Peru Unit Study: Week 4

There are some impressive landmarks in Peru, and this week we will learn about some of the most amazing places you will ever see, like the floating islands of Titicaca, Vinicunca Mountain (the rainbow mountain) and the deepest canyon on earth, Cotahuasi Canyon. We will enjoy learning about Peruvian sports, famous artists, and musicians, and (best of all) the food! We will get to enjoy what is likely one of your favorite foods that comes from Peru—the potato! Click here to download the skills tracker for this week.

What you need:

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

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.

Rainbow in a jar:

Weathering experiment:

Farming erosion experiment:

Pom pom soccer:

Create a sand dune:

Floating islands DIY:

Buoyancy experiment:

  • shallow plastic cup (like a plastic soup take-out container from a restaurant or empty tub of cream cheese)
  • several quarters

Color wheel painting:

(+) Punch needling craft:

(-) Hanging woven craft:

Peruvian potato recipe:

Make a potato light bulb

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:

Get ready for some earth science inspired by the geography of Peru!

Activity 1: Rainbow Mountain. Vinicunca is a mountain that’s striped with a load of different colors. The name means “Seven Color Mountain,” even though it is actually made up of 14 different colorful minerals. (source) This rainbow-like appearance is created by the sediment of minerals throughout the area, giving the mountain the turquoise, lavender, and gold color. Click here to see pictures and a video of Vinicunca Mountain. 

Let’s create our own layers of color inspired by Vinicunca with this rainbow-in-a-jar craft

Activity 2: Canyons. A canyon is a deep ravine between cliffs, often carved from the landscape by a river. Most canyons were formed by a process of long-time erosion from a plateau level. (source) Cotahuasi Canyon in Peru is over 11,000 feet deep! That makes it one of, if not the deepest canyon in the world. Do a Google image search to see the breathtaking images of Cotahuasi Canyon on the internet. 

Take a look at this blog post about a visit to Cotahuasi Canyon. They took a video driving along the side of the mountain, and it’s pretty impressive (and scary)!

Let’s learn how this canyon and others like it were formed. Start by watch this video to learn about weathering and erosion. Canyons like Catahuasi Canyon are created by weathering and water erosion. Over thousands of years, a river’s flowing water weathers the rocks and soil and erodes them away. The largest and most famous canyons have been cut through dry areas by swift streams fed by rivers, rain, or melting snow from wetter areas. Watch this video for an explanation of why this happens. (This video is about the Grand Canyon in the USA, but the principles are the same.)

Let’s recreate the process of weathering and erosion with a hands-on experiment. 

Start by setting a sheet pan on an incline to create a slope, using a book (or something similar) to prop it up. Lay a towel under the other end in case any water spills out.

Cut a hole through a paper cup with scissors. (We will use this cup to pour water slowly. You can also use a dropper or a funnel.)

Next, fill the top half of your sheet pan with a mix of sand and soil. Create a river bend in the sand with your finger, and place rocks or stones in the river path. It should look like this:

Demonstrate weathering by pouring water slowly down the river path, allowing it to flow. The river will become wider because of weathering. Point out the erosion caused by this process as you see the widening of the river and the sediments that are moved by the water.

Now imagine this over mountainous rock formations instead of sand or soil—and over a period of thousands of years. That is how a canyon is formed!

Activity 3: The farming of Peru was influenced by its location and elevation. Along the coast, the Incan diet was based on seafood and fruits. In the Andes, maize (corn) was planted along the lower slopes. Cotton and cocoa were planted around 1,500 meters above sea level and below. Quinoa was cultivated between 2,300 and 3,900 meters above sea level. Tomatoes, chill peppers, and peanuts were also part of the annual garden system. Vegetables like cassava, oca, sweet potatoes, and mashua were also grown. Potatoes were grown between 1,000 and 3,900 meters above sea level. (source)

Spaced out among these annual and perennial staple crops were a collection of fruit trees and vines. Avocados, cherimoya, papayas, prickly pears, cape gooseberries, and passionfruit grew on the slopes of mountains. Bananas grow on the lower slopes, as well as an assortment of berries. (source)

Potatoes are a really big deal in Peru! Watch this video (you only need to watch the first 4 minutes) to learn how local communities harvest potatoes and how scientists are working to preserve potatoes. 

A common problem among farms is soil erosion. How did ancient Incas solve this problem when farming on mountain slopes? Watch this video to learn about the terrace farming done in Machu Picchu. Next, let’s bring it to life with the following farming water erosion experiment.

Next, print out this STEM erosion lab document. Start by setting up your station with the three plastic bottles. Cut the bottle down middle length-wise to create a long bowl shape as you see in this photo. Fill one bowl with just soil, the other sand and then soil, and the last with a layer of rocks, then sand, and finally soil. 

Place each bowl on an incline, allowing the back end to be slightly elevated and the lower end to flow downward.

Place a small plastic cup on the end of the bottle to collect any runoff. You could tie it to the cap end with a string or simply hold it there while you pour the water.

Pour one ounce of water at a time into each bottle, observing the runoff. Add more water if needed. Make observations. Which had the most and least runoff? Measure the run off water. How many ounces did you pour? How many ounces ran off? Record results on a sheet of paper. Discuss why this was the case.

If you have a small plant that will fit in the bottle, add the plant with its roots to see the effect roots have on soil erosion.

Lesson 2:

Today’s lessons are all about the sports made famous and beloved by Peruvians.

Activity 1: Bullfighting. Begin by reading Peru: The People and Culture page 20 to learn about bullfighting in Peru. 

Bullfighting isn’t an ancient indigenous Peruvian tradition; it was only introduced in the 16th century after the Spaniards conquered the country. According to Ricardo Palma, the famous Peruvian writer, the first bullfight in Peru took place at Lima’s main square in 1538. From there on, whenever there was a special occasion or something to celebrate, a bullfight was held. Even after Peru’s independence from Spain in 1821, bullfighting remained popular. Often bullfight events were combined with local, indigenous festivities and celebrations or Christian processions and saints. (source)

Bullfighting is very controversial. Some countries have outlawed it because it’s an unfair fight between man and animal and over 250,000 bulls are killed in bullfights every year. Have a conversation about this issue. Should bull fighting be banned around the world? Should it be honored as a cultural tradition? What do you think?

(+) This article discusses this issue in more detail.

Activity 2: Surfing. You may have thought that surfing originated in Hawaii, but it’s a very interesting fact about Peru: Its ancient inhabitants used to hit the waves! We’re talking pre-Inca here, so that’s before 1000 CE! There have even been ancient pieces of pottery depicting a man surfing on what looks like a log! Evidence may also suggest that there was contact between ancient Polynesians and Peruvians, which could explain why they share an interesting history with the sport. Peru is still a great surf spot, with huge point breaks and international competitions. Their beaches are also famous for left-header waves, which curl and crash to the left. Watch this video to learn more about surfing in Peru.

Learn more about the wave and its parts with this printable. Next, let’s learn about the physics of surfing in this video.

Do you live near the ocean or do you plan to visit one soon? Can you experience surfing first hand? If possible, make this lesson come to life with a trip to the beach and a surf lesson.

Activity 3: Soccer is a hugely popular sport in Peru. Read Peru: the People and Culture page 20 to learn about soccer in the country. Teams in soccer are called clubs. You can see all 41 clubs listed and ranked here. You will notice that the #1 team in Peru is lower in rank when compared to other teams on the continent, and even lower when compared to teams in the world. 

There is a lot of math and debating that goes into ranking teams. Should ranking be based on goals scored or game wins? Should we round that win to the nearest decimal? Does being a home team versus a visiting team factor in? Does your competitors’ ranking affect the weight of your team’s win or loss? What about fouls—should they be marked against your team’s ranking? All these factors go into the ranking system of FIFA and there is a continuous debate about what is fair. (source). If this sounds complicated, it’s because it is! There’s a lot of algebra and advanced calculations that go into calculating the rankings.

(+) There are also other basic fundamentals involved in sports rankings called statistics. The very basics in statistics involves learning some basic math skills. Let’s take a look at this this Khan Academy lesson. Continue to work on this math series for the rest of the week (if your child shows an interest). You will learn terms like average (mean), the mode, and the median

Ready to play a game? Create a pom pom soccer game like the one this blogger describes. Add the math activities to the game, like tally marks for score keeping, tracking time between each goal, and adding point value to the goal depending on where the pom pom is located on the board. Be creative and allow your child to record the data as they play!

If you are able to see a real soccer match, we encourage you to look for a local club. Watching practice sessions are usually free.

Lesson 3:

Activity 1: Sand dunes. A dune is a mound of sand that is formed by the wind, usually along the beach or in a desert. Dunes form when wind blows sand into a sheltered area behind an obstacle. (source)

When you think of deserts and dunes, you might think of the Sahara desert in the African continent. But South America, and specifically Peru, has one of the tallest dunes in the world, the Cerro Blanco. It’s 3,680 feet tall! That may not seem that high, but it’s loftier than the tallest peak in the United Kingdom! (Not bad for a dune.) It’s situated close to the desert town of Huacachina and has become a popular spot for sandboarding. It takes about three hot hours to get to the top, but getting down is much quicker. Take a look at it here

(-) Create your own sand dunes with this project.

Activity 2: The Amazon River. The Amazon is the mightiest river in South America and carries more water than any other river. It is about 4,000 miles (6,400 kilometers) long—only the Nile River in Africa is longer. The Amazon begins in the Andes Mountains in Peru, and from there it flows north and then east through Brazil where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. (source)

The Amazon River is fed by three sources: The Marañón, Mantaro, and Apurímac Rivers. You can see a picture of the rivers of the Amazon here. Click here to see a video slideshow of the famous rivers in Peru, and click here to learn more about the Amazon River.

Next, take a closer look at some of the animals that live in the river. The Amazon River is home to more than 5,600 known species of fish, including 100 species of electric fish and up to 60 species of piranhas. Click here for the top 10 most amazing animals living in the Amazon River, including the pink dolphin, the giant river otter, the Amazonian manatee, and the anaconda. Ask your child to pick an animal they would like to learn more about and research that animal. Borrow books from the library, search for videos of the animal so they can observe it in their natural habitat, and look for videos of the scientists who have studied these animals.

Next, share what you learned in a 5-paragraph research paper. Is this a new writing skill for your child? Start here. Next, print this template to help your child organize their thoughts.

In a 5-paragraph essay, each paragraph is about 4-8 sentences and will break down like this:

  • Topic Sentence 
  • Detail #1
  • Detail #2
  • Detail #3
  • Concluding sentence

Here are descriptions for the purpose of each paragraph you see in your template:

Introduction: The introduction paragraph is what draws readers into the essay and makes them want to read more. Your intro sentence is your “hook”—it should capture the reader’s attention and can come in many forms, such as asking a question, making a bold statement, or sharing a memory or story. After the hook, add a sentence or two to support the hook or about the prompt in general. Finally, we add the thesis statement and introduce the three topics you will discuss in your essay that support this statement. 

Paragraphs 2-4: In each of these paragraphs, you will focus on one of those three supporting points. Introduce the point in the topic sentence, and then include 2-3 details that support that topic. Conclude your topic with a closing sentence. 

Conclusion: The concluding paragraph should restating the thesis, reviewing the three topics and ending with an engaging closing thought that ties your paper together.

After your child has organized their thoughts with the template, they will be ready to write or type the full paper. This activity does not have to been done in one sitting. Space it out as needed.

Activity 3: Lake Titicaca and Uros is an amazing island off the coast of Peru. Learn about these islands in this post. Next, click this article or watch this video to learn more and see pictures of these amazing, man-made floating islands.

Next, let’s create your own floating islands! Begin by using about six corks and hot glue to create your base. Next, add moss to mimic grass and make mini houses with glue, mini crafting sticks, and natural materials available to you like grass, weeds, or leaves. When your structures have dried, test your floating island in a basin or sink full of water. Do they float?

But how do these islands float? Let’s learn more about the force of buoyancy with this simple experiment.

Lesson 4:

Today, we’ll meet a famous Peruvian artist and learn about some traditional fashion and dance from Peru.

Activity 1: Art of Peru. Read pages 24 and 25 in the book Peru: The People and Culture to learn about the history of art in Peru down to today. Next, learn about Sérvulo Gutiérrez.

There are two things that made Sérvulo Gutiérrez’s paintings special: First, he used paint scoring techniques to add texture, Second, he used a lot of complementary colors. See some of his works here. You probably notice his use of bright colors. Let’s learn about the color wheel and color art theory with the help of this printable. What might be difficult to see in the pictures of his art is his scoring technique.

Create your own textured picture inspired by the works of Gutiérrez using one side of the color wheel and a textured effect. This video has three ideas, but let’s do the first one for our lesson. Using the process she showed, run the brush completely across your page starting at the top and repeating the process all the way down the page.

Alternatively, try this idea. (The second color palette chosen in the video is our favorite!)

Activity 2: Traditional clothing from Peru is very unique. Read pages 26-27 of Peru: The People and the Culture to learn about the traditional clothing of Inca men and women and the Spanish-colonial costumes worn on special occasions. Layered embroidered skirts and colorful vests are pictured in the book. You can also see beautiful textures of traditional clothing and weaving here. Watch this video to see how they dye their yarn and their weaving process.

We can’t recreate Peruvian fashion or textiles, but all these beautiful fabrics and designs have inspired us to work with our own textures and textiles! Here are two handy craft projects for you to choose from:

(+) Punch needling: Here’s a how-to video from DIY crafter Kristin Nobles that will help you get started if this is a new crafting project called embroidery using a punch needle. (She actually has several videos if you are looking for more tips and tricks!) You can purchase your kit from her etsy shop or choose one from Amazon here or here.

(-) Woven hanging art: Let’s make our own weaving project with this tutorial.

The Peruvian woman highlighted in this lesson are entrepreneurs. If your child enjoyed creating their own weavings and is interested in starting their own business, we encourage you to work on Level 2+ Finance Unit (Lesson 4 about budgeting) and the entire Level 2+ Entrepreneurs Unit. These units will help get starting running their own business.

Activity 3: Dancing. Read pages 23 of the book Peru: The People and the Culture to learn about some of the traditional dances of Peru, including the marinera and huarynito serrano. Watch these performances: this one, this one and this one to see these and other dances performed by adults and children alike. 

Lesson 5:

Did you know that Peru grows thousands of potato varieties—and has been growing potatoes for centuries? Today, we’ll explore the history of everyone’s favorite tuber with some science, geography, and cooking applications.

Activity 1: It was necessary at times to transport large amounts of food throughout the Inca Empire, but with most transportation happening on foot, it was just not practical to carry weighty food in large quantities—even with the help of llamas as pack animals. This is how freeze-drying came into existence! By removing the moisture from food using cold temperatures and mechanical means (like squeezing out liquid), food would be preserved minus its moisture content. This, of course, made it infinitely simpler to carry bundles of tubers and other crops from one place to another within the extensive Inca Empire. (source)

How exactly did they do this? The Incas would lay out small potatoes on beds of straw or blankets and cover them with a cloth. They were then left to freeze overnight. When morning came, the villagers would walk on the cloths, using the weight of their bodies to squeeze the moisture out of the potatoes. The potatoes were then exposed to the sun during the day. These steps were traditionally repeated for several days, resulting in the darker freeze-dried potatoes known as chuño. The process is still in effect today, with entire families participating in the stepping and squeezing process.

The Incas also discovered that by dehydrating the potatoes into a substance called chuño, they could store it for up to 10 (or even 15!) years.

Peruvian potatoes were versatile, too. The Incas boiled, mashed, roasted, fermented in water to create a sticky toqosh, and ground to a pulp and soaked to create almidón de papa (potato starch). (source)

Peruvian potatoes soon formed the basis of the Incan diet, sustaining great cities and Incan armies. It became a revered food, as the Incas also used potatoes to treat injuries, predict the weather, and make childbirth easier. The Incans even used the modest potato to measure time, as Incan units of time corresponded with the length of time it took to cook a potato to different consistencies. (source) Not bad for a little potato!

Freeze-drying is also commonly used today. This process allows food to be stored safely for a long time, minimizing needed storage space, while maintaining the original taste, texture, and nutrition content once rehydrated. Does your family want to incorporate freeze dried foods into your diet? Here are some ideas

Activity 2: Let’s make a traditional Peruvian potato dish called causa rellena. It’s a layer of mashed potato, topped with chicken salad, and finished with another layer of mashed potato. Delicious! Here’s a recipe we liked. We also really loved this video, but there wasn’t a written recipe available. The Peruvian-American chef created a chicken causa rellena recipe similar to the one linked above with a few additions you can easily add. She gives some great tips on making your own aji amarillo paste and on plating the dish. 

Activity 3: Science application – Make a potato light bulb. Here’s an alternative method. Watch this video demonstration to learn how a battery works.

How does a potato battery work? Potato batteries use the acids in the potato to start a reaction with two electrodes made of different metals that cause electrons to flow from one to the other through the potato, producing power. The potato acts as a salt bridge, connecting the anode to the cathode. The potato is not a source of electricity by itself. (Source) What are Cathode and Anode? Click here for an explanation and diagram.

Why does my potato battery not work? Check your wires and connections. Use copper as an anode and zinc as a cathode. A lot of people use steel nails, which doesn’t work, so be sure you’re using a nail that is covered with zinc.

Want to take an electricity detour? Take time to read the book Electricity: Circuits, Static, and Electromagnets with Hands-On Science Activities for Kids by Carmella Van Vleet. (Released October 15, 2022) It will bring you through a history of electricity’s discovery and how it has been harnessed by humans throughout history.

Activity 4: While you enjoy your delicious Peruvian meal, watch this Geography Now! video to review everything you have learned this month about Peru!

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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.