Kenya Unit: Week 2

This week, we will meet some famous Kenyans! We will learn about a famous Nobel Prize winner and also one of the most famous Kenyan tribes. This week is packed with science—specifically botany, environmental, and earth science. We will also taste some delicious hands-on (and science-packed!) treats and traditional Kenyan pancakes. Finally, we will get jumping and moving with cultural and music activities. Njoo kwa marafiki (Let’s go friends!) Click here to download your skills tracker for this week.

What you need:

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

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.

Photosynthesis model:

Germination experiment:

  • 2 cups
  • 2 beans (or other fast germinating seeds)
  • soil

Optional germination craft:

Maasai necklace craft:

Adamu jumping activity:

Maasai home model:

Plate tectonics activity:

Drum craft:

Kenyan pancakes:

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:

Activity 1: Read + Discover. Let’s learn about Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai by reading the picture book Seeds of Change. (If you are unable to get the book, you can also watch this video for her story.) Wangari Maathai believed that trees needed to be protected because they were the source of life. Talk about this beautiful story with your child. What impact did education have on Wangari? Why was her work so important? Why did she deserve the Nobel Peace Prize? 

Wangari Maathai also began the Green Belt Movement. Read about the organization here on their website. As you read there, the Green Belt Movement “is an environmental organization that empowers communities, particularly women, to conserve the environment and improve livelihoods.” Visit this page to see a video that explains what the organization does today. 

The destruction of forests is called deforestation. Watch this video to learn what deforestation is and why our forests need to be preserved. You will learn how deforestation causes loss of natural habitats, soil erosion, and leads to global warming and climate change. Review this vocabulary with your child after they watch the video.

Activity 2: Let’s take a science detour! Start by watching this video for an introduction to the science of trees. Photosynthesis is an important concept that we will explore next. Photosynthesis is the process that plants use to make their own food. Read this webpage together to learn about photosynthesis. Next, watch this video for a more detailed explanation. Pause the video and discuss as needed. 

Finally, print this sheet from the link above to review the process. (The answer sheet can also be found on this page.) To prompt them as they fill in the sheet, ask your child:

  • What does the plant absorb through its leaves from the sun?
  • What gas does it absorb from the air?
  • What gas does it release?
  • What does the plant absorb through its roots?
  • What does the plant produce in its cells?

Activity 3: Photosynthesis is actually a really complicated process—much more complicated than we can understand fully or that we can explain to elementary schooled kids. But let’s upgrade this activity a little from the last activity.

Start by learning a little vocabulary. “Photo” means “light,” and “synthesis” means “make.” Plants use the energy from sunlight to turn water and carbon dioxide into sugar. Next, let’s take a close up look at the cell of a plant to see what is really going on.

A cell is the basic “building block” of a plant. A plant is made of individual cells in much the same way that a building is made of individual bricks. Use this hands-on cell model and the book Botany: Plants, Cells and Photosynthesis to dig deeper. As you work, use this coloring sheet as a way to review the parts of the plant cell and what they do.

Activity 4: Let’s do a little germination of our own! Conduct this germination experiment and use this log sheet to observe this process over several days. If your child prefers a more artistic approach, you could do this germination art stenciling project instead.

Optional additional activity: If you’re learning in a large family or as a co-op, Ellen McHenry has lots of free gross motor activities on her website that go along with her Botany curriculum. Here are two to try:

Note: We also recommend “Ellen McHenry’s Basement Workshop: Botany in 8 Lessons” curriculum for a deeper dive into science! It is designed for middle schoolers (10-14 years old). 

Lesson 2:

Next, let’s learn about one of the most famous societies in Kenya, the Maasai people.

Activity 1: Read + Discover. Learn about the Maasai people by reading the book Only the Mountains Do Not Move: A Maasai Story of Culture and Conservation. 

This beautiful book is filled with pictures of the Maasai people, and it teaches us about their traditions and ways of life. Did you see the picture of the game bao? It looks very similar to the mancala game we played last week. Even though the Maasai people may live life very differently than you do, can you find similarities to your family? Ask your child: What do you have in common with these children? Do you do chores? Do you wear jewelry? Do you hunt? Do you love your animals? 

Next, create a Maasai-inspired necklace using this tutorial.

Activity 2: Read the book 14 Cows for America or listen to this read aloud.

Activity 3: The Maasai men have a ritual called adamu, where they jump as high as they can in celebration. Read about it and see it here. According to one study, the Massai can jump about 20 inches high up in the air! (source)

Let’s measure our own jumps and see how they stack up! Start by standing next to a wall and reaching your hands and arms up above your head. Measure the height of your reach with a measuring tape. Next, jump with a sticky note in your hand and stick it on the wall. Now measure the difference between your standing measurement and your jumping reach. That’s the height of your jump! Can you jump as high as the Maasai?

(+) For a math upgrade, try jumping as high as you can three times with three sticky notes. Then, find the average height of the jumps by adding the heights together and dividing by three.

Activity 4: Learn how a Maasai home is built with this worksheet and activity. (It’s the last activity.) Download, print, read and cut the worksheets. Next, try creating a model of a Massai home with craft sticks and modeling clay. 

Lesson 3:

For today’s activities, we’ll learn all about the East African Rift Valley.

Activity 1: Our planet’s crust rests on a series of tectonic plates. A rift occurs in the earth when tectonic plates pull or drift apart. The Great Rift Valley, located in East Africa, is an example of one such rift.

The Great Rift Valley is a continuous trench, about 3,700 mi (6,000 km) long, in the earth’s surface area between the African (or Nubian) Plate and the Arabian Plate. Because of this location, the Rift experiences many earthquakes. Additionally, there are several active volcanoes found along this fault line.

The Great Rift Valley also has many national parks, such as Virunga National Park, as well as some of the world’s most beautiful lakes. The best-known of these is Lake Victoria, the largest freshwater lake in Africa and one of the world’s great lakes. (source

Read more about the East African Rift Valley here. Next, watch this video explaining plate tectonics movement to better understand this phenomenon. You can see the rift in this video taken from above. 

Reinforce your child’s understanding of plate tectonics with this STEM activity.

(+) For another hands-on lesson in plate tectonics, purchase this lesson wheel

Lesson 4:

Kenya’s music is as varied as the East African country’s ethnic groups, regional languages, and natural environments—from the humid coast to dry savannahs and rapidly growing and changing urban areas. As a cultural crossroads at the edge of the Indian Ocean, Kenya has been enriched by musical influences from the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian subcontinent, other parts of Africa, Europe, and the Americas. (source) Let’s learn more about it in today’s activities!

Activity 1: Read + Discover. Traditional folk music from Kenya varies from tribe to tribe and village to village. Here’s a video with several traditional dances represented. Notice the differences in styles, sounds, and instruments. You will also see a variety of dancing styles. (source) So what is Kenyan music? The best way to describe it is eclectic! Kenya does not have one sound…but it wasn’t always like that.

In the 60s, Kenya gained independence from Britain and also got the electric guitar. This marked the rise of popular music in Kenya! Musicians from Congo, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and South Africa crowded to the vibrant capital city of Nairobi to record fresh music. Their different African influences gave birth to Benga, characterized by fast guitar fingering. This new sound also had contributions from the Luo community of Lake Victoria, who imitated their nyatiti (eight-string lyre) melodies on a bass guitar.

Kenyan music continued to evolve throughout the late 1900s. Taarab, a blend of Tanzanian and Indian music, became popular. Meanwhile, artists developed popular reggae music that became famous for telling everyday stories through Swahili music.

By the 1990s, Kenyans were singing less folk and more hip-hop thanks to television and radio. Kenyan music is full of outside influences from Nigeria to Jamaica. As more artists arose, Kenyan hip-hop transformed into genge and kapuka. What made this music unique is that they included rap in English, Swahili, Sheng (Kenyan slang), and local languages. 

Listen to this unique fusion of Luo Benga and EDM beats that was nominated as song of the year at the Gilles Peterson Worldwide Awards in 2018.

Activity 2: A traditional dance performed by women of the Akamba (or Kamba) people is called the Kilumi dance. The Akamba are a Bantu ethnic group. Their dance, the Kilumi, is performed during times of sorrow such as drought and famine; during social occasions or times of joy such as harvesting, planting and the initiation of medicine people; and as a means of protection, especially after the death of a person. (source) Scroll down on this link to find the kilumi drum. Now, let’s make our own version with this drum craft

Lesson 5:

Activity 1: A pancake is a dish that can be found all over the world in some variation. Today, we will prepare mkate wa maji, the Kenyan pancake. They are actually more like crepes, consisting of flour, water, eggs, sugar, and ground cardamom. The batter is cooked in a pan with ghee butter. These pancakes are often sprinkled with sugar and are served hot for breakfast. 

Begin by reading the story Mama Panya’s Pancakes or listen to this read aloud. Next let’s make this recipe found in the back of the book:

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 2 cups of cold water
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red chili pepper flakes

Instructions:

  1. In a bowl, mix all the ingredients with a fork.
  2. Preheat a nonstick pan at a medium to low setting.
  3. Ladle 1/4 cup of batter into the center of the pan. Tilt the pan to spread the batter to about the size of a grapefruit.
  4. Cook until you see tiny bubbles in the pancake, then gently flip it over.
  5. When the second side begins to pop up from the heat, the pancake is ready.

Serving suggestions: You can fill your pancake with jam, tuna or chicken salad, seasoned hamburger, or roasted nuts. Anything at all will do! Place your filling on one half, then roll it up and eat it.

Alternatively, try this recipe for a different version that would go well with fruit or eggs. 

Activity 2: Wheat is a staple food for many people in Kenya. Learn and then review the parts of the wheat plant with this free printable download.

How does wheat grow? Watch this video to learn about the farming process. (The video is set in the UK, but the process is the same everywhere.) You will see the video ends with the wheat head ready for harvest. Next, watch this video of a farmer harvesting from start to finish. 

Review the vocabulary of the process:

  • threshing
  • sifting
  • winnowing

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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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