40 Bilingual Kid-Friendly Tips, Crafts, Recipes and Books to Celebrate Hispanic Heritage All Year
Did you know that the idea for Hispanic Heritage Month was born in the heart of Los Angeles?
In June of 1968 — more than 50 years ago! — California Congressman George E. Brown, representing California’s 29th Congressional District (which includes part of Los Angeles County), presented a resolution for national recognition of the contributions of Hispanic people and culture to American society and history to the House of Representatives. The resolution was co-sponsored by 19 bipartisan members of Congress.
Three months later, President Lyndon B. Johnson established Hispanic Heritage Week, becoming the first president to officially recognize the contributions of Hispanic Americans.
Twenty years later, Representative Esteban E. Torres, representing California’s 34th Congressional District, suggested expanding the observance to a full month to allow more planning and opportunities for events to take place across the country.
A few months later, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill into law that expanded the observance to a full month, beginning September 15 and ending October 15.
Why Hispanic Heritage Month Begins in the Middle of the Month
The dates for Hispanic Heritage Month were carefully chosen. Eight Latin American countries celebrate their independence days during this period.
- September 15: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua
- September 16: Mexico
- September 18: Chile
- September 21: Belize
Since five countries celebrate their independence days on the 15, that day was chosen to begin our national observance.
Here are a few of our favorite resources to help caregivers and educators teach their children about the Hispanic and Latino people and cultures that have helped shape the U.S.
You can also find a printable list of all the resources listed here.
Teaching About Hispanic/Latino Culture
Even though the month only references Hispanic people in its name, it’s a wonderful time to celebrate the culture and contributions of Hispanics and Latinos, whether they speak Spanish or not.
- One of the best ways to teach our youngest learners about Hispanic culture is through nursery rhymes. Canticos is a bilingual brand for preschoolers that focuses on sharing popular folk songs and nursery rhymes from the Spanish-speaking world. You can check out their books and videos to teach your children rhymes such as “Los Pollitos Dicen,” “Pin Pon,” and “Las Mañanitas.”
- Scholastic has a special site for kids in K-5th grade with resources for teaching about Hispanic Heritage. It even includes an interactive page featuring the hit PBS KIDS series “Maya & Miguel”!
- For older students, HispanicHeritageMonth.gov is probably the most comprehensive site that is updated annually. It contains a terrific amount of information and even a whole section with resources devoted to teaching about Hispanic Heritage Month to students.
- The Smithsonian Latino Center is also an excellent resource for diving into the Latino experience. Their website includes interactive sections such as the Learning Lab and Virtual Museum, as well as bilingual materials for Spanish-speaking families.
People to Learn About
The number of people of Hispanic and Latino descent who have contributed to the U.S.’s history is numerous and would be impossible to fit into one article, but here are a few of them, accompanied by some amazing resources to help you and your kids learn more about them.
- Cesar Chavez. The California Department of Education has a great set of lesson plans for K-12th grade students about the iconic civil rights activist and labor leader. Combine them with picture book biographies such as:
- Dolores Huerta. Together with Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta changed our country and fought hard for workers’ rights. The Dolores Huerta Foundation has a comprehensive curriculum with lesson plans for K-12th graders. Combine them with picture book biographies such as:
- “Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers” (Ages 6-9) written by Sarah Warren and illustrated by Robert Casitlla
- “Side by Side/Lado a Lado: The Story of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez/La Historia de Dolores Huerta y Cesar Chavez” (Ages 4-8) written by Monica Brown and illustrated by Joe Cepeda
- Edward James Olmos. The best way to introduce this actor from East L.A. to younger children is to watch some of the animated films in which he has been a voice actor. For example, he’s the voice behind Chief Tannabok in “The Road to El Dorado” and Chicharrón in “Coco.”
- Tito Puente. Often described as the King of Latin Music, Tito Puente was a famous musician who highlighted Latin rhythms in the United States. You can learn more about him with this picture book biography:
- “Tito Puente, Mambo King/Tito Puente, Rey del Mambo” (Ages 4-8) written by Monica Brown and illustrated by Rafael Lopez.
- Sylvia Mendez. This civil rights activist was only 8 years old when she and her family changed the course of history in California and our nation by being part of a major desegregation case in 1946. Pick up a copy of her picture book biography:
- “Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation” (Ages 6-9) written by Duncan Tonatiuh, or watch the read aloud on the Reading is Fundamental site.
- Mario José Molina. Mexican chemist Mario José Molina was one of the people who discovered that chlorofluorocarbon gases were causing damage to the earth’s ozone layer. His work led to world-wide changes. Read more about him in the picture book:
- “Mario and the Hole in the Sky: How a Chemist Saved Our Planet” (Ages 6-9) written by Elizabeth Rusch and illustrated by Teresa Martínez, or watch the read aloud from Read Right Now.
Crafts to Make
One of the best ways to explore culture with children is through the arts. The Hispanic experience is vast and each culture expresses itself through unique crafts like needlework, pottery, painting, sculpture and more. Many of these art forms have been brought to the U.S. thanks to immigrants. Indigenous communities are also central in creating these cultures’ art as well.
Take a look at these crafts that have been absorbed into American culture. Click on the links to see instructions for making your own versions.
- Papel picado. This form of decorative cut paper is universally attributed to Mexico, where the craft is believed to have originated with the Aztec civilization. The artform has been embraced for its festive and colorful appearance and is used to decorate for celebrations.
- Piñatas. Some historians argue that piñatas originated in China and made their way to Japan before spreading across the world. Others believe the craft is rooted in Aztec culture. Either way, there’s no argument that the art of piñata-making has been perfected in Mexico. Try making your own in the traditional style or add some math by making it in the shape of a robot.
- Castanets. A simple percussion instrument, castanets are best associated with the flamenco dancers of Spain but were introduced to Latin America because of colonization.
- Luminaries can be found around the world, but here in the United States, they made their way to the American Southwest via the Spanish and Mexicans.
- Paper flowers. Paper crafts like these developed after the Spanish colonizers brought tissue paper from Asia to the Americas. After that, Indigenous people crafted these flowers for decorating churches, but today, they are used to enliven any occasion.
- Güiros. Another musical instrument, this one is most closely associated with Puerto Rico. Traditionally crafted from a gourd, this percussion instrument has a unique sound. Now they are found in different shapes and made of various materials and are used to make music or simply as decorations.
- Rainsticks. Most likely invented by the indigenous people of Chile (the Mapuche), rainsticks were used because they were thought to bring rain during dry seasons. Now, they are used as musical instruments.
- Alebrijes. As seen in the movie “Coco,” alebrijes are Mexican carvings of fantastical creatures that are vibrantly painted. The word is said to be a combination of the words alegría (joy), bruja (witch) and embijar (to paint in red).
Holidays & Traditions
Hispanic cultures have myriad customs and traditions that reveal the ideas, principles and other aspects that they value the most. The following Hispanic holidays and traditions are observed throughout the United States with growing popularity.
- Día de Los Muertos/Day of the Dead has Indigenous origins and is observed in several Latin American countries on November 2, including Guatemala, Mexico, Columbia and Ecuador, to name a few, and many places throughout the U.S. The holiday should not be confused with Halloween. Customs by country — and region — vary, but its main purpose is for families to remember loved ones who have passed away.
- Día de los Reyes Magos/Day of the Magi is celebrated January 6 throughout mainly Catholic countries in the Spanish-speaking world. The day celebrates the three wise men who visited baby Jesus in Bethlehem shortly after his birth. Different countries have different traditions associated with this observance, including giving gifts as the wise men gave to Jesus, eating special foods such as rosca de reyes and more.
- Another Christian holiday, Las Posadas is celebrated in Mexico and many parts of the United States. It is a 9-day celebration prior to Christmas that commemorates the Biblical story of when Mary and Joseph sought lodging in Bethlehem.
- Cascarones is not a holiday, but a tradition of making confetti eggs that is typically related to Easter.
- Cinco de Mayo/the Battle of Puebla does not celebrate Mexico’s independence day. It marks the day when a small Mexican army defeated a much larger French army that was considered the best in the world at that time. It is celebrated throughout the U.S., and only in the town of Puebla in Mexico.
Places to Visit
Hispanic and Latino influence can be seen in historical sites throughout the country. Here are several you can visit in Southern California:
- Olvera Street. To truly immerse yourselves in Hispanic and Latino culture, a visit to Calle Olvera will do! This Mexican marketplace is often referred to as “the birthplace of Los Angeles.” Olvera Street is a sensory delight that’s perfect for helping young children learn to use their senses and understand the power of observation. Caregivers can also take a virtual trip there and meet some of the people who frequent it in this article. As you walk through the marketplace, ask your child:
- “What colors do you see?” “Do you like the color combinations?” “Which one is your favorite?”
- “What sounds do you hear?” “What do you think of when you hear it?”
- “What do you smell?” “Is it a good smell?” “Where do you think it is coming from?”
- Ávila Adobe. While you walk through Olvera Street, be sure to take a moment to stop at the oldest standing residence in L.A. It was built in 1818 by Francisco Ávila, the mayor of Los Angeles in 1810. Read the sign at the front of the house out loud to your child. Ask them to look at the house and have them tell you what they think life must have been like back in Los Angeles at that time.
- Mariachi Plaza. Since the 1930s, the plaza has been a platform for mariachi bands to perform, hoping to be hired. Caregivers can take a virtual tour of the plaza through the stories in this article. If you visit in person, let your child climb up into the gazebo if it isn’t in use and ask them to sing a few verses of a song to hear the acoustics.
- Casa de Estudillo. Located in San Diego, Casa de Estudillo is one of the oldest surviving examples of Spanish-Mexican architecture in California, built after the Mexican war of independence from Spain. It’s another great place to nurture your child’s observational skills. As you walk through it, read the signs at each station and point out the different styles and materials used to build it. And be sure to take time to explore the garden together. Ask your child:
- “How is this house different from our house?” “How is it the same?”
- “What do you like about it?”
- “Look at how high the ceilings are. Why do you think the house was built that way?”
- Point out the heavy furniture and the different items found inside the house. See if your child recognizes any of the tools on display in the kitchen.
Recipes to Try
Hispanic and Latino food is famous for a reason. It’s rich in variety and absolutely delicious! Here are a few kid-friendly recipes of treats from different countries to try making together at home.
- Beef or turkey empanadas. Empanadas are found throughout Latin America. Available as savory or sweet, each country adds its own special twist to the recipe, such as this savory one from Argentina.
- Spicy chocolate bark. Cacao was first used by the Aztecs to make a special, spicy drink. It was considered more valuable than gold, so cacao beans were even used as currency!
- Guacamole. This one hardly needs an introduction! Made from avocados, guacamole is a classic appetizer from Mexico that’s enjoyed throughout the world.
- Quinoa cookies. Quinoa was considered a sacred food by the Inca and originally grew around Lake Titicaca in Peru and Bolivia. The Inca discovered its value and grew it as a primary crop. Today, quinoa is viewed as a so-called superfood because of its nutritional value.
- Strawberry horchata. Horchata is a creamy rice drink that has been around for centuries. Different versions of it exist all around the world, from West Africa to Europe and beyond. In Latin America it can be made using rice, sesame seeds, barley, oatmeal or even melon seeds! This strawberry and rice version is sure to be a hit with many children!
While books by and for Latinos still only make up about 1% of children’s literature, there are still some excellent titles available. Here are just a few:
- “Be Bold, Be Brave: Chiquitos- 11 Latinas Who Made U.S. History” (Ages 0-4) written by Naibe Reynoso and illustrated by Jone Leal
- “Mamá Goose: Bilingual Lullabies-Nanas” (Ages 0-3) written by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy and illustrated by Maribel Suárez
- “De Colores and Other Latin American Folksongs for Children” (Ages 4-8) written by Jose-Luis Orozco and illustrated by Elisa Kleven
- “¡Todos a Celebrar! A Hispanic Customs & Traditions Alphabet Book” (Ages 5-9) written by Dr. Ma. Alma González Pérez
- “A Kid's Guide to Latino History: More than 50 Activities” (Ages 7-9) written by Valerie Petrillo
- “Nuestra América: 30 Inspiring Latinas/Latinos Who Have Shaped the United States” (Ages 8-12) written by Sabrina Vourvoulias and illustrated by Gloria Félix
- “Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics/Poemas Sobre Hispanos Extraordinarios” (Ages 8-12) written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael López.
- “Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes” (Ages 8-12) written by Juan Felipe Herrera and illustrated by Raúl Colón.