DIA DE LOS MUERTOS - DAY OF THE DEAD - AMERICA'S NEWEST HOLIDAY

Teacher tips ~ how to make large batches of sugar skulls

What size skull should my class make?

We recommend the medium skull for K-3, if you want the students to actually make the skulls. 3rd grade to adult can make the 2 piece, Large skull. All ages prefer to decorate the large skull to the smaller sizes. We do not recommend the mini skull for classroom use. The advantage to the medium skull is that you can make it today, and it’s dry and ready to decorate tomorrow. The large skull requires scooping, assembly and more time for drying… which generally takes one extra day. Large skulls require more sugar than mediums, so consider this if cost is an issue. The charts below will help you determine the product necessary for your classroom project. Or, contact us with the details, and we’d will be happy to figure it up for you.

DO NOT ATTEMPT TO MAKE SUGAR SKULLS ON A HUMID DAY

That means rain, rain tomorrow, or rain yesterday. Sugar freaks out around damp air and the skulls won’t dry right, stick right, or hold the icing on. Check your weather forecast.

If you were to have an unexpected rain storm in mid-project, the only tip I can give you is to pray. Then, see if you can “candle” the skulls in a low oven (150 degrees) for 15 minutes. Lay them on cookie sheets covered with thick newspapers to wick the moisture from the skulls. If they don’t scorch, you may have fooled Mother Nature. Turn the oven off, and let the skulls sit in the oven over night.

More tips

  1. Make a batch of Sugar Skulls at home before trying it in the classroom
  2. Kindergarten – 3rd graders generally cannot mold the sugar skulls without lots of one-on-one assistance from teacher/parents/aides. But it can be done successfully! Teachers may prefer to make the skull blanks at home (a great job for a teacher’s aide or overzealous parent volunteer!) Then bring them into the classroom ready to decorate. If dexterity is an issue with the icing bags, the project can be lots of fun to decorate the skulls with white glue, feathers, sequins, foil, beads, glitter and other “found” objects.
  3. 3rd grade and above are able to do the entire sugar skull project… but the molding can get messy. If weather permits, take tables out to the grass and mix and mold the sugar outside. Take a large lined trash can, and plenty of paper towels.
  4. A bucket of water serves as a nice hand washing set up if a sink is not available in the classroom.
  5. 5 Always make a few extra sugar skulls to cover for any accidents that might occur.
  6. If making the Royal Icing in the classroom, use a stand Kitchen Aid type mixer for safely. Remember to beat the icing a full 9 minutes. Icing for Assembly of the skulls needs to be a little thicker than the colored icing for the pastry bags…
  7. For younger kids who might have trouble handling the “squeeze” of the icing bags, they can get beautiful, colorful results by finger-painting the icing on with their fingers. Cut tin foil can be patted down on tip of wet icing.
  8. Make sugar skulls as part of a classroom altar. Focus on the Multicultural aspects of the holiday.
  9. Have a contest for the best decorated Sugar Skull.
  10. Left over supplies can be used for making gingerbread houses or just decorated cookies during the Christmas holiday. Excess colored tin foils can be used for origami making!
  11. Fund-raisers: Students & clubs can make decorated sugar skulls and sell them for a Halloween fund-raiser. Great project for Latin / Spanish / Chicano clubs on campus.
  12. Sugar skull making is a good activity to do in conjunction with stories or readings about the holiday. Compare the Mexican tradition and feelings about their deceased with the American tradition. Explore the differences between Halloween and Day of the Dead. Let students research Day of the Dead on the Internet.
  13. Make a classroom altar, and have each student explain why they chose their contribution. Writing exercises in English as well as Spanish can explore students feelings of death, or their thoughts about tradition and ritual.

Don’t forget the traditional Mexican music and food!

Classroom timing ~ how long does it take to make sugar skulls?

  • Medium and Mini skulls can be mixed and molded today, air-dried tonight, ready for icing tomorrow. 2 days, approx. 50 minute sessions for 1-2 skulls per student.
  • Large Skulls: Generally, take 3 days, unless creatively choreographed with after school helpers.

Day 1

  • Mix the sugar and mold the skulls early in the morning. Late in the day, if the skulls have hardened a little, scoop them out. Save the scoopings to mold smaller skulls. If you get a late start, the skulls may be scooped out early the next morning. If it is warm or very dry, cover with plastic wrap so skulls dry out slower. Let the skull halves dry, upside down, overnight.
  • 12-14 hours is usually OK between molding and scooping.

Day 2

Large skulls are ready to be assembled. You need some white icing today for assembly. Let skulls dry until late in the day, or preferably, tomorrow. Have a small group mold medium and mini skulls from the saved “scoopings” from yesterday.

Day 3

Today, the large skulls and the smaller skulls made from scoopings will be well dried, and ready for Icing. This is the real fun day … Make it a Friday… and hose the kids down with a hose before they go home!

Tip– Let the skulls dry at least 1 day in the classroom before the student tries to take it home. Skulls will be very hard and set up in about 24 hours. If kept dry, skulls will look good for up to 2 years or more!

Problems with concerned parents

Some schools have had parents who object to sugar skull making in the classroom for religious reasons. If you are in a school where you anticipate this type of problem, you may want to send home a Day of the Dead information sheet explaining the multicultural nature of the project. Assure the parents that this is not Satanic in any way. Invite the parents to the decoration day. Feel free to contact us if you want to discuss this further…. We’ve heard just about everything!!!