Fun Activities and Games to Learn about Mexico - includes Arts and Crafts
Here, we’ve included a series of activities to help families learn more about the cultures of Mexico. In this section you’ll find word games and puzzles related to Mexican culture and history. Additionally, we’ve including instructions for making your own arts and crafts for you and your family to enjoy at home.
Another great resource for activities related to Mexico, especially for children, is this website provided by the Mexico Government: “El Balero”: http://www.elbalero.gob.mx/index_kids.html. They have lots of on-line games and a large list of simple crafts you can make at home. They also have detailed history and culture sections.
WORD GAMES AND PUZZLES to Learn about Mexico - Click Here
Calaveras are short rhyming poems that are associated with the celebrations of the Day of the Dead in Mexico. They have their origins in the famous epitaphs written by Spanish poet Jorge Manrique. Calaveras are written to the “memory” of a person as if they were already deceased. Calaveras about public figures and politicians are often published in newspapers at this time to satire or criticize them. More often, though, Mexicans come up with these playful rhymes to tease their friends or family members.
Here’s an example:
My friend Pete is in the grave,
He worked until his dying day like a slave,
It’s too bad his fancy car,
Is the now the property of his brother Omar!
Writing your own calavera is easy! Just choose a family member or friend you’d like to tease, and write a rhyming eulogy for them. Calaveras are typically short, no more than ten lines lone. Next, illustrate your calavera with silly images of skulls and dancing skeletons.
If your friend speaks Spanish, you can include some of the following common references to Death that often appear in calaveras: La Calaca (the skeleton), La Flaca (the skinny lady) La Tilica (the really skinny lady), La Huesuda (the bony girl).
You can give your calavera to your friend like it was a Valentine’s Day card. Just make sure they know that you’ve made your calavera as a celebration of the Day of the Dead, or they make look at you rather strangely!
See this website for more information on the tradition of Mexican calavera poetry: http://www.elbalero.gob.mx/kids/about/html/holidays/home.html
ARTS AND CRAFTS ACTIVITIES:
Activity: Make Your Own Papel Picado!
Papel picado, Spanish for cut paper, is a typical Mexican craft that appears throughout the country during festivals and fiestas. It involves cutting out intricate patterns in colored tissue paper and stringing up the sheets to decorate your home or garden.
The tradition of papel picado can be traced to the indigenous cultures of Mesoamerica, who cut images of deities into their homemade bark paper, also known as Papel Amate. The indigenous Otomi continue this tradition with bark paper today. The village of San Pabilto in the state of Puebla is especially famous for bark paper cutouts. In the rest of the country, plastic or tissue paper are the most common materials for making papel picado.
San Salvado Huixcolotla in the state of Puebla is where you can find the best and most elaborate papel picado made from tissue paper.
To make your own papel picado, buy sheets of tissue paper in several different colors. Papel picado can vary greatly in size, but a good size to start with is an 11 inch by 16 inch sheet.
Take your tissue paper and place it horizontally on the table. Next, take the bottom edge of the paper of the paper and fold it about an inch up. Next, continue to fold the paper as if you were making an accordion until you can’t fold the paper anymore.
Now, take your scissors and cut different designs along the folded edge of the paper. Make sure not to cut on the sharp edge of the paper that hasn’t been folded. Open you paper to see your design!
If you want to make a more intricate design, follow in the instructions above and when you’ve completed the accordion fold, fold the sheet in half lengthwise. With this kind of fold, you’ll create an interesting symmetrical type pattern.
After you have a nice collection of papel picado, you can lightly iron them to take out the folds. To arrange the paper for display, take your string and lightly glue the string to one end of each sheet of paper, as if you were making a long, colorful banner. You can vary the colors of the paper for an interesting effect.
Another variation of making papel picado is to actually draw a design onto the paper and cut it out with a x-acto knife.
Take your paper and fold it in half lengthwise. Next, draw some kind of image onto the paper. Try out a simple set of small triangles and circles first. Now, cut of the images of the triangles and circles with your x-acto knife. When you’re done, open the paper to see the symmetric images you’ve created.
As you become more comfortable with drawing and cutting designs, you can experiment with more complicated papel picado. There are literally dozens of ways to fold and cut your paper. Making Magic Windows: Creating Cut-Paper Art With Carmen Lomas Garza is a wonderful book that has lots of tips and techniques for creating beautiful papel picado designs.
Activity: Make your own Maracas!
Maracas are a common instrument in Mexican music. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes and are typically made from a gourd or wood and filled with seeds, rice, etc. Modern maracas are also made from other materials such as plastic and metal. Artisans generally paint their maracas with a assortment of colors and designs, making them true works of art. Maracas are commonly used in the rhythm section of salsa bands, but are used in a variety of musical styles.
Maracas are easy to make on your own. You’ll need the following materials.
Two medium-sized grapefruits
Paper mache paste (A mix of Elmer’s glue, water and white flour. See the end of this chapter for a recipe for paper mache paste)
Pencils, wooden dowels, or sturdy sticks from your family’s tree (about 10 inches long)
Dried black beans
Feather, sequins, and other decorative ornaments
First, coat the grapefruits in Vaseline. This will help you remove them from the paper mache. Next, tear the newspaper into thin strips. Now, coat the grapefruits in strips of paper dipped in the paper mache paste. Let your maracas dry for several hours.
Now, cut your mold in half with the x-acto knife and separate the two parts to remove the grapefruits. Remember to ask your parents for help with cutting the masks with the x-acto knife. These knives are extremely sharp! Take the black beans and fill one side of the mold with a few black beans and glue the two halves back together. With the x-acto knife, slice a tiny hole into the base of the mold. Next, insert the pencil, dowel, stick into the whole until it touches the other end of the mold. Glue it into place. Place more paper mache around the base of the maraca and let dry. Let your maracas dry several more hours.
Now you’re ready to decorate your maracas with paint and ornaments. Your imagination is your only limit for the design! After your maracas are dry, put on your favorite salsa album and start shaking!
Activity: Make your own Mexican Mask!
The use of mask in Mexico dates back to pre-Hispanic times. Masks representing animals were commonly used in ritual dances throughout Mexico and Mesoamerica. With the arrival of the Spanish, new customs and traditions mixed with indigenous ones to create a diverse world of culture, dance and ritual. Mexican masks are made of anything from coconut shells, to carved wood, to dried, baked clay.
Some of the most famous dances in Mexico that utilize masks are the Baile de los Viejito (Dance of the Old Men), seen in the state of Michoacan, and the Baile de Los Cristianos y Moros (Dance of the Christians & Moors), seen all over Mexico and Central America. Masks are also common during the celebration of Carnival, which is observed throughout the country.
Masks of Mexico: Tigers, Devils, and the Dance of Life by Barbara Maudlin is a wonderful book to learn about traditional Mexican masks. This book is also great for design ideas when you make your own Mexican masks!
Here’s how to make your masks! (You’ll get two masks from this technique.)
A typical party balloon
Paper mache paste (A mix of Elmer’s glue, water and white flower. See the end of this chapter for a recipe for paper mache paste)
Feather, sequins, and other decorative ornaments
Different colored beans, corn kernels, seeds
Tear the newspaper into thin strips. Blow up the balloon and cover it with the newspaper strips dipped in the paper mache mix. Cover the entire balloon with one coat of paper mache and let dry. Apply a second and third coat so that the balloon is stiff, and let dry thoroughly.
Next, insert a pin into the balloon to let the air out. With your x-acto knife, cut the paper mache mold into two perfect halves. Cut out eye holes and a mouth hole in the mask mold with the x-acto knife. Remember to ask your parents for help with cutting the masks with the x-acto knife. These knives are extremely sharp!
Now you’re ready to begin decorating your masks. Once again, Masks of Mexico: Tigers, Devils, and the Dance of Life is a great source of inspiration for mask designs. You can also check out this website:
http://www.mexicanmasks.us/ which has stunning color photographs of traditional masks from Mexico and Central America.
You can begin by painting your mask a solid color and then add details once the first coat is dry. After you’ve painted your mask, you can add a variety of ornaments by gluing them on the outside of the mask. Different colored beans and corn add wonderful decorative touches to your mask, and they are also plants native to Mexico!
When you’re finished decorating your mask, let it dry out several hours. When it’s completely dry, you can punch small holes near where your ears would be and place a string through the masks so that you can put them on and wear them.
Activity: Make your own Guaje Painted Shakers!
Guajes are a unique form of folk art found through Mexico. The term “guaje” actually refers to a variety of gourds and seed pods that come from several different trees found in Mexico. Guajes typically come from the Leucaena family of trees. The name of the Mexican state of Oaxaca actually translates to "the place where huaxin (leucaena) grows.” For more information on the Leucaena family, see this website from Purdue University: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/cropfactsheets/leucaena.html#
These seeds pods and gourds are dried and painted, often with the seeds still left inside. Painted guajes are commonly found in the states of Guerrero, Morelos, Oaxaca, and Zacatecas. The gourds are still used today to carry water, and the seed pods are edible.
While these trees are native to Mexico and Central America, you can find similar seed pods no matter where you live! For example, the seed pods from the Great Leadtree, Catalpa, and Black Locust can be used in a similar fashion.
To make your painted guaje shaker, simply collect these seed pods while they’re still firm and let them dry. Paint them with acrylic paints and let dry. You can also cover them with a thin transparent lacquer to give them a nice shine.
Paper Mache Recipe for Maracas and Masks
You can use this simple recipe for paper mache for making your maracas and Mexican Masks.
First, mix six cups of water with three cups of plain all purpose white flour. You’ll at first get a lumpy gooey mess, so keep mixing until you get all the lumps out. Adding salt can help prevent problems with mold. When you’ve got a nice paste-like consistency, you can add several squirts of Elmer’s glue to the mix. If you want the mixing to go easier, you can add a little water and flour together, and boil the remaining water. Add the boiled water to the flour and water mix, and stir out any lumps. Make sure you get a parent to help mix the hot water and flour together, as the hot water can cause serious burns! To make smaller or larger batches, simply keep the proportions of the ingredients two to one.
Cascaron Egg Shells
These hollowed out eggs are a fun, and sometimes annoying, Mexican tradition, especially during the Semana Santa. Simply use a pin to prick holes in both sides of an egg. Blow on one end of the egg to empty the shell. Wash and let dry. Fill with confetti and cover the ends with tissue paper. Carefully break the eggs over the head of a friend to release the confetti.
Browse through our Mexican Information Pages for:
Resources to learn more about Mexico:
Recipes from an Aztec Garden
A Collection of Classic and Traditional Recipes from Mexico!
Festival of Mexico Folk Arts
Mexican folk art information, Mexican toys and games including loteria cards, Mexican culture and folk art buying tips, Folk art from
Chiapas, Oaxaca, Huichol folk art, and more!
Mexican Culture for Kids
A resource for teachers, students, and anyone interested in Mexico.
Flor y Canto
This website is an exploration of Mexican culture written by a Mexican woman and her American husband.
Ecotourism and responsible travel in Mexico and around the world.
Madam Mayo's Blog
M. Mayo is a writer, poet, and translator. Her blog has lots of great information about Mexican culture and travel.