How to have fun with Día de los Muertos in your classroom

Día de los Muertos is exactly what its name suggests - it's the Mexican day of the dead. It is celebrated on November first and November second, and it is dedicated to family members loved ones that have passed away. Día de los Muertos is a way to remember them and pay them respect.

Unlike what you might imagine about the day of the dead, the holiday is rich in colorful colors, candles, flowers, and sugar skulls.

Its festive and "creepy-cute" visual identity makes it possible for educators to approach the always-touchy question of death in an unusual and non-gloomy way.

If you decide to leave the subject of death entirely out of it, Día de los Muertos still provides an endless inspiration regarding arts and crafts!

Let's review five fun ways to celebrate Día de los Muertos in your classroom this year.

Cavalera mask

Cavalera – the skull - is one of the main symbols of the Day of the Dead. Unlike many Halloween versions, Día de los Muertos cavaleras look non-threatening and almost always evoke sympathy. They come in many versions, which makes them ideal for creating personalized Cavalera masks - every one of them unique - a bit like with Halloween, masking is an essential part of the Day of the Dead

Print out the base for the mask - the skull itself, and prepare colouring pencils, paint, markers, glitter and gems to customize each mask.

Classroom decoration

Decorations dedicated to the late loved ones, which include flowers, sugar skulls, and lively paper decorations, are one of the primary elements of Día de los Muertos. The wide range of colors and ornaments that the holiday offers will let you get really creative.

Miniature shrines

Miniature shrines or altars are traditionally prepared for the Day of the Dead, and like everything else, they are colorful and lively. A shrine is a great project for a group of children since it's small enough to be finished quickly and big enough to let everyone participate. If your school has a significant historical figure somehow connected to it, you can dedicate the shrine to him or her. There are many ideas about what to use as a base for the shrine - smaller ones are made out of glass jars, or custom made out of wood, but going for a shoe box might be a practical option for a classroom setting. If you have a lot of kids in your class, you can make several shrines, or create a really big one on one of your tables.

Explore Mexico and its traditions

Besides just having fun with crafts, it is very enlightening for the students to know the origins of the holiday. You can explore Mexico and its customs with your students, and perhaps try to paint a more detailed picture about their relationship to the dead. This will give all your creations a deeper meaning and real context.

Plant some marigolds!

Beautiful marigolds are one of the symbols of Día de los Muertos. They bloom in an amazing array of colors at this time of year. They make great plants to take care of in school since they are very hardy and adaptable. If your local climate allows planting in this time of the year, consider getting a couple of marigold bushes for your school garden.

And the beautiful thing about planting flowers is that it makes a nice metaphor for the circle of life - dead matter goes into the soil, and out of the same soil the new, lush life appears, this time symbolized within a marigold flower.

Or if you are looking for a low prep option why not check out my Día de los Muertos Celebration Study as pictured below. It includes fun facts about Día de los Muertos, postcards, and adventure passes.

Feliz Día de los Muertos!

5 Ways to incorporate Red Ribbon Week into your classroom

The official Red Ribbon website states an incredible fact: "Children of parents who talk to their teens regularly about drugs are 42% less likely to use drugs than those who don't, yet only a quarter of teens report having these conversations".

That is why it is very important to include all parental figures – including teachers - in early education and addiction prevention programmes such as the Red Ribbon Week. 

Here are some engaging ideas to incorporate into your classroom on the upcoming Red Ribbon Week.

Decorate classroom with red ribbons

Without any prior explanation, ask your students to bring red ribbons to the classroom and then decorate it together.

Once you finish with decorating, tell your children that each ribbon represents a person who is struggling with addiction. Like ribbons, all people are beautiful in their own way, even when their situation is tied up.

This way you can start a conversation about drugs, drug abuse, and addiction with your students. You can sit in a circle and hear what they know about drug addiction. Although the conversation should be spontaneous, you can use a pre-written direction to keep yourself on track.

The ribbon talk can serve as an intro for the Red Ribbon Week. The ribbons will always remind students of real people that have fallen victims or are strugling with addiction, which will help them empathise.

Lesson on drugs and addiction

In a week dedicated to the prevention of addiction, lessons on the topics of drugs are unavoidable. The Red Ribbon Week website offers programmes for different age groups, and you can draw upon these to create lessons for your students according to their age.

Remember that it is always more engaging if a lesson begins with a real story or a case study. Personalizing lessons is a way to make them more real and "alive", instead of pamphlet-like, which goes a long way in conveying the messages you are trying to get across.

Educational movie time

There are plenty of movies that deal with the subject of addiction, from open-source documentary resources, to movies you can watch with older students, such as Requiem For A Dream. With films, it is important to carefully pick the right film for the right student age group, to avoid ridicule in older students, as well as exposure to traumatic content in younger students.

Essays about a celebrity's struggle with addiction

Many celebrities have struggled with addiction. Some have lost their struggle (e.g. Amy Winehouse), and some have managed to recover (e.g. Trent Reznor). Form a list of five celebrities that students can choose to write about. Children's interest in pop culture will inevitably lead to engaging essays that draw a lot of attention and debate.

Write a song

Slogans are a big part of Red Ribbon Week. You can use previous slogans for an inspiration to write a song as a collective effort. It is a nice way to sum up everything you've learned during Red Ribbon Week. A song that they have invented will stick with children longer than a song that they can learn from another source, and it is something they can always be reminded of as they're trying to have a drug-free journey through life.

Or if you are looking for a low prep option why not check out my Red Ribbon Week Fact Booklet on Drugs as pictured below.

A short history of Columbus Day for teachers

The name Christopher Columbus always brings the sense of discovery and adventure. After all, he discovered America in 1492. Or did he?

Who was Christopher Columbus?

Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer, navigator, and colonizer. He is most well known for completing four voyages across the Atlantic, which led to permanent European colonization of this "New World." 

The voyages came at a time when European kingdoms were competing for discovering new trade routes and colonies all over the world. Although Italian, Columbus used the support of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain to try to reach the East Indies by sailing west. Spain was motivated to do this because of the lucrative spice trade with Asia.

Columbus took his first voyage in 1492. Instead of Japan, he arrived at the island of Bahamas archipelago that he named San Salvador. On subsequent voyages, he visited Greater and the Lesser Antilles, the Caribbean coasts of Central America and Venezuela, and claimed them for the Crown of Castile.

Columbus - the Myth and the Facts

Contrary to popular belief, Christopher Columbus didn't discover America - the continent was already populated for centuries, and even reached by other European explorers such as  Leif Erikson in the 11th century.

Also, it wasn't Columbus who resolved the myth that the Earth was flat - most educated Europeans in Columbus' day already understood that the world was round, but didn't know about the existence of the Pacific Ocean.

Columbus Day in the United States

Columbus Day was first celebrated in 1792, when New York’s Columbian Order, or Tammany Hall, wanted to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Columbus' first landing on the American soil. After the initial holiday, Catholic communities in various parts of the country began organising annual ceremonies and parades, taking pride in the Italian and Catholic heritage these communities shared with Columbus.

In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation encouraging Americans to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage with patriotic festivities, calling Christopher Columbus legacy "great achievements of the four completed centuries of American life.”

Finally, in 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day a national holiday. Sources say that this happened primarily as a result of intense lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, an influential Catholic fraternal.

Columbus Day Controversy

Columbus Day has sparked controversy from the 19th century up to this date. It is now known for a fact that Columbus was given a national holiday and such a prominent place in the US history because of the influence of Italian and Catholic communities, so opposition to the holiday existed has a long tradition which stems from historical, ethical and philosophical reasons.

In the 19th century, anti-immigrant groups in the United States rejected Columbus Day because of its association with Catholicism. In recent decades, Native Americans and some other groups have protested the holiday, claiming it symbolically marks (and celebrates) the colonization of the Americas, the slave trade, and the deaths of millions of indigenous people from murder and disease.

Talk to your students about different perspectives and narratives that surround Christopher Columbus, his legacy and his national holiday.