Want to boost learning at home? Look to your heritage for teaching opportunities.

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Credit: Illustration by Josie Portillo

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Credit: Illustration by Josie Portillo

Bilingualism: Make Your Own Lotería

With a little ingenuity, the beloved Mexican bingo game can expand vocabulary, says Jorja Colley, a bilingual and dual-language teacher in El Paso, Texas. Have kids create custom lotería cards by writing English and Spanish cognates (aka words that sound the same in two languages) on separate index cards that they can then match up. Think: map/mapa, train/trén, elephant/elefante, telephone/teléfono, music/música, and family/familia. "It allows children to practice code-switching, the ability to go back and forth in both languages," Colley says.

alpaca and mountain landscape illustration
Credit: Illustration by Josie Portillo

Geography: Journey Home

You don't have to travel far to explore the world around us. Google Earth lets you take a quick trip to your family's home country and zoom in on mountains, valleys, and other landforms. You can venture to historical sites such as Machu Picchu or Chichén Itzá with the tool's on-the-ground, 360-degree view, which allows "visitors" to peek around different corners. It will inspire conversation about how a country's terrain might affect such things as where people live, what they eat, and the kinds of jobs they have.

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Rhythm and Time: Dance It Out

¡Muévelo, muévelo! Whenever you 1-2 step, your little one is actually learning a lot. "Salsa, bachata, and merengue improve mobility and coordination and help kids recognize rhythms and sequences," says Edwin Sorto, a kindergarten teacher and founder of Estrellitas de Sorto dance company in Washington, D.C. To introduce the concept of keeping time, try to isolate beats in musical numbers. "Listen carefully to one instrument in a song, and have kids clap or count its pattern out loud (1, 2, 1, 2, for merengue, for instance). Then have them try to maintain that rhythm with their feet."

spin top with string illustration
Credit: Illustration by Josie Portillo

Literacy: Tell a Good Story

At the next family gathering, make sure your kiddo pulls up a chair as Abuela regales the table with tales from the archives. Oral storytelling (verbally passing down family histories, folktales, even jokes) has a rich tradition in Latin America and is crucial in building literacy skills. "Hearing stories out loud gives kids a better sense of narrative basics, which bolsters their own reading and writing abilities," says Sophia Espinoza, director of curriculum and learning design at Encantos, an education-technology company in New York City. Use these tips to help kids practice storytelling.

Keep talking: At dinner or bedtime, describe the highs and lows of your day and have your child do the same by asking open-ended questions, such as "What happened after that?" or "Why was that fun?"

Improvise: A tool developed by playwright Kenn Adams teaches the basics of a well-constructed story. Begin, "Once upon a time…" and let your child answer. Fill in the second line ("And every…"). Then start the next line ("But one day…") and let your kid add the plot twist.

Try a prop: Fill a bag with small items, such as a trompo, a stuffed animal, a penny, a leaf, and a pen. Take something from the bag and begin a story about it. Then let your child select an item and add to the story.
–Michelle Crouch

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Creativity: Revive Those Old Refranes

Using Spanish proverbs or idioms such as "no hay mal que por bien no venga" (every cloud has a silver lining) encourages children to think about the world abstractly. "There are so many literary devices in refranes, from hyperbole to metaphor," says Antonio Sacre, author of the children's book A Mango in the Hand: A Story Told Through Proverbs. "That richness of language is great for learning to express yourself, whether it's through writing, painting, or song." Make it a point to say a refran a day with your kid, or even put a new one up on the fridge every week. Your child will get a short-and-sweet life lesson and exercise those creative muscles too.

child kicking soccer ball illustration
Credit: Illustration by Josie Portillo

Geomotry: Go for a Goooaaal!

Believe it or not, every fútbol match is packed with geometry. "Soccer players use math every time they play, without even thinking about it, just in how they angle the ball to score," explains Lorena Lopera, executive director at Latinos for Education in Boston. "The best places to aim a ball on a soccer net are the corners, which are basically 90-degree angles." So when you and your Megan Rapinoe in training hit the field next, have them kick the ball at different angles and discuss which approach works better.

mortar and pestle illustration
Credit: Illustration by Josie Portillo

Science: Experiment in the Cocina

Cooking comes with built-in STEAM lessons. "I think of kitchens as creative labs where children learn about nutrition, colors, tastes, and textures while building important life skills," says Lola Wiarco Dweck, a food blogger and founder of Lola's Cocina in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Start small: Plant herb seeds and watch them grow, or give kids kitchen duties. "My son, 7, measures ingredients, and my daughter, 3, pours and mixes," Wiarco Dweck says. Making Jell-O or paletas is great for showing young chefs how ingredients can transform from liquid to solid (or something wobbly!). Wiarco Dweck's kids also love brewing butterfly-pea-flower tea, an herbal variety, and watching how a squeeze of lemon turns the color from bright blue to pink.

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Problem Solving: Play Dominoes

Tío's favorite pastime isn't just an excuse to hang out with friends. By drawing, matching, and pulling tiles, even the youngest player can develop critical-thinking and decision-making skills. "As with chess, there's so much strategy involved in dominoes," says Beatriz Norton, principal of Xceed Anywhere school in Fort Lauderdale. As you play, ask your kid questions about how one move might affect each player's chances. Your child will get in the habit of thinking ahead, all while having fun. Win-win!

This article originally appeared in Parents Latina's August/September 2021 issue as "Cultural Extra Credit."

Parents Latina