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How Día de los Muertos Fits in the Classroom

Painted skulls don’t often have a place in a classroom, but the Mexican holiday associated with these props just might be a good opportunity to teach bigger lessons about cultural traditions and even death.

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Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, this Nov. 1-2 is a time for observers to honor loved ones who have passed away. Schools across the United States are finding creative ways to use the holiday as a chance to incorporate family traditions into learning, and also to teach students about dealing with death and the grieving process.

For a group of teachers in New Mexico, that opportunity meant taking their young students on a walk to a nearby cemetery to pay their respects to the dead, the Deming Headlight reports. The teachers also incorporated a service project into the lesson and worked with the local chamber of commerce to pick up trash around the cemetery grounds.

Catholic school students in Los Angeles were taught about the holiday’s theological significance — Día de los Muertos corresponds with the Catholic holy days All Saints and All Souls – and built altars to their dearly departed. Afterward, the students decorated calaveras de azucar, or sugar skulls, and picture frames with photos of the deceased.

A sample high school lesson out of Colorado incorporates a cooking class, in which students learn how to bake pan de los muertos, a type of bread typically served during the holiday. Students also learn the similarities and differences between the Día de los Muertos and Halloween.