It is always interesting when you hit a week in school where your child is more excited about the subject material than you are, and I would definitely put Africa week into that category. Aria loved focusing on animals and several of the habitats you can find in Africa, while I was more excited about our Egypt and African culture day. Overall, the week was fun and successful, but I just wasn’t as excited to do school each day as Aria was.
When planning out the week, I picked a different subject for each day. Monday, we learned about the desert in Africa, Africa as a continent, and animals of the desert. That transitioned well to Tuesday, when we covered Egypt as we could use the desert box for practicing archaeology and finding Egyptian artifacts among the pyramids. Wednesday, we focused on African culture and did loads of crafts. Thursday we read folk tales and made up our own folk tales. And Friday was the African Savannah and animals we find there. I felt like organizing our week this way gave our learning a very clear structure. Unfortunately, it leant us more towards learning animals and cultures than the specific names of countries, so I may rethink the structure of the unit next year.
From Desert Day, our most successful activities was probably painting with colored desert sand (sand I dyed with different food dyes and shook in baggies to mix the color), with a desert sensory box a close second. Both girls really got into both, and buying a Safari Toob of desert animals last year was a really great investment for this unit. They also loved the cactus flower counting activity and making a beaded snake. Though Skylar is too little to do these activities really well, she loved being able to take part and try her hand at all of the sensory activities with her big sister. The weekend prior to this unit, we were able to go to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, where we were able to wander through a Desert room where they had loads of plants from African deserts. It was awesome getting to study the desert right after seeing a physical example in person!
Egypt day was my absolute favorite day, and I think that the girls had a blast too. We face painted using an Egyptian face paint and necklace kit and wore that to our library time later in the morning! We made pyramids multiple ways and built a pyramid out of sugar cubes only to melt it later with hot water and talk about solids to liquids. The biggest hit of the day, though, was mummifying a superhero we owned and surrounding his body with “wealth” (aka jewels that we own).
African culture day was a fun look into the village life of different African communities. We made “mud houses” out of construction paper, painted mud cloth, made masks and necklaces, and even played a math game. The coolest activity of the day, though, was making a sensory table with different spices for the girls to mash and transfer along with a place to practice weaving. We also made South African “crunchies,” which were very reminiscent of Nature Valley granola bars but easier to eat. The girls loved them!
We did folk tale day on the day Skylar had her weekly preschool prep class so that we would have a quieter environment to read all of the folk tales we wanted to read. We mostly focused on Anansi and his stories. I had planned to do crafts but ended up running out of time because Aria decided she wanted to do a lot in her Math U See book and I was super happy to oblige! But before we got Skylar we set up a puppet show and Aria told me a few of her own folk tales with her puppet box.
Our last day was the African Savannah. This was a hard day to get through because the girls weren’t very focused and so I wasn’t able to do some of the fun activities I wanted to do because it took us so long to get through the basics before getting to our themed unit. But the girls love animals and so simply playing with the animals in their box and matching them to pictures was fun, the giraffe science experiment was easy and turned out well, and Aria really enjoyed some of the worksheets I printed out for her to do.
After this week, I’ve decided I need a little bit of a rest from continent units before moving to the next, as they aren’t easy to plan or implement. So, we are going to switch it up and do the human body this week, which is always fun and I already have loads of materials for! Hopefully, I’ll get rejuvenated and in three weeks be ready to rock again. But, I will say, Aria really, really loves these units and can’t wait to learn about doing a new continent so even though I may be worn down, the work has been absolutely worth it and I hope it is for you too!
Aria has been dying to study Japan for a while, as I have family who lives there, so Asia week was the perfect excuse to focus on a country she has wanted to learn about for a while. This year I wanted to study each of the continents and my goal is that Aria knows location, shape, some of the animals, and several of the countries found in each continent by the end of the year. When it comes to finding free learning materials for Asia, there aren’t many out there, but I did my best to find as much free stuff as possible. It helped that I chose to focus on three specific countries (China, India, and Japan), as Asia as a whole was much harder to find free materials for.
When it came to Asia week, I chose a different subject for each day so that we could really focus the curriculum. We studied Asia as a continent and the animals of Asia on Monday, China on Tuesday, India on Wednesday for our co-op day with friends, and Thursday/Friday were both focused on Japan. My suggestion for formatting your week if you were to do this unit is to focus two days on the country you have the most materials for in order to make the lesson planning easier!
Our Japan days were really fun, as we made our own felt sushi, tried our hand at making homemade paper, played with building a temple out of blocks, and even made origami. We also learned all about a Japanese artist and mimicking his style to paint Mount Fuji. Watercolor fans were easy to make and were also a big favorite of Aria’s.
However, I found our India day to be the most fun. We did boatloads of fun Mandala and Rangoli activities, made our own homemade scented playdough, and listened to music from Bollywood (India’s version of Hollywood). One of my co-op friends brought icing that she dyed different colors and small sprinkles so that the girls could paint designs on cookies. They also used the icing to make “henna” tattoos on their hands, which was of course a huge hit not only to do but to lick off later!
China day was fun as we made our own “Great Wall” out of chairs and blankets. Both girls also loved making dragon masks and running around scaring each other like dragons. And homemade wontons and dumplings for lunch was a great activity for us to do together!
The best part of our week, however, was the field trips we did for our unit. On Tuesday, we went to the local library for a building class. The girls used marshmallows, toothpicks, and play dough to make STEM versions of the Great Wall (they could build anything, but thats what I told Aria to focus on). Later in the week, we visited both an Indian grocery store to make an Indian dinner on Wednesday night and an oriental grocery store to load up on dumplings to have a dim sum movie night on Sunday! On Saturday, we went to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens where they have a beautiful Japanese zen garden we were able to see in person. The Botanical Gardens are amazing, by the way, and I highly recommend getting a membership if you live in the area!
Though this ended up being a very difficult week to lesson plan and prepare for, it truly was wonderful and I learned a lot along with Aria. We are so lucky that where we live has so many things that helped us when it came to more hands-on learning having to do with Asian culture and that we have family that can get us a lot of the materials we used. This week taught me that one of the best things I can do over the course of this year is to collect materials as we go so that lesson planning will go much more quickly next year and I have more hands-on items for the girls to interact with! But I think that the week was successful in terms of teaching Aria the names of 3 Asian countries and helping her locate the continent and countries on a map! Hope this week is just as successful for you!
Because Aria wanted to start school a week early, we shifted our plans a bit this year and moved our Space Unit to the very first week. This left an opening over Labor Day week! I knew I wanted to do something that wouldn’t require us to do school on Monday, since my husband would be home with us and we might want to go out and do stuff together. So, I settled on doing a construction week! I have loads of materials from doing a construction week over the past few years, and by incorporating a movie-making element into our week, not only did this week end up challenging, but we learned all about something neither Aria nor I had ever done before. It was really a wonderful week of school!
One of the best tricks for this week ended up being a “Design Table” that I set up for the girls at the start of the week. Basically, I found any materials I already owned for building and set them up on our art table such as legos, magnetic blocks and shapes, Jenga and wooden block pieces, etc. That way, any time during the week that we needed to fill a period of free time, I could send them to the table, they could grab building supplies and spend time being “construction” workers. Aria built anything from bridges to homes to city buildings, while my little one, Skylar, spent the week building whatever she put her mind to building.
For field trips this week, we did three activities that actually fit quite well into our unit. The obvious activity to do for this week is drive around and see what construction materials, workers, and vehicles you can find. Aria loved shouting out her discoveries as we drove and it is a great way to practice remembering construction vehicle names. We also went to the Columbus Museum, which right now has an architecture section where the kids not only can design but can also build their own homes and see how architects work. The Columbus Museum also has loads of blocks of different types that the girls loved building with. Lastly, we went to the Columbus Library, where they had an art in nature day. Now, you might think that this doesn’t really fit with our unit, but one of the things they had the kids do was create a mini zen garden, which allowed me to talk about landscape architects and how construction workers often work in conjunction with these architects to design and build beautiful parks and gardens.
The most successful activity of the week, by far, was creating our own movie this week. When Toys R Us was closing, I found a movie maker construction outfit and set background. This gave me the idea that we should try to make our own movie (though we ended up making two different ones because the girls loved the idea so much). We talked about characters, setting, and plot and Aria was required to come up with each of these on her own. She chose to be a mermaid and make her sister an evil witch, setting was the ocean, and the plot was that she was trying to build a castle and her sister was knocking it down. The girls dressed up in a mermaid and witch costume, Aria made up her own songs, and we filmed on my phone over two days. It was silly fun, but even Skylar loved acting and pretending to be an evil witch so both girls really got into it! I used Movie Maker and turned it into a 5 minute movie for our family to enjoy. As long as you don’t take the process too seriously, it really is a great way to work on early drama and storytelling with your kids!
Later in the week, Aria begged to do a second film, so this time we used the construction worker outfit and backdrop. She pretended to be building a city and Skylar pretended to be an evil dinosaur knocking down the city. Definitely ended up being just as adorable as the first!
Though construction week was not in my original plan, it ended up being such a blast and a blessing that I am really glad we didn’t miss out on. I read in a recent study that kids who play with blocks at a young age end up being better at math in the long run. I hope that getting my kids excited in building and playing with blocks will benefit them. Maybe I have future engineers and mathematicians in my home and it’ll all point back to early STEM play in the long run!
Jessica and Ana
Our Homeschooling Mission Statement: We will strive to be patient, godly examples to our children, integrating biblical principles and morality into every subject. Learning should be fun. We will foster an attitude of lifelong curiosity and play while providing the best possible education we can through books, art, technology, food, tactile activities, and cultural experiences. Learning will not be dictated by hours on a clock but will be a way of life for our families.