How to Teach Kids about Day of the Dead Día De Los Muertos

Posted on: September 19th, 2017 by

I was honored to be invited to the #PixarCocoEvent, a Disney Pixar press junket for Disney Pixar Coco and THE LION KING Blu-ray/Digital HD release. As a guest, my expenses were covered in return for a series of articles about my experiences.


We are getting closer and closer to the opening day of Disney Pixar COCO. With each day I get more excited to see COCO in its completed form. Seeing only 30 minutes while on the #PixarCocoEvent press junket was just not enough. Today, I’m happy to share with you more from the movie in this new Disney Pixar COCO movie trailer as well as some ways to teach kids about Day of the Dead.



Day of the Dead ~ Día de los Muertos is a heritage tradition that has been celebrated primarily in Mexico and is now making its way to being celebrated in Hispanic communities across our country. The holiday began with the indigenous pre-colonial communities of Mexico. During Day of the Dead ~ Día de los Muertos, souls of the dead are welcomed back to the Land of the Living to reunite with their loved ones. It’s a celebration rich with traditions and customs, each one has its own purpose and meaning.


As we approach this year’s Day of the Dead ~ Día de los Muertos, October 31 through November 2, and the release of the Disney Pixar COCO movie now is a great time to broaden your children’s understanding of different world cultures by teaching them about this Mexican holiday. Through the children’s books I’ve read and the creative team behind COCO that I met please allow me to help you teach kids about Day of the Dead ~ Día de los Muertos.


How to Teach Kids about Day of the Dead Día De Los Muertos


Things to teach kids about Day of the Dead

  • Ofrendas ~ Ofrendas means offerings. It also refers to the altars families make in their homes to honor their loved ones who have died. Families decorate their altars to reach the spirits of those returning for Día de los Muertos. Offerings of food and drink are put out to nourish the spirits after their long journey from the Land of the Dead. Family photos play a significant role in the ofrenda. The photos symbolize that a family member is being actively remembered. It is believed that those without a photo on an ofrenda are not being remembered and therefore can not cross over to visit their loved ones in the Land of the Living.


Disney Pixar Coco movie scene

FAMILY REUNION — In Disney•Pixar’s “Coco,” Miguel (voice of newcomer Anthony Gonzalez) finds himself magically transported to the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead where he meets his late family members, who are determined to help him find his way home. Directed by Lee Unkrich (“Toy Story 3”), co-directed by Adrian Molina (story artist “Monsters University”) and produced by Darla K. Anderson (“Toy Story 3”), Disney•Pixar’s “Coco” opens in U.S. theaters on Nov. 22, 2017. ©2017 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.


  • Candy Skulls ~ Candy skulls go by a few names. A calavera is a skull. A calaverita is a little skull and a calavera de azúcar is a sugar skull. During Day of the Dead celebrations, candy skulls are placed on the altar and often have the name of the deceased person inscribed on the forehead. I’ll be telling you more about how the skeletons in COCO were animated in a future story.


  • Marigolds ~ Marigolds are flowers that are vibrantly orange and have a unique smell. They are also called cempasúchil. The flower is native to North and South America. It’s the boldness of the marigold that is believed to help guide spirits on their journey from the Land of the Dead to the Land of the Living. Marigolds are used to decorate ofrendas, pathways, cemeteries, and other places where the spirits are encouraged to visit.


Disney Pixar Coco movie image

THE LAND OF THE DEAD – In Disney•Pixar’s “Coco,” aspiring musician Miguel (voice of Anthony Gonzalez) finds himself in the Land of the Dead—a rich and vibrant community featuring bridges of marigold petals. Directed by Lee Unkrich, co-directed by Adrian Molina and produced by Darla K. Anderson, Disney•Pixar’s “Coco” opens in U.S. theaters on Nov. 22, 2017. ©2017 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.


  • Candles – Candles are used along with marigolds to help light the path for the spirits moving between the worlds. The candles also add a magical element to the holiday.


  • Cemetary – We often think of cemeteries as a sad and somber place to visit. That’s not the case on Day of the Dead. During the daytime, families gather there to clean and sweep the graves. The cemetery is decorated to welcome the spirits. In the evening, the community participates in a vigil by quietly standing together to welcome the spirits. You can see an example in the picture below from a roundtable discussion with Dean Kelly and Adrian Molina.


Disney Pixar Coco Movie

Dean Kelly and Adrian Molina present at “Coco” Long Lead Press Day, which included a filmmaker roundtable, presentations about the music, story, characters and set designs of the film, on August 4, 2017 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Marc Flores / Pixar).


6 Day of the Dead Activity Ideas for Kids

When the Disney Pixar team created COCO they didn’t just want the film to be about a holiday. They wanted to embrace the Mexican culture and the Día de los Muertos traditions and have them be crucial to Miguel’s story. Now that you understand more about Día De Los Muertos you can teach kids about Day of the Dead. Engage them in these Day of the Dead activities I’ve created to help them remember all you’ve talked about.

  • Create a fun fact finder activity with these fun facts about the Disney Pixar COCO movie. Take a colored index card and cut it in half. On half of the index card write a question about the fact. On the other half write the fact. Hide them around the house and have your children find the halves and match them up.


Fascinating and fun facts about the Disney Pixar COCO movie

  • The ofrenda, a symbol of connecting generations, marks a significant moment for Miguel. Not only does it connect him to his family and what he’s ‘expected’ to become, but it’s also reveals a connection to a family member that represents what Miguel wants to become.


  • A coffee shop and a barista helped make some of the music of COCO happen. While writer and co-director Adrian Molina was there for a morning writing session he heared a guitar rift playing on the radio. Immediately, Adrian knew this tune could help him convey Miguel’s feelings about music. Adrian spoke with the barista to get the name of the music. From there, he pulled in other Hispanic-influenced guitar tunes until he had this collage of guitar music that could help Coco‘s audience understand just how passionately Miguel feels about music.


Disney Pixar Coco movie concept art

COCO – Concept art by Zaruhi Galstyan. ©2017 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.


  • Decorating Miguel’s ‘secret’ room brought the creative team back to their own childhoods. As they considered what they wanted Miguel’s room to look like on screen the men remembered their own rooms at 12 years old. In COCO, Miguel’s room has posters of his hero, Ernesto De La Cruz, a record player, TV, and a sombrero. Between the decor of his room and the music, we see so vividly Miguel’s connection to music.


  • Developing the Disney Pixar COCO movie took 6 years. Storywriting and storyboarding takes longer than any other part of the movie as the creative team goes through rounds of screenings with others and reworking parts of the movie. The animation is done in the last year to year and a half of the movie’s production. In COCO, the writing team spent the most time developing the scene with Miguel in his special space because that scene is crucial in helping the audience connect with Miguel.


Dean Kelly working on “Coco” on July 25, 2017 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)


  • The vertical city in Disney Pixar COCO was inspired by the idea of a tree of life and the colors and the richness of Guatamela. Each level is modeled after a different era of architecture to represent the different generations of ancestors living in the Land of the Dead. Artists tried to create element of skulls and such into the architecture of the buildings in the Land of the Dead. The buildings and tunnels are similar to what you would find in Guatamala.


Disney Pixar Coco movie concept art

COCO – Concept art by Ernesto Nemesio. ©2017 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.


  • Special details were added to the City of the Dead to make the communities seem more lived in and less computer generated. See how many of those details you can find when you watch COCO this November.



Disney Pixar Coco movie concept art

COCO – Concept art by Huy Nguyen. ©2017 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.


  • The creative team at COCO spent more than 3 years visiting Mexico for research. Not only will you see the results of that research in the design of the scenes, but you’ll also see it reflected in the way the story of Dia de los Muertos and Miguel is told.


  • There are no other plants, flowers, or vegetation in the Land of the Dead other than marigolds.


  • Pick up some marigold seeds at your local garden store or order some online with our Amazon affiliate link. Plant a marigold garden with your kids. Whether you fill a pot or a spot in your backyard, your kids will enjoy the one on one time with you.


Disney Pixar Coco movie concept art

The pathway of marigolds. COCO – Concept art by Robert Kondo. ©2017 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.


  • Designate a spot in your home for family photos. Many of us have photo after photo stored on our computers and smartphones. Take an afternoon to go through your family photo files. Print out some of your favorite pictures of family members who are no longer with you. Talk to your children about each of these family members. Make or decorate photo frames to enhance your home family photo gallery. Amazon has some very affordable craft photo frames perfect for this. See their selection with our affiliate link.




The Best Children's Books About Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos)


  • Have your kids interview older family members. One of the key messages of Disney Pixar COCO is family. I saw through the characters how devoted they were in their love for each other. This is the essence of Day of the Dead, actively remembering and honoring those family members who have passed. Whether it’s a video recording on an electronic device or notes written into a journal have your children interview their grandparents, great grandparents, and older family members. Help your children understand the value in documenting those stories so that they can continue to be passed on even after the loved ones have passed.



  • Do an act of community service. Grab some gardening gloves, trash bags, and cloths. Visit a cemetery local to you and see how you can help. Maybe your children can work with you to clean up any trash or dust off gravestones. Think about what you can learn from someone’s gravestone. Find a caretaker and ask how else you can help. Can you pull up weeds? Can you leave behind flowers?


Disney Pixar Coco movie poster


I hope these tips will help you teach kids about Day of the Dead and that you’ll join my family in learning more while watching Disney Pixar COCO when it opens on November 22, 2017.


Disney Pixar COCO opens in theaters on November 22, 2017.

Click over to read more from our #PixarCocoEvent series

For more information about COCO visit the COCO Official Channels


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Posted in: All, Family Entertainment, Family Movie Night, Parenting Help

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Jennifer Auer is the hyperlocal mom blogger who runs Jersey Family Fun. From New Jersey, this mom of 3 boys just can’t sit still! Her husband likes to say she’s a work-at-home mom who never stays home. Jennifer started traveling as a child and hasn’t stopped since. Instead of letting her husband and boys slow her down, she brings them along! As her boys transition from tweens to teens there’s still so many places she wants to discover with them both across the U.S. and internationally. She has been a Jersey Girl for 35+ years, and a Jersey Mom for 15+ years and a New Jersey mom blogger for 10 years, although she'd much rather be referred to as an influencer or just by name. She has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a focus on Entrepreneurship from Bryant University in Rhode Island.

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