Minimalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RESOURCES

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

RESOURCES (IN SPANISH)

Guatemala- Sawdust Carpets

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

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

Costa Rica- Rainforest

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

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

Garoch
Tommy Krombacher

Mexico- Hammocks

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

Spain- Tapas

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

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

Mexico- Crystal Caves

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

Image Credit

Spain- La Alhambra

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

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

Nicaragua- Volcano Boarding

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

Bolivia- Salt Flat

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

Dominican Rep.- Defy Gravity

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

Panama- Mola

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

Peru- Boiling River

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

Andrés Ruzo– Photo from his book

Mexico- Chewing Gum

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

Cuba/Spain- 1715 Shipwreck

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

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

Mexico- Día de los Muertos

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

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

Venezuela- Lightning

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

For Older Students- TEDEd

Mexico- Underwater Museum

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

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

Paraguay- Landfill Harmonic

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

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

Peru- Nazca Lines

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

Argentina- Iguazu Falls

Giovanna Gomes

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

Spain- Bullfighting

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

Fried Plantains- Patacones

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

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

Spain- El Camino

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

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

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

Ecuador- Sneezing Iguanas

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

Mexico- Chichen Itza

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

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

Colombia- Guatapé

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

Felipe Salgado, Peñon de Guatapé, Colombia
Pixabay

Spain- Don Quijote

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

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

Puerto Rico- Bioluminescence

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

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

Guatemala- Worry Dolls

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

South America- Condor

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

Chile- Marble Caves

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

Argentina- Yerba Mate

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

Peru- Rainbow Mountain

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

Painting by Jake H.

Chile- Easter Island

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