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.
- 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).
- 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...
- 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
CreativityThe 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?