Tuesday, August 29, 2023

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying Costa Rica

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, and I may earn a small commission when you click on them at no additional cost to you. You can read more about my being an Amazon affiliate and other legal stuff here.

This summer, we've picked a handful of countries around the world to learn about over school vacation. It gives us structure, keeps our brains active, and if I'm honest, when your kids can readily identify dozens of flags from obscure countries it's kind of a neat party trick. This week we learned about Costa Rica!


We started by reading the picture book Costa Rica ABCs and drawing the flag. The kids immediately said "This is just the opposite of Thailand's flag!" proving my point about it being a neat party trick. (We did Thailand last summer.)

Then the kids found Costa Rica on the big wall map in the dining room and filled out a passport page.

Free blank pages to print and download are here.

Spanish is the language spoken in Costa Rica, so I introduced them to the phrase "pura vida" and talked a little about what it means and why it's important to Ticos (people from Costa Rica.) And, since the kids are subjected daily to hearing me talk in and about Spanish over the past year as I've been learning it, we skipped some of the basics and had a little discussion about conjugating verbs. The kids were riveted, I'm sure.

When we were done, I left an early elementary school reader out for them called A Postcard from Costa Rica. And sure enough, the cover is so colorful they picked it up right away.


Costa Rica has one of the lowest deforestation rates in the world (my 19-year-old said she saw online that they have actually reversed deforestation) and there are 27 national parks in a country the size of West Virginia. 25% of the country is protected in either a park or wildlife reserve.

We read two books today about the rainforest and the cloud forest. The first was a bilingual book called Fernandos' Gift (El Regalo de Fernando) and the second was called  Forest in the Clouds by Sneed B. Collard III.

We watched a beautiful documentary on the hummingbirds of Costa Rica (we got the DVD at the library but it's also on Amazon Instant Video.)

Since today was all about nature and animals, I also gave the kids these books to read on their own (they devoured the ones about sloths which were full of adorable photos):
  • Destiny Finds Her Way (story of a sloth in a wildlife rehabilitation center in Costa Ricea)
  • A Little Book of Sloth (baby sloth cuteness overload; life in a Costa Rican "sloth orphanage")
  • Tortuga Squad (true story about Costa Rican kids who save endangered sea turtles)
  • Lost! from the Survivor Diaries series


Costa Rica generates 99% of its electricity from renewable resources, so we watched a Bill Nye video on renewable energy to teach the younger kids about the difference between renewable and non-renewable. 

I'd checked out this library book on renewable energy with project ideas at the back, and we decided to give the project on windpower a try. (You actually don't even have to have a copy of the book, just scroll down to "Renewable Energy" here to get the instructions and template.)

First we attached some paper windmill blades to a cup with a dowel and straw:

And then we set it up in front of a fan to make the blades spin. On the end was a paperclip on a string that it rolled up to demonstrate how electricity was generated.

We also decided to make one more renewable energy product, a waterwheel. I found lots of different tutorials online, but I liked the super simple design here. I just showed a picture to my 15-year-old son and he got right to work figuring out how to make it.

The website mentioned that if you need to do this indoors, you can use rice instead of water to make it less messy. But it was a nice day outside and the kids love to play with water until someone stomps in the house soaking wet and mad, so we used the garden hose to test it out:

I had planned to watch Pave the Road, a documentary on Green Pavement technology used in Costa Rica, with the older kids but we ran out of time. Not sure how excited they'd be about it anyway, but Phillip would probably be interested in it and maybe it's a nice date night movie for two people who have been married for 20 years and were never that exciting to begin with.


With 60 active volcanoes, Costa Rica is one of the most seismically active countries in the world. We watched this YouTube video about four different volcanoes in Costa Rica:

The third volcanoes in the video is called Poás, and I found it fascinating. There's a large crater lake at the center called Laguna Caliente. It's so acidic that nothing can live it it except bacteria; scientists actually study it to learn more about Mars.

Sometimes Laguna Caliente shoots acid up into the air like a geyser (which is called a phreatic explosion.) There is also acid rain and fog that limits what can grow in the area, causes things to rust quickly, and is a health hazard to people who are out there too long.

With the help of my trusty educational sidekid ChatGPT, I invented a volcano game that the kids could play outside. Using sidewalk chalk they drew a big circle on the driveway and put a bucket of water and some water guns at the center. 

They walked around the outside of the circle until I yelled "phreatic explosion!" and then they ran to the center, grabbed a gun, and shot water into the air. When I yelled "eruption!" they had to run out of the circle. There was one less gun than kids (think musical chairs but with water guns) and we took away one every round until only the winner was left. 

Guess how long it was until the shooters turned on each other.

The younger kids wanted to play several rounds, and the older kids humored them.


There's a rich indiginous culture in Costa Rica, some of which is actually kind of a mystery. Have you heard of the Diquis Spheres? Dozens of spherical stones of varying shapes and sizes that were found on the island in the 1930s as they cleared land for banana plantations, and nobody really knows what they were for. We watched this video and then had fun reading the guesses in the comments.

Another cultural celebration in Costa Rica is La Fiesta de los Diablitos, a yearly reenactment of the Spanish conquerors meeting the indigenous people. This video was kind of long, but a good explanation of what the slightly confusing festival is all about. 

After watching the video, we made boruca masks like the people in the dance use. They all chose to do it slightly different ways. Some kids made the design on paper modeled after a picture they found online:

Others wanted to color and cut the masks out. My two kids on the outside did that, and one even taped it to his face (I may or may not have walked in to find him reading on the couch like that later on). 

Truly horrifying and would definitely scare away a Spanish conqueror.

(My middle child posed for the above picture using a glazed mask she made in art class at school that is "scary and only good for this project." Her words, not mine.)

Gallo pinto (translation: spotted rooster) is a Costa Rican breakfast food, but we made it for lunch using this recipe. I was impressed because it was a pretty easy meal and the taste didn't offend anyone in our family, even if it didn't wow them.

You can't go wrong with rice, beans, and a fried egg.

Our week studying Costa Rica was a lot of fun. We learned about sloths, rainforests, volcanoes, and had lots of water play time in the driveway. What activities would your kids have liked the most from this week?

Click to Share:
Unremarkable Files

No comments: