Cuba Unit Study: Week 4

In our final week of our Cuba unit study, we will learn more about modern-day life on the island. Our lessons will include a tasty book review writing assignment, the foundations for critical thinking conversations, and lots of artist studies! We will enjoy science lessons about magnets, human lungs, and hurricanes, and we will end the week with a sweet cookie treat as we enjoy Tea (err…we mean café) + Poetry. We also hope you will enjoy one of our two chapter book suggestions this week. Let’s begin by printing the skills tracker here. Adelante! (Go!)

What you need:

Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):

Pick one of these poetry books:

Optional chapter books:

Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):

Note: We break down our supply list so you can choose what you need based on which lessons you plan to do with your child.

Magnet car chase:

Lung STEM experiment:

Hurricane challenge:

Cubist art project:

Mosaic tile art project:

Vibrations STEM experiment:

  • plastic soda bottle or rigid plastic cup
  • rubber band
  • balloon or plastic wrap
  • sugar, salt, dry ground coffee, flour, cornmeal, or other sand-like substance
  • smart phone

Cuban sandwich recipe:

Meringue cookies recipe:

Cuban coffee recipe:

What to do:

We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!

Lesson 1:

Let’s begin our final week with some modern-day history of Cuba.

(+) Activity 1: Many Cubans immigrated to the United states to flee Castro’s communist government, and the United States aided that effort. The Cuban Refugee Program was created by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1960 and expanded by President John F. Kennedy through the “Migration and Refugee Assistance Act” in 1962. It provided financial assistance, health care, educational loans, resettlement, and care of unaccompanied children for the 1,500-2,000 Cubans arriving weekly. The United States also supported Cuban exodus programs: Operation Pedro Pan (1960-1962), which brought 14,000 unaccompanied children, and the Freedom Flights (1965-1973), during which the U.S. negotiated with the Cuban government to allow relatives of Cuban refugees to relocate. In 1966, the Cuban Adjustment Act allowed Cuban refugees who came after the Revolution and had lived in the United States for two years to pursue permanent resident status. (source)

Critical thinking activity: Immigration is a global conversation. Discuss immigration issues facing your country, state, or city. 

Cuban immigrants were welcomed into the United states between 1960-1973 and given many provisions as described above. They flourished as an immigrant community, building strong communities and contributing to their new country, as can still be seen in South Florida and other parts of the United States. Discuss how immigrants play a vital role in society and in your local community. 

The United States and Canada is a country full of immigrantswhether we are discussing modern immigration or the first settlers from Europe, everyone came from somewhere else. In that light, share your family’s immigration story (if known). 

Here are other discussion points to prompt your conversation:

  • Why do people immigrate today?
  • How does the treatment of immigrants affect their ability to acclimate to their new home and succeed?
  • What does the treatment of immigrants tell us about society?
  • What challenges arise with immigration? 

There are several chapter books that tell the story of people escaping Cuba or immigrating to the U.S. after 1959. Choose from one of the following chapter books to read this week as we complete our Cuba unit study:

  • Leaving Glorytown One Boy’s Struggle Under Castro
  • 90 Miles to Havana

(+) Activity 2: There are several historic events that took place in the 20th century involving Cuba, the United States, and the USSR. Watch this video to learn about the Bay of Pigs Invasion, including what it is and what led the United States to attempt to overthrow the Cuban government. These events led the U.S. congress to pass the Foreign Assistance Act, which prohibited aid to Cuba and authorized the president to impose a complete trade-embargo against Cuba on September 4, 1961. Embargo means an official ban on trade or other commercial activity with a particular country.

The embargo, known among Cubans as “el bloqueo” or “the blockade,” consists of economic sanctions against Cuba and restrictions on Cuban travel and commerce for all people and companies under U.S. jurisdiction. Read the pros and cons of the embargo here

After the embargo, Cuba looked for political support from other nations, which led to the “Cuban Missile Crisis.”  Watch this video to learn the details of this important world event. 

Lesson 2 

There are many elements of Cuban culture unique to this fascinating country. Let’s learn about some of them in today’s activities.

Activity 1: Cuba is famous for its classic vintage cars and has a long car history. The country is like a big car show where you can find colorful and well-preserved motor vehicles from the 1950s and 1940s. Cuba has many old cars because of three extraordinary events that took place after 1959: the US trade embargo, the economic policies of Fidel Castro, and the mechanical ingenuity of the Cuban people. 

In the early 20th century, the United States was the leading supplier of vehicles for the island. In fact, some American car companies used Cuban roads to test-track some of their vintage models. 

But everything unraveled when Fidel Castro took power in 1959. In response to Castro’s economic policies, the US government imposed a trade embargo that made it impossible for Cubans to access American cars and mechanical parts. On the other hand, the Cuban government further restricted the sale and importation of cars. Until 2014, Cubans were prohibited from buying and selling cars, except for a few specific cases. 

Cubans found a way to keep the old American cars running. With no new cars and car parts entering the country, car owners needed to be innovative to keep these cars running. For example, they used mismatched parts from Russian vehicles to repair old American cars. Common vintage car brands in Cuba are Ford, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Oldsmobile, and Buick. It’s estimated that 60,000 classic American cars ride on Cuban streets. Many of them are 60 or even 70 years old. (source)

See these classic cars on the road in this video. Next, read the book All The Way to Havana (or listen to this read aloud) to learn one family’s story of getting their car back on the road.

Have some fun playing with cars and magnets in this STEM activity.

Activity 2: When the Spanish first landed on Cuba, they observed “men and women going from place to place with a firebrand of weeds in their hands to take in the fragrant smoke.” Before long, Spanish colonists were growing and smoking tobacco, too. As the demand for tobacco spread, the “weeds” became a profitable crop. Cuba opened its first cigar factories in the early 1800s. Today, cigars are still one of Cuba’s leading exports, shipped by the millions around the world. Every year, around 100 million premium cigars are handcrafted in Cuba. Professional rollers, called torcedores, make each one by combining leaves from different varieties of tobacco. Cigars are sorted by color, checked for flaws, and then boxed for sale. 

In a Havana cigar factory, a professional reader, or lector, reads aloud—the material can range from news articles to novels. This custom dates back to the 1800s, when readers on the tobacco floor played a role in spreading political ideas. Well-informed and well-organized, tobacco workers joined Cuba’s fight for independence from Spain in the late 1800s. (source + visit the site for images)

Smoking cigars and cigarettes or vaping presents many health concerns. Let’s learn the dangers of smoking in this video. Next, conduct this STEM lung experiment to see the damage smoking can cause.

Activity 3: Hurricanes aren’t unique to Cuba, unfortunately, but they are common there. Hurricanes are strong storms that start in the ocean and have winds of at least 74 miles an hour. In the Northern Hemisphere, hurricanes generally occur between mid-August to late October. What is a hurricane? Watch this video to learn the basics. How do these powerful storms form and how are they studied? Watch (+) this video to learn about this special kind of storm. 

Next, do this hurricane STEM challenge.

Lesson 3 

Today, we’ll look closer at how cultures have blended in Cuba before meeting two Cuban artists.

Activity 1: In the mid-1800s, there were more than 100,000 Chinese living in Cuba, nearly all of them men. They were brought to Cuba as indentured laborers, enticed by worthless contracts that promised them freedom after eight years. Many died on sugar plantations not long after arriving. Today, their population has shrunk dramatically because of the high rate of intermarriage and restrictions on immigration under Castro. But despite their small numbers and their history of hardship, Chinese Cubans thrived for many years and left their mark on Cuban culture.  When the Chinese gained their independence from bondage, they opened small businesses, including fruit and vegetable stands, laundromats, and cafeterias that served Cuban food with a Chinese twist, such as fried rice. Many married local women, especially Afro-Cubans, and assimilated further into Cuban culture. After the Communist revolution, many middle-class Chinese Cubans fled the country, along with other Cubans. Today there are so few Chinese-Cubans many refer to it as “a Chinatown without Chinese.” (source)

Let’s meet a famous Chinese-Cuban artist named Wifredo Lam. Lam was a multicultural artist (as the son of a Chinese father and Afro-Cuban mother of Spanish descent) who drew on his roots in Cuba, as well as his travels in Europe and the Caribbean. He was a trailblazer who wanted to express the oppression of colonialism through his art. He embraced the “primitive” and traditions of the Afro-Cuban religion Santería, and he made art that explored and celebrated his cultural heritage, becoming an influential voice in Afro-Cubanism as well as in the history of Black art. (source) Read his bio here, and then see some of his famous works here.

Lam was famous for his cubist style. Let’s create our own cubist artwork with the help of this tutorial. Students can either copy the artist in the video or create their own piece.

Activity 2: Let’s do one more artist study! José Fuster is another famous artist in Cuba. He is so well known in part because one of his works covers most of his neighborhood!

Fusterlandia in Havana began as an art project created by José Fuster, where he spent years covering his entire residence in colorful tiles and mosaics. The style of art is reminiscent of Gaudí and Picasso, and is a sight to behold.

He began the project after receiving inspiration from a visit to Spain and returned with the desire to beautify his home. He expanded the project through his neighborhood as well, so you’ll see many colorful houses if you visit here. Click here to see photos of the incredibly rich mosaics. Next, create your own mosaic with this tutorial.

Activity 3: Would you and your child like to try some salsa dancing? Watch this video lesson and dance along! Want to really be impressed? Check out these amazing kid salsa dancers!

Enjoying any music involves being able to feel the vibrations. Learn about how we hear sound in this video. Next, try this STEM experiment to ‘see’ some music.

Lesson 4:

Let’s get to know another famous dish from Cuba before tackling a project that will help your child review what they’ve learned so far.

Activity 1: Have you ever heard of a Cuban sandwich? A Cuban sandwich is layered with two kinds of pork (pulled pork and sliced ham), melted swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard. It is then toasted in butter and pressed to perfection. This is truly one ultimate sandwich for pork lovers! We are going to use this delicious meal as our inspiration for our next writing activity. Just like this sandwich has many layers, a good book review is also layered.

Let’s write a review of one of the chapter books you read this month.  A book review’s purpose is to help people decide whether or not the book would interest them enough to read it. Reviews are a sneak peek at a book, not a summary. Like the wonderful smells wafting from a Cuban kitchen, book reviews lure readers to want to taste the book themselves. Print this printable to get started with the assignment.

Activity 2: Want to try a real Cuban sandwich? Here’s a recipe

Activity 3: Would you like to visit Cuba after all we’ve learned? Create a travel brochure highlighting all the places a visitor should go on their visit to the island. Print this sheet onto cardstock to begin. Fill out the brochure based on your favorite aspects of the country you learned about this month. Print out pictures from the internet, the unit, or use photographs of your own work to illustrate your brochure.

Lesson 5:

For our final day of Cuba, we’ll tackle the food science behind egg whites and meringue. Meringue cookies are a favorite Cuban dessert. Made out of egg whites and sugar, this delicate cookie will melt in your mouth. The recipe takes a while to prepare, so get started on it now while we enjoy some science explanations and later, Tea (or café) + Poetry.

Activity 1: Begin by watching this video to learn the science of egg whites. We also like how Vicki Cobb explains it in her book, Science Experiments You Can Eat:

“Protein molecules in egg whites are like tiny balls of yarn. Their round, compact shape enables them to dissolve in water. When you beat egg whites, you are, in effect, unraveling these balls of yarn. The long chains that are pulled out are too large to dissolve. The process of changing protein from its natural form is called denaturing. It is impossible to restore denatured egg white to its original form.” (page 85)

Next, prepare this recipe.

Activity 2: The most popular hot drink in Cuba is coffee. Cuba’s coffee history began in the mid-18th century, and coffee production in eastern Cuba significantly increased during the 19th and early 20th centuries. By the 21st century, 92 percent of the country’s coffee was grown in the area of the Sierra Maestra mountains. Coffee is prepared in different ways in Cuba:

  • Café Cubano (also called espresso): The most traditional and favorite type of Cuban coffee is brewed with ordinary coffee beans and sweetened with sugar.
  • Cortadito: It is a café cubano topped with several tablespoons of steamed milk. It is served in a single small cup.
  • Colada: It is a larger cup of café cubano that comes with smaller Cuban coffee cups to serve your guests. Perfect for sharing with friends! There is no milk in a colada.
  • Café con leche: It is a café cubano that comes with hot, steamed milk in a separate cup, and you simply pour the milk into the espresso.


Decaffeinated Cuban coffee is available, so your child might enjoy this recipe.

Activity 3: Tea + Poetry. Cuba has a love of poetry. Choose from one of the following poetry book suggestions and enjoy reading with Cuban coffee + meringue cookies. 

  • The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano
  • The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom
  • Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle
  • (-) Feel the Beat: Dance Poems that Zing from Salsa to Swing (a book you might have in your library from Level 1: Dance (Party!) and Level 2: Dance (Party!)). Choose the poems based on dances we discussed in our unit, such as salsa and mambo.

Buen Provecho! (Enjoy your meal!)

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Published by The Learn + Live Letter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-12.