Thursday, November 16, 2006

Across Africa in one week

[Updated to include some things I forgot and to add a few things after the fact]

To celebrate Geography Week's Africa theme, and also because we needed a bit of break in routine subjects, this has been Africa Week in the treehouse. Since it was a very last-minute decision, everything we've done has been of the what's-in-your-hand variety: it wasn't possible to get to the library, so we used books and resources we had on hand, as well as the Internet. It wasn't meant to be in-depth. It isn't a complete unit study. We didn't do any amazing crafts, learn to speak Swahili, or study African history. It was just an introduction to the continent of Africa. (We'd been studying the continents in A Child's Geography, and this extended the idea of continents/countries a bit.)

One of the interesting things that came out of this week was how much the names and boundaries of countries change. Zaire/Democratic Republic of Congo was the biggest change; although its name was changed ten years ago, most of our books and maps still show Zaire. So that was one idea that the younger Squirrelings were introduced to--that names and countries aren't always carved in stone. (This has come up recently in history, too--Ponytails has been having a hard time understanding why Phoenicia isn't on our world map.)

Another connection was with the story of Mahatma Gandhi that we'd been reading from Armed with Courage; part of it takes place in South Africa, and we had already talked about what life was like there in the late 1800's (poverty in the cities), and what Gandhi tried to do about it (started a community farm and organized medical care for sick people in the cities).

We know people who grew up in Nigeria and Kenya and who have travelled to other African countries--but none of them are handy right now. Someone from our church came back recently from teaching in South Africa and showed slides--so maybe we'll get a chance to talk to her again if the Squirrelings want to know more about South Africa. (Actually we have South African neighbours, too--that reminds me that we should go and visit them.) Anyway, this week's virtual tour had to be mostly on our own.

The main book we used was the Africa section of Around the World in 80 Pages, by Antony Mason. It's not in-depth, just a cartoonish story of a guy and a dog travelling through different countries; but it did give us four days' worth of readings, and I had Ponytails trace the journey on a printed-out map of Africa (one with up-to-date names!). (When we read the part where the guy travels across Zaire, I wrote "Zaire" on one side of a strip of construction paper, and "Democratic Republic of the Congo" on the other side," and every time I read "Zaire," Ponytails had to correct me and read the current name. I think it was included about eight or ten times...and I think we know it now!)

Some other things we did:

* read Peter Spier's picture book People

* looked at families in Egypt and Chad in the book Hungry Planet

* played Mancala (the egg-carton game, also called Wari and a lot of other names)

* walked to a corner store that has a Lebanese food section. I was hoping they might carry some African foods as well, since there are a lot of Somali immigrants in that neighbourhood, but they didn't have much--mostly Lebanese and Turkish things and some flavourings from Guyana. So we came home with some couscous, pita bread, and the makings for hummus, and had a sort-of-Lebanese meal (some of those foods would also be eaten in North African countries).

* hoping to go to a Ten Thousand Villages craft store which will definitely have some African things--if the weather co-operates. Yesterday was perfect weather for a walk to the food store, but today's cold and rainy. [We haven't gotten there yet, but it's still on the to-do list]

* put bananas, dates and other things on toothpicks: fruit kebabs!

* read a story about Christians in Ghana, from Clubhouse Jr. magazine

* looked at newspaper pictures of Ivory Coast farmers cracking cocoa nuts (not coconuts), and talked about how people came to Africa looking for ivory and gold (and named countries after those things), and that there are other things produced there like cocoa, but that the people doing those jobs still have to work very hard (Ponytails' observation) and that they don't get much back for their work. (The Globe and Mail's Books section printed those photos last weekend along with reviews of the book Bitter Chocolate.)

* read a story about the Sphinx (that was the day we read about North Africa).

* listened to Danny Glover reading "How the Leopard Got His Spots"

* looked at two jungle pictures online by Rousseau (the kids liked the hide-and-seek details of these)

* watched a video about animals at the African Lion Safari park

* and I think that's it for school this week, besides some math and handwriting, and a bit of botany (we started studying flowers, but now we have to find some flowers to examine, in drizzly November. I wish we lived in Africa).

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Mama Squirrel said...
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