Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying Panama

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What do you know about Panama? I mean, besides the Panama Canal.

That's what I thought.

I didn't know anything else about Panama, either, which is why this travel-the-world thing I do with my kids every summer is fun. We all learn something, even me.


We looked at the wall map to find Panama, and I realized that in our 6 years of doing this, Panama is our very first Central American country.

I think Central America and Africa have been underrepresented in our Educational Summer Vacation so next year I'll make sure the kids choose at least one country from each.

While the kids were filling out their pretend passports and arguing over who got to color what on the Panama flag (the people who did the stars didn't get to color as much as the ones who did the squares, which was a grave affront to justice,) I read pages out loud from Welcome to Panama by Ronald Tan.

Two crafts Panama is known for are (1) its intricate woven baskets and (2) a type of textile art called mola.

I planned to give the kids a choice between weaving a simple basket and recreating a piece of mola using any medium they chose. I expected all of them to pick mola, because how awesome is this?

mola photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

But to my surprise, all of them wanted to make a basket.

Using the template here, (you have to subscribe for the template but you get it instantly and I haven't gotten any spam from them yet) we broke out the yarn I used when I briefly took up knitting before #5 was born. And the kids made some pretty cool little baskets.

Word of warning: the website claims this is a 15-minute project, which is maybe true if your kids are wizards.

It took us an hour. But they were entertained the whole time and happy with the finished product.

They had a ridiculous amount of fun making these baskets, and three of them even made another one the next day.


The tropical rainforest that runs along both sides of the Panama Canal are another major feature of Panama, so today we read Hands of the Rain Forest: The Emberá People of Panama.

It was a fantastic introduction to daily life of people that live (almost) entirely off the rainforest and therefore don't do pizza delivery, trips to Wal-Mart, use a washing machine, or many other things my kids wouldn't think twice about. And there were lots of pictures to keep in interesting.

Do you remember Jeff Corwin? Our library had a Jeff Corwin DVD called Panama: Rain Forest Ecosystem, which taught my kids a lot about rainforest animals and confused the heck out of them when he kept making references to 1990s pop culture.

I probably explained "He's doing an impression of a TV character from before you were born" about 20 times. Even though most of the jokes went over their heads, they still thought he was funny.

Before starting the movie, I told the kids to pay close attention because after it was over, we played Who Am I?

I wrote down all the animals in the video and we taped each one to someone's back. They then had to ask the other players questions ("Do I have feathers?" "Do I eat bugs?") to find out which animal name is on their back.

In case anyone else wants to do this but take a shortcut, the animals were:
  • Spider monkey
  • Boa constrictor
  • Rufus-naped tamarin
  • Two-toed sloth
  • Night monkey
  • Anteater
  • Ocelot
  • Bothrops asper
  • Poison dart frog
  • Eyelash Viper
  • Harpy eagle

Then the big kids helped the little kids to make a paper chain snake like the ones here. They turned out so cute!

If only snakes really looked this friendly.


We've talked about Spanish before in other countries we've studied, so today learning the language we decided to focus on something new.

In Spanish, exclamations and questions both have the punctuation mark upside-down at the beginning of the sentence and right-side-up at the end.That makes a lot of sense to me; it seems really helpful and I'm not sure why English doesn't do that. We have opening quotes and closing quotes, after all.

To practice this convention, I told the kids to write 3 questions and 3 exclamations in Spanish. They could be as silly as they wanted, but using Google translate they had to write it down in Spanish and remember the punctuation, too.

I was helping the 3- and 5-year-old. I explained that an exclamation is something you might yell, like 'Yay!' or 'Look out!' I asked them, "What's something else you might yell?" and the 3-year-old immediately shouted "Eyeball!"

It's true. This kid thinks "eyeball" is one of the funniest words there is.

We then watched this numbers video from YouTube, which was long and boring for my older kids, but just the right amount of repetition for my younger kids to learn the names of the numbers 1-10 in Spanish.

I grabbed some flyswatters from Dollar Tree and asked my 11-year-old to write the numbers from 1 to 10 on a piece of butcher paper, which we taped to the wall so we could play Swat the Number.

I called a Spanish number name and the kids would race to swat the correct one.

The younger kids enjoyed it so much we played again several times that week, but mostly to keep them from hitting everything and everyone else in the house with the dollar store flyswatters.

After practicing saying hello, goodbye, please, and thank you in Spanish, we read Conejito: A Folk Tale from Panama.

My kids really internalized the Spanish words the book repeated throughout the story. When I told my 3-year-old it was time to come in for dinner so he could get ¡Gordito! ¡Gordito! ¡Gordito! (quoting from the book) he wrinkled up his nose and said, "I'm not fat!"


I admit it might be a tenuous connection, but the Welsh pirate (or privateer, depending on who you ask) Henry Morgan once sacked Panama City, and who doesn't want to learn about that?

I read selections from the book Sir Henry Morgan from the Pirates Around the World series, and then we watched a video quiz for kids about pirate myths and facts:

We all found our pirate names with this kid-friendly pirate name generator. Unlike most generators, this one didn't go by the letters of your first and last name, which would've been boring since we all have the same last name.

I was One Ear Ann and the kids were Green Bottom Bess, Big Eye Bob, Green Belly Bonnie, Cold Foot Bess, Big Boot Kid, and (my favorite) Stump Leg Bill.

The kids made pirate swords out of cardboard. We wrapped the blades in tinfoil and some of the kids wanted to decorate the handles.

This pirate is looking FABULOUS.

Armed with their pirate swords, they all went outside to the platform over our sandbox, which happens to have a pirate wheel attached and they pretend it's a pirate ship all the time.

One thing I love about having a wide span of ages is that it gives my tweens and teens a reason to go out and do stuff like play pirates.

Of course, they're experiencing it more like a parent or a babysitter, but I think it helps them not grow up too fast or take life too seriously. I feel like having kids keeps me young for the same reason (when it's not killing me via sleep deprivation, that is.)

For dinner that night, I made sancocho and patacones. Usually all the blah blah blah at the beginning of recipes is the worst, but this recipe was really informative and I appreciated learning so much about the ingredients and the food!

Sancocho is a kind of chicken soup which was easy to make, and I was almost going to skip the traditional patacones, fried plantain chips, but decided to make them at the last minute.

Phillip learned to make patacones when he was a religious missionary in Venezuela, and every time he makes them at home none of the kids will eat them. But I figured (1) it's been a while so maybe their tastes have changed, and (2) I don't want to create picky eaters by avoiding everything they don't like forever.

I ran to the store to buy plantains and as it turns out, their tastes didn't change very much. Only one of the kids liked the patacones, but they all thought it was fun making them. So that was something.

Yay for no hot grease injuries!


This was the day we'd been waiting for: Panama Canal day. There is a city near us that has a system of canals and offers boat tours (really the only thing the canals are used for these days,) and I knew this would be the perfect opportunity.

We actually tried to take this tour last summer, but we had to cut the tour short and race back ahead of a thunderstorm, and then the trolley driver bringing us back to the visitor's center slipped in the rain and hurt his knee and we had to wait for the ambulance... it was kind of a disaster.

So anyway, I was excited for this.

To explain for the little kids what a canal was, we read Canals from the Engineering Super Structures series, and then we read sections of Building the Panama Canal by Kelly Doudna.

I also gave the kids What Is the Panama Canal? from the Who Is/Who Was series and Silver People: Voice from the Panama Canal, a historical fiction children's novel written in verse by Margarita Engle.

We watched a basic video of how a lock works (the Panama Canal has three locks) and a short documentary about the Panama Canal, and then we were off to take the boat tour.

Waiting for the tour to start.

Our trolley driver was the same guy, and I was happy to see that his knee seemed okay. Plus, the weather cooperated beautifully for the tour and we got to go through the lock this time (last time they just filled up the locking chamber and quickly drained it again so we could back out and drive away from the storm. LAME.)

Did you learn a lot about Panama? My kids certainly did, and had a good time doing it. Giving them the okay to hit things with flyswatters always helps.

There's lots to learn about the Central American country of Panama besides the Panama Canal! Learning about Panama is fun and hands-on with these free crafts, ideas, and activities for kids! #panama #spanish #kids #educational
This Panama unit study is packed with activities, crafts, book lists, and recipes for kids of all ages! Make learning about Panama in your homeschool even more fun with these free ideas and resources. #panama #spanish #educational #homeschool
Building the perfect Panama lesson plan for your students? Are you doing an around-the-world unit in your K-12 social studies classroom? Try these free and fun Panama activities, crafts, books, and free printables for teachers and educators! #panama #canal #students #lessonplan
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1 comment:

PurpleSlob said...

I love your summer travels! You are the best mom.
Eyeballs IS funny!!