Sunday, February 2, 2014

Our World: Africa

Africa is such a vast continent, this was a hard one to teach in just a short amount of time. I guess I could have made it a longer lesson, but at this age, there really isn't a point to do so. So, like I've suggested before, teach your children about things they are interested in and things that you think they will like to learn about. The other thing I like to do at this age, is open up discussion. Instead of having them sit and do work books, or run through flash cards, I've noticed that my kids learn better by being active, by seeing something, and through discourse. In just about everything we do, we talk. From family meal times to playing pretend, to bath time, we are talking non stop about everything that pops into their heads.


For this lesson plan, I made sure that Henrik and I got a few hours alone so we could play Mancala. This is a game I highly recommend getting for children who are starting to comprehend numbers and can follow simple directions. I don't have any pictures of us playing this game, but you can see the game here. I can't believe how well he did at this game. To be honest, we don't really play board games with our boys yet, mostly their attention span isn't long enough. But, this was a great starter game. In fact, a few days after we played together, Henrik ran into our bedroom early in the morning, "Momma!? Is Theo old enough to play now? He's almost two, is that old enough? I want to teach him." Sure enough, when I woke up enough I walked into the play room as I heard the beads hitting something, and there they were, both boys, playing nicely, and Henrik was teaching Theodor Mancala!

While Henrik and I played, we discussed a lot about Africa. I showed him pictures of people in various parts of the continent, and showed him pictures of their houses, kids playing, people working, and families being together. I also took the opportunity to talk to him about Nelson Mandela. This lesson co-in sided with his death, so I figured, the best way to honor someone is by teaching my son about them.

While I half expected Henrik to ask questions about skin color, he didn't. Instead, he asked questions about the differences in clothing, the differences in houses and why so many people didn't have shoes. Those were sometimes harder questions to answer, but I made it work. I also showed him that the children didn't have cars to play with, instead they had hand made toys and used nature in every way. He thought it was a cool idea and then made the connection himself to the beads, the wooden board and the game Mancala.


When I looked at the continent of Africa, I realized that there was SO much I wanted to teach my boys, but I started with African art. As a history major, I vividly remember my Art History classes where we studied African masks and sculptures in depth. I thought that making masks would be a great project to introduce African Art to my boys.

All I did here was cut up a single paper bag to make the shapes of the masks. I cut out holes for eyes, and used left over side from the bag to make noses that we could tape on to add depth. 

The boys had a great time making these and thought they were fun to use as they chased each other around the house. And honestly, I think they turned out great! I love having them on my wall! 

When we were talking about the masks and different tribes in Africa, we started to talk about how people in Africa dress and how they decorate their clothing. I decided that doing some bead art would be a great way to get the boys some fine motor skills and teach them about the art of beading. 

We did two different beading projects, one where Henrik had to make a bracelet with beads that had letters on them...

 And a bracelet that was made from twine and wooden beads.

My boys love to read, so in order to follow suit with our African theme, I wanted to read them stories that I had grown up with: Anansi The Spider, Why Mosquitoes Buzz In People's Ears and First 100 Animals. However, even though we read stories and looked at pictures, I explained to the boys that most of the stories, and the stories that we were reading, were traditionally told orally. So in order to get that point across, I did my best theatrical reading, using multiple voices and getting them involved in the story. I also tried to explain that these stories were stories that explained a moral lesson or taught people how the earth was created. They didn't really understand that mindset, but some day they will. 

Another project we did was to create our own African Safari. We used kinetic sand, and WOW, I LOVE IT. So did the boys, it's really the coolest thing out there. Anyway, I put animals from Africa in the sand and created a sensory bin for them to play in. They probably played here for an hour as the created things with the sand and marched their animals around the "safari". Yes, I know there are no Tigers in Africa, however, it was near impossible to tell my boys that. They insisted that the tigers join the other fierce animals. 

After we were done with a cultural lesson of Africa, I decided to  include the study of Ancient Egypt. This year my boys became familiar with a "mummy" thanks to Halloween, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to teach them about real mummies and Egypt too.


I find that Legos are the perfect toy. You can use them to create just about anything, and they come in handy for kids who like to be hands on. For this lesson, we used Legos (and team work) to build a pyramid. I built the base, the boys added in a mummy, some gold doubloons and some gems, then they closed it all in. They were pretty happy with the way it turned out. 

After our pyramid lesson, we looked at pictures of the different types of pyramids and ziggurats around the world. I asked them questions like, how they thought they were built and how old they were. Then Henrik wanted to see the Sphinx. He learned about the Sphinx from an Little Einsteins episode so we googled some images and talked about why the Sphinx was created, what kind of creature it was and how it was built. 


My boys always like to use play doh, and it seems we go in cycles, but since we hadn't gotten it out of the closet for a while, I decided to let them play with it and create their own mummies. This time around, Henrik was more excited about playing and building his own creations, and that's totally fine with me. Theo on the other hand, was very into creating "not a scary mummy". This lesson was a little hard because the mummification process can be a bit scary, or... detailed. But I just explained that in Egypt, when kings or other important people died, other people wrapped their bodies to preserve the dead. They were buried with their most favorite things so they could have them in the after life. The boys weren't grossed out by that. 

This was a simple and very inexpensive project for them to do. I asked them to pick out a person, someone who is important, and then asked them to "make a snake" out of the doh. I then showed them how to wrap the doh around the figurine they chose. Pretty easy, and Theo wanted to do this project over and over. He liked seeing if the Firefighter was still in there. Perfect for fine motor, perfect for pretend play, perfect for the lesson. 


All of that play made us hungry so I decided that we could make something fun for lunch that day. I had seen some Halloween foods for parties on Pinterest and decided to make mummy dogs with my boys. I should have planned ahead better and purchased some Pillsbury crescent rolls or something like that, but since I didn't, but I wanted to continue our lesson on mummies, I decided to make pizza dough and wrap hot dogs in that. The boys thought that this was the best lunch ever and Henrik even ate a hot dog! 

To make it a little more fun, we added eyes (once they were cooked and cooled) and a cheese pyramid to our plates :) 


In High School I did a speech on the mummification process. For a while, I was really obsessed with the Egyptian culture and King Tut and all of the history of this nation. I wanted to convey some of that to my boys, so I taught them about how cats were so important to the Egyptian people. They seemed to think it was cool! Especially since cats were the first pets and were able to catch mice and SNAKES! We don't have any symbolic figurines in our house, but a lot of people do so I used this lesson to teach the boys about different religious and symbolic figures. Cats, were the perfect project to help teach this lesson. 

Using toilet paper rolls, pine cones, pipe cleaners, foam and googly eyes, I was able to create these cat figurines with the boys. At the end of our project, I showed them pictures of these cat statues and even cat mummies, and asked the boys how our cat was different. The noticed immediately that the cats in the photos had earrings, necklaces and other decorations on them. So, we of course decorated ours! 

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