Kenya Unit Study: Week 1

Jambo! Hello and welcome to Kenya! This breathtaking country is going to inspire the world traveler within you. We will learn about the amazing landscapes, people, and animals found there in this week’s lessons. The activities will increase our knowledge of earth science and build our appreciation for wildlife. We will work on a hands-on map, play games, and write our own folktale. Click here to download our books and skills tracker for the first week of our Kenya Unit. Are you ready to start? Safari njema! (“Good journey!”)

What you need:

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

Optional additional reading:

Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):

Note: We break down our supply list by so you can choose what you need based on which lessons you plan to do with your child.

Kenya topographical map:

Initiation shield activity:

Mt. Kenya elevation collage:

Biome card game:

Purchase this Mancala game or build the supplies for a DIY version Mancala game:

Shisima game:

Irio recipe:

Potato sprouting experiment:

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:

Welcome to Kenya! Watch this video as an introduction.

Activity 1: Find Kenya on a map, globe, or atlas. (You can locate it on the eastern coast of Africa.) Review the name of the ocean that meets its coast, the Indian Ocean. Locate and name the bordering nations. 

What is topography? Read this link to learn more about this geography term. 

Next, print out this map of Kenya on cardstock (and laminate, if possible). Use the map as a reference as you read about Kenya’s landmarks, cities, and biomes in this article. (You can also use this article to label your topography map for the next activity.) Take notice of the land’s diversity through the many pictures this article shares of this beautiful country.

Activity 2: Create your own topographical map of Kenya using playdough. Use your printout map as your template to shape a map with a neural colored dough as your base. Using different colors of playdough, create the details of your topographical map of Kenya. Use this map of the topography of Kenya as a guide for elevation. Use red playdough to form mountain elevations. Find the rivers and lakes in Kenya with the help of this map and use blue playdough to show them in your project. Locate the plains in the east and use green playdough to mark these places. Find the desert in the north and use brown playdough to show these areas. 

Print this document to make flags to label these landmarks. (Cut out each label and tape them to toothpicks to stick into your map.) They consist of names of the major cities, national parks, reserves, lakes, rivers, mountains and regions as well as the capital. Use this map to help locate these areas. 

Activity 3: The flag of Kenya. The Kenyan flag was adopted on December 12, 1963 as the country’s flag. The color black represents the people of the Republic of Kenya, red for the blood shed during the fight for independence, green for the country’s landscape, and the white boarder was added later to symbolize peace and honesty. (source) In the middle of the flag, the traditional Maasai shield and the two spheres, which are located diagonally behind them and intersecting each other, symbolize the struggle of the people in order to protect their freedom. (source)

In some African countries, like Kenya, tribes create unique initiation shields for boys entering adulthood. Shields are handed down from generation to generation and painted over for each new owner. Have your child make their own version of an initiation shield and decorate it with their favorite objects and colors using this tutorial. Don’t forget to add a central “eye” to look through. Use this craft as a jumping off point for teaching children about the importance of cultural rituals. 

Lesson 2:

Activity 1: As we learned in our previous lesson, the highest mountain in Kenya is Mt. Kenya. In fact, it’s the second highest peak on the African continent. Mt. Kenya is an ancient extinct volcano formed three million years ago in the center of the country in Mount Kenya National Park. Many rivers begin on the mountain slopes, including the Tana, the largest and longest river in Kenya.

The park itself is home to elephants, buffalo, black rhinoceroses, leopards, and other animals. (source) There are also several different kinds of environments, or biomes that are home different kinds of plants and animals on Mt. Kenya. Let’s learn more about the diversity of each biome with the next activity.

For our next activity, we will see how the biomes on Mt. Kenya change at different elevations. Print out this sheet to start. Read through the below details to learn the names of each zone what plants you find at each elevation. Use the internet to find and print photos of the plants that inhabit each level of the mountain, and create a collage of these plants at the correct elevations on your print-out. (You may also find information about the animals that make it each biome their home, so feel free to include those in your collage as well.)

The Grassland Zone: At the base of the mountain at about 2,000 feet (610 meters) above sea level are grasslands. The climate is warm and dry. Many types of grasses grow here, and the trees and bushes in this area are used by the local people in a variety of ways. Native trees in the area include Acacia and Combretum. Eucalyptus and fruit trees have been introduced by the people. This area is also used to grow crops.

The Cultivated Zone: At about 5,900 feet (1,800 meters), this area used to be dense forests. Trees included cedar and yellowwood. Now it is used for agriculture. The vegetation in the forests depend on rainfall, and the species present differ greatly between the northern and southern slopes. Crops that are frequently grown are tea, coffee, beans, maize, bananas, potatoes, rice, citrus fruits, mangoes and vegetables.

The Bamboo Zone: At 7,900 feet (2,400 meters) the bamboo forests grow. Bamboo trees can grow up to 30 feet (9 meters) tall. There are scattered trees in this zone, including juniper, podocarpus, and witch-hazel, plus varieties of flowers, ferns and mosses.

The Timberline Forest Zone: It is usually found between 9,800 feet and 11,500 feet (3,000 meters and 3,500 meters). Smaller trees dominate in the timberline forest, and the characteristic trees are African rosewood (mũmondo), and giant St. John’s wort. The common flowers are red-hot poker, violets, and giant forest lobelias.

Heathland and Chaparral Zone: This biome is found between 10,500 feet and 12,500 feet (3,500 meters and 3,800 meters). Most of the plants in these areas are shrubs with small leaves. The dominant plants in the heathland areas are Erica and  Phillipia. In chaparral the plants are often shrubbier and more aromatic, such as African sage and sugarbush. These habitats may be prone to fire. 

The Afro-alpine Zone: The Afro-alpine zone begins 11,500 to 15,000 feet (3500 to 4,500 meters). It is characterized by cold temperatures, thin dry air, and large daily temperature fluctuations. Some plants found in this zone have adapted to live without roots, such as lichens and moss-balls.  Giant groundsel and plumeless thistles can be found in this biome.

The Summit: At 17,000 feet (5,100 meters), the summit of Mt Kenya is bare rock, glaciers, and regions of ice and snow. (source)

Activity 2: There are five major types of biomes in the world (aquatic, grassland, forest, desert, and tundra), but some of these biomes can be further divided into more specific categories, such as freshwater, marine, savanna, tropical rainforest, temperate rainforest, and taiga. (source) Take a look at this picture of the earth’s biomes. Find your home and identify your local biome. Using this interactive map, find Kenya and identify the various biomes that exist there.

Next, let’s play a game! Print our biomes cards and play Go Fish! to review the 8 major terrestrial biomes. Print two sets of cards for each child that is playing, shuffle, and deal each player four cards to begin. Alternatively, you can use these cards as copywork.

Lesson 3:

Activity 1: One of our favorite games from the African continent, including Kenya, is the wood-carved game mancala. Mancala is one of the oldest known two-player board games in the world, believed to have been created in ancient times. There is archeological and historical evidence that dates Mancala back to the year 700 A.D. in East Africa. It is widely believed that Arab traders brought the game with them when traveling and it quickly spread all over Africa and the world, but it is uncertain to know where the game first originated. (source)

There are dozens of ways to play mancala, so let’s try playing it ourselves! You can purchase mancala games in many stores or online or make your own using an egg carton. Scroll down to the end of this post for a DIY tutorial. The site also has a video with instructions on how to play. 

Activity 2: Read + Discover. Now, let’s learn about some of the games that children in Kenya enjoy. Read about some popular options in the post. Shisima is a math game that is as common in Kenya as tic-tac-toe is in the West. Learn the game here, set it up, and play it as a family.

Lesson 4:

Activity 1: National reserves are one of the most famous sights in Kenya. Watch this video to learn about the abundant animal life that calls Kenya home. Here’s another video from Mt. Kenya’s national park with more. 

The animals of Kenya are also the inspiration for many folk tales, and the stories can be an interesting way to learn about the behavior and habits of animals. Let’s read one of them with How the Ostrich Got its Long Neck.

Activity 2: Next, let’s write our own folk tale! Start by picking a native Kenyan animal to be the subject of your story and do a bit of research on it. You might also find the book Wildlife of East Africa to be a good resource, or Don’t Let Them Disappear. After learning details such as the animal’s behavior, appearance, habitat, and diet, write a comic book or short story explaining how the animal came to have these behaviors. It can be as funny or as silly as your child wants. Here are some examples to inspire your own story:

  • How the zebra lost its color
  • Why the hyena laughs
  • When the elephant learned to trumpet
Lesson 5:

Activity 1: Food History. Irio is a staple food in Kenya. The word “irio” simply means “food” in the Kikuyu community of Kenya. It is a very simple but delicious side dish made with potatoes, peas, and corn, and it is especially popular when paired with grilled steak in a dish known as nyama na irio. Let’s make our own irio with this recipe.

Activity 2: Next, let’s learn more about the potato. Watch this video to learn how a potato grows, and then grow your own potato sprout with this experiment. Tip: Use an organic potato to get it to sprout faster. 

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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.

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