds for $1.) Bake at 200 degrees for a couple of hours until the skulls are hard and then decorate with icing.

    Sugar skulls

    Molding sugar skulls

    Skull Ornaments

    Students rolled out store-bought dough and then using cookie cutters, cut decorative skull shapes. When the dough was dried the skulls were painted.

    Playing with dough

    Skull cookie cutters with dough

    Memory Ornaments

    Using scanned and printed images of family members or pets that had passed, students decorated ornaments with paint, glitter, photos, and other fun images to make memory ornaments. The memory sheets sent in by parents were attached to the back of each ornament.

    Family Memory letter

    Woodblock Prints

    Students used pencils to push designed into styrofoam sheets cut from styrofoam plates. Black paint was added to the sheets using a brayer and then stamped onto folded card stock. Students made at least four copies of each print and took home cards to mail to family members.


    Day of the dead woodblock prints

    Woodblock printing

    Students were thoroughly engaged in learning about the culture and traditions associated with Day of the Dead. They were excited to read, research, and share writing about their new learnings. Besides math, map, and social studies skills, students gained an important piece of cultural understanding and learned more about the world around them while wearing a smile and being fully enthralled. Bueno!


    How have you brought another culture to your classroom?


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