I did this last year and I can tell you that both the kids and parents just loved it. It was a nice modification of traditional Halloween-at-school activities. Parents appreciated the educational angle and they learned something, too.
I grabbed everyone’s attention by showing them that the Disney Haunted Mansion is in New Orleans Square. I told them that the Disney Haunted Mansion movie is set in New Orleans, too.
Once I had everyone’s attention, I showed them a New Orleans PowerPoint I created. You can click to download & share it, too (large file: 3+ MB). It shows pictures of New Orleans to help get everyone in the mood. I downloaded the Disney “Grim Grinning Ghosts” Haunted Mansion song along with some classic New Orleans jazz to play while we looked at the pictures.
Everyone loved learning about the New Orleans jazz funeral. I told the children how it evolved from African funeral customs. A New Orleans jazz band plays a sad song or dirge on the way to the cemetery, and happy tunes for the procession out. Click here to learn more about the New Orleans jazz funeral. Here is a sample:
Eileen Southern in The Music of Black Americans: A History wrote, “On the way to the cemetery it was customary to play very slowly and mournfully a dirge, or an ‘old Negro spiritual’ such as ‘Nearer My God to Thee,’ but on the return from the cemetery, the band would strike up a rousing, ‘When the Saints Go Marching In,’ or a ragtime song such as ‘Didn’t He Ramble.’ Sidney Bechet, the renowned New Orleans jazzman, after observing the celebrations of the jazz funeral, stated, “Music here is as much a part of death as it is of life.”
Because I teach third grade, I don’t explain how the New Orleans above-ground cemeteries are necessary so that the bodies don’t wash out on the streets during floods. This would be very interesting to older students, though. For third graders, I show pictures of the beautiful New Orleans cemeteries, famous cultural landmarks of the city.
Make sure to teach the kids about New Orleans food, like jambalaya and po’boys. Explain that po’boy sandwiches can be any simple filling in bread, but that most people think of a shrimp po’boy. My mom said that when she lived near New Orleans, red beans and rice was everybody’s Monday dinner because Monday was laundry day and the mother was too busy to cook something difficult. Practical details like that help history and culture come alive for students.
Parents and students alike are very interested in my story about the New Orleans streetcars. I explained that if you ride the car to the end of the line, the driver will have everybody stand up so he can reverse the seat backs. In that way, you always ride facing forward. Click here to see the concept. The picture is part of my New Orleans PowerPoint presentation.
For a literacy connection, I recommend reading the New Orleans Magic Tree House book A Good Night for Ghosts. Your students will enjoy learning about New Orleans and Louis Armstrong. The book touches very, very lightly on segregation. You can expand on that or wait for another learning opportunity, your choice. (If you like, teach your students that Ruby Bridges integrated William Frantz Elementary in New Orleans.) A Good Night for Ghosts shouldn’t be too scary for your class. It has a mild ghost scene that turns out not to be ghosts after all, but Louis’s friends.