Studying Africa during the week of Easter is great timing. The spring brings change and progress, two words that can describe one of this planet’s most intriguing continents: Africa. Africa has a rich and detailed history, a range of beautiful geographic features, amazing animals and an important cultural and economic contribution to the world’s structure.
My preschooler, 4 yrs old, already knows a surprising bit about the complex Africa, thanks in part to travel cartoons like Go, Diego, Go! and Dora the Explorer .
Homeschooling a preschooler is simply to teach them what you know. You don’t have to know everything about a subject like Africa, in order to teach your kids, you just need that back and forth communication with them that allows you both to learn.
It is important to have a structure for your time together with kids while keeping play spontaneous and keeping ahold of the idea that it is one’s absorption in and enjoyment of play that is the ruler for successful learning. Throw in a few African facts and figures here and there, count, talk about letters, etc. but only the ones that particularly interest you or your kids.
Reinforcing Previous Knowledge, Now Familiar
Our lesson about Africa started out with setting up some of his toy African animals. Now comes the important part: then we played with them.
The lion and other big cats attacked the zebra, which were also being attacked by another group of African animal predator: reptiles. We took a journey with the toy African elephant from the forest, across the desert, where camel lives and followed him to the watering hole where the hippos were lounging.
WHY: My preschool boy likes adventure and approaching a new subject from a level of the already-developed interest of the kids creates an instant teacher, child rapport. A good story instantly captivates the audience.
Map and Location
Going to the topographic map of the world, next I pointed out the location of where we live, (in the northern United States next to the mountains) and where Africa is located, as well as some of the major geographic features such as the forest, desert and water we encountered during our adventure play.
You can find free, printable blank world and country maps online here.
Going on a Lion Hunt
Hiding a lion in the dirt of a tropical plant added intrigue to this already-familiar preschool rhyme. This safari theme, complete with movement instructions, preschoolers and parents are encouraged to go searching through the grass, mud and trees in a light-hearted way by reinforcing a child’s strength, smarts and bravery.
WHY: The next component of a story is to establish the setting. Asking questions regarding location and familiarizing a preschooler with the name of the continent Africa becomes much more relavent with a base understanding of the bigger picture of a specific locale. The positive reinforcement of a joyful song makes for a nice addition to flow of homeschooling a preschooler.
Break Time: Just as important as the lessons you are planning for kids is allowing free, undirected playtime in between. This time allows a kid to absorb new information in a force-free way without feeling rushed or overwhelmed.
African Culture: Music, Art and Play
The Dice Game
Setting up some traditional African music in the background, we found some scissors to cut out and put together these animals for this simple African dice game. Throwing them high and far we threw the dice and recorded the results until my preschooler started looking worn down, no more than 10 times.
WHY: Playing off of the activity from the last lesson, restarting with a game reinsures preschoolers that learning will be fun. Having cultural African music playing makes for a kids unforced interest and peeks curiosity. Clicking on specific African music can be particularly helpful during the next lesson component.
Knowing that you are not expecting a specific outcome from a craft project can be very freeing for a preschooler from the pressure of having to make things like letters and pictures in a specific way. This art lesson has many applications and variations but we used it in the context of African finger painting and celebration ceremonies.
Using a cut-open brown paper bag taped down to a preschooler-sized table, we chose paint colors and finger-painted while dancing to the beats of the African drum.
The Importance of Sugar: Expressed in Pattern Art
While explaining and demonstrating examples of pattern in African art, introduce the final project: Sugar Art.
I filled a boat toy with one of Africa’s exports that is already in the homes of nearly all kids in the United States: sugar. Spring and Easter bring with them the anticipation of candy and all that sugar that is used to make it. One of my preschooler’s favorite foods, sugar is always a welcome addition to his table. Going back to the map, the sugar-laden boat made its way from Africa over the Atlantic ocean to get to us. We poured it out, several tablespoons into five cups and added a few drops of food coloring. Stirring them with a popsicle sick helps the color quickly adhere to all of the crystals. My preschooler applied glue and we poured on the sugar crystals to a print-out pattern, shaking off the excess and repeating until he was satisfied with the results.
WHY: African culture as expressed through joyful music, games and art is a way to celebrate, play and learn. Talking about a continents exports, like African sugar production through art is a fun way to discuss a topic that is commonly found in a preschoolers life and which so often focuses around economics for kids in later studies.