Summer Packet 2020

My Dear Friends, Fellow Linguists, and Citizens of the World:

This year’s summer packet for Spanish is a list of 50 ideasboth online and offline–that you are welcome to reference when your child invariably complains, “I’m bored!” during the summer months. Have them choose their favorite number (or use the Random Number Generator LINK –> input a range of 1-50), and then do the corresponding activity on the list.

If you are strongly committed to incorporating Spanish throughout the summer, you can also print out the calendars below and mark an “X” whenever you do something related to Spanish language or culture.

A few activities on the list require that you leave your house. At the time of this writing, it is unclear when all businesses will reopen; obviously, do what is best and safe for your family. There are plenty of activities you can do at home. So let’s get started! And if I don’t see you sometime this week, have a wonderful summer!

Your Resident Linguist,

-Señorita M.


**For those of you interested in a Digital Detox, I have divided up the ideas into ONLINE (#’s 1-22) and OFFLINE (#’s 23-50). Just print out this page and power down your devices!

  1. Check out Universal Yums!, where you order and receive snacks from a different country every month.
  2. If you have any change in your piggybank, count all of it, and then type that number into an online currency converter to see how much it would be in a Spanish-speaking country. For example, $100 US dollars today is about 92€ euros in Spain, but 392,111 pesos in Colombia. WOW!
  3. Listen to the Cuban folktale The Barking Mouse (ends at 4:21). It is in English and Spanish, and a great story!
  4. Check the weather every day for a week in your favorite Spanish-speaking city and country using this site: Accuweather. Draw signs comparing the climates if you want!
  5. Change the clocks on all of your devices to the “24-hour clock”. Many Spanish-speaking countries use this, and it is useful to know that 15:30 is the same as 3:30pm!
  6. Work on Duolingo (or Memrise) for 15 minutes a day.
  7. Joan Miró was a famous artist from Spain. Look at THIS VIDEO PAINTING and THIS VIDEO PAINTING to understand what he sees, and then try to recreate one of his paintings with paints.
    • THE GARDEN coloring page.
    • “For me an object is something living. This cigarette or this box of matches contains a secret life much more intense than that of certain human beings./Para mí, un objeto es algo vivo. Este cigarrilo o esta caja de cerillos contiene una vida secreta mucho más intensa y apasionada que la de muchos seres humanos. -Miró
  8. Listen to The Legend of the Cactus, folklore from Argentina.
  9. Watch a movie–like Coco or Ferdinand–that explores culture in a kid-friendly way. THIS LINK has a list of Spanish Movies for Kids, ratings included.
  10. Change the language of your iPad, phone, computer, and all of your devices to Spanish for 24 hours. Can you survive??!
  11. Play the Language Game, and try to get a score higher than 50.
  12. Learn to count to 100 in Spanish. Watch this video for SEVEN days in a row, and copy the exercises the woman does. You will learn in no time!
  13. Listen to the entire Spanish Summit playlist of songs HERE.
  14. Use a decorative box as a “Vision Board”, where you put names and photos of all the places in the 21 Spanish-speaking countries that you would like to visit to one day. Note that these cannot simply be country names—they need to be names of specific places in those countries! This is listed as an online activity because you might need to do a little research.
  15. Explore these other language-learning apps. There are sections for toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary students, but you do have to scroll. HERE is another list of apps.
  16. Learn about Worry Dolls from Guatemala in this short VIDEO, and then try to make your own.
  17. Label ten things in your house in Spanish. Use WordReference or Google Translate to look up the correct spelling. Make sure to include the “el” or “la” word–for example, la mesa/the table.
  18. Listen to at least 3 full songs from THIS PAGE, pick your favorite, and then put it on loop as you dance around or do chores around the house.
  19. Watch a movie (that you have already seen) with Spanish voiceover and English subtitles.
  20. Get a head-start on the holiday season, and make Picasso-inspired tree ornaments. Activity HERE.
  21. Play the card game Mano Nerviosa to practice counting/numbers in Spanish. This super short video explains how to play, but if you would rather read the instructions, this is the LINK.
  22. Look at your stuffed animals, and make a list of what types of animals they are. If you don’t have any, just pick your favorite animals.
    • Next, look up the names of 5-7 of these animals in Spanish, and write the words of each one on little slips of paper and tape them to your stuffed animals/peluches.
    • Hide them around the house (or outside), and create a treasure map with clues for your family to find them.
  23. When you go to the beach, build a model of this famous REAL SCULPTURE in Uruguay called, “La mano” (the hand). It is huge in real life! Take a time-lapse video of you building it, to save the memory!
  24. Paint a white t-shirt the colors of your favorite Spanish-speaking country’s flag, and be sure to print the name of the country on the shirt. Ask your parents what kind of paint is best to use.
    • For example, Spain would be red and yellow stripes and say “SPAIN” or “ESPAÑA“. HERE are the flag colors for other countries.
  25. Play “Red Light, Green Light” outside with your family, but say the Spanish words instead: “Luz roja, luz verde“. “Luz” is pronounced like the English word, “loose”, as in baggy or loose pants.
  26. Cook/bake/make/eat a different traditional recipe from a Spanish-speaking country with your family each week. Here are a few ideas:
  27. Taste-test a bunch of new foods from Spanish-speaking countries that you’ve never tried before. Make it a big deal: dress up in a fancy outfit, display the food platters on a big long counter or table, take photos, critique the food… have fun!
    • You could also prepare THREE RECIPES (see #26), and have your own “Cooking Show”, where you get to critique the food and decide which is the best one!
  28. Pretend you are in Spain, and change all of the clocks and watches in your house six hours ahead for a day. For example, if it is 9am here, it would be 3pm in Spain. Make sure to ask your parents before you do this one!
  29. Spell out a word in Spanish with an unusual material, like uncooked spaghetti on the sidewalk, or a gigantic “JUGAR” (‘who-gar’/play) sign out of leaves and sticks in your yard. Make it so big that airplanes could read it! Or not… 🙂
  30. Look at your clothing tags, the sticker labels on your fruits and vegetables, and the labels on cans and other food products, and notice where these things were made and where they came from.
    • For example: clothing “Made in Guatemala”, bananas from Costa Rica, avocados from Mexico, etc.
    • Then, see if you can find 3-5 products from Spanish-speaking countries; or fill in my chart HERE.
  31. Ask your parents or relatives if they have ever traveled to another country. If they have, see if you can find tickets, receipts, foreign currency, brochures, postcards, magnets, or anything else from their trip. Make a decorative box to store all the treasures in. Be sure to interview/ask them all about their trip!
  32. Take a field trip with your family and explore the Salvador Dalí Museum, and/or just try to recreate some of his works yourself at home.
  33. Take a Bioluminescent Kayaking Tour. If you don’t know what bioluminescence is, check out this beautiful VIDEO. The video showcases Australia, but bioluminescence occurs in Puerto Rico, too!
  34. Think about language in general: do you have a favorite word? What is it? Why? Do you have a favorite Spanish word?
    • I used to like the word chic because it sounded smooth and fancy and grown-up. I also used to like the word raw, because it was fun to pronounce; but then I realized it spelled “war” backwards, and decided that I didn’t like it as much.
  35. Try to speak in a different accent for a WHOLE DAY!
  36. Create a Costa Rican rainforest in part of your house, like the one we made in our classroom. Do you have stuffed animals that might live there, like monkeys or frogs, or green birthday streamers for vines? Be creative!
  37. Play hopscotch outside, but say the numbers aloud in Spanish as you jump on each one. Hopscotch, or Rayuela (‘rye-you-A-lah‘) in Spanish, is also the name of a very famous book from Argentina.
  38. Look for signs in English and Spanish when you are out shopping with your family (Lowe’s always seems to have a lot!).
  39. If you are staying home, look for warranties, manuals, and/or instructional booklets that have Spanish translations. When you pay attention, you will start seeing translations everywhere!
  40. Color in every square inch of a sheet of paper with bright colored markers.
    • Next, put the paper in a tray and squirt water all over it (squirt, not pour), so that the colors blend together. Let the water evaporate overnight.
    • Then, fold the paper in half a bunch of times and cut out snowflakes to hang up. You can pretend that that area of your house is the southernmost tip of Argentina, since it is really cold there for most of the year!
  41. Build a huge fort (like La Alhambra in Spain) in your house again, with chairs and blankets.
    • Make a big sign in Spanish that says, “NO ENTRAR” (don’t come in!) or “¡PELIGRO!” (‘pay-LEE-grow’/danger!).
    • Variation: Build a fort outside in your backyard with branches and other natural materials!
  42. Count how many days in a row you can do something Spanish-related. Be sure to mark it off on your calendar so that you don’t forget!
  43. Visit your local library and/or bookstore, and ask where the children’s foreign language section is. Browse through the books for ten minutes and see if you can find any words in Spanish you recognize!
  44. Listen to a Spanish radio station or podcast for 20 minutes and try to pick out five words you understand. This could be five minutes a day for four days; it does not have to be all at once. What does Spanish sound like to you? Rap music? Raindrops?
  45. Ask to schedule a family night out at a local Mexican/Cuban/Spanish-speaking restaurant. Then, either order in Spanish (if you already know how), or ask the waiter a few questions and learn how!
  46. Draw out a maze on a sheet of paper (maze idea #1; maze idea #2 is harder!). Then, go outside and transfer this maze to the sidewalk with colored chalk. Now walk through the maze. Every time you get to a dead end, you have to name a different Spanish-speaking country in under five seconds!
  47. Use Spanish as much as possible, wherever you go. Make it a game. Are you waiting in line? At the mall? At the grocery store? Online waiting for a website to load? At a stoplight? Train your brain to use those ten second blips of nothingness to remember anything Spanish. This could be:
    • the last thing you studied on Duolingo, OR
    • counting as high as you can, OR
    • closing your eyes and remembering any of my wall word signs in the Spanish classroom, OR
    • you could ask your parents what words they know in Spanish.
      • First, they say a word, then you say a word, then they say a word, etc. The person who can’t think of anything else when it’s their turn, loses!
  48. Play “Spanish soccer” (fútbol) outside. Decide which Spanish-speaking country you represent, and then keep score with Spanish numbers. Incorporate any vocabulary words you remember, like “Pásala” (pass it!) or “¡Por acá!” (over here!).
  49. It is very common in many parts of Mexico to eat, well, bugs. Really! Supposedly, Mexico is the country with the greatest variety of edible insects: 549 species.
    • To test your courage, visit the Candy Store in Dunedin and buy a few fried crickets. There are even fun flavors to whet your appetite, such as: Bacon & Cheese, Salt & Vinegar, and Sour Cream & Onion.
  50. When you go to the beach, build a sandcastle and trace out the word, “Castillo” (castle) in the sand with your feet. Every time a wave washes part of it away, whisper “¡Adiós, castillo!” (‘kahs-TEE-yo’/Goodbye, castle!).

You read all the way to the bottom?! Thank you so much for reading! Feel free to check out THE BLOG for more posts. Have a great day!


There has been an effort in recent years to quash inaccurate definitions of minimalism–to streamline, to declutter, to get to the heart of what exactly this movement and philosophy are all about. While extreme minimalists and ultralight packing lists may be awe-inspiring and provide shock-value, true minimalism is about one thing: getting rid of the superfluous in your life so that you can concentrate on what is most important.

Let us be clear from the beginning that this is not about owning a fixed number of possessions. Rather, it is about understanding what you value and why, from that thing underneath all that stuff that you haven’t seen in seven years and didn’t remember you had (the physical) to how you spend your time on a daily basis (values/principles). It can be delightful to rediscover an item that you haven’t thought about in forever, a buried treasure of sorts hidden behind that other thing you didn’t remember, but were you really treasuring it if it was stashed away and forgotten? The things you care about, you also care for: you take care of items if they are truly of value to you.

Minimalism, then, begins with physical decluttering: a tedious, painful, and eventually joyful process where literally everything you own is evaluated or “graded” by you, the Omnipotent Teacher. International organizational guru Marie Kondo proves your spirit guide here: “Does this spark joy?” While certain aspects of her books may be over the top for some, the focus on what to keep, as opposed to what to throw out, is refreshingly optimistic. Instead of losing yourself to a negative downward spiral of what to get rid of, focus on what you love and let go of the rest.

This letting go, this physical cleansing, allows–in feng shui terms–to begin to move the stagnate energy in your life. When you think deeply about what is important to you, you become more intentional and particular about how you are living your life. You step back to reevaluate how you are spending your days, your life. If you feel stuck, you probably are; but minimalism can help you to escape this Quagmire of Immobility–unless, of course, you are referring to immobility in the sense of not being allowed to leave your home legally. That, however, is an entirely different subject, ha!

In all seriousness, the process of minimizing everything you own is not exactly a walk in the park; it is tough work. Who you were ten years ago is not who you are today: your values and principles have changed, sometimes gradually, sometimes abruptly, dependent on personal circumstances and general life experiences, as you grow older and wiser. Taking time (our most valuable asset) to sort through our lives and evaluate what is of value to us now, in this particular stage of our lives, can prove both surprising (new values) and life-affirming (old values, or reinforcing staple principles that will stay with you always). We must be judicious but also not wallow for too long in the past, as objects conjure up memory after memory in the Time Capsule called You.

When we rid ourselves of the superfluous, of the clutter clogging up our lives, we define who we are and what is important; we see more clearly: our vision suddenly comes into focus. The realization that we have not had 20/20 vision all along can be jarring but also, ultimately, a welcome reboot and reset. Focus on what is valuable to you and let the rest go.

**Another day, I will share with you my own personal journey and experience with minimalism, but for now, let me leave you with a curated (intentional!) list of resources to peruse, should this topic interest or motivate you to begin. As always, thanks for reading.


  1. The Minimalists (Twitter)
  2. The Minimalists (Blog)
  3. Decluttering Your Fantasy Self (Miss Minimalist)
  4. Courtney Carver (Blog)
  5. How to Become A Minimalist (Courtney Carver)
  6. Breaking the Sentimental Attachment to Books (Article)
  7. Minimalistamente (in Spanish)
  8. Printable Checklist for Marie Kondo (Article)
  9. Rethinking the Dream- Sentimental Clutter (Blog)
  10. Ultralight Backpacking- The Deep Dish (Article)
  11. Living With Less- Werner Van Rooyen (Article)
  12. Books: The Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy, by Marie Kondo


Privacy & Tech

I have a very strained relationship with technology. On the one hand, and in light of the current circumstances, we are very fortunate to have this tool with which to communicate and share information around the world. And in general, I enjoy blogging and researching, and appreciate having an infinite number of resources at my fingertips. It is amazing what humankind has been able to accomplish.

On the other hand, there are several serious societal ramifications that keep me up at night. I put them here in list form to pose questions, not solve the world’s problems. They are simply to consider.

1) Privacy–what does this mean to society nowadays? Are you aware that your private information (IP address histories, birthdate, all former and current addresses, name, etc.) is sold on a regular basis–and that companies make huge profits off of this metadata?;

2) How much screen time is healthy, for both children (and adults, for that matter)?;

3) Why are Silicon Valley parents raising their kids tech-free? Shouldn’t we ask why, in this intensely digital age?; and

4) Where have concentration, focus, and mindfulness gone? How many times have you had a conversation interrupted by someone looking down at their phone? Look, the majority of us are culpable in this last respect, but are we trying to change? Do we see the error of our ways?

If any of these topics are of interest to you, please consider browsing through the curated list of links and TEDx videos below.

Links- Thoughts to Consider

**For parents and educators**

  1. Three Reasons Why The “Nothing to Hide” Argument is Flawed
  2. How To Improve Your Online Privacy
  3. How To Live Without Google
  4. Spread Privacy Blog
  5. Vivaldi Privacy Blog
  6. NordVPN Blog
  7. Silicon Valley Parents Are Raising Their Kids Tech Free
  8. iRadiation: The EMF Your Phone Generates
  9. Tech Gets A Time-Out
  10. The Digital Language Divide
  11. Jesse Weinberger- The Boogeyman Exists and He’s In Your Child’s Back Pocket
  12. “We Need to Talk”: My Breakup Letter to Facebook

Continued Learning

Radio Broadcast- Summary


NOTE: It is in both Spanish and English!

This week, I will give a variety of options for grades JK-5, to ease into the idea of continued learning. While students are required to complete the Spanish language assignment below (independent work), they are also encouraged to try one of the optional mini culture projects. The latter are fun, hands-on, offline activities that families can work on together.

This is not meant to be a burden on you, but rather to emphasize the importance of family in the Hispanic community, and to remind us to be grateful for this extra time we have together.


Grades JK-2

**Students in JK-2 should watch two 4-7 minute cartoons in the target language this week–preferably on separate days. HERE is a list of links, including Pocoyo, Perro y Gato, and Caillou in Spanish. Listening to SONGS in the target language counts, too. Just make sure you don’t sing the English lyrics over the Spanish if it is translated!

Note that it would be beneficial to build into your home schedule that children watch these shows at a specific day and time, for example, 2x per week, when you are preparing breakfast or dinner and need a few minutes alone. The more predictable the routine, the better.

Grades 3-5

**Grades 3-5 should continue working on Duolingo at least three times per week, for 10 minutes a day. Students– there will be prizes for anyone who has earned more than 10,000 XP when we return back to school!

Advanced students who want a challenge may do any of the “Native Speaker” work below as well. Be sure to add English subtitles on BrainPop and “Pollito Tito” (CC/closed captioning in bottom right hand corner).

Native Speakers

**NATIVE SPEAKERS in ALL grades can watch the “Pollito Tito” video below for pura diversión. In addition, native speakers in grades 3-5 should watch a BrainPop video in Spanish on a topic of their choice this week. (Be sure to add subtitles to read along.) In their Spanish notebook, students can journal about the video they saw, or do a free write (e.g., continue a story they were writing, write about how they’re feeling, etc.).

Hear/read more stories at THIS LINK.


Each week, I will highlight a few different Spanish-speaking countries in my posts, with accompanying facts and mini-projects. Read through the ideas, see what materials you have on hand, and have fun! For all culture projects, be sure to find a good song on THIS PAGE to listen to while you are working/playing!

If you want to “create a country” in a corner of your house–bedroom, playroom, part of the living room, your closet, etc.–like I have in my classroom, make sure to add a big sign with the country name, and check out THIS PAGE for more cultural ideas. Post on Seesaw (grades JK-3) or email me a photo (grades 4-5) if you want to share.


Project #1: HAMMOCKS!

The Yucatan in Mexico is known for its hammock culture. Here, 2/3 of children sleep in hammocks instead of beds, and there are even hammocks in hospitals! For this challenge, string up your own DIY hammock with a sheet and twine/rope. Attach it to your bedpost, a chair, or even a tree outside. Be sure to ask your parents first so that you choose a safe place.


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Amate bark paper is a traditional folk art and beautiful type of paper made from the bark of fig trees in Mexico. An easy way to create one at home is to crumple up a brown paper bag and use colorful paints to create something like THIS. Scroll down here for step-by-step instructions. If you have any figs to chew on, eat some while you are painting!

Project #3: GROW CRYSTALS!

The Giant Crystal Cave is a cave connected to the Naica Mine in Mexico with massive crystals. The average person can only stay inside for ten minutes because there is 99% humidity, whoa! For this challenge, grow your own crystals at home with Epsom salts, food coloring, and a bowl. Turn off the air conditioning if you want to enhance the cave simulation, haha! Skip to 5:23 in the video below to learn more.


Project #4: MAKE TAPAS!


An exciting part of traveling is getting to see and try different types of foods. What is “normal” to you is “strange” to others, and vice-versa. In Spain, tapas—also called pinchos when pierced with toothpicks—are found in many restaurants. They are snacks arranged in small dishes, and have an interesting history: a long time ago, many people were illiterate, so travelers going from one inn to the next could not read the menus; instead, they were given little plates to sample different types of food before ordering their meal.

Pretend you are in Spain and recreate tapas in your own kitchen. There are countless options, so find a few that you like, and have a little fiesta, or party. Some ideas include mixed olives and cheese; skewers with pickles; fried baby squid; mushrooms sautéed in garlic and oil, etc.—see more options HERE. Enjoy!

Project #5: BUILD A FORT!

La Alhambra is a famous fort/palace with beautiful gardens in southern Spain. Many students enjoy trying to build this fort during class time out of cardboard, so why not make one at home? Build a huge fort tent out of blankets, pillows, and chairs, based on La Alhambra. Ask your parents where in your house would be a good place to build it (so that you don’t have to take it down right away or get in trouble).

Draw or print out a Spanish flag to wave, put on Spain’s National Anthem or your favorite song in Spanish, and get to work! This could become a really comfy place to watch Spanish cartoons or study Duolingo. NOTE: The video is historically-based, and more for older students.

Project #6: GO ON A HIKE!

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The Camino de Santiago is a 500-mile hike across northern Spain. It takes about 30 days to complete on foot. You carry everything you need in a backpack, and follow the arrows and shells so you don’t get lost. For this challenge, put arrows and shells all over the house, leading to your learning space or bedroom, like it is the Camino de Santiago. Feel free to pack a bag and go on a mini-hike with your parents walking around the block, if you feel like it. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes!

Thank you so much for reading! Hope you are having a great week.


-Señorita M.

Imports & Exports

The current political/media state has brought to the world’s attention how incredibly dependent and interdependent we–along with millions of people–are on other country’s products and services. An Apple iPhone does not just magically make its way into our hands: the physical hardware comes from somewhere, along with the intelligence, coding, encryption, and software inside the device. And what about the box it is shipped in? Or the paper label on the box? Where was that paper made? What forest did it come from? Which tree? How long ago did this process begin?

While it would be nearly impossible–or at least require a tremendous amount of effort–to track down the answers to some of the above questions, it is interesting to think about the journey of a product in general, and how it came to sit on our countertop or coffee table.

It is not simply that a package was transferred from one shipping or postal facility to the next; rather, said item would never have arrived were it not for countless individuals working in fields, forests, stores, factories, and shipping plants. And let us not forget the computer programmers and analysts, or people who built the robots that control the automated assembly lines, or the advertisers who brought that product to your attention in the first place. Even though we may have extremely compartmentalized jobs, we–as humanity–have created a tremendously successful economic and global trading system worldwide. It is only now that we are understanding how dependent and interdependent this system is, on a very practical level.

To switch gears for a moment, if you have not yet heard of her, world-renowned minimalist and organizational guru Marie Kondo is an expert in tidying up, and coaches others on decluttering and letting go of the superfluous. While her life’s work deals with the physical, material world, she reminds us that a clean, tidy space leads to a clear mind and greater respect for our physical possessions. Here, she mentions in her book the Japanese concept of yaoyorozu no kami/ 八百万の神, or, ‘8,000,000 gods’. In her words:

[…] it occurred to me that Japanese people have treated material things with special care since ancient times. […] The Japanese people believed that gods resided not only in natural phenomena such as the sea and the land but also in the cooking stove and even in each individual grain of rice, and therefore they treated all of them with reverence.” (Spark Joy 277)

Kondo goes on to explain that “there are three facets to the spirit that dwells in material things: the spirit of the materials from which the things are made, the spirit of the person who made them, and the spirit of the person who uses them” (Spark Joy 277).

When combining these two thoughts–that of supply chain lines and the more metaphysical spirits of all involved in that process–I feel a deep respect and gratitude for not only all of my material possessions, but also for all human beings involved in the creation of my current physical reality.

These were the thoughts running through my mind this morning. While I did not go nearly this in-depth with third or fourth graders, I wanted you to know–on a more academic level–the thought-process behind our brief conversation re: imports and exports this morning.

In class, students were given a partially-filled in chart with the names of all Spanish-speaking countries, and images of stickers of fruits, vegetables, and clothing that were “Made in” or the “Product of” some of the 21 countries. They were encouraged to hang said chart on their refrigerators, and search for labels both at home and when out shopping to begin to understand where our food and things come from. Students seemed to enjoy checking their clothing tags, as I cleared up discrepancies such as, “No, Indiana and Indonesia are very different places!”

If you feel like a deep conversation about product supply lines and Shintoism’s 8,000,000 gods might resonate with your child, feel free to bring it up at home. Conversely, if you just need to assign them a project for when they are bored grocery shopping, a “detective–find out where X was made” game can be a fun start.

My goals for students were simply 1) to recognize how lucky we are; and 2) to think about an item–any item’s–journey and its point of origin. While several classes had a similar discussion about this back in the fall, I felt it was particularly relevant in light of today’s current news and global trading situation. I have been fielding some fears in class, and this is a nice way to redirect the conversation. As always, thanks for reading my two cents.

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ASIDE: If you would like to know more about Marie Kondo, I have memorized nearly verbatim both of her books, and am more than willing to share.

Trimester 2- Update

OVERVIEW: Students in Lower School have spent a good chunk of time this trimester immersed in cultural projects and ideas. Some projects have spanned multiple levels and lasted several weeks, while others have been grade-specific and only taken a day or two to complete. These projects emerge due to student interest, but also when a visual product (painting, tower, image, etc.) in the room sparks a conversation.

While I initially fell in love with Spanish via linguistics (and philosophy)–you can’t get much deeper into words and language than that–I have come to value culture just as much in recent years. After all, as the saying goes, you don’t learn to speak a language; you learn to speak a culture. ASIDE: The tricky part with Spanish is that we are not talking about one culture here, but rather myriad cultures and subcultures of the 21 Spanish-speaking countries.

*I would love for everyone to read through everything that I’ve written below, but I realize that is not realistic. As a result, I have added headings per grade level to facilitate in the scrolling process. I recognize this is a lengthy post.

Junior Knights

Junior Knights- Many of these cultural projects you have already read about on Seesaw: folding abanicos/fans out of regular and then very large paper (Spain); making miniature güiros with toothpicks (instruments from the Caribbean); watching a video on how a wooden molinillo is made (the thing you use to stir the chocolate in Mexico); and, much earlier in the year, making Worry Dolls out of felt and Popsicle sticks (Guatemala). Most recently, students are fascinated by our Freeze Dance song from Wreck-It Ralph/Rompe Ralph.

In the linguistic realm, students have tapped into their classroom project on expression, whether or not they recognize it on a conscious level. You see, every new word or phoneme they bring home carries with it a new set of sounds, another way to express something (an object, action, or idea) with which they are already familiar. “Duck” in one classroom setting becomes “Pato” in another.

They have also been exploring storytelling in the target language. Here, Pato and friends play with language to create a scene in students’ minds. One day, for example, the famous (infamously mischievous?) stuffed animal came to class soaking wet. The obvious question was, “Why?” To answer that, we begin: “Una noche…” (one night)–here, I model turning off the lights with comprehensible language, and by the third class, I can ask students in Spanish to do this independently. We proceed to sing our goodnight songs and whisper “Buenas noches” (good night), when ALL OF A SUDDEN! a loud crash of thunder awakens us from our sleep: there is a storm outside! Oh no, ¡qué problema! (What a problem!) Students volunteer to play various roles (e.g., sitting on a barco/boat made out of chairs in class) and/or assist with sound effects (e.g., la lluvia/the rain).

Eventually, Pato gets to the point and answers the question–or doesn’t, and wants to reenact the “how I jumped into a pool” part of the story with students just for fun. One of the most adorable moments of this past month was when one class started chant-whispering [unprompted], “¡AG-UA, AG-UA, AG-UA!” (Water, water, water). Gracias for a great term.


Kindergarten- Trimester 1 ended with a conversation about Day of the Dead in Mexico. Students were so interested in this that we continued our ‘culture trip’ around the Spanish-speaking world. When, for instance, students signed up for the ‘volar/fly’ center, I made them paper airplanes, on the condition that they brought me the color paper and size they wanted, and told me where they were going.

Initially, the options were only España/Spain and Mexico, and they had to draw the flag colors on their planes, but we branched out after that. Where will you be flying today? Argentina? We added Bolivia after a brief cultural lesson on the largest salt flat in the world there, Salar de Uyuni, and to clarify to Olivia (as opposed to Bolivia) that I was not making fun of her name! Venezuela was added to the list when students wanted to contribute something to the LS Spanish museum; that day, we went outside and collected pebbles, leaves, and sticks, and made a mini replica of Angel Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in the world. The other class wanted to print out pictures of lightning for a center (imprimir/to print), so I showed them Catatumbo Lightning in Venezuela. K.A ended up seeing the images, and asked about it the following day.

Costa Rica became a fad after classes contributed to the rainforest simulation in my closet. All of these countries are labeled and have specific locations in my room now, so students can ‘travel’ to Bolivia to paint (pintar) or simply fly their airplane/avión in said direction and shout out key words like, “¡Mira!” (Look!) or “¡Ayúdame!” (Help me!) when it does something neat or lands up too high to reach. Granted, not all students have taken to plane-flying, but there is a high percentage of both classes that participate and/or have participated this trimester. These countries are all sight words as well.

While kindergarteners do not necessarily have a conceptual grasp of what a country is, they do know that people in faraway lands like Argentina, Spain, Mexico, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Peru, and Bolivia speak Spanish. This is the overarching goal. Any extra facts they recall or bring home are icing on the cake. (NOTE: As a bonus, many also knowthat they do not speak Spanish in Polonia/Poland– thank you/dziękujęAlejandro, aka Alex!) Last but not least, and at some point back in the fall, students also made their own piñatas and abanicos (fans).

In the linguistic realm, it should be noted that as a group, students’ reading and writing skills are improving daily. They read to me in Spanish on a regular basis, and most can write at least several words in the target language now without consulting any reference materials, i.e., sight word cards. Kindergarteners enjoy pointing out similarities and differences between English and Spanish, especially with regards to phonetics. Great work this term!

First Grade

First Grade- As many of you know from SLC’s, first graders have become Map Masters. Their country-name recognition skills and ability to locate these places on a map are excellent. Currently, students are comfortable naming the majority of the following countries: Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico. Students have had mini-lessons about many of these cultures–from Worry Dolls (Guatemala) to making natural chewing gum (Mexico) and tracing Mola designs (Panama)–as well as a week of assigned centers for first and second grades, where they chose a culture project of interest.

The assigned centers looked like this: 1) Argentina, set up, buy, and sell items at an outdoor mercado/market with Argentine pesos: no American dollars accepted!; 2) Peru, build one of the highest cities in the world out of blocks; 3) Dominican Republic, play dominoes, a national pastime; and/or 4) Bolivia, paint the beautiful sky reflections of starry nights and sunrises and sunsets over the largest salt flat in the world (and also taste more salt!).

A memorable day was when students tried selling their artwork (paintings of Bolivia) at the outdoor market in Argentina, but listed a painting as 20 pesos. I suggested that we look up how much that was, and when the student learned that 20 Argentinian pesos was only equivalent to $0.32, she changed the price, adding a few more zeros (2000 ARS = $32.00).

A few students could not decide where to go, so I gave them an alternate project: recreate a textured model of La mano de Punta del Este in Uruguay with paint and sand (it is a famous sculpture of a hand on the beach).

Both classes were also introduced to and acted out the most famous windmill chapter of the 900-page world-renowned novel, Don Quijote, back in the fall. Picasso made a sketch of the two main characters (Don Quijote and Sancho Panza) to commemorate the novel’s 350th anniversary. First graders put a photocopy of this up to the window, placed pastel-colored paper on top of it, and then trace-scribbled the drawing with a Sharpie to create a two-tone replica. The class joke and icing on the cake was to cross out Picasso’s name and replace it with their own!

Because first graders are becoming so knowledgeable about the Spanish-speaking world, and also because they were wholly inspired by the second graders’ iMovie about the Camino in Spain back in October, students are currently making their own pasaportes/passports. Passports are necessary to visit the Costa Rican rainforest in my closet. Obviously. Great work this term.

Second Grade

Second grade– Second graders have done an excellent job this trimester of combining language and culture. For starters, the majority can write and say the following:

Hola, ¡buenos días! Yo me llamo ______. Yo quiero _____ y _____ [jugar y colorear] con mis amigos. Yo necesito ________ [marcadores, cobijas, peluches, comida, ropa, libros, etc.]. Yo voy a _________ [Chile, España, Argentina, etc.].”

(Hello, good morning! My name is ______. I want to _______ and __________ [play and color] with my friends. I need ________ [markers, blankets, stuffed animals, food, clothing, books, etc.]. I am going to ________ [Chile, Spain, Argentina, etc.]).

The phrase, “Yo voy a _______” (“I’m going to ________) came about for two reasons. First, there is a Señor Wooly song called, “¿Adónde vas?” (Where are you going?) which became a major hit among second graders, so obviously we needed to take that and run with it–and learn how to answer the question. Second, the class wanted to create a pueblo/town, and well before we began designating certain parts of the Spanish room as different countries (our current reality), second graders had divided the space into sections–el gimnasio/the gym, el teatro/the theater, la fábrica/the factory, el hotel y restaurante/the hotel and restaurant, el cine/the movie theater,etc.

When students signed up to jugar voleibol/play volleyball, they would have to explain that they were going to the gym to do said activity. Likewise, the factory was for arts and crafts, or building pretty much anything; the theater was for singing, playing the piano, dressing up, and performances; the movie theater was for watching Pocoyo shows or Señor Wooly songs; and the hotel & restaurant were for sleeping and eating. As time went on, we began saying that the gym was located in Argentina, the hotel in Peru, the theater in Colombia, etc. It was actually a very neat (and unforeseeable) evolution of a project!

Moreover, all of these activities recycled and built on vocabulary from last year–e.g., jugar/to play, pintar/to paint, construir/to build, tocar el piano/to play the piano, comer/to eat–and students began expanding their sentences. It was no longer just “I want to play”, but rather “I want to play soccer with my friends outside” (quiero jugar al fútbol con mis amigos afuera), or “I want to build” became a little more polite: “May/Can I build a fort? I need blankets and the clothes and books.” (¿Puedo construir una fortaleza? Necesito cobijas y la ropa y libros.)

As a final linguistic note, second graders also integrated their suffix and prefix study from their regular classroom with the target language, learning that there are “boy” (masculine/el) and “girl” (feminine/la) words in Spanish, and that this can be determined by studying the suffix. The class had fun discovering which words were on the “boy team” or “girl team”. We get ice cream (el helado)! But we get cake (la torta)! And so on… The point here is for students to begin to notice details about Spanish. This will help their study later on.

In as far as culture goes, second graders truly outdid themselves. They saw what older students were doing, jumped on board the train, and then, in addition, proposed their own projects. Here are a few examples.

  1. Students noticed an image of the Noche de los Rábanos/Night of the Radishes festival (Mexico), and then took a day in December to carve actual radishes into beautiful creations, copying what they saw.
  2. Second graders made a truly outstanding iMovie of the Camino de Santiago 500-mile hike through northern Spain.
  3. Several students helped cover a soccer ball with gold paint, and then built a trophy stand for it out of Popsicle sticks and hot glue, for Messi and to represent the importance of fútbol/soccer in many Spanish-speaking countries.
  4. Other students contributed to the fourth grade project of sunken Spanish treasure, dying paper with coffee and blowdrying it to make it look old, and drawing treasure maps on it.
  5. Others were inspired by the third graders’ presentation on instruments made out of trash in Paraguay, and made their own maracas, drums, and more for the LS Spanish Museum.
  6. Second graders were VERY EXCITED about minerals and gems for a long time. Here, they spent time learning which minerals come from South and Central America, and then painted rocks to create amethysts and lapis lazuli look-a-likes. Several filled little cups of water and dyed the water various shades with food coloring.
  7. 2B began ‘selling Cuban coffees’ (café cubano), made by filling mini cups with jabón/soap and water, and then painting rainbows on top of the soap bubbles. When the business started taking off, we would stop the soccer game across the room for halftime, so that the players could come ‘buy’ and ‘drink’ the Cuban Coffees from the café.
  8. Second graders learned about Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua, and declared whether or not they would be brave enough to participate in such an extreme sport. Eeek! Not me!
  9. Last but not least, students were given assigned centers one week, along with first graders. The choices were as follows: 1) Argentina, set up, buy, and sell items at an outdoor mercado/market with Argentine pesos: no American dollars accepted!; 2) Peru, build one of the highest cities in the world out of blocks; 3) Dominican Republic, play dominoes, a national pastime; 4) Bolivia, paint the beautiful sky reflections of starry nights and sunrises and sunsets over the largest salt flat in the world (and also taste more salt!); and/or 5) paint a famous Xul Solar Argentinian painting, mural-style, on the bulletin board outside of the Spanish room (*in progress!).

Second graders have also traveled outside several times to play Policías y ladrones/Cops and Robbers (a la cárcel/go to jail, no quiero ir/I don’t want to go, libertad/freedom), in addition to a Freeze Tag version of queso, helado (cheese, ice cream). Bits and pieces of these games and cultural projects may have made their way home, so hopefully this gives you a bigger picture and panoramic view of what students have been learning in Spanish class.

Third Grade

Third Grade- This trimester, third graders in 3B chugged along steadily with their Duolingo work, while 3A decided to take a break from the app back in December (but picked it up again in February).

3.A CHAMPIONS: Aylani, 694 XP; Celia, 507 XP; Marijka, 500 XP; 3.B CHAMPIONS: Kaden, 1197 XP; Zafirah, 1127 XP; Sebastian, 871 XP.

Culturally speaking, third graders divided into groups based on student interests. Here is a list of both class and individual projects they have worked on this trimester.

  1. Third graders inspired all of Lower School by transforming my closet into a Costa Rican rainforest, complete with green vines galore, Christmas lights, photos of animals that actually live there–and currently, REAL plants in the campus greenhouse. That are growing! In real life! Whose seeds third graders planted!
  2. Students in both classes were given the opportunity to eat a fried cricket. They had a mature class conversation about other cultures, perspectives, and traditions. In Mexico, there are 549 edible insects, and it is common to eat them and see them in markets.
  3. After watching this clip of the Landfill Harmonic documentary about a town in Paraguay, 3.B decided to make their own instruments out of trash and recyclable materials, and proceeded to share this information with the community at FMM.
  4. Third graders made a Popsicle stick model of the Train to the Clouds in Argentina (skip to 3:45 in video), for the LS art/science/history Spanish Museum.
  5. Students learned how natural chewing gum/chicle is made from the Sapodilla tree (Mexico), and then considered opening their own business; here, they tried melting Starbursts to create a similar, gooey chicle-like substance. Several students even painted criss-cross x’s on real bark to replicate how chicleros slash the trees to let the sap drain down. Ultimately, copyrights, patents, and other legal practices got in the way of an actual start-up–but it was fun while it lasted!
  6. Two students made a diorama museum exhibit of Yungas Road in Bolivia, one of the most dangerous roads in the world, out of natural materials.
  7. Another group got very excited about Worry Dolls, after listening to THIS short story, and not only made their own dolls to bring home, but also created houses and furniture for them!
  8. One student made a model of the Popocatépetl volcano in Mexico, and had fun creating eruptions with baking soda and vinegar.
  9. Three boys learned about the Boiling River in Peru. Afterwards, to see if water actually boils at 100*C (212*F), they used a tea kettle and glass thermometer. And yes- it does.
  10. Students tried to create a life-sized model of the Galapagos turtles (Ecuador). The turtles are HUGE!
  11. Third graders also talked about different currencies, and used an online currency converter to see how much their American dollars were worth in other countries.
  12. Back in November, students also looked at clothing tags and food labels, to see if they were made in a Spanish-speaking country. They found bananas from Costa Rica and Nicaragua, avocados from Mexico, shirts from Honduras, apples from Chile, and more. Feel free to keep the conversation going whenever you are grocery shopping or in your kitchen cooking. It is fascinating to note how global we really are.

Finally, third graders focused on team-building skills and building a stronger class community, by participating in both the Marshmallow Challenge as well as Policías y ladrones/Cops and Robbers games outside (from last year). While learning a language takes a tremendous amount of grit, strength of character, and independence, it is always more fun with other people!

*ASIDE: As you may already know by this other post, native speakers were recently given a list of ideas to supplement their language study. They also have personal journals/diarios in which they are aiming to write a page entry each class day, in lieu of the regular written work. So far, they are doing really well!

Fourth Grade

Fourth Grade- This trimester, Summit students began with a “News Show” in Spanish–“En vivo, desde México” (Live, from Mexico)–where they took turns being reporters, working tech, and dramatically presenting the weather (¡El tiempo!/the weather). Each week, they added a new commercial, which was usually a translated slogan of a well-known brand (WalMart: save more, live better/ahorra más, vive mejor; Nike: Just do it/Sólo hazlo; McDonald’s: I’m lovin’ it/Me encanta; etc.).

Once fourth graders felt comfortable with their script, each class transitioned to a more in-depth project, that was going to make national news. Well, that was the plan, anyway! Let me explain.

4A voted that they wanted to travel to and focus on Spain, while 4B chose Mexico. Both classes brought their backpacks to Spanish class; removed their shoes when passing through security; boarded the airplane; graciously accepted Cheez-Its and water from their stewardesses; took advantage of the in-flight entertainment (iPads); and after a long flight, finally landed.

Next, wearing backpacks, they followed a QR code hunt around campus, learning about famous monuments and cultural tidbits. Right when they thought things were winding down, their teacher hailed a taxi and they drove around the neighborhood, seeing the sights of [either] Madrid, Spain or Mexico City, Mexico from a cab. [Note that your children were safe at all times here–Ms. Berry was the “cab driver” of the school van!]

Students in 4A drove past the Prado MuseumEl Prado in Madrid, Spain is one of the most famous museums in the world, housing over 27,000 objects and artworks. In fact, it was the Google Doodle [the week students learned about it], which celebrated the museum’s 200th anniversary! For this project, students took an 8.5×11 copy of a well-known painting and transferred it by eye to a large trifold, trying to imagine how artists filled such massive canvases. For images of their work, please visit THIS LINK.

During the painting process, one student learned that the Prado was actually robbed in 2014— of a shocking 885 artworks. As a result, more than several classes were spent trying to merge their Spanish news show with an iMovie green screen breaking news “robbery” of their paintings in the style of Oceans 12. Ultimately, the project lost steam, but it was fun while it lasted! Here is the soundtrack we used.

Students in 4B drove past the Museo Soumaya, a Mexican museum with completely different exhibits. Here, fourth graders learned that in 1715, a fleet of Spanish ships sank off the coast of Florida, en route to Spain and loaded with treasure from the new world. Modern treasure hunters have discovered some of this lost treasure–one family made $4.5 million dollars in 2017!–but much still remains on the ocean floor. Students acted out this story as a class (with Spanish dialogue, of course), and then created artifacts for a faux museum display. After painting the Spanish crest and flag on them, students broke a few of the plates intentionally to make it seem more realistic!

Both classes tried to make a green screen iMovie for their News Show, but meeting only once or twice a week caused the process to lose steam. That said, they ALL did an amazing job with this! I wish we could have had a final product, but… c’est la vie!

Throughout these projects, students worked on Duolingo (or Memrise) every day. At some point, they became über-motivated and completely addicted to the app. This was and is great to see. The top scores right now are as follows:

4.A CHAMPIONS: Ilaria, 4879 XP; Audrey, 2800 XP; and Gabby, 2077 XP. 4.B CHAMPIONS: Adam, 13902 XP; Jai, 5717 XP: Lyla, 5635 XP.

Additionally, fourth graders had several conversations about language on a more philosophical level this trimester. They learned about hyperpolyglots, or people who speak an extreme number of languages; explored books from my personal collection that are in multiple languages; and discussed several statistics, such as 1) that there are 7,000 languages in the world, but that it is hard to define what exactly a language is, especially when compared to something like Spanglish; and 2) it is funny that we think of the internet as so ‘global’, when 52% of its content is in English (1 out of 7,000 languages). In that light, the web seems pretty limited, in terms of perspective taking.

As the trimester came to a close, students requested center work again. Here, they sign up via letters for what they want to do each day. While this is remarkably similar to last year and what other grades do from time to time, I have to emphasize here that their written work has grown tremendously as a group. Last year, their letters were all the same, very uniform. Now, I am reading all different types of letters–some are serious, others silly, and others a combination of the two. They are a delight to read each day. Keep up the excellent work, fourth grade!

Fifth Grade

Fifth Grade- This trimester, Summit students began with a “News Show” in Spanish–“En vivo, desde México” (Live, from Mexico)–where they took turns being reporters, working tech, and dramatically presenting the weather (¡El tiempo!/the weather). Each week, they added a new commercial, which was usually a translated slogan of a well-known brand (WalMart: save more, live better/ahorra más, vive mejor; Nike: Just do it/Sólo hazlo; McDonald’s: I’m lovin’ it/Me encanta; etc.). The goal here was mostly to work on basic facts, such as days, dates, weather, but also to recognize how many things in our world have been translated.

The bulk of time leading up to winter break, however, was spent on museum exhibits. Here, fifth graders proposed an idea to research re: a cultural aspect of a Spanish-speaking country–and then got to work. Here is a list of sample projects. For student work, see THIS LINK.

  1. Alebrijes– Mexico
  2. Bullfighting– Spain
  3. Vinicunca/Rainbow Mountain– Peru
  4. Andean Condor– Andes Mountains, South America
  5. Marble Caves– Chile
  6. El Morro– Puerto Rico
  7. Nazca Lines– Peru
  8. Basilisk Lizard– Costa Rica
  9. Underwater Museum– Mexico
  10. Catatumbo Lightning– Venezuela
  11. New Year’s Eve– Spain
  12. Joan Miró artwork– Spain

Following this independent work, fifth graders came back together as a class and were introduced to a play in the target language. Here, they rehearsed lines, worked on expression (both stage placement as well as intonation), and practiced presenting to the class. One class, they even tasted Yerba Mate, a special tea from Argentina, because it was mentioned in the play. The goal each day was to work on Duolingo, split into groups for quality rehearsals, and then play “Spanish Soccer” outside, where students are only allowed to shout/speak in the target language (instinctive response). This rhythm was interrupted with field trips, assemblies, and more, however, which disrupted the class’s general flow and progress. As a result, fifth graders requested center work similar to last year.

It is not clear whether the plays increased their confidence with the language in general, or if they have just started working on Duolingo much more frequently at home, but regardless, something has clicked! Their letters to sign up for centers are beginning to show personality and expression and voice; this is wonderful. Students are learning to mix and match language, to play and manipulate it to say what they want.

Last but not least, students spent some time playing with accents and sounds. While 5B saw THIS VIDEO back in the fall, 5A watched it only a few weeks ago–and were blown away (Santa Anas winds, anyone?!). Since then, many have been working on improving their ear for language in general and becoming linguistic chameleons. Keep up the great work!

5.A CHAMPIONS: Jake H., 5720 XP: Abby, 5012 XP; Jack, 4914 XP; 5.B CHAMPIONS: Kawika, 3656 XP; 2728 XP; Amina, 2391 XP.


To sum up, it is clear that we have made significant progress this trimester. Thank you SO MUCH if you have taken the time to read through all of my rambling. I know it is a lot, but hopefully it gives you a better picture of the program in general. Thanks again and have a great day.


-Señorita M.

Memoir Excerpt

In what seems like a lifetime ago, I used to take ballroom dance lessons. This “phase” lasted for close to seven years. While my dance journey began gracias a mi padre“You really need to know how to Salsa if you speak Spanish!”–my takeaways were much more than just proficiency in rhythm and smooth dances. What I remember most, perhaps more than gliding around the floor in a Viennese Waltz or sweating profusely from an impossibly long eight-minute “Proud Mary” Jive, was the poise and class of it all. I appreciate and admire everything classy, from the wisdom of our elders and ages gone by, to black and white Audrey Hepburn/George Peppard films and Jane Austen novels. As much time as I have dedicated to this site, I also long for those pre-Internet days where life had a much slower and enjoyable pace.

Dance life also taught me that I do not love being in front of a camera. I love the behind-the-scenes, coordinating and directing of theatrical events; I love playing with words and songs to write scripts and create different moods onstage; and I love the idea of oral cultures, where nothing is written or documented (despite being a strongly visual learner). It just seems so authentic and self-reliant, this sitting around a campfire and knowing that only the stories and history you remember will continue on to the next generation. YouTube and I would like to be friends, but we just can’t. I am not the focal point: ideas are.

That said, in an attempt to merge old and new, past and present, historical and futuristic, I have recorded below most of the songs and rhymes we have done this year in the JK Spanish class. If you enjoy this audio format, please let me know in the comments below, as I am considering beginning a podcast series of anything and everything Language and Culture. Note that the name “Freddy” is a tip of the hat to Fred Astaire.


  1. Yo me llamo Freddy, Freddy, Freddy, yo me llamo Freddy y ¿quién eres tú? Who are you?
  2. Buenos días, buenos días, cómo estás, cómo estás, muy bien, gracias, muy bien, gracias, adiós, adiós
  3. Te amo, me amas, somos una gran familia con abrazos y besos para ti, di que me amas a mí
  4. Arriba, abajo, de lado a lado, helado
  5. Sí me gusta, no me gusta, para nada/yes I like it, no I don’t, not at all
  6. Tengo hambre, tengo hambre, tengo hambre, Freddy, una pizza, una pizza, una pizza, por favor
  7. La araña pequeñita subió, subió, subió, vino la lluvia y se la llevó, salió el sol y todo lo secó, y la araña pequeñita subió, subió, subió
  8. Abracadabra, pata de cabra, ¡chiquitipuf!
  9. Tesoro-tesoro-tesoro-TREASURE!
  10. Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad, prospero año y felicidad
  11. Mi hombre de nieve es feliz y está muy gordo, con la boca, la nariz, dos ojos y en la cabeza un sombrero
  12. Estrellita, dónde estás, me pregunto qué serás, en el cielo o en el mar, un diamante de verdad, estrellita, dónde estás, me pregunto qué serás
  13. Diez pececitos nadando en el río, rojo, verde, azul y amarillo, estaban jugando y uno se cansó, me voy a dormir y se retiró…
  14. Bate, bate chocolate, tu nariz de cacahuete
  15. El cacahuete (we line up and make a “peanut” train)
  16. Saco una manita, la hago bailar, la cierro, la abro, la vuelvo a guardar, saco otra manita, la hago bailar, la cierro, la abro, la vuelvo a guardar, saco dos manitas, las hago bailar, las cierro, las abro, las vuelvo a descansar (traditional Argentine song)
  17. La cucaracha, la cucaracha, ya no puede caminar, porque no tiene, porque le faltan, una pata de [pa’] atrás
  18. Rompe Ralph/Wreck-It Ralph is our latest Freeze Dance song

Native Speakers

Recently, I have had several questions about native (and heritage) speakers and how to improve their reading and writing skills in the target language. In list form, here are a few ideas:

  1. Doblajes, o covers en inglés. Es que, ¡me encantan! Alejandro Cázares es buenísimo como cantante y sus videos tienen toda la letra escrita, para que los nativos puedan leer y cantar a la vez. Encima, durante el proceso de escuchar, pueden aprender cómo es una adaptación–no resulta una traducción directa en muchos casos. Para empezar, una de las canciones de Ed Sheeran está aquí (por Kevin Karla y la banda) y hay otra aquí de Alejandro.
  2. Nuestra escuela tiene una suscripción a BrainPop, la cual incluye la versión española de BrainPop. Pueden aprender y ver videos relevantes a lo que están aprendiendo en clase (o de lo que les interesa) y LEER los subtítulos. Esto es un poco más académico–depende de lo que buscas en cuanto a la lectura.
  3. Educatina es otra opción educativa y muy semejante a Khan Academy, pero desafortunadamente, no hay cuenta del colegio.
  4. En cualquier momento, los niños pueden utilizar los libros bilingües y españoles en la biblioteca de mi aula. No hay problema–solo le pido que ellos me avisen antes de tomar uno.
  5. Esta PÁGINA de mi sitio web tiene un montón de chistes y enlaces. Hay un slideshow de mis chistes favoritos. Se ve mejor en un escritorio (desktop). Yo recuerdo que aprendí tanto vocabulario de Calvin y Hobbes cuando era niña (en inglés, claro, pero la traducción es muy buena) y ¡es muy divertido! Lo mejor es reír y aprender, en mi opinión.
  6. Si está permitido en casa, dales la libertad de colgar pósters o imágenes con dichos/refranes que a ellos les gustan en sus recámaras.
  7. Una idea más: crear/recopilar una carpeta llena de sus poemas favoritos, chistes favoritos, dichos/refranes favoritos, historietas favoritas, cuadros favoritos, adivinanzas favoritas, etc. Les paso unos enlaces aquí abajo para empezar su viaje. A lo mejor, ¡lo hacemos en clase! Para más ideas, piensen en lo siguiente:

Ojalá que esto les ayude un poco. Hay que darse cuenta que esta no es una escuela de inmersión y muchas veces solo nos juntamos UNA VEZ a la semana. Por lo tanto, aprecio mucho cualquier apoyo pueden darles a sus hijos en casa ya que en primer lugar, no los veo con mucha frecuencia. Voy a requerir pronto que los hispanohablantes escriban en un diario (‘diary’) cada clase, algo semejante a un “RJ”. Escribir, escribir, escribir. Y cuando se cansen de eso, ¡A LEER!

Con cariño,

-Señorita M.

Summer Language Camps

I am sure that some of you are already making summer plans. How time flies! With that in mind, for parents and/or students seeking a fun and educational language camp over the summer, I highly recommend Concordia Language Villages. Languages offered include Arabic, Chinese, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish for pretty much every age, but there are also family camps as well as adult programs. While the prices are on the higher end, the program is highly renowned, 100% cultural and linguistic immersion, and well worth the cost. Please visit their site for more information.

I have also just learned about another program, but it is only for 11-year-olds. This camp seems to focus more on building global friendships, and has students from many different countries from around the world. Check it out HERE if you are interested. Thanks and happy language learning!

Heritage Survey Results

**Interactive Map**

For the 100th Day this year, we wanted to see if students in Lower School represented 100 or more countries, by heritage. By “heritage”, we mean any country in your bloodline: where are you from? Where are/were your parents or grandparents from? What about your great-grandparents?

While we did not reach the 100th country, the results were staggering: as a Lower School, we represent 58 countries. Wow! Thank you so much for responding. Please check out the interactive map (link above) and pie chart (below) for a more visual representation of the survey results.

Data in List Form

  1. Albania
  2. Argentina
  3. Australia
  4. Austria
  5. Bavaria
  6. Belarus
  7. Brazil
  8. Canada
  9. China
  10. Colombia
  11. Croatia
  12. Cuba
  13. Czechoslovakia
  14. Denmark
  15. Dominican Republic
  16. Ecuador
  17. Egypt
  18. England
  19. Finland
  20. France
  21. Germany
  22. Greece
  23. Guatemala
  24. Haiti
  25. Honduras
  26. Hong Kong
  27. Hungary
  28. India
  29. Ireland
  30. Italy
  31. Japan
  32. Kenya
  33. Laos
  34. Lebanon
  35. Lithuania
  36. Macedonia
  37. Mexico
  38. Netherlands
  39. Nigeria
  40. Norway
  41. Peru
  42. Poland
  43. Portugal
  44. Puerto Rico (territory)
  45. Russia
  46. Saudi Arabia
  47. Scotland
  48. South Africa
  49. South Korea
  50. Spain
  51. Sweden
  52. Switzerland
  53. Thailand
  54. Ukraine
  55. USA**
  56. Venezuela
  57. Vietnam
  58. Wales

*Native American: Black Foot Indian, Cherokee, Mohawk

**NOTE: I forgot to keep tally marks for the USA, ergo, data was not included on pie chart (mea culpa). Native American data was also not included because it is an ethnicity but not a country in itself.

No Numbers or Worries

Deep in the Amazon Rainforest lives an indigenous tribe called the Hi’aiti’ihi, who speak the Pirahã language. This language is unique in several ways, but primarily world-renowned in linguistic communities because it contains no numbers. Not a single one. Not even one.

Can you imagine such a world? I look at the clock, and see digits. I do my taxes, and write numbers. I use an iPad, cell phone, desktop, laptop–essentially any device–and know that somehow, “01010101” and an enormous amount of coding lets me communicate with nearly anyone in the world. A world without numbers? What about synesthetes? What about birthdays? What about money? Or addresses? What about time? Does no time means no past or future? How many jobs would not exist if there weren’t numbers? I am speechless, wordless, number-less…

To clarify, these hunter-gatherers** do have smaller or larger amounts (the concept of more or less), but no numbers. I have read before that in order to barter, one might turn a palm skyward to indicate more, and downward for less–but there are no numbers, either to quantify what is being bartered or to exchange currencies.

If people without numbers are not enough for you today, the Moken Tribe–living near Thailand and Burma–will fix that. They do not have a word for “want” in their language (details on page two of link). Likewise, “worry” is not a concept in their language. This is the same tribe that knew a deadly tsunami was coming in 2004 and saved themselves. Aren’t languages fascinating? What we understand as reality is not always the case for the rest of the world. No numbers, no wants, no worries…

**Some have suggested in recent years that our cyber habits closely parallel hunter-gatherer societies and thought, in the sense that we skim information quickly, only searching for what we want to catch, or gather. Hmmm.

Despacito and Dr. Seuss

Nowadays, the song Despacito is probably as well known as Dr. Seuss. What you might not think about are the translation jobs that allow this information to circulate worldwide. People dedicate their lives to adapting and translating books, songs, and more into other languages, which takes time. For example, they say that Red Fish, Blue Fish took over a year to translate into Mandarin Chinese, mostly because Dr. Seuss had a habit of making up words: how do you transfer fictitious phonemes into another language? How do you make lines rhyme, when two words–directly translated–do not rhyme in another language?

And what about songs? How is it that the FrenchRussianArabic*, German, and Chinese versions of the Spanish song Despacito all have the same feel and sound? Granted, these are adaptations–as opposed to translations–but wow, right?! Search your language and cover of a popular song if you are interested (e.g., Google “Despacito French cover“). I have found Japanese covers of Taylor Swift songs and Adele’s “Hello” in so many languages, you would not believe me.

*Pro Tip: While I do not speak Arabic, for example, I am guessing that with 21 MILLION VIEWS, the translation is pretty good, or else a hilarious parody. Check the number of views if you want to ‘verify’ that it is a decent translation. This is not a foolproof technique, but it works for the most part.

And then, there is this… Siberian Despacito played with Russian folk instruments (article HERE). Wow.

Museum Exhibits

*To see the digital collection and your child’s work, please visit THIS LINK.

Students in Lower School have been working for the past few weeks on creating a Spanish museum with a wide variety of science, art, and history exhibits in preparation for GGD. In some classes, children are working individually or with a small group, while in others, the entire class is working together towards one goal.

For example, in 4.A, students are ‘living’ in Spain, and are therefore recreating famous Spanish works of art that are currently in El Prado Museum in Madrid (image above). In 4.B, students are ‘living’ in Mexico and creating artifacts for a sunken treasure display, based on the Spanish Shipwreck of 1715. In K.B, students made a model of Angel Falls in Venezuela, by collecting bark, small stones, and leaves outside, and adding water. In 1.B, a group of girls were inspired by seeing another class’ Worry Dolls from Guatemala, and wanted to make their own. Other classes are jumping on board as they see new projects pop up around the room.

In second, third, and fifth grade, students have chosen and created projects based on real-life images in the Spanish room. Some students are creating an underwater museum in Mexico; others are creating a gold trophy for Messi to represent the importance of soccer in many Spanish-speaking countries; some are trying to make the Basilisk Lizard from Costa Rica run on water, as it does in real-life; others are building a model of the “Tren a las nubes/Train to the Clouds” (skip to 3:45 in video) in Argentina; some have been creating instruments out of trash and recycled materials, like this town in Paraguay; and one even made a life-sized model of the Andean Condor–which has a wingspan of eleven feet, wow!

To learn more about these projects, please visit the PROJECTS page, now under the Home drop-down menu. I have been decluttering and reorganizing my website this week, in the hopes of making it more user-friendly–feel free to check it out HERE and let me know what you think!

NOTE: For all of my Language Challenge friends, posts are now divided into two different categories on the INSPIRATION page: Duolingo motivation (“Language Challenge”) and thoughts on culture (all other posts).


Translations Gone Wrong

Students have been talking about translation (written) and interpretation (spoken) in Spanish class recently. This week, they focused more on translation, after taking a moment to differentiate the two. You see, translation and interpretation are often confused and used interchangeably. However, they are two very different professions. In a nutshell… Translation is written. You translate documents from one language into your native tongue, and have time to write multiple drafts of a document. Interpretation, on the other hand, is spoken. You interpret on the spot, and there is no going back. Precision in the moment is key. Interpreters often work in politics, and thus must be informed about current events, slang terms and new expressions. Today, we will focus on the job of a translator and the unanticipated ramifications of poorly translated signs and documents.

It has long been said that the work of a translator (or air-traffic controller) is only noticed when something goes wrong. These mistakes can range from chuckles and rolling on the floor laughing, to confusion, expensive marketing slogan recalls, and radical global consequences. Regardless, it is clear that the bots have not quite mastered this profession; then again, neither have humans. Just because a person speaks two languages does not necessarily mean that s/he can translate (written) or interpret (spoken) from one to another. Translation is a skill like any other, and must be honed. Unfortunately, and despite serious translation training programs and certifications, this practice is sometimes learned through trial and error.

Translation disasters occur for myriad reasons. Let’s begin with online translation. Here, an algorithm might not have sufficient information about a language: users have simply not provided enough input, due to a lack of internet access or cultural interest. For example, if you live three days away from civilization by canoe in the Amazon, the Internet is probably not in your vocabulary, nor a helpful tool against a giant beast ready to attack. When Google Translate attempts to translate this giant beast’s name into English, challenges arise. Moreover, what happens when Google translates a phrase literally, with no knowledge of slang or understanding of figurative language? Not everything is black and white, Robots–especially language!

In some cases, there are cultural differences, where a word that is perfectly acceptable in one language is confusing or seemingly offensive in another. The “Lamb of God” was translated to “Seal pup of God” in Inuktitut (language of the Inuit in the Arctic) because this is what made sense culturally; religious zealots might regard such a translation as disrespectful sans the full context.

Other times, maybe a translator tries to take a shortcut with a cognate that is not actually a cognate, or a word that sounds similar in both languages: for example, in Spanish, famous and famoso both mean famous, but embarrassed is not embarazada [pregnant]. While embarrassment may be an unintended side effect of a misguided translation in social settings, real embarrassment sets in when it is part of a multi-million dollar marketing slogan… and serious fiscal consequences.

Or, on a more serious note, have you heard about the $71 million dollar word lawsuit? How about the “Do Nothing” campaign? See slideshow at the top of this page.

Poor translations can be anything from goofy to life-threatening (we have not even touched on interpreters on the battlefield), but in any event, hopefully we can agree that there is more to language than initially meets the eye. For a good read on this topic, check out the book: Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche… or surf the web.

Fun fact: in the aforementioned book, “Eva Aariak, Nunavut’s former languages commissioner (and later premier of Nunavut), chose the word [ikiaqqivik] as the Inuktitut translation for ‘Internet.’ It’s a traditional term that means ‘traveling through layers,’ and it refers to what a shaman does when he travels across time and space to find out about living or deceased relatives, ‘similar to how the net is used now,’ Julia adds” (32).

November Update- JK

Junior Knights– Because children are experiencing immersion in the target language, it is difficult to know when to send an update. They respond to me in class but may not bring home words to you; while frustrating, this is also completely natural: why would they speak to you in Spanish if you don’t speak it? They probably do not associate you with the target language. I hesitate in sending home word lists because in an immersive environment, each child will pick up something different each day. That said, I wanted to give you a general synopsis of what a day looks like for JK.

The 15-minute long class starts with a beginning-of-class song–Yo me llamo; Buenos días; or La araña pequeñita/Itsy Bitzy Spider; and as of this week, Feliz Navidad (Merry Christmas) and Mi hombre de nieve (Frosty the Snowman); progresses to actions (stand up, sit down, run or spin around, jump, etc.) and rhymes–Arriba, abajo, de lado a lado; Sí me gusta, no me gusta, para nada/Yes I like it, no I don’t, not at all–where we discuss things they like or dislike (e.g., fruit, ice cream, pizza) and do a quick weather report (this emerged because of the Itzy Bitzy Spider and sun/rain vocabulary); and then there is a magical chant–Abracadabra, pata de cabra, ¡chiquitipuf! I will call on a student to bring me a magic wand, and then we transform into various animals.

Some days, I choose the animals; other days, I will ask for suggestions/sugerencias. If they answer in English, I am happy they comprehended; if they answer in Spanish, I know that they have fully internalized the vocabulary and it is time to move on (too easy!). For example, at this point they have ALL mastered “tiburón“, or shark, and I have to think of creative ways to avoid this word or else the entire lesson reverts back to hungry sharks (Tengo hambre is another song here). When they can’t agree on an animal as a class, we will do a “lotería/lottery”, and they can do any animal they want (for about three seconds). I count up or down from five and they have to get back to their letter or animal on the carpet by the last number (cero/zero or cinco/five).

At this point, we are about halfway through the lesson, and it is time to continue our Adventures in Stuffed Animal World with their stuffed animal friend, Pato (a duck with a strong personality and ridiculous squeaky voice). Pato is always getting into some sort of mischief, and while not every lesson has a “moral of the story”, I try to lead it in that direction. The stories range from mini-stories, where I introduce new vocabulary, to full-on five-minute long sagas where I leave the JK room sweating from having exerted so much energy (between ventriloquism for the various stuffed animal characters and what can only be described as “extreme adventures”).

For example, I had been trying to shift their focus away from sharks to fish/pececitos, and so we went fishing with magnetic fish last week (another song here: Diez pececitos nadando en el río… link on Seesaw). The fish lesson led to water, where I sprinkled droplets of water/agua on their head/cabeza or hands/manitas (they chose), which led to me bringing an ice-pack to pass around and Pato taking on and off his sweater and scarf/bufanda because he couldn’t decide if he was hot or cold (tengo frío/tengo calor). I also brought a hair dryer so that they could feel the heat and experience the contrast between hot and cold.

Naturally, there was a Pocoyo cartoon episode about fishing–and one about pirates–and the pirate one was such a big hit that JK-A began a story about a pirate who lived on a boat and Pato needed help because he was swimming in the water but there was a ravenous shark nearby (which he saw through a telescope/catalejo)–and then I randomly received a phone call during the lesson (#truestory)–and claimed that it was the pirate calling me on his cell (of course!), and we took Saywer’s boot and used it as a boat for Pato to swim back to the main ship with his mapa/map–which tied in nicely with their map and community study in their regular classroom (*breath*). There was also a tesoro-tesoro-tesoro-TREASURE, but we have yet to flesh out that part of the story.

Students have been requesting to draw parts of the story on the board, so I will ask them tons of comprehension questions (Does he live in a big house or small house/casa grande o casa pequeña? Are there turtles/tortugas and snakes/serpientes and fish/pececitos in the water? Where is the pirate/pirata?, Is the house red/roja or azul/blue?, etc.), and they get to decide. Again, whether they respond in English or Spanish determines where we go. That said, comprehension is the most important thing right now, not production or output of the target language (though obviously, that makes my day when it happens).

Note: In JK-B, we have not gotten to a full story (only mini-stories), but we have started playing with names and nicknames because they wanted to know what their names were in Spanish. Some names translate directly–Josephineto Josefina–while others are actual words: Isla means “island” in Spanish. And some are just silly class jokes–fresa/strawberry for the Berry boys.

Anyway, at the end of class, we sing another song–Te amo, me amas and now this week, Estrellita/Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star–and then the children sit up straight and tall with their hands in their laps and we whisper to their classroom teacher, “Sorpresa” (surprise!) because they are so quiet and ready to continue with their day.

Are you beginning to understand how it would take me three hours every day to explain what has happened in our 15-minute Spanish class? I do apologize for the lack of Seesaw posts, but I tend to feel overwhelmed when trying to explain it all. Each day, I focus on recycling or spiraling old vocabulary and feeling out where they are and what they know, connecting new and old vocabulary, and/or adding brand new information. The latter can be in the form of a mini-story, science experiment, book, or Pocoyo cartoon. HERE is the Pirate episode link.

ASIDE: I do not like teaching colors, numbers, etc. explicitly in the traditional sense because it does not feel natural. You did not test your baby out of the womb on a list of colors, so neither will I. I will describe what is happening and what we are doing, and tell stories and ask questions in the target language, just as you spoke to your children before they knew how to talk. If your child is not bringing home words yet, please be patient.

We have had 39 classes so far this year, which is equivalent to 585 minutes, or 9.75 hours. Do you remember pressuring your child to speak less than 10 hours after they were born? I’m not trying to be cheeky here, just realistic. Remember to put things in perspective and celebrate anything they bring home! If you want to supplement their language study at home, make a habit of watching a Spanish cartoon every day for five or ten minutes with your child.

Whew! If you have read this far, thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to do so. And please let me know if you would like me to start putting recordings from time to time of songs we are working on in class, or vocabulary videos. Thanks and have a WONDERFUL WEEKEND!

August Update

Since you cannot see your child’s digital portfolio (Seesaw) for another few weeks, I thought I would give you a brief update about the goings-on in Spanish class so far this year. For an explanation of the photos, keep reading. And to learn about La Tomatina, the tomato-throwing holiday festival in Spain this past week, check out the following. La Tomatina Download

Gazpacho Recipe Link– Please note that not all classes in grades 3-5 have talked about/made this yet, due to schedule interruptions.

Junior Knights– Students have settled into a routine of songs to begin and end class (most notably, Yo me llamo, Buenos días, and Te amo, me amas); met several famed characters from the Spanish Cave, including Pato, Oso, and Changuito/Mono (a duck, bear, and monkey, respectively); and begun to adjust to the fact that I speak Spanish. Which is not English. Which sounds a bit different. They were tickled pink this week upon seeing the cartoon Pocoyo in Spanish, and hearing familiar words like “¡Hola!” and “¡Adiós!“. Please visit this page for more episodes, if you would like to watch at home with your child.

Kindergarten– Students jumped into several science experiments to start the new year. First, kindergarteners made baking soda and vinegar volcanoes, but with neon food coloring! Students had fun smelling the two identical-in-appearance (but not so much for smell) liquids: agua/water and vinagre/vinegar. Immersion slides to the periphery when hands-on projects excite the senses; students barely noticed that I was speaking another language! Later, they chose from eight different food coloring bottles to create beautiful designs on coffee filters; used their imagination to “see” what was in-between the dots; and drew a scene around said image. At this point, the goal is for students to comprehend the language and work on answering questions; although well-intentioned, please refrain from pressuring your child to produce language at this stage. HERE is a blog post that explains why in greater depth.

First Grade- Students reviewed key terms from last year, and jumped into center work. Here, first graders dance around to the Song of the Month, settle on the carpet to read the Daily Letter aloud as a class, and then sign up for activities of their choice: “¡Hola! Yo me llamo ______. Yo quiero [jugar] y [pintar]” (Hi! My name is ______. I want to play and build“). Students are currently motivated to clean up said centers after working so that they can watch a very silly “baño/bathroom song” before their teacher arrives at the end of class. Soon, you will be receiving information on how to create a Señor Wooly account at home through the school’s subscription so that you can watch it at home as well.

Second Grade- Students began by reviewing the names of the Spanish-speaking countries in South and Central America from last year, and then proceeded to paint the two 6’x9′ cloth maps. To go along with the new rule of, “Un-dos-tres, ¡no inglés!” (One-two-three, no English!), second graders started out slowly by reviewing color names and then deciding as a class which country would be which color, before diving into the project. Aside: The maps are beautiful! Now that the project is finished, second graders will continue with their center work from last year, while reading and writing skills in the target language are turbo-charged. Let’s do this!

Third Grade- Students in this class adjusted well to the new rule of, “Un-dos-tres, ¡no inglés!” (One-two-three, no English!), although initially nervous about the idea. They began their immersive experience with a focus on cognados/cognates, or words that sound the same in both languages, to help ease the transition; for example, arte/artfamoso/famous, and catedral/cathedral are all relatively easy to muster a guess (though cathedral took a little longer). As there are, in fact, many cathedrals throughout Spain (among other countries), third graders took a few classes to transform my room into a cathedral with vidrieras, or stained-glass windows. These came out even better than expected, wow! They also listened to the song of the month, La Roja Baila, on loop. It is from the 2010 World Cup, and a lovely tune! Students also have been working on Duolingo at the beginning of every class, and took a day to celebrate La Tomatina and make gazpacho (a delicious soup from Spain). Yum!

Fourth Grade- Students in this class also adjusted well to the new rule of, “Un-dos-tres, ¡no inglés!” (One-two-three, no English!). As with other grade levels, they began with a project in order to emphasize family, community, and working together as a team. Their project was to build a truss bridge, or puente de armadura. Here, students learned through immersion that triangles increase the strength of a bridge significantly, and allow it to hold much more weight and undergo more force than a simple design. Fourth graders used balsa wood to build the bridges, after working on a blueprint of the bridge first. Always have a plan! Before they could finish, however, it became incumbent upon me to take a day to celebrate La Tomatina and make gazpacho (a delicious soup from Spain) with classes. Yum! We will return to the bridge-building next week. Students also have been working on Duolingo at the beginning of every class.

Fifth Grade- Students in this class also adjusted well to the new rule of, “Un-dos-tres, ¡no inglés!” (One-two-three, no English!). As with other grade levels, they began with a project in order to emphasize family, community, and working together as a team–as well as attention to detail and absorbing and understanding the target language by watching/illustration, as opposed to being able to translate every word. Their project was to design a stepping stone mosaic/mosaico with grout and colorful, glass tiles; the stones turned out beautifully, even after a mishap with a slight grout:water ratio issue in one class. Fifth graders also 1) began a theater/film unit–more info to come!; and 2) took a day to celebrate La Tomatina and make gazpacho (a delicious soup from Spain). Yum! Please read the document below if you are unfamiliar with this fun tomato-throwing festival. Students also have been working on Duolingo at the beginning of every class.La Tomatina-SpainDownload

Song of the Month


There is an endangered language in the US called Wukchumni, that only has one living speaker remaining. Intent on preserving her language for future generations and documenting it for linguists, Marie Wilcox is working on writing a dictionary to compile all of the words in her language. Can you imagine such a task? Our challenge is ‘merely’ to download all of the words in a language into our brains; her job is upload them, eek! For more information, see the video below and this Ethnologue link.

Aymara & Quechua

I love that learning about other languages and cultures always gives us new perspectives. It is like when you stand on a chair: the room is still the same room, but you notice different things about it. As we deepen our language study, we will begin to notice new perspectives embedded in other languages and cultures. The Aymara and Quechua languages (spoken in South America) introduce us to a new perspective this week. What? Keep reading!

In other words, everything we can see is considered the past, and therefore in front of us; everything we cannot see and is therefore unknown, is the future and behind us. This is actually very logical when you think about.

Until next time, remember that, “We should learn languages because language is the only thing worth knowing even poorly” (-Kató Lomb, hyperpolyglot).

Photo credit HERE; featured image at top of page of Quechua woman and child.

Welcome Back!

My Dear Friends, Fellow Linguists, and Citizens of the World:

Welcome back! I hope you are having (and have had) a wonderfully adventurous summer. As we look forward to the start of another school year, there are a few things I would like to share with you. For any new families, I am Señorita M., the Spanish teacher for grades PK-5.

  1. First, you may have noticed the image at the top of this page. It is of The Temples of Mount Fanjing in southwestern China. If there is any conversation that you have with your child(ren) about Spanish class before school begins, please remind them that–much like the 8,000-step trek to the top of this mountain–language-learning is a journey. Fluency does not occur overnight. It is a process where, after many successes, failures, and moments of uncertainty, coupled with much determination, grit, and hard work, progress is made. If your child can learn just one new thing each day in class, they will be well on their way.
  2. Second, I will communicate with you through Seesaw and my website. I have spent a good deal of time this summer revamping my site; please take a look when you get a chance. There are numerous language-learning and cultural resources there, Language Blog articles, a slideshow of last year’s Spanish class at the bottom of the Photo Gallery page, as well as photo collages of my own travels overseas on the “About” tab. If there is a linguistic topic you would like to see addressed, please do not hesitate to contact me via email.
  3. Third, if your child will be in third, fourth, or fifth grade and does not have a Duolingo or Memrise account, please have them open a free account for Spanish before the first day of school. We will be using these accounts throughout the year. PLEASE NOTE that if your child is a native speaker and already very fluent, they may either choose a different language to study, and/or wait to meet with me individually. For younger students, check out this page for 20+ games and apps.
  4. Fourth, Hispanic Heritage Month begins September 15th, and to that end, I would love to continue the Parent Speaker Series from last year. Please read THIS POST for more information and if you have any connection at all to one of the 21 Spanish-speaking countries in our world. I would love to hear from you!

And last but not least, for anyone wondering why you should learn another language, please read the following for a hearty laugh.

Why You Should Learn Another Language Download

Enjoy the rest of your summer and see you soon!


-Señorita M.

Just Play

As a child, I played “school” a lot. My mother says that in kindergarten, I would coerce others to be my students and scribble lessons on a Raggedy-Ann chalkboard. Even as a teenager, I lived in a world of ideas. I remember wanting to figure out how to convert the human body into pure electrons so that I could travel over the phone wires (circuit) to visit my friend in a town twenty miles away. For the record, I never figured that one out, but school was rarely boring; there was always more to learn and do. If anything, I felt overwhelmed at times with the quantity of information available and a serious surplus of interests. Suffice to say, teaching has always been in my blood.

That said, I did not get a degree in education. Instead, I opted for philosophy—the love of wisdom—and languages. The end result was that I entered the classroom as an educator from a different perspective. My philosophy? Learning should be a mix of terrific fun, adventure, and hard work—the kind where you want to work hard to accomplish something. Forget checking off learning standards and textbooks; let’s get to the meat of it all–playing with ideas, exploring, investigating, researching, building, thinking, doing.

Fast-forward twelve years: I am (hopefully) beyond the stage of a ‘beginner’ teacher, have expectations in my class, and a daily routine sprinkled with creative units that spiral, spiral, spiral. The administrative assistant listens patiently as I share about my newest ideas: “What if… we tried to build the Alhambra out of cardboard? Where in the school could students create a life-sized model of the eleven-foot wingspan of an Andean Condor, without the fire inspector getting mad? At 2:30am, I woke up and wondered if first through fifth grade students could collectively name 100 of the 7,000 languages in the world.” I put a lot of thought into my lessons, and yet, sometimes ideas get the best of me and I rush into a project fueled by excitement instead of plans or logic. It generally works out in the end, but because I (along with many educators) spend so much time on work, I felt slightly offended when someone commented the other day–offhandedly–“so students write a little bit in your class and then just play?” Naturally, this got me thinking. Hmm. Well, not exactly. How to explain?

For starters, the phrase ‘just play’ is frustrating. Why do we want kids to grow up so fast? At what age does play no longer become an acceptable form of learning? How can play be viewed in a more positive light? I do not know any savants or polymaths personally, but my understanding is that a true genius plays with ideas, even *gasp* as an adult. Anyone who develops technological gadgets, works with AR or AI, or creates new algorithms is, ultimately, playing with an idea. Anyone who drives a motor vehicle plays with ideas on the highway. It is like a massive, ever-evolving chess game: if I speed up, I can pass him, but then she looks impatient, and he’s on his phone, so what if I went that way? Or I could stay here and slow down, and create a stalemate for that guy who keeps switching lanes. Safety is first, but how do I get out of this traffic jam? We play with ideas all the time, but for whatever reason, the label ‘play’ is relegated to only the youngest of the young.

Playing_to_learn_cartoonImage Credit HERE.

I was blown away the other week when, after a quiz (and a few tears), my fifth graders asked to play in a cardboard fort generally reserved for younger grades. They took out the plastic food, started role-playing some sort of spy game, and had a great time… playing. I reflected on that day, along with a quote from Pat Bassett, former NAIS president, for a while.

“Wait a minute! That’s a novel thought: getting to do what you want to do with your friends in class, not just between and after class” (Bassett Blog 2011/10).

…and came to a conclusion: I think he is right. As per my general lack of patience when it comes to ideas, I redesigned my curriculum overnight: students would sign up for centers in the target language that they wanted to do.

Now, fourth graders write short letters in Spanish each day, explaining their plans, and read them aloud to me. They travel to said center, but wait! ¡Señorita! Where did you put the basketball? Where is the paper? Well, I may have hidden it. On purpose. For the—drumroll, please—intention of forced linguistic interactions. Students do get to do what they want in my class, that is, “play”, but it is very intentionally guided. Yes, I did hide the miniature soccer ball in the closet. You will probably need the keys to get it. “Señorita, I need the keys.” Sorry, I don’t speak English. “Necesito las llaves.” Ahh, sí. Now I understand! “Where is the paper?” Umm, I think you mean, “¿Dónde está el papel?”, right? Moreover, I am constantly bombarding them with cultural project ideas: could you help me outline the Nazca Lines with masking tape on my floor? Do you want to build a clay model of Machu Picchu? How could we make a functional water fountain to resemble the ones in the Alhambra gardens in Spain? Is this, “just play”?

After a few weeks passed, I began to get a little worried. The adult in me was concerned that certain ideas and grade levels were overlapping. First graders were not the only ones who wanted to play the class keyboard or paint or build the Alhambra. Third and fourth and fifth and kindergarten did as well. But then a beautiful thing happened: suddenly, ideas themselves began circulating in the hallways. Grade levels were tapping into the same activities, but from different developmental perspectives, and this began to create a conversation. Isn’t this what education is all about?

2020 is around the corner, with creativity chomping at the bit to lead us into the future. Let’s make sure that playing with ideas—at any age—is welcome in that world. Just do it. Just play.

Language Challenge

Week #5: Numbers

WEEK #5: Learning a language is not an overnight project. It is not even a project where there is a clear telos, or end point. You just keep chipping away at your own pace, and the graph naturally swings up and down: you make a lot of progress, a little progress, plateau, and then make more progress. At some point, you are able to communicate the bare minimum to survive in another land. Later on down the road, your thoughts drift into the target language. Your confidence improves, and you start to feel good, really good, about your proficiency level. Fluency is somewhere out there, but it is not easily defined (see this post).

Now on this journey, life can get in the way. You must deal with more pressing matters and day-to-day tasks, and before you know it, language-learning has slipped between the cracks. Duolingo? Oh yeah, that… whoops. Taking a break and allowing your new language to settle into the long-term memory portion of your cerebral region is actually crucial to success. (Isn’t there a weird satisfaction in knowing that not doing anything is justified?!) Why you took a break is irrelevant. Maybe you broke a toe last week (true fact). Maybe you are just being lazy (partially true). Maybe cleaning the house took precedence (most definitely). Whatever the reason, give yourself permission to pause and then, get back on the horse. Picking yourself up and continuing where you left off is key to success; this is where and when you will make the most progress.

It can be helpful to visualize your daily highs and lows to keep things in perspective. Initially, the language-learning process probably sounds like this–Yesss, progress! Nooooo, I forgot that word. Yes, now I remember! Up-down-up-down ad infinitum–and looks like the graph below, or f(x)=(cosx^2+3).

Fastforward a few weeks later. Despite your studying, you feel like you’re going in circles, so many circles. You know it’s all leading somewhere–where [0,0] is your target language–but it feels like nothing is happening. X means apple, Y means eats, Z means girl, A keeps popping up but the exact translation remains unclear. Rules are scattered in your mind, and none of the pieces seem to fit together. I just want to speak! You attack the language from all sides, but there seems to be no progress, just a pretty design and neat mathematical function [r > (sin (a/b)(θ)), where 0 < θ < 12π and a=5 and b=6].

And then, finally, your two-dimensional rose becomes a spiraling logarithmic beauty! Something clicks inside, and you begin to connect the dots; information that seemed irrevelant suddenly has a place; you create your first sentence in the target language! It is magical! You are no longer spinning in circles but rather, living in 3D, spiraling out into the universe, empowered by your language-learning prowess, ready to take on the world, maybe even ask a native speaker a question. Wunderbar/wonderful! [r = a^θ, where 0 < θ < 12π and a=1.25].

Yes, the Internet helped me write these equations!

This is, undoubtedly, a Math Tangent on this weeks’ Language Blog, but… sometimes you need a new perspective. You need to step back, recognize your progress, and then consciously decide to keep moving forward toward your goal. Your task this week, then, is about moving past fear, moving past failures, moving past guilt, just keep moving. Forgive yourself for the breaks and silly excuses, and get back on the horse. There is a whole world (read: language) out there to explore!

Week #4: Climb the Mountain

DUOLINGO: You have courageously jumped into a new language. You have begun to set a pace. Now is the time to make some serious progress and climb the mountain. If you are a numbers person, note that staying in the top 10 of your division (by number of EXP points) in Duolingo allows you to advance each week to a new division. Moreover, earning a gold, silver, or bronze shield this way earns you A TON of gems. Climb to the top!

WEEK #4: This week, visit your local library and take some time to see what language-learning resources are available. I would highly recommend checking out the children’s foreign language section, along with the 400’s (Language) in the adult section, and also DVD’s, CD’s, and audiobooks for your target language. Be a Word Detective and scan the children’s books for words you know, not words you don’t. They will jump out at you! I checked out some audiobooks for German (Pimsleur) recently as well, and they are so much fun to listen to and repeat aloud, both intentionally and randomly.

Repeating words aloud allows you to get a sense for the feel, character, and personality of a language. For example, when I repeat a word, it helps me to get into the character of that language. Not only does your language have its own personality, but you also have a slightly different personality with each language you speak: that said, do not shy away from a ‘you’ that is more bold, or less so, in your target language. I tend to be more introverted in English and more extroverted in Spanish, while German feels strong and robust: I may not know what I am saying, but I will be confident, that is for sure–ja, voll! What personality traits does your new language bring out in you? What does it feel like?

Shouting random words and phrases aloud may seem silly at first, but it builds confidence and is also a technique used by some hyperpolyglots (people who speak and have studied an extreme number of languages). Accomplished linguist Alexander Arguelles employs this technique: “In [shadowing], students listen to language recordings on a portable player while briskly walking in a public place, gesticulating energetically as they shout out the foreign words and phrases they are listening to” (Babel No More, Michael Erard).

If you do not feel comfortable shouting in a public place, a more private venue is equally effective. Just make sure to repeat the words out loud. Queens, NYC has the most concentrated number of languages spoken in the world–simply imagine that you are there. You won’t understand everyone around you, ergo they won’t understand you, either. For more ear training, feel free to check out these videos by Amy Walker, an American actress and accent specialist: 21 Accents and Fun Tour of American Accents. She is amazing!

This week’s focus, then? Remember that yes, you are climbing a mountain, and yes, it will be tough to keep to a schedule some days. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun along the way. Enjoy the climb!

Week #3: Setting a Pace

DUOLINGO: I have just discovered that you can follow people on Duolingo in order to compete by number of EXP points. If you are the competitive type, search your friends’ emails and add them. I didn’t think I was that competitive… until I saw the division I was in [shield icon] and wanted to get to number one! Try it on for size, if you like.

WEEK #3: Hopefully, you have started to establish a language-learning routine. Now, the race has truly begun. After a few dozen times around the track (metaphorically speaking), you will begin to notice oddities, or so-called quirks in your target language. Many of these will fall in the category of syntax–the arrangement of words and phrases in language; or, how language is organized–that differs from your native tongue. “Juice of orange/jugo de naranja” instead of orange juice (Spanish); “I doctor/Я доктор”, instead of “I am a doctor” (Russian); “Electric brain/电脑“, instead of “computer” (Mandarin Chinese). You may not be here yet, but when you arrive, try to be flexible in your thinking. “We” are not any more right than “they” are. This is where the beautiful flower of language begins to blossom.

In addition, there can also be more nebulous types of translations, or even completely untranslatable phrases. Regarding the former, Spanish does not have as many words as English, so one word can encompass numerous meanings and nuances; in English, we might have a more specific term. In fact, I have heard before that Swahili is incredibly metaphorical because it only has 5,000 words. Spanish has many more than 5,000 words–rough estimates might say 150,000 words in Spanish. Below, see a few more thoughts on the subject:

With respect to untranslatable words, komorebi/木漏れ日 (in Japanese) means ‘sunlight that filters through the leaves of trees’; there is no English equivalent. Pisanzapra (in Malay) is the time needed to eat a banana. In case you are interested, Ella Frances Sanders has two books devoted entirely to this fascinating topic. Here is one of my favorite untranslatable words:

Week #2: Jump!

DUOLINGO: The Language Challenge is picking up speed. I have already talked with many parents, faculty, and staff interested in joining this friendly competition. Thinking about everyone beginning a language-learning journey and working towards a common goal is motivating in itself, but I thought I might share a few tips or pieces of advice each week, to help keep you–and me!–on track.

WEEK #2: This week, commit to a set timeduring the day when you will either 1) work on the Duolingo app; or 2) listen to your target language for five minutes(e.g. Pocoyo cartoons, radio, internet, podcast, YT channels, etc.). This exercise could easily be built into a family routine–before or after dinner, during your commute–or, alternatively, a more private practice (before anyone gets up in the morning). Remember, five minutes 3-4 times per week is more than enough. Commit to establishing a routine. Just do it–jump!

When you listen to the target language, the idea is to become accustomed to hearing a bullet train of unintelligible sounds pass you by at the speed of light (squared), and simply enjoy the cadence and rhythm. Relax. As the days pass, your brain will begin to pick up on details and cognates (words that sound similar in English), and do a lot of subconscious work. If you studied your target language in school at some point, you might begin to recall vocabulary from a lifetime ago, or distinguish between accents from different countries. Duolingo will build your vocabulary phrase by phrase; listening to the target language will train your ear.

Anyway, thank you for reading. Until next time, create and stick to your language-learning schedule. YOU CAN DO IT! And last but not least, remember that, “We should learn languages because language is the only thing worth knowing even poorly” (-Kató Lomb, hyperpolyglot).

Week #1

This year, students in grades 3-5 have been using the language-learning app Duolingo to supplement their Spanish study. I want to lead by example, and therefore have chosen German to study alongside my students. While I have already invited faculty and staff to join me in a friendly in-house Language Challenge, I thought that it might be fun to include our parent community as well.

Here, participants (aka Language Ninja Warriors) are challenged to work on the Duolingo app for three days a week, for only five minutes each time. The goal here is frequency. Two hours a day is not sustainable long-term, anyway, unless you are a hyperpolyglot. (More about Timothy Doner HERE.) Point being, this could be a lot of fun for everyone if a lot of us participated, and it would start a lot of conversations with students as well. We could have pockets of language teams–people who are studying the same language–throughout the community.

That said, if you are interested: 1) choose a language to study; 2) download the Duolingo app; and 3) send me a quick email so that I know you are participating.

While this is only a 15-minute commitment per week, I completely understand and respect the fact that sometimes you have to say, “No”. This is merely a chance to grab onto that lifelong dream of wanting to learn another language… and encouraging you to get started. I will send quotes and messages from time to time to keep you motivated and on track. PLEASE keep in mind that this process should be primarily enjoyable. If you have had negative language-learning experiences in the past, or have ever said, “I took four years of XXX and can’t say anything”, let this be an opportunity to clear the slate and begin anew. Here is a quote from Kató Lomb (an amazing Hungarian hyperpolyglot) to consider:

“We should learn languages because language is the only thing worth knowing even poorly. If someone knows how to play the violin only a little, he will find that the painful minutes he causes are not in proportion to the possible joy he gains from his playing. The amateur chemist spares himself ridicule only as long as he doesn’t aspire for professional laurels. The man somewhat skilled in medicine will not go far, and if he tries to trade on his knowledge without certification, he will be locked up as a quack doctor.

Solely in the world of languages is the amateur of value. Well-intentioned sentences full of mistakes can still build bridges between people. Asking in broken Italian which train we are supposed to board at the Venice railway station is far from useless. Indeed, it is better to do that than to remain uncertain and silent and end up back in Budapest rather than in Milan.” 

Please let me know if you would like to participate. Happy language learning!

-Your Resident Linguist

Summer Packet 2019

My Dear Friends, Fellow Linguists, and Citizens of the World:

WE LIVE in a World of Words, where every conversation, every interaction, everything we read and hear is, ultimately, a story of our lives.

Some are stories of heartbreak, others of adventure, wonder, or joy; some are apathetic, others filled with purpose and intention. Our stories change course frequently, and expand from the microcosm of our personal selves and family histories, to the stories of our world. Our identities emerge from the stories we tell ourselves and hear, and the words we use frame these stories, to create the essence of who we are, as individuals and as a human race. Our stories have a past, present, and future. Whether or not we realize it, we are all storytellers—because in the end, our lives come alive in and through language.

With all of this in mind, and instead of sending home worksheets or grammar packets this summer, I have compiled a list of ideas to weave the Spanish language and culture into your own personal story. I want you to make your story powerful, adventurous, and loving, but most of all, to make it yours, and remember who is telling it. If you are bored with your day, your story, then change it. The world is your oyster! We must remember that we are the superheroes of our own narratives. As the saying goes, “When something goes wrong in your life, just yell, ‘Plot twist!’ and move on”. Move on to a new chapter, a better story…

Below, please pick and choose what fits in your story. Some ideas might resonate, and others might not. As always, though, know that every activity outlined below is 100% optional. Each one is meant to enhance your own story.

1) For a GLOWING story: Try a Bioluminescent Kayaking Tour. Bioluminescence is a natural phenomenon caused by algae that makes the water light up when touched (or “disturbed”). A land example of this would be the light emitted by fireflies. While lightning bugs are found around the world, “water” bioluminescence is much more scarce. It is famously found in Puerto Rico (Mosquito Bioluminescent Bay, on the Island of Vieques), but can be seen in other places as well, especially when there is little to no moonlight. Check out this video HERE if you have never seen it before–and let me know if you take the tour!

2) For a MUSICAL story: Let’s continue jazzing up your summer story by adding some new music. For starters, visit the link below* for pop songs translated/ adapted from English to Spanish. Visit this page for more songs in Spanish, and here for songs in languages that are not English. Also, if you have any translation requests or song suggestions (clean lyrics only), please let me know.

A few favorites:
Sounds European – pop music by country, updated daily!
Pop Songs Playlist* –  songs translated/adapted from English to Spanish
Señor Wooly – please contact me if you do not have an account

MoanaFrozen- 25 languages & Frozen- SpanishWreck-It RalphHoy es domingoThis Is MeHigh HopesMadre tierraSpain’s National AnthemLa lista/AldreyVivir mi vidaNo tengo dineroCall Me MaybePerfect/Ed SheeranLa vida es un carnaval (Salsa), Cielito lindo/Canta, no llores

3) For a MESSY story: There is a special montaña/mountain in Peru called Vinicunca, or Rainbow Mountain, located near Machu Picchu. The mountain has a unique mineral composition that makes the range appear like the inside of a jawbreaker! For this project, the goal is to make a piece of artwork to represent Vinicunca, using THIS amazing video as a guide. If you have a lot of paint lying around in the garage, put down a big tarp on the floor and start pouring! Make sure to ask your parents before you start this very messy project. And if you end up covered in paint with a product that did not turn out exactly as you planned, do not despair: at least you got a good story out of it!

4) For a FAMILY story: Ask your parents if they have ever traveled to another country. If they have, see if you can find tickets, receipts, foreign currency*, brochures, postcards, magnets, or anything else from their trip. If it was a long time ago, this might turn into a TREASURE HUNT type of story! After you collect a few souvenirs, either decorate or buy a small decorative box to put them inside. Ask your parents to tell you stories about their adventures overseas. If your parents have NOT traveled, use the same decorative box as a “Vision Board”, where you put names and photos of places you would like to travel to inside.

*ASIDE: I never know what to do with foreign coins–and after 13 or 14 countries, I have collected quite a few! To get cash for your change, check out THIS link. Or, read THIS ARTICLE for a few more ideas.

5) For a HISTORICAL story: Visit the Henry B. Plant Museum in Tampa to explore their exhibit on the Spanish-American War and Its Tampa Connection. It will be around until February of 2027, so do not worry if you can’t get there right away!

6) For a DELICIOUS story: Try visually documenting a Food Tour of at least FIVE Spanish-speaking restaurants. In other words, visit a Cuban restaurant one day, have a meal, and take a picture of your plate. Next, visit a Venezuelan restaurant, have a meal, and take a picture of your plate. Next, visit a Mexican restaurant, have a meal, and take a picture of your plate. Do this five times. Try a food, drink, or dessert you haven’t tried before at each place, and make sure to write down what it is called (in case you really like it and want to order it again someday!). Any authentic restaurants (no Taco Bell!) from the 21 Spanish-speaking countries are game here. Have fun!

7) For a DIGITAL story: Change all of your devices to Spanish (go to Settings –> General –> Language and Region –> Spanish)… and keep it that way for as long as you can. How long can you last? An hour? A day? A week? A month? All summer? If you are feeling especially motivated, sign up for (or continue working on, if you are in Summit) Duolingo or Memrise, and see how many days in a row you can keep up with it. The first day or two is easy, but after that, you might be tempted to quit. Remember, consistency is key when learning a language; the more frequently you keep at it, the stronger and smarter your brain will get! Make it a game, choose a goal, and then reward yourself with a prize when you stick with it for five or more days in a row, or three times a week, etc.

8) For a TRAVEL story: Check out Universal Yums!, where you order snacks from a different country every month. The fun part is, you never know where they are coming from next, or what you will get in a box–every country has its own ideas about what are tasty snacks! Please note that this website includes countries from all around the world (and not only Spanish-speaking cultures).

9) For an ARTISTIC story: Take a field trip with your family and explore the Salvador Dalí Museum, and then try to recreate some of his works yourself. See how creative you can get!

10) For a DIFFERENT story: Take a break and consider someone else’s story. Choose from this list of Spanish Movies for Kids, with G and PG rated titles and a blogger’s commentary on the films.

For more linguistic-oriented activities, check out THIS LINK. And if you are interested in my story, please read THIS POST. Have fun, be safe, and see you in August! I wish you happiness wherever your story takes you.



May Update- Projects

Patacones/Fried Plantains

This morning in Spanish class, third graders started a cooking project that first graders ended up finishing (because Señorita overloaded the electrical circuits… whoops! and had to restart, ahem). As serendipity would have it, the end product was even better than planned: a beautiful mix of first and third graders working and cooking side-by-side.

As a result, both classes learned about plantains and how even though they appear very similar to bananas, they are not the same food at all–starchy and much harder (cannot be eaten raw). Students then made tostones or patacones (plantain chips) to taste, which are a very popular snack in Spanish-speaking countries.

If you would like to make this delicious snack at home, HERE is a recipe. Another way to prepare them is for breakfast, as mangú (eaten especially in the Dominican Republic)–recipe HERE. See below for the etymological origin of this word and a fun story. Happy Thursday!

Captura de pantalla 2019-03-29 a la(s) 1.32.37 p. m.


A fighter takes part in a fight in the arena, where the bulls are slowly weakened and exhausted before their final execution. 6 bulls, and 3 fighters, take part in each fight with the outcome all but assured.

This morning, one first grader came to class excited about the idea of bulls/toros and bullfighting (Ferdinand influence?). As enthusiasm quickly spread to the rest of the class, Señorita recalled that she had a video of the “Running of the Bulls” down the city streets of Pamplona. Somehow, she was able to locate said file deep in the digital archives, and shared with children that she had been in Spain during this holiday of sorts a few years ago. Because children are only in first grade and it is a controversial topic, they were only exposed to the following information: 1) bulls are very large animals; 2) they run in the streets to the bullfighting arena; 3) the police set up two layers of VERY heavy duty, wooden fences to keep observers safe; and 4) this takes place in Spain.**

With this information, the class transformed the Spanish Cave into the streets of Pamplona and a bullfighting ring arena! One student found a sheet of reddish paper, named herself la torera, and took it upon herself to lead the bulls down the streets to the arena. Another student waved Spain’s flag to the beat of Spain’s National Anthem playing in the background. Amazing!

**NOTE: That real people actually run alongside the bulls (and can be badly injured) was not mentioned. Students were much more invested in pretending to be toros/bulls, anyway. That said, if you would like to continue this discussion at home, please feel free to watch Ferdinand the movie, and/or visit THIS PAGE for more information

Country Presentations

Today, kindergarteners and third graders had a special presentation about Mexico [from Regina and Isabella’s mom and grandmother]. In it, students learned that the Aztecs were warriors, or guerreros, who needed to eat very good food to keep them strong. Corn tortillas provided just the strength they needed, and this food acted as their main source of energy, especially when combined with chili, meat, beans, and vegetables. They also saw a short video about Mexico that you are welcome to revisit at home.

Students learned that making homemade tortilla shells is very easy. All you need is warm water and ground corn (flour) to create the dough/masa. Knead it together into small rounded balls, press it flat in a tortilla press, cook it on a cast-iron skillet, and… time to eat!

During the presentation, childen ate quesadillas, and then balled up the dough and put it in the press (one at a time) to make (and eat) their own Mexican tortillas. Later, they were given a surprise treat of Mexican candy, Paletón de Cajeta (a goat milk caramel lollipop). What a lovely and informative presentation–thank you so much for your time! ¡Mil gracias!


This morning, first graders heard a special presentation about Honduras [from Marcelo’s mom]. She intertwined authentic realia and artifacts, photos of the colorful guacamayo and orchid (national flower), and videos of Tegucigalpa and Lenca weaving to give insight into this beautiful Central American country. She also told a Mayan legend about the hummingbird; explained the flag’s significance (blue represents the water on each side of the country; the five stars are for the five original Central American countries); talked about the Mayan calendar (see photo of glyphs below); and ended by teaching a Honduran folkloric dance to students. There was a brief Q&A as the class came to a close. Thank you so much for your time! ¡Mil gracias!


Yesterday, Junior Knights had a combined art and Spanish class so that they could hear a special presentation about Venezuela [from Eva’s mom]. Class began with a brief discussion about, “What is culture?” and children deduced on their own that they speak Spanish in Venezuela (quote: “I think they speak Spanish there because Eva speaks Spanish, and that is Eva’s mom!”). Excellent! In the presentation itself, students learned about animals native to Venezuela, including the cabybara and the most poisonous snake in the world; saw a video emphasizing how tall the famous waterfall Angel Falls actually is; made arepas; heard about the water balloon fight tradition for Carnaval; folded their own paper hats and reenacted a parade to celebrate their own mini Carnaval; and received a goodie bag of Venezuelan treats. Thank you so much for your time. ¡Mil gracias!

When Will My Child Be Fluent?

With all due respect, this question and its answer are not as simple or black-and-white as some would want to believe.  Let’s consider its three main flaws.

1) This is not an immersion school.  While its language classes may be taught 95-100% in the target language, these classes are language-specific, and not the medium of instruction for other subjects (fluency as such is possible at a much faster rate when the bulk of the day is spent in the target language).  Language classes at this school are similar to Math or Science or Music classes in that there is an allotted time for each one.  Specifically, Spanish classes meet three times per week (K-5), for thirty minutes each class.  While this is impressive compared to many other elementary language programs out there, it is also misleading for both students and parents to claim that “Joey has been taking Spanish for seven years now”–meaning he began in PK and is now in fifth grade.  Why is this misleading?  Most people are highly disappointed upon discovering that “Joey” is not yet fluent in the target language, most of all, Joey himself.  However, has he actually been taking Spanish for seven years?  Let’s be realistic here and tally up the minutes, just for kicks and giggles.

PK: (15 minutes/day)(5 days/week)(35 weeks) = 2625 minutes/year

K: (30 minutes/day)(3 days/week)(35 weeks) =3150 minutes/year

1: (30 minutes/day)(3 days/week)(35 weeks) = 3150 minutes/year

2: (30 minutes/day)(3 days/week)(35 weeks) = 3150 minutes/year

3: (30 minutes/day)(3 days/week)(35 weeks) = 3150 minutes/year

4: (30 minutes/day)(3 days/week)(35 weeks) = 3150 minutes/year

5: (30 minutes/day)(3 days/week)(35 weeks) = 3150 minutes/year

TOTAL: 14.95 days (not including snow days or holidays)

Conclusion?  In reality, students spend about two weeks with the target language over the course of seven years, or the equivalent of an extended vacation in Mexico (i.e., full immersion, or 24/7 in the target language, and this is assuming you are not speaking to your child in English on the trip).  As I’ve mentioned numerous times before, does a baby speak two weeks out of the womb?  Why are you pressuring your child to produce the target language so soon?  This is discouraging for all parties involved.  In doing so, you implicitly emphasize that the product is more important than the process, or journey, and moreover, that language learning and acquisition ought to happen overnight; but quite frankly, this is not the case.  This sets up your student to buy into the ‘instant-gratification’ mentality; instead, let’s encourage our children and students to develop the strength of character to persevere in the long (but worthwhile) process of language acquisition.  Inspire and motivate, but remember that linguistically, even as a fifth grader, your child is still an infant…

2) Now, let’s talk about fluency.  Online dictionaries define fluency with increasingly vague terms, “the ability to express oneself easily and articulately” or even better, “the ability to speak or write a foreign language easily and accurately”.  Well, which is it?  Does fluency encompass speaking or writing–or both?  There are many translators out there who very precisely transfer highly technical, written documents from one language to another with tremendous skill, yet who do not speak the language.  Can they claim fluency?  What about oral cultures?  Are people whose languages lack a written form not fluent?

Even if we concede on the “the ability to speak OR write a foreign language”, the question of “easily and accurately” still poses a great deal of ambiguity.  In what venue, exactly?  I would be lost at sea in English at a medical conference (borborygmi?), just as many would fare poorly at a philosophical one (solipsism?).    In general conversation, perhaps a majority of English speakers–[as evidenced through close observation with people of all education levels, and even in television shows and Hollywood blockbusters]–use “there is” or “there’s” with plurals on a regular basis.  In some regions of the Midwest, people eliminate “to be” altogether (“the paper needs turned in”, “the house needs painted”).  Yes, I may be a language prude, but in terms of fluency, those are both grammatically incorrect.  And what about slang?  Who is fluent in their native tongue, anyway?

Obviously, someone who can only ask, “Where is the bathroom?” is not fluent in that language, but when exactly are they?  It is not an easy question.  Consider a four-year-old: “The typical four-year-old child will have about a 1,500-1,600-word vocabulary.  […]  By the time a child is 12 years old, he/she will understand (have a receptive vocabulary) of about 50,000 words” (Vocabulary Chart).  A ninth grader will not learn the same 1,500-1,600 words in a language that a four-year-old learns on the playground and at school, and each four-year-old’s vocabulary differs as well (though understandably and at a certain point, they do share a common pool).  That said, how can we compare these ‘common pools’ of vocabulary from school to school, when each teacher and school focuses on different words and teaching methodologies?  “Fluency levels” are eventually determined and assessed on the national AP exams, but until then, we remain in the black hole of, as Saussure so elegantly phrases it, “a vague, uncharted nebula”.

3) Lastly, intrinsic and extrinsic motivational factors definitely play a role.  And yet, I have heard numerous times, “Why does my child not speak to me in Spanish at home?”  Let’s be honest: do you speak the target language to them?  I ask the question not to be rude, but rather as a reminder of what is logical.  General politeness mandates that you speak to others in a language they understand.  Therefore, it would be wholly nonsensical for your child to blabber to you on a regular basis in the language they are learning, as they do not associate you with the target language.  Vocabulary recall in your presence is oftentimes more challenging simply because it seems out of place.  The brain constantly networks and categorizes knowledge, information, and sensory input.  Think about it: how many times has SEEING someone jogged your memory?  So visual associations actually play a legitimate role here.   Students remember vocabulary in their teacher’s presence, but at home or in a restaurant, it proves more taxing for the brain, if not practiced consistently.

Extrinsic factors, then, include you pressuring your child to translate words at unexpected times and in unexpected places.  Putting him or her on the spot to produce the target language is 1) having unreasonable expectations (see fluency above); and 2) not being considerate of the fact that you probably aren’t associated with the target language amidst your child’s cerebral gray matter.  That said, do you encourage their study?  Do you encourage them to have fun during the process?  Do you talk about languages and multi-lingual people in a positive light?  Whether your child speaks another language at home (besides English) is yet another contributing factor…

Intrinsic factors are simply motivation-related: does your child have an interest in language(s)?  Do they want to spend time outside of class reviewing, practicing, prancing around the house or running up and down the stairs reciting vocabulary and shouting creative, ridiculous sentences in the target language?  As a language teacher, my hope is YES!, but I am highly aware  that this is not the case for everyone.  This is, however, definitely a factor and can accelerate the language-learning process by leaps and bounds.

To sum up, then, no–I cannot give you a date and time when your child will be fluent–or even conversational–in the target language, just as you could not predict the moment when your child would stutter or stammer their first word or complete sentence in their native tongue.  This treatise is not meant to lower your expectations of what your child will learn here, but rather to give a more realistic assessment of and appreciation for the process of learning/acquiring another language.  It is not as simple as ‘downloading vocabulary’ and then ‘outputting’ a random combination of sounds or letters.  Consider, then, Lower School as the ‘formative years’ [input], or ages 0-2: their brains are receiving a great deal of information re: language rhythms, cadence, vocabulary, grammar, syntax, and intonation, coupled with gestures, culture, and meaningful contexts.  It will take a while for their neural matter to sort out everything.  So please refrain from pressuring your child to speak, unless he or she wants to: children are wildflowers, and will bloom when they are ready.

Spanish App Challenge

Happy New Year! It is a new year, and a new you. Fifth grade is a fabulous class, but because we only meet twice a week, there is a lot of time during the week without Spanish (boo hoo!); so we are going to level up and try to change this for 2019.

That means that for all of January, I would like you to
1) find a Spanish language-learning app that you like;
2) sign up for it on the device of your choice; and
3) spend three times a week leveling up and learning Spanish at home on the app. It is much better to spend five or ten minutes each day learning a language than two hours on Saturday… so think more in terms of baby steps–five minutes a day is plenty.

We will beta-test these apps as a class, and vote later on about which one is the best and why. However, for January, I would like you to choose only one of the following. In February, you will have the opportunity to switch to a new app, if you so desire. Here are your choices:

1) Duolingo
2) Memrise
3) FluentU (there is a 15-day free trial)
4) MindSnacks

*Guess the Language is also a really fun and highly addictive game, but it is not just Spanish and therefore does not count for this homework challenge. Maybe it could be a prize/reward activity at the end of the week when you log three days in a row. Just a thought!

PLEASE NOTE that if you already speak Spanish at home, you are welcome to spend the five minutes a day, three days a week watching cartoons, movies, news, sports games, YouTube videos, etc. in the target language. Apps may not be developmentally appropriate here, as they are geared more towards beginner language-learners and not native speakers. The goal is to enrich your Spanish study at home and learn at your own pace.

If you have questions, we can talk more tomorrow. In the meantime, have fun exploring! I am excited to see what you choose. And one last note, please do NOT pay for any of these apps. We are beta-testing the free versions!

Holiday Packet 2018


My Dear Friends, Fellow Linguists, and Citizens of the World:

The holidays are a time for family, friends, and much merriment. Hopefully, amidst the frantic shoppers and bumper-to-bumper traffic, you are able to relax and find some peace and joy in the season.

That said, learning does not stop or stagnate just because there are no classes; we learn constantly throughout our lives, and these breaks remind us that education takes many forms. While vacations are definitely for relaxing and spending time with loved ones, 20,160 minutes [two weeks] is a long time without a language, and parents frequently ask me what they can do at home to supplement their child’s language study. With that in mind, I have curated a list of cultural and linguistic activities that you and your children are welcome to explore over the break. Feel free to pick and choose what works for you and your family, but know that all of these activities are 100% optional.

CULTURE: Holiday Traditions from Spanish-Speaking Countries to Try

1) Cuba: For New Year’s, many Cubans mop their houses from top to bottom, and fill up a bucket with the dirty water. Next, they dump this water in the street, as a symbolic gesture to “throw away” all of the bad stuff from this past year and begin anew. Later, they walk around the block with a suitcase, waving goodbye to their neighbors. This is meant to ensure a trip abroad in the coming months. A staple Cuban event is the pig roast (click on the link, if you dare), but they also will eat black beans and rice, plantains, and buñuelos for dessert for the Christmas Eve meal. A pig roast takes a long time, but the water-dumping and suitcase jaunt seem manageable!

2) Venezuela: “For locals in the capital of Caracas, it is customary to strap on your roller skates and glide to Christmas mass. As legend has it, children go to bed with a piece of string tied round their toe and the other end dangling out of the window. As skaters roll past, they give the string a tug and children know that it’s time to, well, get their skates on” (source). The streets are actually blockaded off each year so that families can roller-skate to Midnight Mass safely. People say this began as an alternative to sledding, since Venezuela is right on the equator and therefore quite warm in December. While I would not recommend roller-skating in the middle of the street in this country, you could go to a rink to skate!

3) Spain: Eat twelve grapes at midnight on December 31, to welcome in the New Year and for good luck for each month of the coming year. People also wear red clothing (and underwear!) for extra good luck. There is also a highly anticipated, three-hour long Christmas Lottery called, “El Gordo” that Spaniards watch on television December 22nd. Children from the San Ildefonso School practice all year long to announce the winning numbers in song. THIS is what it looks like. (Note: The grape-eating tradition has been adopted in many other Spanish-speaking countries as well, and not just Spain.)

4) Mexico: “Families begin the nine-day observance of las posadas by reenacting the Holy Family’s nine-day journey to Bethlehem and their search for shelter in a posada, or inn. In some parts of Mexico, for the first eight evenings of las posadas two costumed children carry small statues of Mary and Joseph as they lead a candlelight procession of friends and neighbors from house to house. They sing a song asking for shelter for the weary travelers. When at last they find a family that will give shelter, the children say a prayer of thanks and place the figures of Mary and Joseph in the family’s nacimiento. Then everyone enjoys a feast at the home of one of the participants.

For the children, the piñata party on the first eight evenings is the best part of las posadas. The blindfolded children are spun around and given a big stick. They take turns trying to break open the piñata with the stick while the piñata is raised and lowered. Everybody scrambles for the gifts and treats when the piñata shatters and spills its treasure” (source). Here, you could act out las posadas and make or buy a piñata.

Oaxaca, Mexico also hosts a very unique radish-carving festival called, “Noche de los Rábanos” (Night of the Radishes) every December. The radish carvings are extremely detailed, intricate sculptures–see pics HERE and HERE–which wilt quickly; timing here is everything. See if you can carve a miniature radish sculpture at home with your parents.

5) Guatemala: Here, “Guatemalans use colored sawdust to construct their nativity sets, and create characters with indigenous features to represent their ancestors” (source). While these nativity scenes are very beautiful, perhaps even more impressive are the sawdust carpets Guatemalans create for Holy Week (Easter). Check out a few pictures HERE to learn more and read about the 6,600 foot long sawdust carpet–a world record. It might be fun to create a miniature sawdust carpet model, but using colored sand and a stencil outline instead. Take a picture so that it lasts forever!

People in many Latin American countries also prepare Christmas tamales, although the recipes differ from place to place and culture to culture (e.g., Mexicans tend to wrap them in corn husks and Guatemalans in banana leaves).

LANGUAGE: Spanish Language Activities

1) Watch a movie in the target language, with Spanish voiceover and English subtitles. If you have not seen Coco or Ferdinand, now would be a great time, but any movie works!NOTE: you are welcome to change the voiceover AND subtitles to Spanish, but quite often, the translations are done in different countries: what you are hearing is not what you are reading. This can be confusing for a beginner; it is more important right now for students to listen to the language: input, input, input! If your family does not want to watch the movie in Spanish with you, ask to invite some friends over. ¡Fiesta!

2) Find a Spanish radio station on your car radio and listen to it either driving around town or on a long road trip. Dance along to the songs and try to pick out a few words you know!

3) Schedule a family night out at a local Mexican/Cuban/Venezuelan/Spanish-speaking restaurant. Then, either order in Spanish (if you already know how), or ask the waiter a few questions and learn how! Most people are more than willing to share their linguistic knowledge. Be courageous and try something new you have not had before.

4) Prepare a traditional recipe with your family from a Spanish-speaking country. Make it interesting and try something new that you have never had before. Tortilla EspañolaBocadilloChurrosFlanDulce de lecheTamales? Guacamole? Patacones? Tres leches cake? Gallo pinto? Horchata? Enjoy the process of searching for a recipe (appetizer? drink? main course? dessert?), buying ingredients you may have never heard of before, and then preparing it as a family. There tends to be a big focus on family and community in Latin American households, so make sure that everyone helps out. The more, the merrier!

5) Not traveling this vacation? Plan an imaginary trip to a Spanish-speaking country. Pretend you have $10,000. But wait! Other countries do not all use the dollar. Google what type of money your country has. HERE is a currency converter to play around with. Then, decide where you want to go in said country. If you type in the search bar, “points of interest Spain” [or the country you are interested in], you will get photos and names of landmarks, palaces, monuments, beaches, etc. that may be of interest.

6) Find a Spanish language-learning app that you like, and then level-up three levels to complete this challenge. Here are a few suggestions for apps: MindSnacksDuolingoMemriseFluentUand/or Epic. Or play the Guess the Languagegame and see if you can beat your score. Please note that the latter is highly addictive!

7) It is very common in many part of Mexico to eat, well, bugs. Really! From worms and creamy winged-ant salsas to stink bugs, chapulines, and 88 species of beetles, “Mexico is the country with the greatest variety of edible insects: 549 species, according to the 2013 report Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security.” To test your courage, visit the Candy Store in Dunedin and buy a few fried crickets. There are even fun flavors to whet your appetite, such as: Bacon & Cheese, Salt & Vinegar, and Sour Cream & Onion.

8) Start looking for fruits, vegetables, boxes, cans, clothing, etc. that come from Spanish-speaking countries, and try to collect stickers and/or clothing tags from all 21 countries (e.g., clothes “Made in Guatemala”, bananas from Costa Rica, avocados from Mexico; that is, imports/exports). This is currently a third grade project, but many Lower School children can already name a majority of the Spanish-speaking countries**, and are encouraged to keep their eyes open.

**Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic (La República Dominicana), Puerto Rico (technically a territory), Spain (España), and Equatorial Guinea.

You’ve read this far and still want more? First, thank you for taking the time to read it; it is greatly appreciated. Second, feel free to check out my Summer Packet 2017 and Summer Packet 2016 for more ideas. For any fellow linguists, the Articles drop-down menu and corresponding pages have enough links to last a lifetime. In between your Google Rabbit Hole/Alice in Wonderland virtual searching, enjoy the time off, “sprinkle kindness like confetti“, and have a magical and very Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Holidays. See you in 2019!


*Please note that this Holiday Newsletter replaces the December newsletter. The January newsletter will include December classroom content, but due to canceled classes (field trips, Lessons & Carols rehearsals, and class parties), it makes more sense to combine the two. Thank you for understanding!

Invitation for Speakers

As the year has progressed (we are already in the third trimester!), I have learned that many families have a connection with one or more of the 21 Spanish-speaking countries in our world. Some of you speak only Spanish at home with your children, others speak a mixture of Spanish and English, and others have a strong cultural presence, in the sense that you celebrate certain traditions, play childhood games, tell stories, sing songs, or make recipes from many of these places.

I love learning about different cultures and adore the Spanish language, but I did not grow up speaking Spanish at home; therefore, I would love to hear from those of you who have, and feel that it would be valuable to our student body if you were able to share some of your wisdom and experiences. That said, I am now formally inviting any of you who feel passionate and knowledgeable about some aspect of Spanish and/or Hispanic culture (e.g., music, food, games, sports, holidays, traditions, etc.) to come speak and present to a class or classes, to be scheduled after spring break.

If this piques your interest, please let me know by the end of March**, so that I have time to work on a schedule. If there is a lot of interest, perhaps we could schedule some sort of assembly or have weekly speakers. And if you are interested but have not decided on a topic yet, just let me know the country and we can figure out the details later. Thanks for reading and have a great week. ¡Muchas gracias!

**For 2019-20, the invitation to present is open and ongoing throughout the year.

Food for Thought

Language-Learning Is Hard: True or False?

We live in an ‘instant-gratification’ society these days. In a way, the time it takes to pronounce the word ‘instant’ is counterproductive to the actual definition of the word. When people claim that language-learning is hard, they tend to mean that they have to wait for what they want. We can’t instantly download every aspect of a language–grammar, syntax, vocabulary, intonation, tones, etc.–into our brains [at least not yet], so the language-learning process becomes frustrating. We have to wait for these linguistic pieces, or ‘documents’, to load and then synthesize… which gives the impression that language-learning is ‘hard’. In reality, it just takes more time to ‘download’ than many are willing to wait. But we all accepted dial-up at one point in time, so just wait it out. It will be worth the tried patience.

How We Learn Language

When friends or relatives hear that you are learning a foreign language, the first question they invariably ask is, “What can you say?” Unfortunately, and although usually well-intentioned, this is the wrong question. As you stammer and mutter about what you are learning in your class, instead of producing actual language, mortification settles in and you ask to be excused. What a pity, right? You know you are learning, but you can’t say anything.

Stop for a second now and think about how you learned language as a baby. Did anyone ask you on Day #1 what you could say? What about Day #200? If you are the student, give yourself a break. Babies must hear a lot of language before they begin speaking; the same is true for you. Likewise, if you know someone who is learning a new language, give them a break. Show your enthusiasm and encouragement, but avoid pressuring them to produce language.  Keep in mind that the emotional connection grows deeper and more profound as you grow older (and spend more time with a language). The same is true in your native tongue. You gain more insight and knowledge of cultural nuances every day. Fascinating, isn’t it?

Tips for New Students

As there are new students in nearly every grade level in Lower School this year, please be assured that your child is not the only one adjusting to being immersed in a brand new language three times a week.  Several of you have expressed concern and inquired about extra work that your children can do outside of class to ‘catch up’ to their peers, hence this blog entry!

To begin, I believe strongly in cultivating a love for learning–and specifically, language-learning–which means that I would like any extra work outside of class time to be more enjoyable than not.  Therefore, just jump in, as the image above illustrates. My number one suggestion for new students is to check out this website and spend time watching cartoons in the target language, so that they feel more comfortable being immersed in the language (see “Cartoons” on the sidebar). The goal right now is for your child to overcome his/her discomfort with not being able to comprehend everything.  Aside from that, new students are also strongly encouraged to be proactive during class time, both by watching when I point to bilingual signs as well as asking their classmates questions (“How do you say…?”).  I am going to reiterate to ALL classes next week (in English!) the importance of teaching one another, particularly since we have a lot of new students this year. I believe in building a classroom culture where students learn not only from me but also from each other.

As far as specific suggestions go, many students in Lower School are familiar with and adore the show Pocoyo.  Have “Spanish Saturdays” or “Taco Tuesdays”, where your child spends twenty or thirty minutes listening to and watching Spanish cartoons. (If any links don’t work, please let me know; I have to update them from time to time. Or, if your child has a favorite show not on the list, email me and I will try to find a translated version.)  Your child does not need to ‘do’ anything here, just sit and be with the language; his/her brain will begin internalizing the rhythm and cadence of the language on its own, unconsciously.  For more ideas, please see the “Summer Packet Letter” on the sidebar.

While it is true that other students have been taking Spanish for many years now, I have repeatedly seen new students at every grade level exhibit tremendous success in the past (this is my ninth year teaching). Give it some time (it is very early in the year!), and encourage your child to be patient, ask questions, and practice being ‘okay’ with not understanding everything. The vocabulary will come. I do not pressure students to produce language until they are ready, and remind them that babies do not speak on Day #2 out of the womb; language takes time.

Other Thoughts

A Conscious Effort: Use Spanish as much as possible, wherever you go. Make it a game. Are you waiting in line? At the mall? At the grocery store? Online waiting for a website to load? In a traffic jam? Train your brain to use those ten second blips of nothingness to be productive and stay mentally active. Try to remember a word or phrase–or several–in the target language while you are waiting. A minute here or there will prove much more effective in long-term retention than an hour or two of studying. When your skills begin to advance, work on translating what you hear in your head. Learning a language might be a challenge, but it should be a fun challenge! Make a conscious effort to incorporate Spanish into your daily life.

Bilingual Technology: Fiddle around and change your iPod, iPad, iPhone, Facebook page, laptop, email or any other gadget you may have to Spanish. You can usually find the languages under “Settings”, “International”, or “Control Panel”. Note: Only change your technological devices to Mandarin Chinese if you have some spare time on your hands and a lot of patience–sometimes it can be tricky finding your way back to English. (And yes, I do say this from experience.)

Spanish Channel: Find the Spanish channel on your television.  For that matter, find the Portuguese and Italian and Russian and Mandarin Chinese channels, too.  See if you can hear the different cadences/rhythms/intonations between the languages.  Most importantly, have fun guessing!

Number Challenges: Count to twenty in Spanish when you’re brushing your teeth every morning.  Too easy?  Count backwards.  Still too easy?  Skip count forwards and backwards (0-2-4-6-8-10-12, 11-9-7-5-3-1, etc.). Do mental math.   Don’t just memorize numbers in order; make them meaningful.  How do we use numbers in the real world?  Count change in Spanish, say the total of the restaurant bill in Spanish, jump rope or play hopscotch in Spanish.  Numbers are everywhere…!

Three Levels: 1) Recognition: you can’t remember the word, but when you see or hear it, you know what it means; 2) Production: you remember the word in both English and Spanish, and can translate it on the spot; 3) Emotional connection: you not only know the word in English and Spanish, but you also understand it…when you say it, you mean it and aren’t just translating (example: please = poooor faaaaaavvvoooooooor)

Summer Packet 2017

*Update: For more photos of my Camino adventures, visit THIS PAGE.

My Dearest Friends:

As most of you know, I will not be returning next year. I have loved teaching here, but I also love learning and traveling and exploring, and need to go see the world. That said, I care deeply for each and every one of your children, and would like to leave a final Spanish Summer Packet Challenge that parallels the first part of this new chapter of my life.

My adventures will begin in St. Jean-Pied-du-Port (France), where I will start walking El Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James). El Camino is a 500 mile walk or pilgrimage across northern Spain that begins by crossing the Pyrenees Mountains (France/Spain border). It typically takes pilgrims thirty days to complete the walk on foot and arrive in Santiago de Compostela, España. To that end, students will have the opportunity to walk “with me” over the summer by completing specific challenges that correspond to mileage and geographic locations. (Pato will obviously be coming along—but primarily for the food and to post selfies on Instagram.)


1) Preparation: It is strongly recommended for anyone walking to have a special passport book specific to the Camino. The albergues (hostels for pilgrims) stamp your book each night so that you have a personalized record of where you stayed; it is also a nice memento, as every stamp is unique. Your first challenge, then, is to create a small passport booklet with five or ten pages to keep track of where you travel this summer. After you visit a place—local or overseas—design a miniature sticker/stamp/little picture to represent that place, and copy it into your passport booklet. If you are going to travel out of state, make one per state or country. If you are staying put, make one for each town you visit!

2) Preparation: Imagine that you are going on this walk for real: what would you pack? There are restaurants and stores along the way, so you do not need to carry much food, but water is a necessity during the hot summer months in Spain, and you must fit everything you need into a single backpack. Make a list and then… get packing! Encourage your family and/or friends to participate, and to complete this challenge, go on an actual hike with your bag and a friend. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes!

3) Week 1 (Crossing the Pyrenees Mountains from France into Spain): Play this Language Game online at least three times. Here you will learn to recognize the world’s languages, one language at a time. Around 8,000 people walk El Camino during July, so I will be surrounded by many, many languages. This challenge is meant to mimic jumping into this incomprehensible but delightful swirl of linguistic happiness. High scores do not matter here; just have fun guessing!

4) Week 1: Pamplona, Spain is perhaps most famous for its celebration of San Fermín and the annual Running of the Bulls. This tradition, although a huge part of Spanish culture, is highly controversial. This challenge asks you to read a Wikipedia or Scholastic article and watch a short YouTube video about the Running of the Bullsand thendebate the topic with your family with Paso Doble music playing in the background. Do you see the nobility of the beast and the elegance of the bullfight, or do you see animal cruelty? Whatever your stance, start a conversation and try to understand both perspectives.

5) Week 2: An exciting part of traveling is getting to see and try different types of foods. What is “normal” to you is “strange” to others, and vice-versa. In Spain, tapas—also called pinchos when pierced with toothpicks—are found in many restaurants. They are snacks arranged in small dishes, and have an interesting history: a long time ago, many people were illiterate, so travelers going from one inn to the next could not read the menus; instead, they were given little plates to sample different types of food before ordering their meal. This challenge is to pretend you are in Spain and recreate tapas in your own kitchen. There are countless options, so find a few that you like, and have a little fiesta, or party. Some ideas include mixed olives and cheese; skewers with pickles; fried baby squid; mushrooms sautéed in garlic and oil, etc.—see more options HERE. Enjoy!

6) Week 2: The scallop shell is the symbol of the Camino, and represents the many paths pilgrims travel to reach one destination, namely, Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims attach a scallop to their backpacks, and follow the shell symbol on the Camino to stay on the right path. While I do not care where you purchase your petrol, I like seeing the Shell gas station signs around town, and pretend that when I see one, I know I am on the right road. This challenge asks you to go to the beach and see if you can find a scallop shell. If this is not an option, Bed Bath & Beyond (among other stores) also sells them!

7) Week 3: Typical walking hours for the Camino are usually 5am-1pm (due to the extreme summer heat). After that, pilgrims find a place to stay for the night, eat together, and rest their tired, blistered feet. Many people take a book along with them to read in the afternoons and later exchange with other pilgrims. Don Quijote de la Mancha is the main character in a very famous, very old, 900-page novel that takes place in Spain. While the literary masterpiece is probably too heavy to carry in book form, and the language the Spanish equivalent of Elizabethan English, it is world-renowned and well worth learning about. This challenge is to watch three chapters about Don Quijote on YouTube. What is your “impawssible” dream? “One day or Day One?”

a. Wishbone, The Impawssible Dream, Part I
b. Wishbone, The Impawssible Dream, Part II
c. Wishbone, The Impawssible Dream, Part III

8) Week 3: Did you think you were going to be able to survive only on tapas for 500 miles? Think again! This challenge is to cook a more complete meal: either una tortilla española or un bocadillo. The tortilla española is similar to an omelet, but much thicker and a very hearty breakfast. A bocadillo is an inexpensive and simple but delicious sandwich—I like to add pickles on mine! Note that “boca” means mouth in Spanish. If have some time on your hands and are interested in dessert, flan and churros (dipped in chocolate or dulce de leche) are also eaten in Spain. Yum!

a. Tortilla Española
b. Bocadillo
c. Churros*
d. Flan
e. Dulce de leche

*“History is divided on how exactly churros came to exist. Some say they were the invention of nomadic Spanish shepherds. Living high in the mountains with no access to bakeries, the Spanish shepherds supposedly created churros, which were easy for them to cook in frying pans over fire. Lending credibility to this version of history is the fact that there exists a breed of sheep called the ‘Navajo-Churro’, which are descended from the ‘Churra’ sheep of the Iberian Peninsula; the horns of these sheep look similar to the fried pastry.

Another story says that Portuguese sailors discovered a similar food in Northern China called ‘Yóu Tiáo’ and they brought it back with them. The Spanish learned of the new culinary treat from their neighbors, and put their own spin on it by passing the dough through a star-shaped tip which gives the churro its signature ridges.” (source).

9) Week 4: There are lush, rolling forests of Eucalyptus trees near the end of the Camino to welcome you into the final city of Santiago de Compostela. It is said that “the popular Spanish name for the astronomical Milky Way is El Camino de Santiago. According to a common medieval legend, the Milky Way was formed from the dust raised by traveling pilgrims” (Wikipedia). It makes perfect sense, then, that “Compostela” would mean field of stars. Two of my friends who walked the Camino last year told me that the smell of Eucalyptus is incredibly strong here. This challenge is to find Eucalyptus oil at a store and take a whiff of one of the samplers. Now imagine that scent times five million, and that is probably what I am smelling right now.  

10) Week 4: There are hours upon hours to talk to people on the Camino, but when you get tired of that, many play music to pass the time. In northern Spain, five languages are spoken, namely, Spanish, Galician, Basque (Euskara), Aranès, and Catalan. For me, listening to languages I do not understand acts as a “brain break” and feels refreshing somehow; it helps to clear my mind. This challenge is to listen to a few of the songs below, and think about what makes you happy. Then, do something nice for a family member or friend—in other words, make someone else happy! If they want to ‘repay’ you with a gift, tell them to pay it forward. Regardless of the language you speak, always remember: “Kindness is a language the deaf can hear and the blind can see” (Mark Twain).

a. Flamenco, Zapatos de baile (Spanish)
b. Aldapan gora, Huntza Band (Euskara)
c. Boig Per Tu, Shakira (Catalan)
d. Galician Folk Music (Galician)
e. Renata Flores Rivera (Quechua**)
f. Vivir mi vida, Marc Anthony (Spanish)

**Quechua is an indigenous language spoken in the Andes Mountains and highlands of South America (and NOT Spain), but this young girl with a powerful voice is revitalizing her mother tongue through music; read the full story HERE.

My hope is that this Spanish Summer Packet reinforces the fact that language-learning is a journey. Do not be overly concerned with arriving, or that magical destination called Fluency. With hard work and passion, you will get there, I promise. Just never ever give up, ever! And in the meantime, revel in the magic of the present moment: enjoy the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures along the way… and “hashtag happiness” wherever you go (#happiness). We are all on this journey together, and I am grateful to have met each and every one of you. Be well, have a wonderful summer, fall, winter, spring, and life—and please keep in touch!  

Peace, love, and hugs,

IMAGE CREDIT, @Trevor Huxham

Summer Packet 2016

To My Fellow Linguists and Citizens of the World:

Learning a language is a beast of a project to undertake. In addition to reading, writing, speaking, and listening—with countless vocabularies, dialects, and accents to untangle—you also have cultural layers and sublayers to sort through. It takes time and patience, and a willingness to understand that learning a language does not happen overnight. You must surround yourself with the language and culture every day, keep your study at the forefront of your mind, and use those blips of nothingness while waiting in line to try and recall what you last studied. An impossible task? No. Challenging, yes—but impossible, never! *For inspiration, read Why I Taught Myself 20 Languages, by Timothy Doner.

In metaphorical terms, then, you must slay the dragon. This summer, Lower School students are encouraged to keep their language study alive by ‘slaying the dragon’. Below you will find a series of language-related challenges. Upon completing each challenge, students may color in a section of the dragon. The dragon is slayed when all sections are colored in. Please hang the dragon picture in a visible or high-traffic area of your household, to remind students to continue their study. The challenge commences on the first day of summer, so if students have already done something on the list, they are asked to do it again.

1) Watch a movie in the target language, with Spanish voiceover and English subtitles. Note: you are welcome to change both to Spanish, but quite often, the translations are done in different countries: what you are hearing is not what you are reading. This can be incredibly confusing and frustrating for a beginner; it is more important right now for students to listen to the language: input, input, input! If your family does not want to watch the movie in Spanish with you, ask to invite some friends over. ¡Fiesta!

2) Label ten things in your house in Spanish. Use WordReference or Google Translate to look up the correct spelling. Make sure to include the “el” or “la” word–for example, la mesa/the table. Listen to the pronunciation so you know how to say it!

3) Prepare a traditional recipe with your family from a Spanish-speaking country. Make it interesting and try something new that you have never had before. Guacamole? Patacones? Tres leches cake? Gallo pinto? Horchata? Churros? Enjoy the process of searching for a recipe (appetizer? drink? main course? dessert?), buying ingredients you may have never heard of before, and then preparing it as a family. There tends to be a big focus on family and community in Latin American households, so make sure that everyone helps out. The more, the merrier!

4) Find a Spanish language-learning app that you like, and then level-up three levels to complete this challenge. Here are a few suggestions for apps: DuolingoMemriseFluentU, and/or MindSnacks.

5) Ask to schedule a family night out at a local Mexican/Cuban/Spanish-speaking restaurant. Then, either order in Spanish (if you already know how), or ask the waiter a few questions and learn how! Most people are more than willing to share their linguistic knowledge. To complete this challenge, take a picture of the food you ordered. (Note: there is no way for me to know with 100% certainty that you actually ordered in Spanish, so I am trusting you to be honest with yourself on this one.)

6) #10daychallenge: practice counting backwards or skip counting in Spanish whenever you brush your teeth for ten days in a row. Do NOT count aloud, or else you will spit out the toothpaste foam and get in trouble for making a big mess! Instead, count in your head—cero, dos, cuatro, seis, ocho, diez, doce; uno, tres, cinco, siete, nueve, once. If you don’t know the numbers very well, ask your parents to help you look them up on the computer so you know how they are spelled and pronounced. The point is to challenge yourself, so if 0-10 is too easy, work on something a bit more difficult. (100-200-300-400-500, etc.)

7) Go with your parents when they run errands or go shopping, and look for signs in English and Spanish. When you see one, write it down or ask your parents to take a picture of the sign with their phone. Find five signs, and you get to color in another section of the dragon! If you are not sure where to start, everything from the plumbing section to the magazine rack at Lowe’s in Willoughby is labeled in English and Spanish. The doors to—and other directional signs throughout—J.C. Penney’s at Great Lakes Mall are bilingual. Caution signs for wet floors are often in multiple languages. Airports have a million signs. Keep your eyes open!!

8) Listen to a Spanish radio station (87.7 FM) or podcast for twenty minutes and write down five words you understand. Don’t stop listening when you get to five words—you have to listen for the whole twenty minutes! Keep in mind that this could be five minutes a day for four days; it does not have to be all at once. What does Spanish sound like to you? Rap music? Raindrops?

9) Visit your local library and/or bookstore, and ask where the children’s foreign language section is located. Spend at least ten minutes flipping through the books and trying to find words you know—be a word detective! Morley Library in Painesville has a huge Spanish section. Half-Price Books in both Mayfield and Mentor also have decent collections, but they are mixed in with other languages, so you really have to pay attention to know what language you are looking at. Tip: look at the copyright page to find out where the book was published, and then ask your parents what country that city is in. If it’s a Spanish-speaking country, the book is probably written in Spanish.

10) Make miniature weather signs in Spanish (with pictures!), and be a meteorologist: post the appropriate weather sign on the window every day for a week. See AccuWeather in Spanish for vocabulary, or use the guide below:

a. Hace sol: it’s sunny (“ahh-say soul”)
b. Está despejado: it’s clear (“es-TAH dehs-pay-HAH-doe”)
c. Llueve: it’s raining (“you-A-bay”)
d. Está nublado: it’s cloudy (“es-TAH new-BLAH-doe”)

Now hang this on your refrigerator or bookmark it on your computer before it gets lost. Your support and enthusiasm for the foreign language program are greatly appreciated. Have a wonderful summer, and be happy.



Guatemala- Sawdust Carpets

GUATEMALA: Thousands of Catholics in Antigua, Guatemala join together during Lent each year to make colored sawdust carpets in preparation for Semana Santa, or Holy Week. In 2014, they broke the Guinness Book of World Records and made the longest sawdust carpet ever, at an astounding 6,600 feet. In class, the art teacher drew stencils in pencil on colored bulletin board paper, and then students filled in the designs with colored sand. For more images of the real thing, see HERE.

This video shows what the process looks like (note: there is no sound).

Costa Rica- Rainforest

Costa Rica is known for its biodiversity–flora and fauna abound. 18% of the world’s butterflies, for example, are found there. Multiple Lower School classes helped to create their own rainforest in my classroom closet last week, printing out photos of realistic wildlife, hanging green streamer vines, artificial flowers, and relevant stuffed animals (no giraffes!) in unexpected places, and planting cucumber and petunia seeds in flower pots (currently in the greenhouse); hopefully, there will be REAL plants in the rainforest in a few weeks. I added Christmas lights and a howler monkey soundtrack to enhance the general ambiance and magic of it all. Did you know that howler monkeys are among the loudest animals on Earth?

As a final touch, several fifth graders mixed blue food coloring and water in a bowl to replicate the famous Río Celeste (Blue River), a definite must-see if you travel there! Note that nearly all Lower School classes have been exploring and sightseeing in the rainforest this week. Some even bring their iPads to take Insta-worthy nature pics. If you would like to extend this project at home, HERE is one idea.

Tommy Krombacher

Mexico- Hammocks

The Yucatan in Mexico is known for its hammock culture. Here, 2/3 of children sleep in hammocks instead of beds, and there are even hammocks in hospitals! For this challenge, string up your own DIY hammock with a sheet and twine/rope. Attach it to your bedpost, a chair, or even a tree outside. Be sure to ask your parents first so that you choose a safe place.

Spain- Tapas

An exciting part of traveling is getting to see and try different types of foods. What is “normal” to you is “strange” to others, and vice-versa. In Spain, tapas—also called pinchos when pierced with toothpicks—are found in many restaurants. They are snacks arranged in small dishes, and have an interesting history: a long time ago, many people were illiterate, so travelers going from one inn to the next could not read the menus; instead, they were given little plates to sample different types of food before ordering their meal.

Pretend you are in Spain and recreate tapas in your own kitchen. There are countless options, so find a few that you like, and have a little fiesta, or party. Some ideas include mixed olives and cheese; skewers with pickles; fried baby squid; mushrooms sautéed in garlic and oil, etc.—see more options HERE. Enjoy!

Mexico- Crystal Caves

The Giant Crystal Cave is a cave connected to the Naica Mine in Mexico with massive crystals. The average person can only stay inside for ten minutes because there is 99% humidity, whoa! For this challenge, grow your own crystals at home with Epsom salts, food coloring, and a bowl. Turn off the air conditioning if you want to enhance the cave simulation, haha! Skip to 5:23 in the video below to learn more.

Image Credit

Spain- La Alhambra

La Alhambra is a famous fort/palace with beautiful gardens in southern Spain. Many students enjoy trying to build this fort during class time out of cardboard, so why not make one at home? Build a huge fort tent out of blankets, pillows, and chairs, based on La Alhambra. Ask your parents where in your house would be a good place to build it (so that you don’t have to take it down right away or get in trouble).

Draw or print out a Spanish flag to wave, put on Spain’s National Anthem or your favorite song in Spanish, and get to work! This could become a really comfy place to watch Spanish cartoons or study Duolingo. NOTE: The video is historically-based, and more for older students.

Nicaragua- Volcano Boarding

Do you know what snowboarding is? Well, volcano boarding is just like that… except that you slide down the side of a volcano. Really! This is an extreme sport that began in Nicaragua fairly recently (2005). It is considered extreme due to the 40% gradient of the volcano–you are going straight down–but also because of the poisonous gases and the fact that the ash can cut your skin (you usually wear an orange suit to protect yourself). Check out the video below to see what it is like–and let me know if you find any VR apps to simulate the experience. This video at 0:25 is also awesome, but the background music is a little weird (FYI). Note that Cerro Negro is the only active volcano in the world where you can do this. Eeek!

Bolivia- Salt Flat

BOLIVIA: Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat formation in the world. If you travel there, you can even stay in a hotel made out of salt! During the rainy season, a light coat of water creates a perfect reflection of the sky–from sunrises and sunsets to beautiful starry nights. Some students used watercolors to paint a sunrise on half of a sheet of paper, and then folded it over while still wet to create fun mirror-images. Later, we all tasted a lot of salt and discussed how salt is a natural resource. HERE is a good read (with photos) called “Walk the Salar”. For more images, click this LINK.

Dominican Rep.- Defy Gravity

Defy gravity in Barahona! In the southwestern part of the Dominican Republic, there is a town called Polo. There you can go challenge gravity at the Magnetic Pole (El Polo Magnético). If you stop your car in neutral gear downhill, your car will roll up! As cool as it sounds, this is what’s called a gravity hill. This is caused by an optical illusion that has to do with the shape of the road and the landscape. Still, pretty cool to experience in person!” (Source)

Panama- Mola

The Kuna Indians of the San Blas Islands off of Panama are famous for a specific type of art, called mola. Mola means ‘blouse’ (or clothing) in the Kuna language. While women used to paint geometric designs on their bodies, nowadays the patterns come from nature—or, plants and animals—and are created with layers of fabric. Students opted to trace the mola patterns instead. This in itself took time, and gave them a glimpse into the detail-oriented, intricate work involved in the process. In a word, paciencia.

Peru- Boiling River

PERU: Deep in the Amazon there is a river… that actually boils. You can fill an empty mug with a teabag and have instant hot tea. Animals that fall in are instantly boiled. The average coffee is 130*F; this river has been measured at 210*F. Yikes! It is an awesome thing to behold- just don’t get too close. For more information, check out the videos below. Students boiled water in class, measured the temperature with a glass thermometer, and then converted the degrees from Celsius to Fahrenheit.

Andrés Ruzo– Photo from his book

Mexico- Chewing Gum

MEXICO: Making natural chewing gum is a fascinating, time-consuming, and dangerous job that dates back to the Mayas in the Yucatan. Chicleros climb high up to slash zig-zag patterns in the sapodilla trees with a machete, let the sap drain out, and then boil it until it turns into a thick paste, stirring all the while. They must be careful to avoid jaguars in the forest and falling machetes. Watch the videos below to learn more about this process.

Cuba/Spain- 1715 Shipwreck

CUBA/SPAIN: It is the year 1715–King Felipe V wants his treasure, and he wants it now. As a result, he demands that his Spanish fleet (of 12 ships) makes its way back from Cuba to Spain, even though it is hurricane season in the Caribbean. The 1715 fleet gets caught in a terrible storm and sinks, with 1500 sailors aboard–and the treasure is lost. Modern treasure hunters have discovered some of this lost treasure, but much still remains somewhere on the ocean floor. Students acted out this story as a class, and then made artifacts for a faux museum display.

For treasure artifacts, try this repoussé video for coins; painting actual plates and dishware with the Spanish crest; stringing together gold and silver beads for necklaces; painting those cardboard stuffers you find inside boxes a silvery-gold-rose quartz hue; and finally, drawing old navigation maps on paper soaked in coffee (to give it an ‘old’ look). These can be as artistic as is possible for the age group you teach. Good luck!

Mexico- Día de los Muertos

El Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) is a day to honor family members who have passed away. This tradition dates back to the Aztecs. People believe that spirits come back to visit us from Oct. 31-Nov. 2nd. The skeletons you see are very happy to be reunited with their loved ones. People make ofrendas, or altars, in their homes to remember and honor their dearly departed. The movie Coco is a great introduction to this Mexican holiday, as well as the cortometraje/short film below. Keep scrolling to see an infographic contrasting Halloween and the Day of the Dead–they are not the same!

More Links: Day of the Dead (video)Sugar Skulls (Mexico), DIY Tissue Paper Flowers, Day of the Dead Makeup Tutorial

Venezuela- Lightning

VENEZUELA: Catatumbo Lightning is a naturally occurring phenomenon in Venezuela. Here, lightning strikes continuously above Lake Maracaibo for 140-160 nights per year (some sources say up to 300) for 10-12 hours straight each night. This can produce up to 40,000 strikes per night! To learn more, read this article HERE!! Or, to make lightning in a bottle at home, try this experiment. Mystery History has some great photos HERE.

For Older Students- TEDEd

Mexico- Underwater Museum

MEXICO: In 2005, someone noticed that tourists, anchors, snorkelers, and divers were damaging the coral reefs in Mexico–in particular, the Manchones Reef. By 2013, an underwater museum (MUSA/Museo Subacuático de Arte) had been created around the reef, in order to help protect it. Currently, there are about 500 sculptures that have been placed in the ocean. In class, students took an old fish tank and made their own waterproof sculptures to place underwater. This was fantastic, until the tank started leaking! Beyond the physical representation, it would be easy to extend this project into a discussion about how observant and considerate we are of others and the world in which we live, particularly because the exhibit:

shows how humans can live with nature and make a workable future between the two, but also how humans have damaged nature, specifically the coral reefs, and show no sympathy. The statues in The Silent Evolution show how some humans see their surrounding and embrace [it] while others hide their faces. Each statue was made to resemble members of a local fishing community where Taylor lives. Each statue has its own personality and features. Taylor made sure every detail from the hair to the clothes of the statues was perfect. They include a little girl with a faint smile on her face looking up to the surface; six businessmen with their heads in the sand, not paying attention to their surroundings; and even a man behind a desk with his dog lying him, but looking tired and uninvolved in the environment.

Paraguay- Landfill Harmonic

After watching the following clip of the Landfill Harmonic documentary, students decided to make their own instruments out of trash in the classroom.

If this is of interest, also be sure to check out the Brazilian artist Vik Muniz’s art HERE. He makes massive works of art all created from garbage. To give you an idea of the size, the pupil of her eye might be a tire. There is a film about it as well, called Wasteland, but I haven’t seen it yet, so be sure to preview before watching with children. He also does a peanut butter and jelly Mona Lisa, which is very cool!

Peru- Nazca Lines

PERU: The Nazca Lines are a group of ancient geoglyphs in Peru. They are made out of naturally occurring elements, like rocks, stones, or earth. These trenches–running in all different directions in this part of Peru–appear to be roads from ground level. However, from an airplane, you can see that they are actually huge designs depicting anything from hummingbirds and lizards to astronauts and spiral shapes. Drones are helping to uncover even more in recent years. HERE is one activity you can do in class or at home. Because my classroom was carpeted last year, students recreated these designs with masking tape on the floor.

Argentina- Iguazu Falls

Giovanna Gomes

I saw these little (and big!) guys when visiting Las Cataratas de Iguazú/ Iguazú Falls in Argentina. It is a baby coatí and they were running around everywhere. Iguazú Falls is the largest set of waterfalls in the world. They are amazing- my friends and I even took a speedboat under the falls! Here is more information on the falls. For more information on the coatí, visit THIS LINK.

Spain- Bullfighting

Pamplona, Spain is perhaps most famous for its celebration of San Fermín and the annual Running of the Bulls. This tradition, although a huge part of Spanish culture, is highly controversial. To learn more, read this Wikipedia or Scholastic article, and watch the YouTube video below about the Running of the Bulls. Next, try debating the topic with your family, and take time to listen to the feel of Paso Doble music (video below). Do you see the nobility of the beast and the elegance of the bullfight, or do you see animal cruelty? Whatever your stance, start a conversation and try to understand both perspectives.

Fried Plantains- Patacones

Students made tostones or patacones (plantain chips) to taste in class, which are a very popular snack in Spanish-speaking countries. If you would like to make this delicious snack at home, HERE is a recipe. Another way to prepare them is for breakfast, as mangú (eaten especially in the Dominican Republic)–recipe HERE. See below for the etymological origin of this word and a fun story.

“The origin of mangú started back in 1916 when the Americans invaded the Dominican Republic; afterwards, the soldiers would go into town. Then one day, one of the soldiers wanted to taste some of the mashed plantains he saw the locals eat. When he tasted it, he said ‘Man, this is good’ and pointing at it, he said in short ‘man good!’. The locals thought that the name of the mashed plantains in English was mangú.” (Source)

Spain- El Camino

SPAIN: The Camino de Santiago is a 500-mile hike across northern Spain. It takes about 30 days to complete on foot. You carry everything you need in a backpack, and follow the arrows and shells so you don’t get lost. Second graders made a green screen video (click HERE) showing us their journey.

For this challenge, put arrows and shells all over the house, leading to your learning space or bedroom, like it is the Camino de Santiago. Feel free to pack a bag and go on a mini-hike with your parents walking around the block, if you feel like it. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes!

El Camino de Santiago: Camino de Santiago (video)El Camino – RoncesvallesA Journey to Spain’s Wild Western Edge, Finisterre (Spain)Men Risking their Lives for Barnacles (Spain)The Day We Ate Barnacles (Portugal; Spain), Human Planet: Spain Sea Harvest, Percebes (Spain)

Ecuador- Sneezing Iguanas

ECUADOR: There are sneezing iguanas that live here… and actually sneeze! HERE is a hilarious video to put on loop. We blend cultures by using the Colombian practice of saying, “Salud, dinero, amor” (health, money, love) every time someone sneezes in class, and then listen to a classic song about “Las tres cosas” by Cristina y los Stop, link HERE.

Mexico- Chichen Itza

MEXICO: This pyramid is called “El Castillo” in Chichen Itza (2:19-2:36). It was built hundreds of years ago by the Maya civilization, but the amazing part here is that twice a year, exactly on the Spring and Fall equinoxes, a shadow appears that aligns perfectly with a serpent’s head. How did the Maya figure this out? Aside: The video below is subtitled in Chinese, but narrated in English.

For project ideas, one year Lower School students created almost 400 miniature cubes to literally build “El Castillo”. This year, third graders are using LED lights to create a shadow of the serpent’s tail inside a diorama.

Colombia- Guatapé

COLOMBIA: Is this the world’s most colorful town? Students painted colorful buildings and houses on tri-folds, and set up the cardboard in two lines so that they can ‘walk’ through town, stopping at various businesses and mercados along the way. The Señor Wooly song, “¿Adónde vas?” works well with this unit. In Guatapé, Colombia, there is also the famous Peñón de Guatapé–a 70-million-year-old rock that stands 656 feet high–which somehow begs for a project. *Photo credit to photographer Jessica Devnani

Felipe Salgado, Peñon de Guatapé, Colombia

Spain- Don Quijote

SPAIN: Don Quijote de La Mancha is a world-renowned, 900-page novel from Spain, written by Miguel de Cervantes way back in the 1600’s. Centuries later, Picasso made a sketch (see below) of the two main characters to commemorate the novel’s 350th anniversary. Students put a photocopy of this up to the window, place pastel-colored paper on top of it, and then trace-scribble the drawing with a Sharpie to create a two-tone replica.

Don Quijote: Don Quijote & Sancho Panza1Don Quijote & Sancho Panza2Don Quijote & Sancho Panza (Picasso)Don Quijote: Cuentos Infantiles (Spain)Picasso paintingWindmills – ModernWindmills – Old Fashioned

Puerto Rico- Bioluminescence

PUERTO RICO: Bioluminescence is a natural phenomenon where “living organisms emit light”, oftentimes when disturbed. You have probably seen this on land–fireflies lighting up the night–but it can also occur in the water. Mosquito Bay in Vieques Puerto Rico is the brightest glowing bioluminescent bay in the world. If you scribble on your hands with yellow florescent markers and put them under a blacklight, it produces a similar effect. Note: This made my hands itchy, so be sure to wash up immediately afterwards.

Bioluminescence1Bioluminescence2Bioluminescence3, Bioluminescence4The Glowing Bio Bay in Vieques (Puerto Rico)NY Post: Magical Bioluminescence (Australia; Puerto Rico), Six Places to Witness Bioluminescence (Puerto Rico)An Ocean Full of Stars (Puerto Rico), Bioluminescence- Moana (Puerto Rico)

Guatemala- Worry Dolls

GUATEMALA: These tiny Worry Dolls are from Guatemala. Children make them and put them under their pillows at night to take away their worries (e.g., monsters, nightmares). Students were fascinated by these. They took a day to glue small pieces of fabric to mini Popsicle sticks, added a face, and soon afterwards, had their very own Worry Dolls. This Silly Billy video story below is a great introduction. Aside: Adults make Worry Dolls, too!

South America- Condor

SOUTH AMERICA: The Andean Condor is the largest flying bird in the world. It weighs up to 33 pounds and can have a wingspan of nearly 11 feet. Students tried to make a life-size replica of this massive bird with paper feathers, but ultimately tired of cutting them out. So many feathers!! Perhaps in the future, hearing legends about Andean mythology and Incan folklore would be a better use of time.

Chile- Marble Caves

CHILE: Chile’s Marble Caves are a truly beautiful natural wonder. Students mixed teal and green paints to capture different shades, and later added true-to-life purples and yellows to their paintings to accent the vibrant backdrop. The author of the video below describes the caves as “like being inside the Aurora Borealis”. Wow!

Argentina- Yerba Mate

ARGENTINA: Yerba Mate Tea is the ‘friendship drink’ of South America, especially Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, and Paraguay. You drink the tea out of a gourd, and keep refilling it with hot water all day long to sip. The tea leaves are loose (not in a tea bag). It can be quite strong to some people. Fifth graders taste it and hear the Guaraní legend of how Mate came to be.

Peru- Rainbow Mountain

PERU: Rainbow Mountain, or Vinicunca in Quechua, has a unique composition–14 different, colorful minerals–that makes the mountain range appear like the inside of a jawbreaker. Students used the amazing, paint-pouring video below to make a model of the mountain. It was very messy but great fun! For more information on Rainbow Mountain, visit this link. Here are a few more interesting facts:

Painting by Jake H.

Chile- Easter Island

CHILE: Easter Island is an island located in the South Pacific. There are hundreds of massive statues and wooden tablets scattered over this landmass, but no one knows how they got there–it is a mystery! The tablets have a mysterious language written on them (called Rongorongo) that no one can read. Third graders carved 3-D models of the statues and wooden tablets with clay and toothpicks.