The cemetery might not be the first place you think of for an outing with kids, but cemeteries can be a great way to explore art, nature and history, either checking out your local graveyard or visiting cemeteries big or small when you travel. In Assassination Vacation, Sarah Vowell reveals that her 3-year-old nephew refers to cemeteries as “Halloween parks,” with their monuments, statues and green spaces. (Did you know that someone who’s interested in tombstones and cemeteries is called a taphophile? Now you do.)
I happen to live near the park-like Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, laid out by Frederick Law Olmstead of Central Park fame, with its Bay views and unique architecture (check out their website for free tour info and a map of where the famous people are buried). Locals really do treat it like a park, and it’s always full of dog walkers, joggers and moms with strollers. (Although people have been picnicking in cemeteries since at least Victorian times, and of course decorating and celebrating in the cemetery to honor the departed is part of Día de los Muertos, so maybe lively cemeteries aren’t so unusual.)
To help us explore the cemetery, I made up this scavenger hunt (download link below). It has pictures so even a pre-reader could use it, but there are some bonus questions at the end that make it a little more challenging for older kids or even adults. I tried to pick things you’d find in almost any cemetery, but this hunt will probably work best in older cemeteries, where the gravestones tend to be more decorative and elaborate. If you’re not finding good matches or want to direct searchers to specific things, you could always make up similar questions that fit your cemetery of choice.
On the back of the printable, there are brief explanations of the meanings of the symbols. To extend the activity, ask participants to write or draw something interesting or unusual they saw on their cemetery walk.
Of course, remember to be respectful when visiting cemeteries, follow the rules and clean up after yourselves and your pets.
This printable is free for your personal, non-commercial use – just sign up for my newsletter (also free, and I promise not to spam you!) to download the PDF:
Cemetery Scavenger Hunt
Bonus tip: If, like me, you have trouble remembering how to spell “cemetery,” just remember “you can get into a cemetery with ease (E’s).” You’re welcome. ;)