DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: While baseball is technically the sport of the Dominican, many also refer to Dominoes as the national sport of the country, due to its popularity as a pastime. The sound of “smacking” down the dominoes on the board is commonplace to hear while strolling about the tropical paradise; and games often span the entirety of the afternoon.
In class, I teach the rules and let students play in small groups. But I also like to extend it to add an option for the ‘building’ center, as some tire of the game at a certain point and just want to build. Here, I show classes Guinness World Record videos involving hundreds of thousands of dominoes, which are pretty incredible feats to watch. While this activity can end in tears, setting up dominoes is a great opportunity to teach patience, teamwork, and slowing down, especially for younger students.
SOUTH & CENTRAL AMERICA:Fútbol is an important part of the culture in many Spanish-speaking countries. During the 2014 World Cup, I happened to be in Buenos Aires–and the city exploded with enthusiasm after advancing to the finals. It seemed like everyone was your best friend, whether you knew them or not. Horns honked for 24 hours straight, people waved flags out of cars, gorged themselves on pizza, and held their breath as Messi kicked… and Argentina beat the Netherlands in the semi-finals. Spoiler alert: Germany won in the finals.
In class, students travel outside to play “Spanish soccer” and truly live the language. Here, the only–I repeat, only–rule that really matters is that students speak shout and yell in Spanish. “Who plays defense? What counts as a red or yellow card? Are the teams fair?” Frankly, none of that is too important–as long as students are running back and forth, kicking a ball, and shouting in the target language, I am happy as a clam.
Each day, students sign up for what they want to do. They can be a futbolista/soccer player, portero(a)/ arquero(a)/ goalie, entrenador(a)/coach, or árbitro(a)/referee. The two teams (that represent Spanish-speaking countries) get into a circle and chant either, “¡Este partido, lo vamos a ganar!” (we’re going to win this game!/Spain), or “Ganamos, perdimos, igual nos divertimos” (we win, we lose, either way we have fun!/ Guatemala).
Next, a special “visiting coach” [student] leads the teams in warm-up exercises. Now it is game time! Students work hard to shout in Spanish continuously, while trying to score a goal. Key vocabulary: Por acá/over here; pásala/pass it; la tengo/I got it; soy portero(a)/I’m goalie; la pelota/the ball; ¡apúrate!/hurry up!; casi/almost; hace mucho calor/it’s really hot; no manos/no hands; suelo/ground; ¿Qué?/What?; Yo dije…/I said; agua/water. Speaking English results in a penalty (referees have students count backwards in Spanish 5-0 and ‘complain’ “Quiero jugar”/I want to play!).
At the end of class, the teams line up and say, “¡Buen partido!” (good game!). While Mondays and Thursdays are practices, Fridays are official games and ‘Facepaint Fridays’, where students safety-pin paper flags to their shirts and have the option to paint their faces their team colors. Spanish music plays frequently, to help create a truly immersive experience.
We win, we lose, either way we have fun! (Guatemala)
REPORTERO (un trabajo para alguien que no quiere o no puede jugar, por cualquier razón): “Fulanito tiene la pelota. Corre muy rápido. Patea la pelota y ¡GOOOOOOOL!” (narra lo que sucede en tiempo real)
CONSECUENCIAS: Números 10-0 (cuenta regresiva obligatoria, como consecuencia por 10 segunditos cuando hablen en inglés o por accidente o a propósito)
Mondays & Thursdays are practices, but Fridays are considered “official games”.
Here, students are welcome to paint stripes of their team’s Spanish-speaking flag on their cheeks.
They also have signs with their last name and favorite number to safety-pin to their shirts.
ARGENTINA: In much of South and Central America, outdoor markets, or mercados, are a common sight to see. In Buenos Aires, we would spend our weekends wandering the ferias, taking in all of the sights (tables/blankets of items for as far as the eye could see), sounds (street musicians and Tango), and smells (dulce de leche, empanadas,asados/ parilladas, alfajores, choripán, Yerba Mate tea). A few of my favorites sights were flipbooks of San Telmo-Buenos Aires, a figurine of Don Quijote made out of recycled leather, and a street performer dressed entirely in gold paint that made me jump a mile when he moved after I had believed him to be a statue!
Dance is a very important part of the culture in many Spanish-speaking countries–from the Tango in Argentina and the Flamenco in Spain to the Merengue and Salsa in the Caribbean, dance brings everyone together. Virtual or not, we are all one big family, so let’s get up & dance!
In class, students watched two astounding young Salsa dancers and a dog dancing Salsa for inspiration (see below). While third and fourth graders learned the basic Salsa dance step, second graders focused more on the Tango and Merengue. Older students ended the year with a small fiesta–eating chips and salsa while dancing Salsa!
Virtual learners were given the challenge to dress up in a fancy outfit and record 5-10 seconds of them dancing to a song in Spanish (more music below). Naturally, we added an ‘out’, for the timid of heart.
In the Dominican Republic, there is a saying, “El que no baila, no come bizcocho,” which means, “He who does not dance, does not eat cake”.
However, we will make an exception to this rule today; for anyone who does NOT want to be recorded dancing, you may make a tres leches cake (or any kind of cake).
No matter the age, most students seem to love looking at different currencies from around the [Spanish-speaking] world. One day, my kindergarteners spent an entire class cutting out euros and pesos; I couldn’t get them to stop! As they get older, the conversation expands. Second graders, for example, looked at me like I had 14 heads when I showed them–using a currency converter–that $100 USD was equivalent to $377,530 Colombian pesos; but even with a huge question mark stamped on their brains (WHAT?!), they were still fascinated by the concept.
While comparing values of different currencies can be a fun exercise, challenges arise when trying to explain the why. If any educators (or financial gurus) out there have ideas about how to break down said information into easy to swallow, bite-sized chunks, please feel free to comment below!
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.
Watch the video below and be amazed! It is a beautiful end result, but requires much patience and attention to detail! This SITE also has more stencils and ideas.
This year, every student in Lower School made his or her own miniature carpet with colored sand. For younger classes, a pattern was assigned; older students created their own designs. The end goal was to laminate all of them together into one very long “carpet”, which we did!
Year 2020-21: Kinetic Sand “Sawdust Carpet”
Here, we tried creating one gigantic carpet with DIY kinetic sand. It did not work perfectly, but the process was messy and fun, nevertheless!
RECIPE #1: 1 tsp. water & 5 drops dish soap, then add 1 tsp. corn starch, 2 tsp. Elmer’s glue, food coloring; mix; add 1/8 tsp. Great Value STA-FLO liquid laundry starch and mix together; slowly add 1/2 cup of sand; add another 1/8 tsp. liquid starch; add more sand, if necessary.
RECIPE #2: 1 cup play or craft sand; 1/2 c. PVA school glue; 2 tsp. dish soap; 2 tbsp. cornstarch; food coloring.; Dollar Tree party table cover.
In class, PK students made miniature güiros by coloring a notecard, and then gluing Popsicle sticks on top of it; to experience a similar sound, they brushed against the latter with another Popsicle stick. It wasn’t perfect, but students had fun with the activity!
PUERTO RICO: Students were so fascinated by the tiny size and loud voice of the Coquí frog (native to Puerto Rico), that they wanted to create a whole unit out of it. Diving into history, they learned that a long time ago, the Taíno people carved petroglyphs into rocks and caves, including a special symbol for the Coquí frog. To apply what they had learned, some students gathered natural materials outside and then drew the coquí symbol on the leaves and bark; others created a diorama with real dirt, sticks, and leaves (but fake frogs!); and others opted for the tree frog coloring page. Many were enchanted by The Legend of the Golden Coquí, and listened to the story repeatedly. THIS is also a fun story/description for kids about the idea that it “rains coquís“.
“In El Yunque National Rainforest, people claim that it rains coquís. This is somewhat true, but not technically accurate. The frogs are actually jumping out of the tree for reasons of survival. At certain times of the year, when the humidity is high, coquís climb up the tall trees of the forest.
As with many journeys, there are perils, and for the coquí the main danger is the tarantulas who lie in wait to eat them. They are smart little creatures, so to avoid the spiders, they jump from the trees instead of climbing back down, because they are so light that they just float to the ground. So if you are under a tree when they decide to descend, you could get caught in a coquí shower.” (Here’s Why The Coquí Frog is the Symbol of Puerto Rico)
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.
In class, we dyed different cups of water with fluorescent highlighter ink (pink, yellow, green, blue), and then watched as the colors glowed brilliantly under a black light. Classes also saw their socks & shoes light up, and then tried scribbling on their hands with highlighters to produce an effect very similar to bioluminescence. Note: This made my hands itchy, so be sure to wash up immediately afterwards.
HERE is a list of a few more glow-in-the-dark projects to try at home. $1 glow-in-the-dark paints &/or glow sticks are always a great investment. There are Bioluminescent Kayaking Tours available in some parts of the country to see it in real life as well.
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!
MEXICO: Mexico has a lot of holiday traditions this time of year, but one particularly unique one is Noche de los Rábanos(Night of the Radishes) in Oaxaca. Here, people spend all day long carving radishes into beautifully intricate sculptures; they earn cash prizes for the best ones. Watch the videos to learn more, and then try to carve your own radish sculpture (with an adult).
MEXICO: The Yucatan in Mexico is known for its hammock culture, especially amongst the indigenous Maya people. Here, 2/3 of children sleep in hammocks instead of beds, and there are even hammocks in hospitals! In the US, many hammocks are used outside; the difference is that these hammocks replace beds and are inside. Watch the short video below to see the beautiful & labor-intensive weaving process.
For this challenge, string up your own DIY hammock with a sheet and paracord/twine/rope, either for yourself, or a miniature one for a beloved stuffed animal (or pet?). 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. Finally, put on some music in Spanish and relax in your hammock. C’est la vie!
MEXICO:Cinco de Mayo means “May 5th” in Spanish. It is celebrated especially in Puebla, Mexico, but has become popular in the United States to recognize Mexican culture in general. Historically, it is important because while Mexico’s army was the underdog and expected to lose a battle way back in 1862, the French & Napoleon (Francia/ France) actually lost.
You see, France was angry because Mexico had not paid back money they owed them; instead, the president Benito Juarez gave the money [he owed France] to his people instead, who were suffering (poverty, etc.). France decided that enough was enough, and went to invade the country, anticipating that it would be an easy win; however, something unexpected occurred that day: it started raining cats and dogs, which created huge mudslides on the hills surrounding the small town of Puebla… and allowed the Mexican army to win, proving the impossible possible.
In class, students made flags to represent each country (México/Francia), were divided into two groups, set up glue sticks to represent the armies (France’s army was really big; Mexico’s was small), built a circle out of blocks to represent the hills surrounding the town in Mexico, and then the French army group pretended to fall/slide down the hill as they listened to rainstorm sound effects on the Promethean board. Later, we celebrated with Mariachi music. ASIDE: immediately following this lesson last year, it started absolutely pouring, so kindergarteners thought that they had made it rain!!!
Other years, we have extended this project to talk about sombreros and sombras (shade/shadows) vs. luz/light (natural y artificial). Activities to do at home include the following: make your own sombrero; choose a different craft from THIS LIST; play Shadow Tag outside; take 3-5 photos of interesting sombra/shadow shapes; and/or cook something HERE. The Burrito Zucchini Boats look fun!
COSTA RICA: 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.
MEXICO: 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.
NICARAGUA: Nik Wallenda is a tightrope aerialist who recently (March of 2020) walked across an active volcano in Nicaragua. Watch the news clip below… and be amazed!
If you work at a school with outdoor facilities, a class project to extend this could be to try slacklining a few inches above the ground (safety first!), for anyone who wants to volunteer. You might supplement this with expressions of encouragement in Spanish or a rhyme where classmates can cheer them on. I want to try this next year!
NOTE: I like showing students extreme videos like these because the journey to get there can be the focus of the discussion: yes, this is incredible, but how did he get to this point?Hard work, period. A real-life taste of the challenges of slacklining will drive home this point.
Slacklining is a popular sport and terrific way to improve one’s balance and core strength; even attempting a foot off the ground is admirable and a feat, to be sure. When you get into world record territory, however, I am no longer sure what to think. Please do NOT try this at home.
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.
One year, students painted red zig-zags on actual bark they found outside, and even tried their hand at melting Starbursts with a hairdryer–since they didn’t have access to sapodilla trees or machetes! This process led to third graders brainstorming about how to start their own business, with the idea of selling the “chicle” they were “producing” (read: re-selling melted Starbursts). While the business plan fizzled after a while, it was great to see them thinking like entrepreneurs.
NICARAGUA: 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 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 (see below), 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!
“Volcanic rock is not as forgiving as snow or sand. I found this out the hard way. When I finally stopped rolling down the slope, I realized my bald head felt hot & wet. Was that blood running down my scalp? […]
At the bottom we walked back to the truck and ate Volcano Burritos that had been freshly cooked inside the volcano itself! A hole had been dug at the summit, and a metal box containing the food was buried there. The heat from the volcano had cooked the burritos.“
PANAMA: 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.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: “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)
PLANTAINS: While plantains appear very similar to bananas, they are not the same food at all: plantains are starchy and much harder, and cannot be eaten raw. There are several ways to prepare them.
In class, we made tostones or patacones (plantain chips) to taste, which are a very popular snack in some Spanish-speaking countries. Chifles are much more thinly sliced, fried green plantain chips. At the store, you can buy Chifles plantain chips; while these are tasty, the chips are very thin and not the same as homemade tostones or patacones. Someone from Cuba told me that the plantain chips they make at home are sweet, almost like a dessert; so I think that there are probably quite a few varieties. If you would like to make this delicious snack at home, HERE is a recipe.
Another way to prepare plantains 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.”
ANECDOTE: 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.
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–one family made $4.5 million dollars in 2017!–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. After painting the Spanish crest and flag on them, students broke a few of the plates intentionally to make it seem more realistic!
For treasure artifacts, try this repoussévideo 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!
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.
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.“
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?
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. Aside: The video below is subtitled in Chinese, but narrated in English.
MEXICO: Alebrijes are mythical-type creatures and spirit animals. You may remember the alebrije Dante if you have seen the movie Coco. The origin of this art had an interesting beginning (read below). Fifth graders created their own alebrije out of papier-mâché.
“In 1936, when he was 30 years old, [Pedro] Linares fell ill with a high fever, which caused him to hallucinate. In his fever dreams, he was in a forest with rocks and clouds, many of which turned into wild, unnaturally colored creatures, frequently featuring wings, horns, tails, fierce teeth and bulging eyes. He heard a crowd of voices repeating the nonsense word “alebrije.” After he recovered, he began to re-create the creatures he’d seen, using papier-mâché and cardboard” (Source).
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!
MEXICO: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 Cocois 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!