Learning About Death and Loss Through Play


Artist, writer and graphic designer, David Barringer has assembled a Bug Funeral Kit that includes an instructional burial scroll and a book of eulogies written by children for their deceased insects. His Funeral Kit is marketed toward adults, but it’s a toy that I would have loved when I was mummifying bees, grasshoppers and the occasional pet fish at 8 years old.

At Growing Tree Toys we put a lot of energy into finding the best toys to help kids develop skills like dexterity, logic, creativity and cooperation because we believe that play is the healthiest way to learn and interact with the world.

Bug Funeral Kit

As I was thinking about the Bug Funeral Kit, I realized that most toys avoid teaching kids about death, loss and grief. Sometimes these themes are picked up in children’s literature and discussed at home, but as a culture we haven’t made death a theme in early learning toys. And maybe that’s okay…

…but just because kids don’t have readymade toys doesn’t mean that they don’t play-out these serious themes.

By the age of 3 most children have been exposed to death. They might encounter a dead bird, see death in the news or lose a family member.

Most preschoolers are unable to understand what it means to die. According to the Hospice of Southeastern Connecticut Bereavement Program, kids don’t begin to understand the finality of death until they are between 6 and 9 years old. Even then they don’t believe that they could ever die. Still, children of all ages are curious and worry about death.


By paying attention to how a child treats death in his or her play, adults can learn about the child’s development, understanding and fears related to death. Kids play with death in a number of ways. They might pretend to be dead as part of pretend play games. They create stories about death or orphaned characters with dolls or hold funerals for deceased bugs. Although this type of play can appear to be morbid and depressing, it’s an early developmental step toward coming to terms with mortality.

This has been a Growing Tree Toys Amazing Toys Post. For more information about talking to kids about death I recommend this article by Dr. Gerry Koocher. For more on the Bug Funeral Kit check out Dave Barringer’s Website. Butterfly photo from marc6maun. Graveyard from the SwindenGallery.

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