- Family and Parenting
Kid-Friendly Activities at Your Local Cemetery
One of the most overlooked settings for interesting outdoor activities for kids is your local cemetery. Few people visit, yet cemeteries offer natural beauty even in urban landscapes, and are home to native wildlife and local history. So if you’re looking for inexpensive and convenient things to do with kids, consider a kid-friendly activity at your local cemetery. Just be sure to be respectful to its residents.
Generic Cemetery Rules
- Follow all posted rules.
- Obey cemetery hours (typically dawn to dusk).
- Stay on roadways or walkways; drive slowly and carefully.
- Keep children nearby and away from monuments and gravestones.
- Keep children from running, yelling or frolicking.
- Avoid loud noises (voices, phones, music, etc.)
- Don't touch any monuments or gravestones.
- Never remove anything from a grave site.
- Never get in the way of funerals or mourners.
- Don't take any photographs of other people.
- Do not litter.
- If pets are allowed, clean up after them.
- Be aware of your surroundings, and visit the cemetery with other people (unfortunately, criminals do not always respect cemeteries).
While some people might think cemeteries are inappropriate places for outdoor recreation, that view does not match our history or the present-day policies of many cemeteries. Family picnics at the local cemetery were very popular during the Victorian era, particularly during the rural-cemetery movement of 1830 – 1850 when many cemeteries were located in scenic settings on the outskirts of town rather than the city center, and families were encouraged to enjoy Sunday picnics on the cemeteries’ grounds. Today, many cemeteries offer a variety of events, activities and ceremonies designed to attract visitors. In some cities, such as New Orleans, cemeteries are among the most popular tourist attractions.
Of course, cemetery visitors need to respect both the living and the dead. Some cemeteries, especially older, historical cemeteries with fragile headstones, do not allow any visitors without permission. Most cemeteries post rules near their entrances, and some also post their rules on the Internet. If you are contemplating visiting a cemetery with kids, make sure they understand how the rules apply to them. If a cemetery does not post its rules, the basic rules of cemetery etiquette in the sidebar may be helpful.
The most common cemetery activity is walking. Cemeteries offer quiet roads and paved paths which are peaceful and protected from traffic. Walkers can enjoy the natural beauty of the environment, and have time to contemplate the inscriptions on the headstones. Kids often like to read the inscriptions, and talk about what daily life might have been like for the residents of the cemetery back when they were alive.
Some cemeteries offer guided tours. For example, Arlington National Cemetery offers a walking tour featuring President JFK’s gravesite, the Tomb of the Unknowns, the Changing of the Guard, and other interesting sites. An Elgin, IL cemetery hosts the “Historic Elgin Cemetery Walk” where members of the Elgin Historical Society act out the roles of deceased residents. The Forest Lawn cemetery in Buffalo, NY offers “Sunday in the Cemetery” walking and trolley tours that showcase the cemetery’s long history, landscape, art, architecture, symbolism and famous residents—some of whom greet their visitors during special events!
As mentioned, it was common for families to enjoy a picnic lunch at a cemetery during Victorian times. To recreate this experience, pack a basket with some of your kids’ favorite foods, and bring them to your local cemetery for a Sunday picnic. Many cemeteries have benches in scenic locations to enjoy a lunch.
Cemeteries are filled with many interesting objects, animals, flowers, plants, headstones, and symbols which make for a great scavenger hunt. Some cemeteries can provide you with information about cemetery symbols widely used on their grounds. Give your kids a list of items to find, and watch them go. For suggestions, just do a search for "cemetery scavenger hunt".
Many cemeteries have spacious grounds which are a haven for birds—and people who enjoy watching them. For example, the Woodlawn Cemetery in Toledo, OH has 160 acres of wooded habitat for many species of birds, and is one of nine sites on the Oak Openings Loop of the Lake Erie Birding Trail. More than 200 bird species have been spotted at the Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus, OH, which hosts regular tours by the Columbus Audubon Society. Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford, CT is one of several Connecticut cemeteries that are frequented by bird watchers. If you visit a bird watching cemetery with kids, bring your bird guide and challenge your kids to find a few of the most common local species.
Visitors to cemeteries often see other types of wild animals. For example, some cemeteries offer good opportunities for fishing, such as the fishing pond at the Missouri State Veterans Cemetery. The Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA offers a butterfly walk to help its visitors see these graceful creatures in nature. Many cemeteries are home to deer, turkeys, foxes and other animals. It you bring kids, tell them to stay as quiet as possible so they won’t scare all the animals away.
Cemeteries are one of the best depositories of local history. Many cemeteries have information about well-known or even famous residents buried there. If you have kids, check if the cemetery office has a map showing the locations of their graves and see if your kids can locate them. Headstone inscriptions are another source of historical information. Graves of fallen soldiers tell the story of past wars. Graves of infants and young children tell the story of childhood diseases and epidemics which claimed many lives. Mausoleums and majestic statuary tell the story of the wealthy individuals who shaped the direction of many communities. Family plots tell the story of families who lived in the community for many years. Let your kids read the inscriptions in different parts of the cemetery, and see if they can find the story.
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