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!

Recipes- Central America

Food from Central America and beyond to make at home with your family. Turn on the radio to a Spanish station, and have fun! Note that the recipes are ordered alphabetically by country.

Central America & Beyond

Atlantean & Basque

My initial encounter with the Basque language (Euskara) was a bit of a shock, particularly since I was in Spain and, well, expected Spanish/ Castellano to be the default. I was hiking across the northern part of the Iberian peninsula and had not anticipated the, “How, what…?” linguistic shock. I didn’t even know the question. Perhaps something along the lines of, “Why don’t I see any common word roots in something like tabakalera?” was what my brain wanted to ask.

Or, better yet and upon later research, what are the root words in, “Euskararen Txantxangorria’ren“? (It means, “the Basque red robin“, in case you were wondering, and is a song–see below–as part of a campaign to encourage the use of the Basque language.)

Basque is, without a doubt, unrelated to any other Latin language, which would explain my confusion. In fact,


“[Atlanteans] believed that if something was written down, it encouraged forgetfulness and simultaneously discouraged the cultivation of memory.”

Shirley Andrews

Talk about a different perspective! I admit that I get up in the middle of the night to write down a thought on a Post-It so that I won’t forget in the morning. Imagine how strong our minds would be if we did not write anything down! Ever. How would our understanding of history change? In what would our days consist? Certainly not blogging like this. Even the syntax is quite distinct:

Songs in Euskara

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.

Image #1, Image #2, Image #3, Image #4, Image #5, Image #6, Image #7, Image #8, Image #9, Image #10, Image #11, Image #12, Image #13, Image #14

Southern Spain- Andalucía

The unrelenting Spanish sun beat down on me as I wiped the sweat from my forehead for the umpteenth time, wondering what in the world 44*C was in Fahrenheit. [It turned out to be 110*F.] So this is why they have the siesta, I thought. My brother and I were the only ones walking around the city streets of Granada that afternoon, foolishly searching for tapas and a place to spend the night, when everything was very clearly closed. Scholar-me knew that the siesta existed, knew that it was a part of Spanish culture, but to live it was something entirely different. The “CERRADO” (closed) signs weren’t really necessary: heavy iron doors and gates prevented anyone from even looking inside.

Continue reading “Southern Spain- Andalucía”

Spain- Tapas

SPAIN: 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!

Spain- La Alhambra

SPAIN: La Alhambra is a famous fort/ palace with beautiful gardens in southern Spain and a rich history. In class, students learn that Spanish and Arabic actually share a lot of vocabulary, despite having completely different alphabets. By listening to Spanish Arabic music, they get a feel for Andalucía and see the influence the Moors had on that region of Spain.

Across grade levels, students enjoy trying to build this fort out of cardboard; but first graders take it to a new level by not only painting the cardboard red*, but also carefully coloring and cutting out the fancy tiles [azulejos] and plastering the inside of the fort with them. *PRO TIP: If any students call the red paint “blood”, I redirect to La Tomatina, a tomato-throwing fight that takes place in Spain every year.

Students add windows and crawlspaces, and telescopes, and learn a bit about paciencia/ patience and the fruits of slowing down. Taking your time can be a good thing! They also glue on pictures of the Spanish flag and other cultural realia, put on Spain’s National Anthem or Spanish Andalusian music below, and invest themselves in the process. If time permits, they try to recreate the gardens!

LINKS: La Alhambra (Wikipedia)La Alhambra (Spain)La Alhambra, Fotos (Spain)La Alhambra (languages), Audioguía infantil de la Alhambra en 3D, The Alhambra Palace- Secrets Behind the Writing on the Wall

Arabic: Arabic Loanwords in European Languages, Designer Creates Arabic Words into Illustrations of their Literal Meanings, Similarities Between Spanish and Arabic, Southern Spain ~ Andalucía

Image taken from La Alhambra article on Wikipedia (you can change the language on the sidebar).

Spain- Joan Miró

SPAIN: Artwork by Joan Miró and a watercolor copy by a student. Look at THIS VIDEO PAINTING and THIS VIDEO PAINTING to understand what he sees.

“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.

Joan Miró

LINKS: WikiArt- Miró, How to Paint Joan Miró

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–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 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!

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.

LINKS: Spanish Colonies (1715), Nautical Archaeology of the Americas (1715)

Spain- El Prado

SPAIN: El 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 just this week, which celebrated the museum’s 200th anniversary! For this exhibit, students took an 8.5×11 copy of Still Life with Game, Vegetables, and Fruit (the first Spanish still life, by Juan Sánchez Cotán) and transferred it by eye to a large trifold, trying to imagine how artists filled such massive canvases. Fourth graders did an amazing job here! (See below.)

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 (including translated advertising slogans and commercial breaks) 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.

FEATURED ARTISTS: Juan Sánchez Cotán, El Greco, Salvador Dalí, Diego Velázquez + More Famous Paintings

Still Life with Game, Vegetables, and Fruit, Juan Sánchez Cotán

“This is considered the first surviving bodegon, or Spanish still life. As a result, it is one of the most famous paintings in the Prado. Still life with Game, Vegetables, and Fruit is one of six known Sanchez Cotan paintings. Nonetheless, he is called the father of Spanish still life painting. As a result, Sanchez Cotan’s style–a strong light source illuminating objects set against a black background–heavily influenced Spanish painters. They subsequently influenced other European painters.”

Source unknown

La vista de Toledo, El Greco

“The painting is also so admired and famous because of its beauty. The way El Greco painted the sky is considered to be among the best representations of the sky in Western art. It has been compared to Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, which was painted around 300 years later. The use of contrast between the dark sky and the brilliant green hills is also admired. […]

The dominating and ominous sky creates a sense of danger and vulnerability for the city below. Art historians consider this painting to represent El Greco’s idea that the world outside can be dangerous and how there are more powerful forces than we can sometimes see.

The Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dalí

“This iconic and much-reproduced painting depicts a scene with watches melting slowly on rocks and the branch of a tree, with the ocean as a backdrop. Dali uses the concept of hard and soft in this painting. This concept may be illustrated in a number of ways like the human mind moving from the softness of sleep to the hardness of reality. In his masterpiece, Dali uses melting watches and rocks to represent the soft and hard aspects of the world, respectively.

The Persistence of Memory has been much analyzed over the years as Dali never explained his work. The melting watches have been thought to be an unconscious symbol of the relavitiy of space and time; as a symbol of mortality with the ants surrounding the watches representing decay; and as irrationality of dreams. The Persistence of Memory is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of twentieth century art. It is not only the most famous painting of Salvador Dali but also the most renowned artwork in Surrealism.

Source Unknown

Las Meninas, Diego Velázquez

“The Infanta Margarita of Spain stands between her two maids of honour, Doña Isabel de Velasco and Doña María Augustina Sarmiento, who curtsies to the little princess as she offers her a beaker of water. 

On the right stand two dwarves, Mari-Bárbola and Nicolás de Pertusato, the latter of whom gently pushes a sleeping bull mastiff with his foot so that the dog will attend to his master and mistress, Philip IV of Spain and Queen Mariana. The king and queen are reflected in a mirror at the back of the room as they stand under a red curtain and pose for the court artist, Velázquez himself.

30,000 Years of Art

Spain- Bullfighting

SPAIN: 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. 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.

When Ferdinand came out in movie theaters, students recognized Spain’s flag in the film and asked about it in class. Before long, the Spanish Cave became the streets of Pamplona and a bullfighting ring arena! One girl 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! To read what happened another year, click on “Bullfighting and A Bug” below.

Bullfighting and A Bug.

Yesterday, I subbed for Library class, but got the times mixed up–and consequently, first graders were only able to hear the beginning of a story…

LINKS: Bullfighter – Traditional Dress, Bullfighting (Wikipedia), Bullfighting (Scholastic)San Fermines in Pamplona (Spain)

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.

One year, second graders made a very cool green screen video showing us their journey, while fifth graders opted to make a topographical representation of the walk.

Another year, students drew chalk arrows and shells all around campus, adding piles of rocks and nature to mark the way. At home, you can do the same: 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! If you are really committed, check out this app to virtually hike the Camino.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is camino.png

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

Camino Francés, Camino de Santiago Virtual Challenge, Updating the Camino Wall- Classroom, Camino- Google Map, San Juan Pie de Puerto (St. Jean)- Google Maps, Camino- Elevation Maps, Arts & Culture- El Camino, Google Maps Camino Route

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 of the two main characters to commemorate the novel’s 350th anniversary.

After hearing and acting out the famous windmill chapter in class, students put a photocopy of Picasso’s sketch 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. The class joke and icing on the cake was to cross out Picasso’s name and replace it with their own!

LINKS: Don Quijote & Sancho Panza1Don Quijote & Sancho Panza2, Don Quijote: Cuentos Infantiles (Spain), Picasso painting, Windmills – ModernWindmills – Old Fashioned, WikiArt- Picasso

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

Spain- La Tomatina

SPAIN: La Tomatina is a famous tomato-throwing fight that takes place every August in Spain. Tens of thousands of visitors flock to the city of Buñol to participate. While some say that it is a huge waste of tomatoes, a #funfact is that the acidity of the tomatoes actually cleans all of the streets, which I personally found pretty interesting. To say the least, it is a very unique tradition and an ‘attention-grabbing’ way to start the first semester.

“What is ‘La Tomatina’? Well, it is Spain’s most bizarre festival… ‘the tomato fight’! Legend has it this strange celebration began in the 1940’s in the town of Buñol. One hot summer day a squabble broke out in the town square and quickly developed into a massive brawl. Instead of using their fists, the locals grabbed tomatoes and began throwing them at one another!

Despite all efforts to break it up, the townsfolk found such great satisfaction in squishing the tomatoes that the battle continued well into the night. It was such a ‘smash’ it became an annual event. Today this ‘street fight’ draws locals and visitors from all over the world. The 35,000 participants go through about 50,000 kilos of tomatoes on the last Wednesday of every August! Wow! That sure is a lot of sauce!”

Teacher’s Discovery

Gazpacho is a delicious soup from Spain, and the perfect cold tomato dish to enjoy on a hot summer day. One year, third, fourth, and fifth graders took a day to celebrate La Tomatina by making Gazpacho in class. This is the recipe we used. Note that Salmorejo is very similar to Gazpacho, but it contains a few additional ingredients.

Another year, to celebrate and reenact the day sans actual tomatoes (someone had allergies), fourth graders made catapults out of Popsicle sticks, rubber bands, and hot glue, and launched decorative, lightweight balls at G.I. Joe firemen and LEGO men figurines. This was a great exercise in teambuilding and community to start the year, but did take more than one class period to complete.

Throwing crumpled up pieces of red paper, Dodgeball-style, in two teams can also be an exciting alternative and simulation.

Featured Image Credit

You can add “Closed Captioning” (CC) in English for non-native speakers.

Summer Packet 2017

PREVIOUS YEARS: Summer Packet 2016

  • Update: For 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 then debate 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?”

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!

*“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).

**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,
-Your Resident Linguist ❤

IMAGE CREDIT, @Trevor Huxham