I first learned about Day of the Dead as a student teacher at Buffalo State College. I was intrigued right away by the imagery related to the holiday. When I moved to Las Vegas I began teaching at schools where at least 50% on my population was Hispanic and most of my students were Hispanic had a Mexican background.
Fast forward 13 years and I am teaching at a school now where half of my student population actually celebrate Day of the Dead! This is a first for me. In previous schools my students didn’t really have much information about the holiday. So having students who do have a background with the holiday, does bring some new challenges. As a teacher who is not Hispanic, I do have to have a lot of knowledge of the holiday, Mexican culture and history, and art. Also given that my student population actually celebrates the holiday, in a city that does recognize the holiday, I do feel that moving forward you need to do some kind of public art display.
To start with I had a PowerPoint on the holiday, some Mexican history and art. My students were really impressed that I knew so much information about their culture. This made them really excited to work with me and we were able to move forward and create all these awesome projects.
For Day of the Dead my second and third graders created Frida Kahlo Calaveras using Crayola Model Magic. Calavera is Spanish for skull. We started by readingGetting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists: Frida Kahlo as a class. Then students created their skulls out of model magic.
Once they modeled their skulls, they glued them on to a 12″ x 18″ sheet of white paper. We read the book into class periods after the second class. Students wrote their first copy of a letter to Frida Kahlo. I reviewed the steps of writing a friendly letter in my class. Students were asked to find things they had in common with Frida Kahlo such as her love of art, Mexican culture, pets, and science. I reviewed and graded the letters as a formative assessment.
While I was busy grading, and correcting the papers students continued on their projects by drawing Frida’s body, and a detailed, pattered border. Then students added their letter with corrections as a background to their piece and colored in their border along with Frida with marker. To classes will be hanging up their finished works of art in our February music program which will highlight cultures from around the world.
Fourth and fifth graders created Calavera masks this past month using paper. I have a template that I will share below for a skull with slits on the side that can be cut and folded to mold the paper into a 3-D mask. Students first of all colored in their templates using marker. I required that their designs were symmetrical and highly detailed. I showed them examples of real sugar skulls in class to further bring home the points of symmetry and detail.
Then we added hair, eyelashes, hats, bows, and other details with scrap paper. I showed them how to curl the paper using scissors or by twirling it around a marker. I also taught them how to fan fold the hair into crinkle cut pieces. I gave students a lot of creativity with what they added to their mask but I did explain to them the difference between adding 3-D elements into the elements. If they cut out a flat hat and added it to their mask it would not go towards the criteria of having 3 3-dimensional elements in their mask.
To finish we popped out the noses and teeth, folded and molded the mask so it popped out, include our masks on two 9″ x 11″ construction paper for matting. Students were asked at the end of the lesson to check their own work against the criteria of the project before turning it in for a grade.
I received so many compliments on the masks made by my fourth and fifth graders. For kindergarten and first grade I also made Calavera masks with paper, except I simplified the project. They also had to make their masks symmetrical. However their masks are flat.
Students drew on the skull template in marker a symmetrical design. I modeled for them how to do that before they went ahead on their project. Then the next session we used glitter and sparkles on our masks after we matter them on 9″x11″ construction paper. Some of these projects are being chosen to be hung for a holiday display at the Smith Center of Performing Arts downtown.
We had so much fun creating these projects. If you need any materials or lesson plans feel free to comment below or in my Instagram. I’ll be more than happy to email them to you.