Dia de Los Muertos First Grade Sugar Skulls


Latin American and Mexican cultures celebrate Dia de Los Muertos on November 1st and 2nd. It is a joyous occasion where loved ones who have passed on, are honored and remembered. Fantastic art is created for this vibrant holiday and I just couldn’t help join in on the fun. I rarely create holiday based art lessons.

Many cultures and ethnicities are represented in our school and holiday theme activities usually present more problems than they are worth. But since one of my schools has a large hispanic population, I thought I’d be safe. Not really. I had a few students who couldn’t take part and for that, I felt badly. Be sure to check with the classroom teachers or principal before doing this sugar skulls project…

– Black construction/drawing paper
– White oil pastel
– White tempera paint (not watered down)
– Paint brushes
– Trays of tempera paints mixed with white tempera paint (they should look pastel)

Painting the sugar skull in the classroom

Draw the Skull

Using an oil pastel, draw a skull. Use any teaching method that works for you. I demonstrated how to draw a simple skull, then let the kids do their own.

Painting the Skull
Paint the skull and “bones” with white tempera paint.

Adding the Details

Add “teeth” with the tips of the brush then add flowers, sunglasses, earrings, necklaces, etc. When making flowers, give kids the option of drawing some flower shapes with the oil pastel or they can wing it, like most of my students did.

Tip: When painting the flowers, show the kids how to squeeze the water from their brush. You don’t want a wet paint brush when painting flowers…the black paper will show through. I encourage you to try the consistency of the paint first just so you get a feel for it.

First Grade Sugar Skulls!

Painted Sugar Skull Gallery

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  • Anne

    Hmmm… we do a skeleton unit later this year… maybe I will hold off and do the project then… I can avoid the whole Halloween/Day of the Dead mess all together. I was so tickled this year that 10-31 was on Saturday… yeah… no costumes at school.

  • Jess

    you know, it is too bad that you get flack to incorporating some things. By teaching the kids about these holidays/celebrations you are teaching them history, culture, and tolerance. Either way, I love both your Dia de los Muertos projects. CUTE!



    • Patty

      Well, I don’t exactly get flack, but there are children with religious beliefs and we try to honor their preferences. It’s more of a burden on the homeroom teacher as they have to make alternative arrangements if a conflict occurs. Still, I generally don’t tie religious holidays into the art curriculum.

      • Emily

        Their religious belief was to not learn about other cultures?

  • Lisa

    This project is adorable. Your 1st graders did a great job! When I teach something that may be on the religious side or dealing with Halloween, I present it in a way that is more on the generic “We’re going to paint a pumpkin patch. You can add face if you want but I’m not telling you to” or “we’re painting a landscape with a fir tree and a deer and if you want, you can add a red nose and some ornaments”. I always respect the students who might be offended. With this project, the spin may be a little more difficult. I’m thinking that the popularity of skulls in children’s clothes may help with parents accepting a skull in their children’s artwork. I really really want to teach sugar skulls because there are so many examples in contemporary art that are great examples of design. They’re simply beautiful and the kids would love it.

  • Ms. Murphy

    I love this project. I’m going to do it. Thanks for posting!

  • Laura Drake

    Day of the Dead is NOT Halloween. It is a celebration of lost loved ones. That what the altars are all about and the whimsy with skeletons and skulls. Calling them back, saying we still love you and we remember what you liked to eat, drink, etc. It’s a celebration!
    Have your children bring in pictures and paraphernalia of lost pets, lost family members. Create a simple altar with the pictures and items… and paper marigold flowers all around.

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