Friday, October 22, 2010

Graveyard Explorations

I may just be giving you yet another reason to call me crazy, but many times if I cannot find a park for my son and I to explore, we will stop at a cemetery (actually if there is a cemetery nearby, I will likely pick it over the park if I am to be truly honest).

I love cemeteries. I used to take my preschoolers each year on Day of the Dead for some graveyard explorations. It is much more than a love of the dead though, I really think it is important that these places be spaces children experience.

In working with parents together on this issue, I have faced many criticisms and am familiar with them all. Instead of dealing with all of those, let me tell you why I love it.

1. Children have wide open space to run. They bring an exuberance to a quiet place that I think would leave many of those who lie beneath us smile.

2. When you are there, you see lots of names and I use this to remind me of the people in my life with the same name and what they mean to me and my family. A nice reminder to cherish those I love. I do not force this on children of course, but you would be surprised how children have their own way of doing this.

3. As they get older they ask many questions and what I ended up realizing was that cemeteries are not sad places, but places full of love. During one of my field trips many years ago a child asked me, "Why are there two pictures on there (a grave marker)?" I answered, "because some people love each other so much, when they die, they want to be buried together." The child responded, "Teacher Tracy, I want to be buried with you!" Ok now, lets take a moment to process that. Oh my goodness! This moment still ranks as one of the most special of my life. I know I have never received a better compliment.

For all of these reasons and more, I adore cemeteries, but if you do visit them with children, try to keep these things in mind:
1. Don't use words like sleeping, past away, etc... when referring to the dead. Children do not understand those words or concepts. Use "dead" and if you need to define dead, it means one cannot breathe, eat, sleep, talk, cry, poop.... you get the picture.

2, Don't insist that children be quiet or in anyway show reverence for the dead. This is not how young children are designed. I make an effort to be away from anyone who is grieving or from any funerals taking place and then I let the children explore as they need to.

3. Answer questions honestly, simply, matter-of-factly, and without too much woe. By this I mean treat death as simply a fact of life. Everyone dies one day, but were are not dying today. I do not mean that you should not acknowledge any feelings of concern your children show, you definitely should as you would with all their feelings, but also allow this topic to be something you feel confidant about discussing with them.

Today, my son and I had to run an errand near the memorial park where my grandma and great grandma are at rest. Both of them are in a wall in the mausoleum. So we stopped. It is a very large and there was LOTS to explore. In some ways it was like having a huge arboretum or garden all to ourselves. I got to introduce my son to my grandma. He waved at her as if he knew exactly what was going on. Makes me think children understand these issues on a deeper spiritual level that we, as adults, are further removed from.
Another opportunity for my child to teach me.
I hope you enjoy the photos.

First time at a cemetery and he did what every other child does when they hit the grass running.

"Look!" And notice, not a soul around. Well maybe a few we can't see.

There were fish in there too.

Cemeteries are a tractor lover's paradise!

On our way to the Mausoleum...

Playing in an out of the columns near my grandma.

He found running circles around this ramp to be the most fun!


  1. I love this & couldn't agree with you more! My dad passed away last year & on what would have been his next birthday, I took my two sons (5.5 & 2 at the time) to see him at the cemetery. We ate cake in his honor (on his grave) and colored pictures for him, too. The kids loved running around to look at all the pretty flowers. I know dad would have LOVED it! Thanks for reminding me to do so more often.

  2. Totally Debi! When kids have experiences like this I think it makes them just a little better equipped when someone they love dies.