El Día del Niño or El Día de los Libros—Children's Day or Book Day—culiminates every year on April 30 and is all about celebrating the joys of childhood with feel-good activities the whole family can enjoy.
1. Belt out some Latino karaoke
Get ready to pump up the jam with your very own version of The Voice! A two-day party pass from Karafun, an online karaoke player, lets you and your kids sing along to classics like “Como la Flor,” by Selena; “La Bamba,” by Ritchie Valens; and “Guantanamera,” by Celia Cruz. Ages 8+, $6.
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2. Cool down with paletas
Think of it as spring on a stick! Paletas, the Mexican version of ice pops, are made from fruit, nuts, even spices. This recipe from chef Fany Gerson, author of the cookbook Paletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Shaved Ice, and Aguas Frescas, is all you need to turn little ones into paleteros.
Paletas de fresa
- 4 cups fresh strawberries, preferably wild, hulled and cut into quarters
- ¾ cup sugar
- ½ cup water
- 2 Tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Combine strawberries and sugar in a bowl. Let sit until strawberries start releasing their natural juices, 20 to 30 minutes. Place in a saucepan with the water over medium heat. Simmer until they are slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.
- Transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor, add the lemon juice, and puree until smooth; alternatively, you could leave some chunks in if you like.
- If using conventional molds, divide the mixture among the molds, snap on the lid, and freeze until solid, about 5 hours.
3. Give back to a charity
Sure, kids get showered with presents on El Día del Niño, but the feeling they’ll get from giving back may be the best gift yet! Most local children’s hospitals have a wish list for patients, and their only requirement is that donations be new and unwrapped. Take a trip to the toy store and let your kid pick out one special gift. Then include a note from your child with his name, age, and city and why he chose that item.
4. Personalize your toys with pictures
Put those digital photos to good use by turning them into personalized playthings.
Jigsaw puzzle. Upload your favorite family portrait and choose your size—from 15 pieces for the littlest hands to 1,000 pieces. Ages 3+, from $23; puzzlesprint.com
Coloring book. It’s a self-portrait … sort of. Create a coloring book of up to 24 pages filled with your family’s close-ups. All ages, from $12; reallycolor.com
Playing cards. Make it a game night with a set of picture-perfect cards. Just grab your customized deck and “Go fish.” Ages 4+, $10; zazzle.com
5. Make mini piñatas
Who says piñatas are only for parties? Lorena Alvarez, a Mexican-American mom of two in Los Angeles who writes about her family on the blog Alvarez Adventures, likes to make mini versions during picnics. “I want to inspire moms to get their kids outside because an open space has so many possibilities for healthy playtime—and it doesn’t cost much!” says Alvarez.
What You'll Need:
- Empty container
- Stirring stick
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- Small balloon
- Newspaper strips (1 to 3 in. wide)
- Strips of brightly colored streamer paper
- Traditional Mexican sweets like Duvalín, Vero Mango, Pulparindo, and Mazapán
- Piece of ribbon
What To Do:
- In an empty container, use the stick to combine water, flour, and salt until they thicken into a paste. Blow up the balloon; tie a knot at the end.
- Dip newspaper strips into the paste and apply all over the balloon. Let dry for 20 minutes. Repeat process twice.
- Once the balloon is hardened, fringe the streamer paper by cutting snips ¾ of the way up. Glue streamers to the balloon.
- Cut out an opening around the knot, pull out the balloon, and fill piñata with candy. Make tiny slits on each side and insert a ribbon through the holes. 5. Hang the piñata from a tree, grab a small fallen branch, and hit it until candy comes pouring out!
6. Read books with rhythm
Grab your squad, turn up the music, and get ready to shake what your mami gave you after reading these books themed around Latin dance. (Feathered boas and gauzy tutus not included, but definitely encouraged.)
Feel the Beat: Dance Poems That Zing From Salsa to Swing by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Kristi Valiant
The rhythm is going to get you in this ingenious collection that celebrates dances from merengue and hip-hop to cha-cha and tango. Each poem’s tempo mimics the featured dance beat, and the dynamic illustrations will make readers feel as if the dancers are going to twirl off the page. Includes an audio CD. Ages 5 to 8, $17.
Danza! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México by Duncan Tonatiuh
The story of Amalia Hernández, founder of the prestigious El Ballet Folklórico de México, comes to life in this beautifully designed book that honors the rich history of Mexican dance. Through innovative illustrations modeled after the ancient art of the indigenous Mixtec population, kids are taken on a mesmerizing journey into one of the world’s most treasured ballet companies. Ages 6 to 10, $19.
Lola’s Fandango by Anna Witte, illustrated by Micha Archer
Tired of living in the shadow of a fabulous older sister, young Lola starts taking secret flamenco lessons with her papi and emerges as a star in her own right. You’ll shout ¡Olé! when she discovers her own duende, or spirit, in this animated story that captures the essence of the classic Spanish dance. Ages 5 to 8, $10.
Sebi y la Tierra del Chachacha by Roselyn Sánchez and Eric Winter, illustrated by Nivea Ortiz
From actress Roselyn Sánchez and her husband, Eric Winter, comes the story of a girl and boy who find themselves learning the cha-cha, samba, and merengue from colorful creatures. Inspired by their daughter, Sebella, this tale gives little bailarines a glimpse into the world of Latin dance. Ages 4 to 8, $17.
7. Play some nostalgic games
Enjoy some low-tech fun, courtesy of these classic toys and games.
- Cincos. Play marbles, Guatemalan-style. Using sidewalk chalk, draw a triangle on the floor and have each player place one marble inside. Stand a few feet away, divvy up remaining pieces, and take turns trying to knock your opponents out of the triangle with your marbles. Players keep “captured” pieces, and whoever has the most at the end wins. Ages 3+, $10.
- Dominoes. Did someone say capicú? Have a go at this treasured pastime by giving each person seven dominoes and reserving the rest in a pile (or “boneyard”). The highest double starts the game; each player continues by placing a matching domino next to the one before it. Draw from the boneyard if you don’t have a matching piece, and play until someone runs out of fichas. Ages 8+, $6; target.com.
- Trompo. A cross between a yo-yo and a dreidel, the trompo is popular in Mexico, where kids make it spin by winding its string around the body before throwing it on the floor. The winning trompo is the last one standing, er, spinning. Ages 6+, $13; amazon.com.
8. Explore nature
Get in touch with nature by taking an introductory class with Tinkergarten, an outdoor play-based “school” where the classroom is a local park. Mini explorers build birds’ nests with fallen branches, paint with petals and berries, and make mud pies. Ages 18 months to 8 years, free intro with classes starting at $15 (varies depending on location); tinkergarten.com.
Top off the day by growing your own organic herbs with Garden-in-a-Can, an all-in-one container that turns little ones into gardeners. Just pop open the can, add water, and place in a sunny spot. In a few weeks, you’ll have fragrant cilantro and a reminder of El Día del Niño! Ages 3+, $25; backtotheroots.com.
9. Hang out with Cantinflas
Laughing as a family strengthens your bond and keeps everyone happy and healthy. Nurture your kid’s budding sense of humor with the slapstick antics in Cantinflas y Sus Amigos, an animated series that follows Mexico’s most beloved comedian on fantastical adventures through time and space. Episodes such as “Cantinflas Climbs Mt. Everest” and “Cantinflas Meets Rembrandt” will have kids learning while they LOL. Ages 3 to 8, free; youtube.com.
10. Do some indoor graffiti
You don’t need to go outside to create street art. Ana Dziengel, a Spanish-American mom of three in Los Angeles and author of the kids’ crafts blog Babble Dabble Do, encourages her kids to get messy, with inspiration from graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. “He turned street art into fine art,” says Dziengel of the Nuyorican and Haitian maverick. To get her little artists started, she tapes black duck cloth (available at Amazon) to a large, flat surface, such as a kitchen table, and then hands them a box of sidewalk chalk. The final product—a fun collection of shapes, scribbles, stick figures, and names—can be hung up with tape for all to see.