In January 2016, my father-in-law passed away. How do you tell your 8-year-old that his beloved Grandpa was no longer with us? Talking about death, and “what we think” may be the afterlife has been a very difficult subject to discuss with him. However, we try to focus our conversations on how much he loved him and how to remember and honor his memory.  During that same year, we also lost my Grandmother, his beloved “Abuelita.” 

While we really don’t observe the Day of the Dead, I’ve been introducing it to my son slowly as a way to memorialize Grandpa’s and Abuelita’s memories.  The movie Coco from Disney Pixar, really helped him understand the beauty of remembering our deceased loved ones, and how skulls (calaveras) are “not so scary” after all.  With that being said, this year we made our very first shoebox altar to remember his Grandpa and Abuelita.

There are so many lovely shoebox altars that you can make. One detail that stands out is the use of  “calaveras” skulls.  If you have a child that’s extremely sensitive and has had a loss recently in their lives skulls may not be for them.

So here’s a super easy-to-make DIY Shoebox altar for the Day of the Dead that your kids will love.  This shoebox altar will capture the essence of honoring and remembering our loved ones.  

What do you need? 

● Photos of Grandpa and Abuelita
● Ribbon (to make a frame around the picture)
● Colored construction paper (used to glue the picture on)
● Shoebox (I used a diorama ready-to-assemble box I found on clearance)
● Various colors of tissue paper or streamers
● String or yarn
● Glue and tape
● Marigold flowers (and some more in different colors)
● Scissors
● Battery-operated tea-light candle
● Small cross
● Calaveras (if you’d like to use them)

Any item that honors your loved ones. We used a musical note ribbon for Grandpa (who was a pianist) and for Abuelita (my son’s great-grandmother) a tiny picture frame of Nuestra Señora de la Providencia Patron Saint of Puerto Rico. 

I purchased this diorama box on sale and used it for the shoebox altar. You can also use a small rectangular box or shoebox.  

Together with your child put together the box, and talk about your loved ones. This is a great activity to find peace especially when you’re missing those who have passed away. 

Every year when the Day of the Dead comes around we will take our box and light up the battery-operated candles and remember our loved ones.

Do you need a little bit of inspiration for your shoebox altars?

Take a look at these shoebox altars (shared with permission by the owners of the images). 

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  1. Very creative and doable idea!! I’ve never celebrated Día de Los Muertos with my husband before but now that we have our son I want to turn it into a tradition at home.

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