What happens when you create a Dropbox account and allow it to sync with the camera roll on your iPhone and then browse through all of your photos to see what’s there?

Well, I’ll tell you what happened to me: I found a TON of December pictures from the library that never got posted to the blog!

(I don’t like to make excuses, but I did have the flu the whole week before our winter break…so I’ll blame that and the bustle of the holidays for the lateness of this post. :))

All this is to say that, if you don’t mind my spreading some Christmas cheer in March, please keep reading!

*          *          *          *          *

Ms. Tobie’s apple visit in October was such a hit with our kindergarten classes that she and I were excited to collaborate on another project together–and with Christmas quickly approaching, our first thought was to incorporate the picture book Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto:

image from http://www.indiebound.org

The thing I love about this story is how easy it is for kids to relate to. Maria, the main character, is a little girl who loves–and longs to wear–her mother’s diamond ring; what child hasn’t felt that wish to be just like mom or dad…or at least a little more grown-up? And when Maria fears she has lost the ring in a batch of tamales, her solution–eat them!–is exactly the sort of plan I might have concocted when I was her age.

This book is a great holiday story for kids at any grade level, but it works especially well for kindergarten because it ties in perfectly with one of their social studies standards, which expects our kindergartners to “describe American culture by explaining diverse community and family celebrations and customs.”

Of course, what better way to help kids understand this story–which begins and ends with the preparation of tamales–than by giving the students an opportunity to see the process in action?

So, as our kindergarten classes entered the library, they were greeted by Ms. Tobie and this display, which immediately kindled their curiosity:

A bowl of masa dough, a pitcher of water, a bag of masa harina, corn husks, guajillo chiles, and a steaming dish of delicious tamales!
A bowl of masa dough, a pitcher of water, a bag of masa harina, corn husks, dried guajillo chiles, and a steaming dish of delicious tamales!

Tobie taught students about the ingredients, demonstrated how masa dough is made and wrapped in corn husks, let students feel the corn husks and sniff the spicy chiles, and gave students a chance to smell the delicious aroma of cooked tamales:

The kids had plenty of questions!
The kids had plenty of questions!

(All of our supplies came from Supermercado Los Compadres, a local market that has been part of the Chase Street/Normaltown neighborhood since 1993, and which is owned and operated by the family of several of our students.)

After this attention-grabbing introduction, Tobie led students to the rug to read the story:

Because Tobie had done such a wonderful job of giving our students background knowledge and context, students were able to enjoy and connect with the story without being confused by unfamiliar ingredients and processes.

They could imagine Maria’s fingers kneading the sticky dough, and from feeling the papery corn husks they knew why Maria and her cousins had to remove those before they could eat the delicious tamales inside!

While Tobie read the book with the students, I mixed up four bowls of masa, then tucked little rings with flowers (flores) and butterflies (mariposas) on them into the sticky dough for students to find.

After the story, students moved from the rug to the tables, and they took turns closing their eyes kneading the masa themselves, feeling around with their gooey fingers and guessing whether the ring in their bowl of dough was decorated with una flor o una mariposa:

What kind of ring do we have?
What kind of ring do we have?

Finally, of course, it was time to eat the tamales! The warm, delicious tamales were cut into bite-sized pieces so that each student could have just a little taste:


Ms. Tobie taught students to say gracias as they were given their bites of tamale, and then students had a chance to share their opinions of this food that was new for so many of them by replying either “Sí, me gusta” or “No me gusta.

Some students found the tamales a bit spicy for their tastes, but many others liked their bites so much that they asked for more!

Of course, each class ended their lesson with a warm gracias to Ms. Tobie for coming to visit them again. 🙂

And if the kids’ excitement about this lesson was any indication, I’d say Ms. Tobie’s second visit was a smashing success, full of sensory experiences–seeing the ingredients and the story’s illustrations; hearing seeds shaking in the dried chiles; feeling the papery corn husks, leathery chiles, and sticky masa dough; and of course getting to smell and taste those steaming, spicy tamales for themselves.

For some of our students, tamales are part of their family holiday traditions, so the activity gave them an opportunity to share their experiences and knowledge as experts.

And for the rest, Too Many Tamales opened their eyes to traditions beyond Santa Claus and Christmas trees, making them more aware of other customs that bring families and friends together for the holidays.

One of our school's holiday traditions: a cute Christmas tree covered with colorful bugs
One of our school’s holiday traditions: a cute Christmas tree covered with colorful bugs