World Culture for Kids: Costa Rica

Today’s World Culture for Kids post is all about Costa Rica, courtesy of Leanna, who blogs at All Done Monkey. All Done Monkey is a parenting blog that focuses on raising world citizens, natural parenting, and spiritual education. Leanna is a stay at home mother to a sweet, funny, rambunctious two and a half year old boy, with a baby on the way. She and her husband, who is from Costa Rica, strive to raise their little Monkey to be bilingual and bicultural in a fun, spiritual, loving environment. All Done Monkey is dedicated to sharing this journey with you! I love Leanna’s Birthday Time Capsule, Pumpkin Suncatcher, and Easy DIY Charlie Brown Costume posts!

 Flag: By Drawn by User:SKopp, rewritten by User:Gabbe (This vector image was created with Inkscape.) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Recently, I hosted a “Costa Rica Day” playgroup for our local multicultural moms group in honor of Costa Rican Independence Day on September 15. My husband is from Costa Rica, so I thought this would be a fun way for my toddler to learn about this side of his heritage and share it with his little friends.

Food, of course, is key to a successful playgroup (for moms and little ones!) so we had lots to munch on: To begin with, we enjoyed some of the wonderful fruits from this tropical country, plus I made jello out of homemade juice from the tamarindo fruit.

Tamarindo fruit

Tamarindo fruit at a Costa Rican Farmer’s Market

I also made my mother-in-law’s tamal asado (Costa Rican corncake). Corn-based foods are a traditional staple in Costa Rica, as they are in many countries in Mesoamerica.

 tamal asado

For activities, the kids made pom-poms in the colors of the Costa Rican flag (tutorial coming soon!). We also read one of my little Monkey’s favorite books, The Parrot Tico Tango and played this activity to go along with it.

Costa Rica: Overview

I also shared some basic facts about Costa Rica. Here is what we learned:

  • Costa Rica is about the size of the state of West Virginia. It is located in Central America, between Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south.

 Map: By By Rei-artur pt en Rei-artur blog [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

  • For such a small country, its terrain and wildlife is incredibly varied. It has beautiful beaches, plus rainforests, cloud forests, and VOLCANOES!

 Arenal Volcano: Taken by Jacob Norlund, released by copyright holder into the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

  • The main industry is tourism, and principal exports are coffee, bananas, and technology. (Many international firms have opened branches in Costa Rica because of its highly educated population).
  • The main language in Costa Rica in Spanish (which we are working hard to teach our son).
  • Costa Rica is well-known for its environmentalism, and its environmental protection laws are considered among the most advanced in the world.

recycling sign in Costa Rica

  • Costa Rica was originally inhabited by a number of indigenous groups, including the Bribri and Cabecar; however, the population was never as large as the Mayan and Aztec centers to the north or the Incan empire to the south. European colonization began with the landing of Columbus in 1502. Today most Costa Ricans can trace their ancestry back to Spain, though there are still indigenous groups living in remote regions.
  • Because Costa Rica did not have the wealth or the population that the Spanish sought, it was not given much attention by the colonizers. One result of this is that few slaves were brought from Africa to work the land. Most people of African descent in Costa Rica (mainly located along the country’s Caribbean coast) are instead descended from workers from Jamaica and nearby countries who came to build the railroad in the late nineteenth century.
  • Costa Rica, along with most other countries in Central America, gained its independence from Spain in 1821. It has been a stable democracy for many years and formally abolished its army in 1949.

Famous Costa Ricans

Costa Ricans are justifiably proud of some of the country’s famous sons and daughters. Here are a few:

  • Oscar Arias Sánchez was president of Costa Rica during the turbulent 1980s, which saw wars break out throughout Central America. As leader of one of the only countries in the region not at war, Arias helped broker a deal that restored peace at last. In recognition of his work, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987.

 Oscar Arias: By Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson (Crop of File:Oscar Arias Sanchez with Obamas.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 Franklin Chang Diaz: By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

  • Laura Chinchilla, Costa Rica’s current president, is the first female president of the country, joining a wave of other female presidents throughout Latin America.

 Laura Chinchilla: By Laura_Chinchilla.JPG: Moiso Araya derivative work: Taichi (Laura_Chinchilla.JPG) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Phrases to Know

If you go to Costa Rica, here are some phrases you can use to fit it with your new friends!

  • People in Costa Rica are called ticos (TEE-kohs) or, more formally, costarricenses.
  • “Pura Vida!” (POO-rah VEE-dah) = “Pure Life,” captures the laid back Costa Rican spirit, as well as their concern for preserving the natural environment. If you buy a T-shirt while you are in Costa Rica, there is a 95% chance it will say “Pura Vida” on it somewhere!
  • “Tuanis!” (Two-AH-nees) = “Cool”
  • “Mae” (My) = “Buddy, man, pal,” as in: “How’s it going?” “Tuanis, mae!”

Costa Rica palm trees 

Hope you’ve enjoyed our trip to Costa Rica, and remember, Pura Vida, mae!

Thank you for this post, Leanna! What a wonderful country for your children to have as part of their heritage! Readers, do you have fun Costa Rica facts for kids to share?

MaryAnne lives in Silicon Valley with her Stanford professor husband Mike and their four children. She writes about parenting through education, creativity, and play. Mama Smiles - Joyful Parenting is a space to share crafts, hands on learning activities, and family outings that enrich lives and bring families together.

18 thoughts on “World Culture for Kids: Costa Rica”

  1. We are getting ready to start our country studies! We haven’t finished the states yet…but Luke can’t wait to move on! I will be accessing your blog a ton! Thanks for all these great posts!

  2. Elisa | blissfulE

    I had a Costa Rican friend when I lived in America, and her descriptions of her country always took my breath away. I do want to visit sometime!

    1. We have been lucky enough to visit several times, including this summer, and it is truly beautiful! I especially love that it is so varied – you can be in the cool mountains in morning and then drive through the jungle and be relaxing on the beach by the afternoon!

  3. I do know from my husband that they have excellent surf in Costa Rica :) I make something similar to the corncakes and it is so good. Would love to visit someday.

  4. Costa Rica’s on my bucket list! My parents spent a few weeks there a couple of years ago and just adored it. We have photos of them ziplining through the rain forests and it looks so beautiful! Thanks for showing us some more of it.

  5. Costa Rica looks like some an interesting and beautiful place! Somewhere I’m not sure I’ll ever get the opportunity to visit, so thanks for the info on it.

  6. My 2nd home. I spent 3 years living in Costa Rica in my early 20’s on the Caribbean Coast and in San Jose as well as traveling around the country a lot. It is the most beautiful country with the friendliest people I have met whilst traveling.

  7. What a nice idea for studies. We are Italian. Although a generation or two removed. And my kids are always asking to learn Italian. I should get on the ball. But, it would not be hard to cook and EAT all that yummy Italian food for sure!!!
    Thanks for posting.
    Phyllis

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