A Voyage to South America

March 25, 2010

Looking for fabulous food, fables and facts to share with your preschooler while introducing geography? To incorporate all of that and much more, start with South America! Our neighbor country is rich in culture, history and traditions. For instance, starting with one of the facts North and South America share; they were both named after Amerigo Vespucci. Spain and Portugal colonized much of South America (and founded North America) which is why Portuguese and Spanish are the primary languages still today.  

South America has bragging rights of being the fourth largest continent in the world, and fifth largest population wise. The largest country in South America is Brazil. South America is home to the highest waterfall in the world, Santo del Angel, which starts at almost 1000 meters high. Another high point in South America is Cerro Aconagua in the Andes Mountains in the country of Argentina. The Amazon rain forest is a preschool favorite with the plants, animals and habitats played through so many books and shows.  

But, really the way to a preschooler's heart is with animals. Some of the most "common" animals, ones that you might find at the zoo, originally called South America home. The Andean Condor is the largest flying bird on our planet and is the national bird of Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Columbia. Condors also play important roles in South American mythology and folklore. Giant tortoises, Southern Right whales, piranhas, and anacondas all come from South America. Oh, a preschooler pleaser for sure, capybara are found there and are a semi-aquatic herbivorous animal and largest of living rodents.  

The climate of South America is ordinarily is hot, humid and wet.  Amazon rain forest typically stays between 75-90 degrees and can receive 350 inches of rain a year.  One extreme to another with the driest parts in Chile and coldest places in the Andes Mountains. A distinct feature of South America climate is El Niño. Preschoolers can surely relate, maybe even hearing that term before in a forecast.  The cold, dry Peru Current weakens and warms waters from the south rush along the coast in a southward direction every two to seven years. It can affect the weather in South America and cause heavy rainfall in the driest parts.

South America is attractive for many more reasons other than the animals, nature spots, and climate.  Some of our kids' favorite foods come directly from South America but with a North American spin. Empanadas, churros, flan, and migas are all ethnic foods that are slowly making their way north. Ecuadorians love papas con cuero (potatoes with pig skin) which are small potatoes (papas) in a stew with bits of pork skin and fat (cuero, which means skin or leather).  Seafood is another popular food choice, with ceviche being the main pick. Just as it is in different parts of the U.S., Ecuadorian food can be different than the favorite traditional foods in Peru. 

Everything can be explored deeper with your child.  Start by getting the recipe for one of the foods from South America and preparing and trying it together.  Check out sites such as ehow.com and about.com for recipe ideas -- and even some relatively healthy ones! Books to check out at the library or bookstore are South American Animals by Caroline Arnold and Hands-On Latin America by Yvonne Merrill. South America by Allan Fowler is targeted for kids ages six and up; it will be a simple introduction to people, animal, and geographic features of the continent.  


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