Sunday, February 26, 2012


I realize that when you hear 'graveyards' macabre thoughts and images often come to mind, but truth be told, I love graveyards.  I find them peaceful, soothing and full of information, especially old ones - I just love the weathered stones.  And, while I DON'T advocate class trips or holidays spent there with your child, there is actually a lot to be said about visiting them.

Some graveyard tidbits:
  • Graveyards were originally used by families (often of middle or lower social class status) in the 8th-14th centuries who could not afford to be buried inside or beneath the places of worship which administered them.
  • From the early 19th century cemeteries replaced graveyards as burial sites.  Cemeteries are typically not affiliated with a specific church or parish, often for reasons of public hygiene and sharp population rises.

Aside from being serene and full of information, graveyards offer so many educational bends and themes...and one of my favorite kids' books take place in a graveyard:
    Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book - about a boy named Nobody Owens who after his family's murder is adopted and raised by graveyard occupants, and is befriended by a lonely girl, Scarlett Perkins.  Together they learn about life and friendship (and as Gaiman notes, "the glorious tragedy of being a parent"- about growing up and moving on), while being embroiled in the mystery of Nobody's family's tragedy.  It is a great book to be enjoyed by kids and parents, and is similar to The Jungle Book  which could be read with this and be a wonderful point for comparison.

    Some lessons you can build around graveyards:

    Life Lessons - This is probably the most obvious one, but there are so many 'life lesson' angles to chose from:
    • Life and death, cycles of life - from Lion King to goldfish sometimes pets and loved ones die and there are so many ways to say 'goodbye'
    • You can talk about city planning - cemeteries and graveyards take up space - talk about where you usually find them, talk about planning and zoning options people and cities might have.  This allows you to problem solve and look at graveyards from a totally different perspective.
    Math - I love going to the particularly weathered stones looking at dates of birth and death.  Have fun figuring out:
    • How old these people were when they died?
    • How long ago did they die?
    • How many decades did they live (every 10 years); how many scores did they live (20 years..."Four score and seven years ago....) how many dozen years (multiples of 12), etc.  You can even create names for year chunks (is there a term for "8 years" besides '8 years'? If not you and your child / student can coin your own).
    History - Look at the dates on the tombstones, talk about what life was like when these people were living.  You can brainstorm about
    • the political issues and leaders during the life of the times on the tombstone;
    • types of transportation and entertainment - books, stories from that time- they used and enjoyed;
    • what the fashions and homes were like...
    Poetry and Language
    • Look at the language and words chosen to describe the life of the deceased.  Talk about the importance of the wording and how to relate the essence of someone's life in just a few words.
    • Read books and poetry about graveyards.  Here 's a poem by Robert Frost
    In a Disused Graveyard - by Robert Frost
    The living come with grassy tread
    To read the gravestones on the hill;
    The graveyard draws the living still,
    But never anymore the dead.
    The verses in it say and say:
    "The ones who living come today
    To read the stones and go away
    Tomorrow dead will come to stay."
    So sure of death the marbles rhyme,
    Yet can't help marking all the time
    How no one dead will seem to come.
    What is it men are shrinking from?
    It would be easy to be clever
    And tell the stones: Men hate to die
    And have stopped dying now forever.
    I think they would believe the lie
    • Take photographs of the tombstones in different types of lighting; graveyards in different locations and containing stones from different periods in time
    • Go to museums, look for various graveyard works
    • Music - talk/write songs about graveyards.  I always loved Fantasia's Night on Bald Mountain

    How do you feel about graveyards?  Would you integrate them into lessons or outings with your kids?


      1. I am a new a school media specialist...I love integrated units around a book.
        Have you read "Here Lies the Librarian" by Richard Peck...great read with a graveyard scene that is pretty funny!
        Have a literary day....I will be immersed in Dr. Seuss all week!

      2. New follower here from the blog hop :) ( I think graveyards are fascinating and rich with history..definitely worth introducing so that children learn not to be frightened of them.

      3. The first time I heard someone (my teacher) say that she find graveyards to be peaceful, I thought she was weired. But as I grew up, I now know what she meant.

      4. I enjoy reading the weathered stones, and what people had engraved about their loved ones. Some are sad, though.
        Here from the Hop.

      5. I like the cemetery I used to cut through as a kid to get to the ball field. My daughter's first visit to one was probably my mother's burial last year. Always different than after folks are already in the ground...
        ROG, ABC Wednesday team

        1. After my husband's funerak, I have felt uneasy in a graveyard and certainly unhappy. There is one grave with two names on the headstone. A father and his son died on the same day during a holiday in France. I know the woman who lost them. Then there is the grave of two babies, born premature. On the headstone it says:"So long dear boys". There is so much sadness...Well, Meryl, your post is well written and I can understand that this is a good way to deal with death and bereavement.
          Have a great week, Meryl!
          Wil, ABC Wednesday Team.

      6. I find visiting old cemeteries interesting. I like to read the weathered stones also. I enjoyed the poem, I hadn't read that one before.

        Thanks for the visit today.

        Gigi Ann ABC Wednesday Team.

      7. I enjoy visiting old graveyards too. Sort of ironic since I want my ashes scattered and I don't care where. Carver, ABC Wednesday Team

      8. My Dad used to take me to graveyards as a child, he used the visits as history lessons.
        Jane x

      9. I love visiting cemeteries and graveyards too. Love taking photos of the various pieces of artwork there.
        Fascinating thought to use the graveyard as a learning tool for kids. It certainly makes sense.
        Thanks for the definition of graveyard and cemeteries. I hadn't actually thought there was a difference.

      10. Pip and Magwitch in the graveyard. One of the most powerful scenes in all of Dickens...

      11. I haven't read Graveyard book but have read the Jungle books with my kids.

        Gold and Green
        Rose, ABC Wednesday Team.

      12. I have never thought of graveyards as being beautiful before, but that picture you have at the top is beautiful. It is very peaceful. My parents died when I was 15, and when we take my daughter to where they are buried, I want her to understand that this is where they are laid to be at peace. I do enjoy reading the headstones around that area. Just popping in from Mom Blog Monday. I'd love if you would stop by my blog if you want. Http://

      13. I love to visit graveyards too, especially old ones. Thanks for the info about the book and for sharing the poem.

      14. I think graveyards are fascinating and YES, I think integrating graveyards into lessons is a fabulous idea!

      15. You just made graveyards very interesting! I have that book, but I haven't got to it yet.
        Dropping in from the blog hop:) Jill

      16. Great post about graveyards and how to integrate an education with them. We don't have a lot of graveyards or cemeteries where I live, but when we lived back east for 3 years, I really enjoyed visiting them. I did a lot of what you suggested: figured out the ages of the dead; wondered what life was like way back when; commiserated with young women who died in childbirth; took my kids and spoke of history and math, etc. I never thought about photographing the places, but I just might look into doing that now. As always, a pleasure to drop by,

        abcw team

      17. This post is a treat to me. I have always been fascinated by graveyards and cemeteries; guess my nostrils were on graveyards half the time I was in England. And yes, I will definitely integrate your suggestions on graveyard lesson for my kid. I hated Math in school but befriended it when I found I have to know how to subtract to have fun finding out how long did those people lived.

      18. As long as we visit graveyards and take a moment to read the names and think about the people who died they will live again for a moment.

      19. Hi I am with you I also love graveyards as you are right the history is wonderful. I live near a very old one and the grave stones are so interesting to read.
        I am a new follower from the blog hop and I am in the uk.
        If you have time please come visit my blog

      20. We have a very successful Living Churchyards scheme where the area is ecologically managed and so wildlife and flora thrive. Sometimes there are lists on the noticeboards of all the species that have been spotted through the year. I always like a browse around a graveyard, not so much the municipal ones, they are a bit regimented, unless there is some over the top Victorian tombs. Love the Robert Frost, as usual, says everything.

      21. Lots of great ideas. I like to look for the old yew trees which are a mark of English graveyards. Some grow to be hundreds of years old. I do prefer grave yards to cemeteries. Really an interesting post.

      22. My friend's daughter aged 12, her class teacher got the whole class to go to the oldest cemetery in Christchurch to do a Statistical research of his family.

        As a Chinese, we were told that hen you are traveling near a graveyard, not call out anyone
        s name. Otherwise the ghost will know that name, and come for him at night. We had to drive past grave yards to the airport, and it as very scary.

      23. I always did a graveyard project with my seventh graders. It worked as a great ending to their American Dream project. We went to some old local graveyards and they hypothesized lives for some of the gravestones they saw, then ended it with the writing of their own obituary. Made them think.

      24. Hi Meryl, this is such an informative take on the theme. I am someone that is and have been fearful of graveyards/cemeteries. I avoid the experience as much as possible. But on a visit to Prague, one of the most powerful experiences I've had while traveling was when I went to visit old cemetery in the Old Jewish Town. It was one of the most powerful memory that I have from all of my travels even to this day. Reading your enlightening post gives me a different way of thinking of them and you provided wonderful recommendations for those with children.

        Thank you for the book recommendation and wonderful poem and this enlightening post.

      25. I enjoy graveyards also--they seem peaceful and restful and I've had some very positive experiences at graveyards. I love the family history aspect of graveyards and would definitely involve my kiddos in that kind of research! Thank you for sharing this at Teach Me Tuesday!!

      26. great post! new follower from the hop, would love a follow back

      27. Graveyards have fascinated me since I was a small child. They were beautiful gardens full of beautiful stones and I would ask to "go there" when we passed one, especially if there were people gathered there. (Silly child...)

        We took a group of school kids to a local historic cemetery. Aside from the bone that one of them found in a very old section, and wanted to take home, it was a very pleasant day. (There was a woodchuck hole not far from an old headstone.) We popped the bone back down in the hole, hoped that was where it belonged, and let the cemetery personnel know.

      28. New follower via gfc from a blog hop! Would love to have you follow me back!

      29. Found you in the hop! New GFC Follower, Hope you will follow me back!

      30. Night on Bald Mountain is a favorite.

        Just added the Gaimann book to my Kindle but have to admit that I'm having a hard time adjusting from paper book to electronic tablet...


      31. Oh! Pipi Longstocking was one of my heroes when I was little.

      32. I'm now following your blog and enjoy reading it! If you want to follow back: