Teaching children about Hispanic Heritage Month and celebrating it in the classroom allows children to learn more about Hispanic cultures, histories, and contributions to the United States. It also allows them to embrace and celebrate diversity and appreciate the differences that make everyone unique.
This article discusses what Hispanic Heritage Month is and provides tips on how you can celebrate and teach preschoolers about this important event.
What is Hispanic Heritage Month?
Hispanic Heritage Month is a yearly observance from September 15 to October 15 in the United States to recognize and celebrate the cultures, histories, and contributions of Latin American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. It also celebrates the anniversary of the independence of several Latin American countries.
In 1968, the observance began as a week-long event, referred to as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson. Eventually, it expanded to a 30-day event when President Ronald Reagan enacted a law on August 17, 1988.
The celebration begins on September 15 because it’s the independence anniversary of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico celebrates its independence day on September 16, and Chile celebrates its independence day on September 18. You can visit the official government website for more information and resources. Here are more fun facts about Hispanic Heritage Month.
In 2023, Hispanic Heritage Month will occur in the United States from Friday, September 15 to Sunday, October 15, 2023.
How to explain Hispanic Heritage Month to preschoolers
Representation matters, and you can introduce the histories, cultures, and contributions of Latin American citizens right from your classroom without having to travel. Here are two ways to introduce Hispanic Heritage Month to preschoolers during this month-long celebration and year-round.
Read books about Hispanic and Latin American history and culture
One way to introduce Latin American history and culture to the children in your class is to read books that highlight essential facts about the Latin American experience or focus on the contributions of a historical change-maker.
- Sing with Me: The Story of Selena Quintanilla: This is a picture book about singer Selena and her rise to stardom, from singing in her family’s band at rodeos and quinceañeras to performing in front of thousands of people.
- Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx: This is the story of Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court Justice. In this bilingual (English and Spanish) book, children learn about Sotomayor’s childhood in the Bronx and her determination.
- Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré: This is an inspiring picture book biography about the life of Pura Belpré, the first Puerto Rican librarian to be hired by the New York Public Library. She was a skilled storyteller and puppeteer.
- Alma and How She Got Her Name: This story is about Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela and her many names. Throughout the story, she learns the origins of each name and their connections to her family members and history.
- Dreamers: This book is an inspirational, picture-illustrated memoir that looks at the gifts migrants bring with them when they leave their homes. It also includes an autobiographical essay about the author’s own immigration story from Mexico to Texas with her two-month-old son.
Explore Latin American and Hispanic countries with flashcards
Tour countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean right in your classroom with flashcards. You can do this by writing out the name of the country on one side of the card and pasting a picture of the country and its flag outline on the other side of the card. Or, you can download these free printable flashcards of countries where Spanish is the native language. You can then discuss and summarize facts about the country, such as the food, arts, and people. Make it fun!
Alternatively, you can create a fun and engaging activity by helping children match the country name with the country flag with these free, printable materials. Once children are familiar with the various flags, you can have them color a picture of a flag with the appropriate colors to go along with the activity. You can download free flag templates here.
How to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month
Sharing about other cultures in the classroom helps instill values of diversity, equity, and inclusion and helps children understand and respect the impact other cultures have had throughout history. Here are a few ways to kick off Hispanic Heritage celebrations in your classroom.
Introduce Spanish language lessons
If you don’t already teach Spanish to your preschoolers, Hispanic Heritage Month is a great time to start, and you can continue the lessons all year long. Teaching the Spanish language to your class is a great way to show appreciation for the culture during the month. Suppose you or another teacher in the school are bilingual or native Spanish speakers. In that case, you can incorporate lessons to teach the class about the native language of many Latin American countries.
If you’re not bilingual or a native Spanish speaker, many programs can help children learn common words and phrases. Elisabeth from Spanish Mama compiled a list of strategies to help teachers and non-native speakers teach the language to preschool children. She also created Spanish preschool curriculum resources with ready-made materials for teachers and families. The units include stories, activities, and printable resources to incorporate Spanish into your lessons. A tool like brightwheel’s lesson plan feature allows you to create custom lesson plans for your preschool or daycare and share daily progress with families, enabling them to be better connected to their children’s learning.
Dish up and share traditional foods
Talking about and eating Latin American food is another great way to teach children about Hispanic and Latino culture. If you have families in your community who identify with this culture, you can ask them to volunteer to bring in a traditional dish and share it with the class. They can be as simple as tacos, burritos, quesadillas, carnitas, flan, and other foods as it aligns with school guidelines. As the children eat, you can discuss the spices and ingredients, such as corn, cumin, beans, avocado, peppers, and more that make these dishes so delicious.
Let’s Cook Spanish by Gabriela Llamas, features 30 traditional Spanish recipes. This comprehensive cookbook also includes notes on Spanish culture. Some of the recipes include tapas, Spanish pizza, and vegetable soup. Throughout the year, you can continue to honor Hispanic culture by sharing traditional foods with your class.
Play Latin music
Playing Latin music is a fun way to introduce children to Hispanic culture. You can encourage children to dance around as they listen to this vibrant music. Many kid-friendly Latin songs are appropriate for the classroom. Playing Latin music is something you can do all year long to honor the culture during break time or to get children moving.
Some songs include Mi Cuerpo, Oye Como Va, Los Pollitos, and Turn the Beat Around. These songs are just a few examples that teach children Spanish words and introduce them to Latin-style music.
Hispanic Heritage Month activities for preschoolers
Make a sombrero
There are many crafts you can make to offer interactive ways to teach children about different cultures. Try this preschool-friendly sombrero craft with your class. All you need is a paper plate, a plastic cup, a few fuzzy pom poms, and some yarn.
You can play alphabet bingo to help your preschoolers learn their letters, but you can play the Mexican version, called Lotería. To play the game, call the letters in English first and then in Spanish to help the children associate the letters in both languages. Children can use dry beans or stickers to place on the letters on their cards as they’re announced. When someone gets bingo, or the letters called out in a row, they can shout, “buenas” or “lotería” to show they are the winner!
You can also play the picture version of Lotería with printable cards as another way to help children learn Spanish. Call out the names of the items on the cards and children can place a bean or sticker as they identify the correct picture.
Discover children’s songs in Spanish
Introducing children to songs in Spanish is a great way to help them learn the language, and it’s something you can do all year long. This song list is categorized by theme, and you’ll find everything from number and alphabet songs to nursery rhymes and songs about family.
Children love making music. You can extend your dance party by allowing children to make homemade maracas. You’ll need plastic easter eggs, plastic spoons, dry rice or beans, and painter's tape. Ask the children to pour the dry rice or beans into the easter egg. Then close the egg and tape it shut along the seams with painter's tape. Next, place the egg into the heads of the spoons and tape them. Finally, tape the spoon handles together to create a maraca. Experiment with different ingredients in the eggs so children can hear the different sounds they make.
Celebrate Frida Kahlo
Teach your class about the influential Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo, by reading the picture book, Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos. This book centers on the many pets that inspired her art and life. This activity is also great to incorporate when you celebrate Women’s History Month with your preschoolers.
Read bilingual picture books
Reading bilingual picture books is another great way to expand children's Spanish vocabulary and help them develop an appreciation for Latin culture. This curated list of bilingual board books for children ages 0 to 4 features text in both Spanish and English.
Play musical cards
Musical cards is a game that is played like musical chairs. Create your own cards or use printable cards with letters, numbers, or even colors with Spanish vocabulary written on the cards. For example, if your lesson is focused on teaching numbers, give a number card to each child. Turn on some Latin music and allow the children to freestyle dance and move around. Then, when the music stops, announce the number in English first and then in Spanish. The child holding the number that is called must sit down. You’ll repeat the steps until only one child is left standing. The one left standing is the winner.
Paletas are frozen Mexican treats made with fresh fruits and a creamy or watery base and are similar to popsicles. These easy paleta recipes are a fun activity to introduce to your class on a hot summer day!
To extend the lesson, read Paletero Man, a picture book about a young boy who searches all over his neighborhood looking for the paleto-maker in hopes of having a tasty treat.
Play “What’s missing?”
“What’s missing?” is a vocabulary game that will allow you to maximize another opportunity to expand your preschool children’s vocabulary. Place a set of approximately 4-5 objects or pictures in front of the children. It helps if the pictures or objects are in a similar category such as animals or fruit. Have the children sit around the objects and close their eyes. While their eyes are closed, remove one of the objects or pictures and place it under a cloth or blanket. When the children open their eyes, ask them “¿Cuál falta?” (What’s missing?). Once guessed, try again with another set of objects or pictures or remove another item using the same group.
Color Hispanic heritage sheets
If you’re looking for a simple, creative activity for children, let them color these traditional Mexican clothing and Hispanic Heritage Month flag coloring sheets or decorate a piñata with these piñata coloring sheets.
Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month creates an inclusive environment
The Hispanic community is the largest minority population in the United States, and representation matters in the classroom. There are many ways to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and honor the contributions of Latin Americans. Creating an inclusive environment where children are unafraid to explore and ask questions will increase curiosity, honor, and respect for others' backgrounds and cultures.