Mexico- Fried Crickets

MEXICO: It is very common in many parts of Mexico to eat, well, bugs. Really! Evidently, Mexico is the country with the greatest variety of edible insects: 549 species. Some insects (like chapulines) are eaten fried but plain, while others (like scorpions)–as one of my colleagues experienced–can be mixed in with guacamole, mole, or other sauces.

“CHICATANAS (giant winged ants): When the first rains of the season hit Oaxaca, ants with coin-size wing spans spin into the air to escape their flooded nests and to search for food. Snatching at them are the hands of locals seizing their next snack. Chicatanas only come out one night a year, so families come together with a sense of urgency and excitement; kids make a game of seeing who can collect the most (and avoid getting bitten).”


En lieu of traveling abroad with my second graders, I buy a few boxes of fried crickets locally or on Amazon, and students have the opportunity–read: option–to taste them in class after we talk about the history and how everyone around the world eats and enjoys all different foods. To provide examples of this fact, we compared school lunches from a variety of countries (scroll down to slideshow on link).

To entice younger students to participate, there are even fun cricket flavors to whet their appetites, such as: Bacon & Cheese, Salt & Vinegar, and Sour Cream & Onion. This jumpstarts a unit on courage and stepping outside of your comfort zone in my classroom (soy valiente/ I am courageous).

BACKSTORY: I stumbled onto all of this a number of years ago after hearing the song, Un mes by the Colombian singer Mara, in a Zumba class. The lyrics referenced a “chapulín colorado”, and I wanted to know what that was. While the words literally mean, “red grasshopper” (which led to pics of bugs; see above), El Chapulín Colorado was also a Mexican television comedy show from the 1970’s that parodied superheroes. Clearly, there is room for this unit to go in many different directions!

Dominican Rep.- Dominoes

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.

If students are really into this, you can also keep extending this project by tapping into Paraguay- Landfill Harmonic and this Rube Goldberg video.

South America- Quipu

You know that feeling you get when you really want something, but know that you shouldn’t have it?

Well, recently, I’ve been frequenting the Teacher’s Lounge, only to find that it is littered with cupcakes, doughnuts, cookies, cookie cakes, and everything Sugar. I don’t know if this is a direct result of my teaching classes about [the Cuban singer] Celia Cruz’s trademark of shouting, ¡Azúcar! (sugar) in all of her songs; but regardless, The Sugar Room, as I have now coined it, might as well be magnetic: I can’t stay away.

Don’t get me wrong, I love vegetables and those trendy green smoothies and juices. I love spicy foods, curries, Vietnamese Pho, empanadas, steak, rice and beans, and anything seafood-related. But I LOVE–[note the bold and capitalization and cue lofty, dramatic music]–desserts. Like, to a fault. Dark chocolate and I are BFF’s.

So, in an attempt to justify shoving a second cupcake into my mouth the other day (don’t judge!), my eyes scanned the room for inspiration. Maybe we could feign that the upcoming sugar rush wasn’t a total waste: and it was at that moment that I happened to notice a small package of mint chocolate bars on the table.

It wasn’t that they were calling my name, necessarily. It was the brand that caught my eye: Andes, as in Andes Mountains. As in South America. As in Spanish curriculum territory. As in boom shaka-laka-laka! The librarian had told me something about rope storytelling in South America. Let the research commence. #CupcakeBreakJustified

Where to Begin?

A long, long time ago–we’re talking 2500 BC: or, when the world had primarily hunter-gatherers–someone tied a bunch of knots on a string of llama or alpaca hair [around some sticks], that would be discovered millenia later. We don’t know who this person was, or any specific details about their family. When boiled down to that, it might seem knot so extraordinary… and yet, it was.

You see, these knots would develop over the centuries into an incredible meta-linguistic system. They would be color-coded and distinguished by knot type, direction, spacing, and location. The knots would expand to become a major form of historical documentation and communication for use within the Incan Empire in South America. They would tease linguists and anthropologists with their complex structures and depth of thought.

The word for ‘knot’ in Quechua–the language of the Incas, which is still alive today–is quipu (or khipu, ‘key-poo’). It makes sense, then, that the majority of these knot cords, or quipus, have been discovered in Peru and the surrounding Andes Mountains of Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina.


Research about quipus is ongoing. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, a couple named Marcia and Robert Ascher “grew the known inventory of khipus in worldwide collections from just over 70, to about 400 examples” (Manuel Medrano). This–in conjunction with recent technological advancements (e.g., spreadsheets)–allowed for significant data analysis throughout the following decades. Nowadays, there are over 600 quipus in museum collections around the world, although some estimates claim closer to 800. While quipus are still primarily unintelligible, anthropologists have nevertheless been able to deduce and gather a fair amount of information about these fascinating knots.

For starters, knot color played an important role. Ethnohistorian Sabine Hyland wrote a lovely narrative account about her research here. She traveled to Peru in 2015 and, after many negotiations, was able to visit with an Andean tribe guarding two Collata khipus inside a colonial chest. Hyland saw the khipus firsthand and learned that the colors were sourced from cotton and/or

“delicate animal fibers--crimson, gold, indigo, green, cream, pink, and shades of brown from fawn to chocolate.”

[The colors of these particular khipus were vibrant and] “made of fibers from six different Andean animals–vicuña, deer, alpaca, llama, guanaco, and viscacha (the latter a common rodent hunted for food). In many cases, the fiber can only be identified through touch–brown deer hair and brown vicuña wool, for example, look the same but feel very different.”


Moreover, according to researcher and professor Manuel de León, “the colors of the strings represent different categories–for example, brown corresponds to government; crimson to the Inca sovereign, ruler of the empire; and red to war–while the knots indicate quantities, including the number zero, which is represented by the absence of knots”.


While the Collata khipus are unique in certain ways, khipus are typically quite colorful and varied. Current day research is working to determine the stories behind these knots. For example, the Incas used these portable, lightweight cords to keep track of the new lands they conquered. They would record everything about the area.

“What the Incas would do if they conquered an area was go in and the first thing they would do is send their accountants, their inventory people,” MacQuarrie says.

“They would go in and literally count all of the different resources: the streams, the fields, they’d measure the fields, the people, the sexes of the people, mining, fishing, whatever. They would keep records of it and they would take that information back to Cusco and they would make decisions on how to administer that area.”


So the quipus were used, first and foremost, to record quantities. Medrano mentions in his talk, Knot Just Numbers: Andean Khipu Strings, that the numerical structure(s) of the quipu would seem to indicate that they were likewise used to keep track of debts and credits, such as taxes. Algebraic equations are also evident in the sums of the knots; but quipus were not calculators, rather, arithmetic records.

Both Hyland and Medrano toy with the idea that the quipus may have been used as a tool to record stories and legends. There are strong indications of this fact, such as Rosetta Khipus, in which quipus align directly with historical documents by Spanish poet Garcilaso de la Vega, and were likely transcribed by the Spanish from quipucamayocs, or specialists from the time period who knew how to read and make the knots. Not everyone could read a quipu.

This is a big deal because the Incan Empire was known not to have a written language; but if the quipus somehow correspond to a logosyllabic system, and someone is able to crack the code, an entire history of Incas will be revealed which, up to this point in history, has been hidden from view.

However, before I venture into solving one of the world’s mysteries, I might need another cupcake. Or an Andean chocolate mint.


  1. Knots representing numbers: The mathematics of the Incas
  2. Unraveling an Ancient Code Written in Strings (& HERE)
  3. We thought the Incas couldn’t write. These knots change everything
  4. Quipu: The Ancient Computer of the Inca Civilization
  5. How The Inca Used Knots To Tell Stories
  6. Quipu: South America’s Ancient Writing System
  7. Knot Just Numbers: Andean Khipu Strings (video)

Panama- Canal

PANAMA: The Panama Canal is an iconic piece of maritime history, and yet, somehow–despite our country focus in Spanish class–I have never spent any real time on it in class. Today, that changed! Was it pretty? No, not at all. Did my students learn a ton and love what we did? No, most unfortunately. But sometimes, I am learning, you have to be okay with that as an educator. You have to try new ideas to grow, and sometimes, those new ideas just don’t work. Sometimes kindergarteners prefer to be kindergarteners, and can’t get excited about your ideas. Sometimes, they would simply rather stick to the routine. Today was a perfect example of that.

In order to explain what the Panama Canal was to my young students, I used a Popsicle stick boat (that my stuffed animal sails around in periodically) to dramatically portray two separate routes. “Ufff, this way around South America is soooo long! I am tired and really BORED!!!!” My interpretation was overly dramatic because I was describing it all in the target language. “But this route is so much shorter and faster!”

Next, we went outside to the playground to “dig” it in the sandbox with spoons. This was supposed to involve teamwork and emphasize how much physical work it must have taken to make it in real life (which was why I gave them plastic spoons and not shovels!).

However, kindergarteners were feeling moody and out of sorts (let’s blame the full moon), so it didn’t go as smoothly as anticipated. Regardless, I think there is potential for the project to expand into something really great in the future. But if all else fails, this alternate project below just might take the cake. HA!

Chile- Valparaíso

CHILE: The coastal city of Valparaíso in Chile is perhaps most known for its colorful landscape and 43 cerros/ hills. Commonly known as the “La Joya del Pacífico,” (The Jewel of the Pacific), the street art scene here proves astounding.

Valparaíso wasn’t always quite so colorful, but in response to the dictatorship of the 1970’s, artists wanted to make their voices heard, forming underground groups to get their message out to the world. It would seem a wholly turbulent past, but the origin of the colorful houses is actually distinct from that of the street art:

“As Valparaiso is a port city, the short story goes that the “Porteños” (meaning the inhabitants of a port city) used the abandoned metal in the port to cover and protect their houses made of adobe bricks (a kind of clay mixed with water and straw).

And as with wind and humidity the [metal] tended to rust, people started painting their houses with the paint used on the boats. And you will have understood it, these [paints] are very resistant and especially very colorful (it is necessary to see the boats from far). This is what would be at the origin of this ‘coloured metalic’ touch that makes Valparaiso so original.”


Part 1

Dependent on the grade level, we go in a few different directions here. For starters, the street art history is too heavy for kindergarteners, so in class, students focus solely on the vibrant colors. I sing a calming song, “Azul, blanco, rojo, violeta, amarillo, anaranjado, verde y rosa [rosado],” and point to crayons as I go, so as to associate the proper color with each word.

Students are then given large coffee filters, and I show them the food coloring (yipee!); next, students choose which colors, how many droplets, and where they want them, to create their own designs. I always narrate what is happening and ask questions continuously in the target language as I go around from student to student. In the background, I put on a different color song, called Los colores.

This year, I had a set of goteros/ eyedroppers, so kindergarteners used them to mix agua/water and the colors even further. It was great fun, however beware: this can make a huge mess! (No, I don’t say this from experience, haha!) The art teacher got in on this for International Dot Day, and the next phase of this project was to transform the colorful coffee filters into Chihuly Sculptures in her class. Very cool!

Another year, I saved them until Christmas time and older grades used the dyed paper to make snowflake decorations for my classroom.

Part 2

To extend this project, and after smelling seemingly identical cups of clear liquid–water/agua and vinegar/vinagre [‘bee-NAH-gray’]–students responded in Spanish with either, “Sí me gusta” or “No me gusta” (I like it/I don’t like it/’no may GOOSE-tah’) and proceeded to ooooh and aaahhh when Pato added baking soda, droplets of food coloring, and vinegar to a bowl–resulting in a colorful volcanic eruption!

Older students announced this as “Breaking News” on their class Spanish News Show, watching a Spanish BrainPop video on volcanoes and learning about the Calbuco volcanic eruption in Chile. This connected to their classroom science unit on volcanoes.

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Paraguay- Bottle Dance

PARAGUAY: La Danza de La Botella, or Bottle Dance, is a traditional Paraguayan dance with unclear origins- although many say it is an offshoot of the galopa (a different folk dance). Dancers begin at a young age, balancing one glass bottle on their heads. As they gain more skill, more bottles are added. While four or five bottles is an absolute feat, some advance to as many as ten or eleven–see videos below. The top and final bottle has a ribbon of the flag colors of Paraguay tied on to it.

In class, students admired the Ñandutí lace on the dresses, enjoyed listening to the traditional Paraguayan polka music, and then attempted to balance books and paper cups on their heads and walk around the room. (Not quite the same- but safety always comes first.) Regardless, it is harder than it looks!

Above: Image #1, Image #2

Spain- Caves

SPAIN: As you may know, the name of my website–The Spanish Cave–has its roots in the year I was moved into a tiny classroom with absurdly high ceilings. After a while, we started calling it La cueva/The Cave–and for whatever reason, the name stuck. Despite their prevalence around the world, caves are, after all, pretty cool.

It is no surprise that Spain has its fair share of fascinating caves. From the Caves of Nerja in Andalucía (largest stalactite in the the world), and the Caves of Altamira in Cantabria (beautiful prehistoric paintings and engravings), to the Drach–or “Dragon”–Caves in Mallorca (one of the world’s largest underground lakes), these natural subterranean chambers highlight yet another layer of our extraordinary world. Click on the article below for a project!

Uruguay- Casapueblo

URUGUAY: Obviously, we need to do some sort of amazing artistic project on this art studio turned hotel with no straight lines (in the entire edifice, as per the artist’s preference, Carlos Paez Vilaró). I was thinking of using marshmallows as our medium, but the temptation to eat them is just too great for elementary aged students. I will keep you posted.

LINKS: Wondermondo (Uruguay)Hotel Art Casapueblo (Uruguay)Casapueblo Video (Uruguay), Home of Carlos Paez Vilaró

Image Credit

Colombia- Encanto

It is quite possible that I am the only Spanish [elementary] teacher on the planet who has yet to watch the movie Encanto. That said, because some of my students sing the songs nonstop, I have had fun searching for official translations and adaptations of the soundtrack in the target language.

My searching this afternoon led me to reading a beautifully rich YouTube comment under the song, La Familia Madrigal. As it is written in Spanish, however, I thought I would provide a translation for all of the anglophones out there. And yes, I will get around to seeing the movie eventually! Many thanks to @jumpp10 for commenting on the richness and depth of references in this video.

@jumpp10Aquí las referencias a Colombia en la canción/ Here [are] the references to Colombia in the song:

  • 0:04La arquitectura de la casita está inspirada en las casas coloniales, como las encontradas en la región cafetera y las de Cartagena con sus famosos balcones con flores.
    • The architecture of the casita is inspired by colonial houses, such as those found in the coffee region and those of Cartagena with their famous flowered balconies.
  • 0:41La mochila de Mirabel está inspirada en las mochilas de los indígenas Wayuu, que viven en la costa norte de Colombia (frontera con Venezuela). El traje de Mirabel está inspirado en el traje típico de la ciudad de Vélez, en el departamento de Santander.
    • Mirabel’s backpack is inspired by the backpacks of the indigenous Wayuu, who live on the north coast of Colombia (border with Venezuela). Mirabel’s costume is inspired by the typical costume of the city of Vélez, in the department [section, region] of Santander.

Famous Wayuu mochila bags. Image #1, Image #2, Image #3, Image #4.

  • 1:00Arepas y café. Las arepas se comen en toda Colombia, aunque hay muchos tipos, y el café, producto insignia del país.
    • Arepas and coffee. Arepas are eaten throughout Colombia, although there are many types, and coffee, the country’s insignia product.

  • 1:16Palmas de cera, son las palmeras altas que se ven en el paisaje. La palma de cera es el árbol nacional de Colombia. Los Madrigal viven en un lugar inspirado en el Valle del Cocora.
    • Wax palms are the tall palm trees that are seen in the landscape. The wax palm is the national tree of Colombia. The Madrigals live in a place inspired by the Valle del Cocora.
They can grow up to 200 feet tall!

  • 1:19Está escrito “Colombia”.
    • It is written “Colombia”. [Aside: People often confuse and misspell Colombia the country with Columbia, the clothes brand name, so the correct spelling is noteworthy!]
  • 1:21A la izquierda, pasa una mujer usando chaquiras en el cabello, elementos comunes en peinados de la comunidad afrocolombiana.
    • On the left, a woman passes by wearing beads in her hair, common elements in hairstyles of the Afro-Colombian community.
  • 1:40A la izquierda, una mujer con una ruana, un tipo de poncho colombiano, la diferencia es que es abierto. El hombre del centro come una mazorca asada, que se venden en las calles.
    • On the left, a woman with a ruana, a type of Colombian poncho, the difference is that it is open. The man in the center eats a roasted corn on the cob, which is sold on the streets.
  • 1:51Julieta tiene una cesta de buñuelos, un pan dulce y salado que se come muchísimo en navidad, aunque a veces también en los desayunos. El hombre al que cura lleva un poncho, usados en zonas frías.
    • Julieta has a basket of buñuelos, a sweet and salty bread that is eaten a lot at Christmas, but sometimes also for breakfast. The man she heals wears a poncho, worn in cold areas.
  • 1:54El hombre tiene un sombrero vueltiao, típico de la costa Caribe colombiana.
    • The man has a vueltiao hat, typical of the Colombian Caribbean coast.
  • 2:11Calles empedradas similares a las calles de la ciudad de Barichara, en Santander.
    • Cobbled streets similar to the streets of the city of Barichara, in Santander.

Photos of Barichara, Santander, in Colombia. Image Credit.

  • 2:15Félix usa una guayabera, un tipo de camisa muy usada en el Caribe. Mariano también usa.
    • Felix wears a guayabera, a type of shirt widely used in the Caribbean. Mariano does also.
  • 2:25Los trajes de Pepa y Dolores están inspirados en la vestimenta de las mujeres palenqueras, que habitan en el Caribe colombiano.
    • Pepa and Dolores’ costumes are inspired by the clothing of Palenquera women, who live in the Colombian Caribbean. [Aside: Palenquero is an endangered language but absolutely fascinating. I learned a bit about it in graduate school.]
  • 2:33La abuela le entrega un bloque a un hombre que lleva un sombrero aguadeño, típico de la región paisa (Antioquia, Caldas, Risaralda, Quindío).
    • The grandmother gives a block to a man wearing an aguadeño hat, typical of the Paisa region (Antioquia, Caldas, Risaralda, Quindío).
  • 2:44Los silleteros, son personas que llevan en sus espaldas unas estructuras cargadas de flores, conocida como silletas. Cada año, se hacen desfiles y concursos en Medellín donde se pueden apreciar hermosas silletas.
    • The silleteros are people who carry structures loaded with flowers on their backs, known as silletas. Every year, parades and contests are held in Medellin where beautiful silletas can be seen.
  • 3:12Silletas exhibidas para que el público vea los diseños hechos con flores.
    • Silletas displayed for the public to see the designs made with flowers.

  • 3:14Entre todas esas flores debe haber orquídeas, que son la flor nacional de Colombia.
    • Among all those flowers there must be orchids, which are the national flower of Colombia.
  • 3:24El puente que Luisa levanta es muy similar al puente de Boyacá, donde ocurrió la última batalla de la independencia colombiana.
    • The bridge that Luisa builds is very similar to the Boyacá bridge, where the last battle of Colombian independence took place.
  • 3:33Palmas de plátano, comunes en Colombia, sus hojas se usan para envolver algunos alimentos como los tamales.
    • Banana palms, common in Colombia, their leaves are used to wrap some foods such as tamales.

  • 3:47El acordeón es el instrumento principal del vallenato, un género musical colombiano, y de hecho esta canción está inspirada en ese género. El hombre de la derecha sostiene un tiple, instrumento colombiano con 12 cuerdas, usado en varios ritmos colombianos. Y la mujer toca un tambor alegre, usado en ritmos del Caribe.
    • The accordion is the main instrument of vallenato, a Colombian musical genre, and in fact this song is inspired by that genre. The man on the right holds a tiple, a Colombian instrument with 12 strings, used in various Colombian rhythms. And the woman plays a lively drum, used in Caribbean rhythms.
  • 4:11Personas jugando tejo, considerado deporte nacional de Colombia. Consiste en arrojar un disco metálico con el objetivo de hacer explotar unos pequeños sobres con pólvora.
    • People playing tejo, considered the national sport of Colombia. It consists of throwing a metal disk with the aim of exploding small envelopes with powder.
  • 4:18Montañas, debido a que tres cordilleras atraviesan el país.
    • Mountains, because three mountain ranges cross the country.

Venezuela- Angel Falls

VENEZUELA: Angel Falls is the highest uninterrupted waterfall in the world. Did you know that “Paradise Falls” in the movie Up was based on the real life Angel Falls? As the video below explains, the falls are known as Kerepakupai-Merú (or Parekupa Vena) amongst the Pemón-Carib people; the name means, “waterfall from the deepest place”. It would be amazing to visit, but its location is very remote and in the jungle, 600 kilometers (373 miles) away from civilization.

More specifically, the falls are located in Canaima National Park (Parque Nacional Canaima). This park is also famous because of its tepuis, which are sandstone plateaus in South America. In the Pemón language, tepui means, “house of the gods”. The literal translations below give you a glimpse into the language. As a linguist, I love this sort of thing!

Father Cesareo de Armellada was the author of the first dictionary of the Pemón language (published in 1943). At the time it was called Taurepan. Many words in this language show interesting patterns of formation.

For example, the word for “sugar-cane” is kaiwara-kún-imá , which means “pineapple with a very long leg.” The word for “pineapple” itself, kaiwara, means “a sweet with wrinkles.” The Pemon word for “dew” is chirké-yetakú, which means “star’s saliva.” Yetakú is “saliva” or, more precisely, “juice of the teeth.”

There is no word for “year” in the Pemon language. The day is divided into “dawning,” “morning,” “noontime,” “afternoon”.


In class, students made a model of Angel Falls in Venezuela, by collecting bark, small stones, and leaves outside, and adding water. (I had a sink in my room that year!) This mini project mostly came about because kindergarteners had learned that other classes were making Museum Exhibits, and they wanted to participate.

LINKS: Airpano, Angel Falls Coloring Page

Spain- La Sagrada Familia

SPAIN: La Sagrada Familia is an enormous basilica in Barcelona, Spain, designed by architect Antoni Gaudí. Construction began in 1882, but was halted in 1936 initially because of the Spanish Civil War, and then later for myriad other reasons. The projected date of completion had been 2026, but is now postponed.

“The original [design] calls for 18 spires in total, representing the 12 Apostles, the four Evangelists, Mary and Jesus. So far, only eight spires have been completed and it is expected that when the building is complete, it will be the tallest church in the world.”


In my classroom, I covered an entire windowpane with high resolution images of the basilica, positioning them so that it encourages the viewer to look up, just like in a real cathedral. I also posted the Padre Nuestro in Spanish, which students learn in class.

Another year, third graders used glossy white paper, black Sharpies, rulers, and highlighters to create their own stained glass windows (as shown below; idea #8 on link HERE). They turned out really well and are easy to make, even for younger students.

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Peru- Huacachina Oasis

PERU: When I first read Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist, I had a vague idea of what an oasis was. It seemed nice, but the concept felt distant and inaccessible–that is, until I stumbled onto an article about Huacachina, Peru. Granted, Coehlo describes an oasis in Egypt, but I would bet that there are similarities.

The Huacachina Oasis is the only oasis in South America, and as such, a huge tourist destination for sandboarding, dune boarding, and the like. It is located near Lima, the capital city. HERE is an official site about the oasis; after exploring virtually, the travel bug will invariably bite you. My apologies in advance!

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Uruguay- Calle de los Suspiros

URUGUAY: Aptly named, “La Calle de los Suspiros”, or Street of Sighs, this dot on the map leaves you aching for a slower pace of life. I took the BuqueBus ferry over from Buenos Aires and only spent a day here, but it was as though time had stopped completely. My memory of this day easily stretches to weeks, if not months, in my mind.

The cobblestone streets, Sycamore trees, lighthouse, and breezy winds from the Atlantic–coupled with a gourd of hot Yerba Mate tea (“MAH-tay”) and a few alfajores, of course–sweep travelers into another world.

Image #1, Image #2, Image #3; all other photos are mine. Note that the huge, white, artistic-looking building is not in Colonia del Sacramento, but rather, Punta Ballena, Uruguay.

Chile- Torres del Paine

CHILE: Torres del Paine, Chile is a national park that covers nearly 500,000 acres of land. Its diverse wildlife, epic views, and sunrises and sunsets are among the most peaceful sights in the world. If you’re looking to “get back to nature”, this is the place to be.

Spend some time outside in your backyard or on a walk around your neighborhood with your five senses in mind. What do you hear? Smell? See? What can you touch? How do you feel? What could you taste? (Are there fruit trees or anything edible in sight?) How does nature make you feel? If possible, try to be barefoot for a while. Block out one of your senses–for example, close your eyes–and see how that changes your perspective. Did you notice more sounds when your eyes were closed?

One of my most memorable science homework assignments in school was to do sit on my back steps and simply observe. Later, I had to handwrite a paper describing everything. It was so peaceful to pause, sit back, and take time to really see the world.

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Chile- Futaleufú

Image Credit

CHILE: Futaleufú, Chile (in Patagonia) is perhaps most famous for its extreme water rafting. While this looks like the adventure of a lifetime, there are also plenty of other activities available for visitors there, should this fast-paced sport not, um, float your boat (bad pun). Click HERE for more information and to schedule a trip!

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Chile- Skyscraper

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CHILE: In Santiago, Chile, stands the tallest skyscraper in all of South America. It is called both La Torre Costanera and the Gran Torre Santiago. While this 980 foot (300m) tall and 64-floor high building is impressive, there are plenty of extremely tall buildings around the world. The more interesting question, I think, is how were these constructed? How do they stand the test of time?

In class, students first looked at various architectural designs and a list of the tallest skyscrapers in South America. Later, classes had the opportunity to participate in the famous Marshmallow Challenge (“Reto de la nube”) to construct their own building in a small group. Did you know that this exercise is even used with company CEO’s to promote creative thinking? Interestingly enough, however, kindergarteners tend to outperform nearly all adults, but especially business graduate students.

In the Marshmallow Challenge, participants have exactly 18 minutes to try and build a free- stranding structure using only one yard of tape, one yard of string, 1 large marshmallow, and 20 pieces of spaghetti. The key is that the marshmallow has to be on the very top of the structure.

ASIDE: It is very possible that I may have given miniature marshmallows to students as a treat after the activity. What?! I did this project with first through fourth graders– there was no way they weren’t going to fight over and try to eat the one marshmallow!

Some teachers like to have a reflection discussion afterwards, and then do the same lesson again the following day to see what and how students work differently. Others stop the timer after about eight minutes, discuss as a class what is and is not working, and then get back to work (with 10 minutes remaining on the clock). If you sense there is a lot of frustration in the room, I would definitely recommend this second strategy. Have fun!

@TEDx site HERE.

Impressively Tall Buildings


Image #1, Image #2 & Tallest buildings in Chile


Image #1, Image #2 & Tallest buildings in Argentina


Image #1, Image #2


Image #1, Image #2 & Tallest Buildings in Peru


Image #1, Image #2 & Tallest buildings in Colombia


Image #1, Image #2

Uruguay- Punta del Este

URUGUAY: La Mano de Punta del Este is a huge sculpture on the beach of a seaside resort called Punta del Este in Uruguay (on the Atlantic coast). It was constructed in 1982 by an artist, Mario Irarrázabal, when there was an art exhibition but no space for him to participate in the town. So… he went to the beach! The fingers are made out of steel bars, plastic, concrete, and metal mesh.

In class, we did not use steel bars; instead, kindergarten students smeared a piece of paper with glue, and then sprinkled real sand over it to recreate la playa/ the beach. Next, they smushed their palms (no splatting, please!) into a color paint of their choice, and put a handprint on the beach. It was a simple project–albeit messy, for sure–but helped students to connect with a country that they knew little to nothing about.

While waiting for their turn to make a handprint, kindergarteners “built” the Andes Mountains on my floor map with blocks, through much of South America. It was a good day!

LINKS: La Mano de Punta del Este (Uruguay)

Image Credit, Image Source, Image Credit Unsplash

Peru- La Rinconada

PERU: La Rinconada is the highest city in the world. It is over three miles high (16,732 feet). It is also on top of a gold mine! For more details, check out this link HERE.

In class, students made their own tiny pieces of gold, while others tried to build a tower to the ceiling to represent “the highest city in the world”. You could definitely go more in depth here on the topic of mining with older students.

Regardless, be sure to take either the shortest or tallest student in the class and do a quick long division problem, to find out exactly how many clones of said student–standing on top of one another–would equal 16,732 feet high.

LINKS: Highest City in the World (Peru), The World’s Highest City is in Peru- PHOTO, La Rinconada, Inside the Highest Town in the World- Departures (have to subscribe)

Image #1, Image #2, Image #3

Venezuela- Ice Cream

VENEZUELA: Heladería Coromoto in Merida, Venezuela, is home to 900 flavors of ice cream and a world record, at that! Have you ever been in a rut, and wanted to try something new, different, novel to get another perspective? Well, here is your chance! Try avocado ice cream with black beans; or trout ice cream; or perhaps spaghetti with cheese ice cream. Click HERE to learn more.

In class, students had fun dreaming up strange combinations of flavors, and even began ‘selling cones’ made out of colorful paper.

Paraguay- Ñandutí Lace

Image Credit

PARAGUAY:Ñandutí, (Guaraní Indian: “spider web”), type of lace introduced into Paraguay by the Spaniards. It is generally characterized by a spoke-like structure of foundation threads upon which many basic patterns are embroidered.

This structure, resembling a spider web or the rays of the Sun, is usually made on a small circular cushion and is common in many Spanish countries. It is also found in drawn thread work. A comparable lace is made on the island of Tenerife and bears its name.” –Source

LINKS: Getting Crafty, Embassy of the Republic of Paraguay

Image #1, Image #2, Source

Chile- Atacama Desert

CHILE: The Atacama Desert (in northern Chile) is known as the “driest place in the world”, but you might not believe that if you chance upon it during the desierto florido phenomenon. Every so often, this megadry 41,000 square mile (105,000 sq km) area receives unexpected amounts of rain, causing seeds deep within the earth to bloom.

“In August even more rain fell and a second even wilder bloom followed. A barren country where you can walk for days without seeing an ant, a fly, or a blade of grass erupted in a gloriously obscene display of flora.”

Craig Childs

One Twitter user described it this way: “The average rainfall is 15mm/ year. Some weather stations have never received rainfall at all. But when it receives higher rains, it blooms like a fairyland (Susanta Nanda). Supposedly, this fairyland reappears every five to seven years, but take that with a grain of salt: the desert is a wild beast with a mind of its own, and will bloom when it feels like it.

While the photos are incredible, some sources seem to say that one of the images depicted is of the Valley of Flowers in the Himalayas. Regardless, the desierto florido is a real thing, and does in fact happen in the Atacama.

People living in the Atacama used to speak a [now extinct] language called Kunza, also known as Lickantantay. The Tierra Hotels offer a PDF of activities for children and a list of vocabulary in Kunza.

LINKS: Paranal Observatory in Chile, Atacama- Flowers Bloom Following Rain

Bolivia- Pantanal & Trains

Imagen de Stefan Muller

BOLIVIA: I read a book recently that took place primarily in the pantanal. It sounded fascinating–and I desperatedly want to do a project on it–but the lesson plan has not come to fruition quite yet. Check back in the future for more on this!

LINKS: GLOBE TREKKER- Tough Trains (Bolivia), Tough Trains Series- Across Bolivia the Pantanal to the Pacific, Arica to La Paz By Train (Chile/Bolivia)Sucre to Potosí en Buscarril (Bolivia)From the Pantanal to the Pacific (Bolivia)Río Mulatos-Potosí Line (Bolivia), Toughest Place to Be a Train Driver (Bolivia)5 Highest Railway Lines in the WorldGlobe Trekker: Tough Trains (Bolivia)Tough Trains (Bolivia)

Most Dangerous Railways in WorldTough Trains (Bolivia)Tough Trains2 (Bolivia),

See also Argentina- Train to the Clouds

Mexico- Chocolate

MEXICO: After taking time to learn about molinillos, or the [beautiful!] wooden tools used to stir chocolate in Mexico (see video below), students practiced a hand clapping rhyme about cho-co-la-te. Younger students learn another well-known rhyme: bate, bate chocolate, tu nariz de cacahuate.

Some year, we will dive deep into the history of chocolate (Jennifer Martinez @EverythingJustSo has an extensive packet on this)–but this year was not the one. However, fourth graders did figure out how to do the clapping rhyme in a circle, with a big group of people. We also changed the ‘playback speed’ to super fast and then super slow on the clapping video below. Fun, fun, fun! This lesson is great for both vowels and coordination.

El Fútbol (Soccer)

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.

Class Routine

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.


  • ¡Pásala! (pass it)
  • ¡Por acá! (over here)
  • ¡Por allí! (over there)
  • La pelota/el balón (the ball)
  • Soy portero/a; soy arquero/a (I’m goalie)
  • ¡No manos! (no hands!)
  • ¡La tengo! (I got it!)
  • ¡Vamos! (Let’s go!)
  • ¡Patéala! (kick it!)
  • ¡Corre! (run!)
  • ¡Rápido! (quickly)
  • ¡Apúrate! (hurry up!)
  • ¡Sube! (go up the field)
  • ¡Quédate ahí! (stay there)
  • Defensa (defense)
  • Descanso/entretiempo
  • Fuera
  • No inglés (no English)
  • No fui yo (it wasn’t me)
  • Fue… (it was)
  • ¡Vamos a ganar! (we’re going to win!)
  • ¡Gooooool! (goal)
  • ¡Golazo! (amazing goal)
  • “Este partido, lo vamos a ganar.”
    • We’re going to win this game! (Spain)
  • “Ganamos, perdimos, igual nos divertimos.”
    • 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)

Facepaint Fridays!

  • 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.

Film: Rated PG-13 (older students)

Venezuela- Roller Skating

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!

Argentina- Mercados

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!

Continue reading “Argentina- Mercados”


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).

Different Currencies

Gif Credit @BCRA

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!

LINKS: My Classroom Economy, MarketWatch, MarketWatch Game, MyKidsBank

Fake Money to Print for Classroom

More Links: Billetes y Monedas (Chile), Billetes (Argentina), Banknote boliviano, Banknote News (Bolivia)

Argentina- Street Art

ARGENTINA: We return to Argentina because it is a fascinating land of extremes: from the Southern Lights in Ushuaia, to Iguazu Falls in the north, there is something for everyone here. This week, we are focusing on the constantly changing street art of Argentina. When I lived there, I was amazed at how some of the walls were 4 inches of paint thick- many times, the murals would change overnight!

Here, classes began with an initial layer of ‘graffiti’ (writing words & sentences in Spanish on a huge sheet of paper), and then progressed to doodles, paintings (Xul Solar), and murals. Our goal is to layer the papers and see how thick our street art can get! We will cut out flip tabs to see the previous layers. Feel free to try this at home as well.

LINKS: Mi Sala Amarilla- Xul Solar

Image Credit (tiger), Image Credit

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.

This Nazca Lines Craft for Kids is one activity you can try in class or at home. In class, students recreated these designs with masking tape on the floor. Check out this link HERE for an entertaining account about how this lesson plan evolved.

LINKS: New Nazca Lines Found (Peru), Nazca Lines Geocaching (Peru), Ancient Drawings Discovered (Peru), Las Líneas de Nasca, Nazca Lines- Peru, Nazca Line Theories

Music & Sand Skiing in Peru

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.

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

LINKS: Sawdust Carpets- Video (Guatemala)Sawdust Carpet Stencil Patterns, Easter in Guatemala

Year 2021-22: Colored Sand “Sawdust Carpets”

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!

Danny Gokey Song

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.

More recipes & links: Kinetic Sand, Kinetic Sand- 3 ingredients, DIY Kinetic Sand, More DIY Kinetic Sand; Slick Slime Sam- YT Channel + Slick Slime Sam- 3 Insanely Cool Crafts for Artsy Kids

Year 2019-20: Virtual Learning “Sawdust Carpets”

Photos of student work from the Spring Quarantine of 2020. All of the following were done virtually.

Year 2018-19: Art Stencils & Sand “Sawdust Carpets”

The art teacher drew stencils in pencil on colored bulletin board paper, and then students filled in the designs with colored sand.

Colombia- Emeralds

COLOMBIA & BEYOND: Last year, second graders became very excited about gemstones and minerals. As a result, we 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.

This year, students studied geodes in their regular classroom, but I learned about it a smidgen too late to tap into the unit. Maybe next year?!