A Skeleton Is Not Just For Halloween

Possible Classroom Concepts: Science – Human Body Systems ( Skeletal System)

Mathematics – Fractions, Social Studies – Other Cultures (Mexico)

Possible Art Concepts: Art History – Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Durer, Paul Cezanne, Vincent Van Gogh, Nick Veasey

Human Body Proportion, Armature, Collage, Mexican Crafts (Calaveras)

In my teaching days, I would always do an October skeleton project with my second graders. The students, especially the boys, were thrilled. Little did they know the method behind my madness. I taught the lesson to give the students a basic understanding of the body in hopes that it would improve their figure drawing skills. We began the lesson talking about the skeletal system (science). Without bones, we’d be a big blob on the ground with no way to move. (In the art world, we would call the skeleton an armature.)  We’d start our masterpiece by cutting out a skull from a small rectangle of white paper and glue it to the very top of a much larger piece of night sky colored paper. Next, we’d begin the time honored song, ” The head bone’s connected to the neck bone.” So naturally, we’d add the spinal column. We used thin strips of paper to create our bones. As we added the different bones, I would introduce their scientific names. We would add the rib cage and the pelvis. Next, we’d talk a bit about proportion. I had a life-sized jointed tagboard skeleton at the front of the room. The students were always amazed when I’d bend the leg up to the top of the head and they realized that where the legs join the hips is one half the body (mathematics). We then figured out the length of the arms. Our arms start at our shoulders and our hands touch the tops of our legs. Next we’d figure out that we needed at least two bones in our arms and legs. Otherwise, we’d walk like Frankenstein and wouldn’t be able to feed ourselves. At this point, I encouraged the students to arrange the arms and legs into some kind of movement. (Not standing there gaurding Buckingham Palace!) Using a black marker, students then added details (facial features. bone shapes) to complete their skeletons.


Mankind can thank much of what we know about anatomy and the skeletal system to the artist, Leonardo da Vinci. He lived during the Renaissance, when people were very interested in science and nature. He spent many hours in mortuaries dissecting and drawing the cadavers in his extensive sketchbooks. He also figured out some key human proportions that he included in a work called “The Vitruvian Man”. He determined that a man’s outstretched arms were equal to his height. Look here to see a skeletal version of “The Vitruvian Man”:


Albrecht Durer, a contemporary of da Vinci’s, created the following very detailed drawing of a skull:



Paul Cezanne’s “The Three Skulls”


Vincent Van Gogh’s “Skull”

Cezanne and Van Gogh created paintings of skulls. Van Gogh even painted a skeleton with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Did he know something we didn’t, even way back then?

Check out the work of contemporary artist, Nick Veasey who uses ex-rays as his medium to create skeletal images.


A way to enrich your lesson further is to incorporate the skeleton with a study of Mexico’s Day of the Dead which comes the day after Halloween. Calavera Abecedario: A Day of the Dead Alphabet Book by Jeanette Winter is a colorful picture book which includes a fictional story about this special day and some Spanish words.

Find a nice Day of the Dead lesson here:


You can make your skeletons from several other materials including:

Q tips



Pasta Skeleton

Plasticware (I think that I would use fork tines for the rib cage.)


Even your student’s signature


As you can see, there are an array of ideas to make learning about the skeletal system a memorable experience.

I hope you’ll come back again real soon. Even better, how about becoming a follower. The ideas will come straight to your email.

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