Kenya Unit: Week 3

Week three of Kenya is filled with science, art and culture! We will explore the monsoons and the waterfalls of Kenya, we will learn about the beautiful woodworking skills of Kenyan artists and the mask traditions of its tribes, and we will enjoy learning about some fabulous flamingos and some delicious cuisine. Ready to learn? Click here to download this week’s skills tracker.

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.

Weather comparison activity:

Warm and cool air experiment:

Maasai-inspired mask craft:

  • cardboard
  • decorative items like feathers, shells, pasta noodles, beads, fabric, yarn, craft sticks, etc. (use whatever you have on hand)
  • glue

Falling water STEM experiment:

Waterfall diorama:

Flamingo gross motor challenge:

Kuku wa kupaka recipe (coconut chicken):

Optional coconut bird feeder craft:

  • real coconut (you may be able to find this quicker and cheaper at your grocery store or a specialty foods store)
  • hacksaw  (or check the video to learn how to cut a coconut using the back of a knife)
  • power drill
  • rope
Lesson 1:

Activity 1: Water and rain are an essential part of life. We need them to survive, as do the plants and animals that live in Kenya. Read the picture book, Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain. In this folk story, what brought the rains? There are many stories from ancient people to explain the weather. Many ancient civilizations thought they could bring the rains with music and dance. Often, an instrument like the rainstick was included in these ceremonies. Click here for a lesson from the Kennedy Center about the origin and purpose of the rainstick, and then we’ll make our own with this tutorial.

Activity 2: Practice reading charts with this weather comparison lesson. Find the Kenyan Climate Worksheets on that website and download and print the worksheets. 

Activity 3: Let’s learn more about the monsoon season climate. Kenya’s climate is influenced by the winds and altitude. The winds determine the onset of Kenya’s two seasons: the wet season and the dry season. 

The word monsoon means “a seasonal change in the direction of the strongest winds of a region.” Monsoons cause wet and dry seasons.

The warm, moist kusi monsoon blows from the southeast from April/May to October and brings the heaviest rain, a season known as the ‘long rains.’ The relatively cool season, from late-June to October, gets much less rain. There’s a second rainy season, the ‘short rains,’, that lasts for a few weeks in November and December. 

Hot northeast monsoon, or kaskazi, blows dry air in from the Persian Gulf from November to March/April. From mid-December to March is the dry season of hot, usually rainless weather.

Although prolonged rainfall isn’t that uncommon, the typical pattern is for rain to fall as a torrential downpour, lasting perhaps half an hour to an hour, with the sun then coming out and drying the wet ground in minutes. (source)

In Kenya, floods and drought are a recurring problem. The problem is that rainfall is very unpredictable. The northeastern part of Kenya is often temporarily and extremely dry, and some areas on the high plains may also be very dry. During one rainy season, however, the wettest month may record 250 millimeters of rain, while the next year twice the amount may be recorded. (source)

Watch the videos on this website for a look at the streets of Kenya after a monsoon causes flash floods.

How and why are monsoons formed? Watch this video to learn all about monsoons. The video is talking about the Monsoon season in India, but the same principles apply to the monsoons in Kenya.

Try this STEM activity to bring the lesson of hot and cool air movement to life.

Lesson 2:

Today, we’ll take a closer look at the diversity of arts found in Kenya.

Activity 1: Masks are used by people all over the world including the African continent. Watch this video for an introduction to African masks. Click here to see a mask made by the Massai tribe

Design and create your own mask using materials you have at home like cardboard, feathers, shells, pasta noodles, beads, fabric, craft sticks. Here is a picture that can provide inspiration for your child’s own design. To get them thinking critically about their work, ask questions like, “What made you choose that color/material? What purpose do you think your mask would be used for?”

Activity 2: Wood carvings are a famous art form in Kenya. The Giryama people of the Kenyan coast are known for their long-standing tradition of carved wooden mortuary posts, similar to a grave marker. It is called a kikangu. Click this link to see what it looks like. 

Next, let’s visit the Kenyan National Museum (click “Digital Arts & Culture”) for a virtual tour of the various forms of art created in Kenya.

(+) Ready for more serious wood design? Read this article to learn more about whittling wood for beginners, and then try making this wooden whistle

Activity 3: Proverb cloths, called leso, kanga (khanga), or lamba hoany, are used and worn throughout coastal East Africa and Madagascar. Often worn in pairs, these lightweight cloths make a lasting impression not only because of their brightly colored designs but also for the messages that are emblazoned upon them.

The kanga is a vibrant piece of material that usually consists of a central design (mji), a border (pindo), and a Swahili proverb running along the bottom, some of which are funny, others of which have an important moral lesson. (source) Watch this video to learn about the history of this fabric. (Once the video reaches the home video portion, you can fast-forward to 7:20 to continue learning about the history.) You can see the variety of colors and designs here in this blog post.

For today’s writing assignment, let’s write our own proverb! A proverb is a simple, insightful saying or expression, often rooted in tradition, stating a general truth or piece of advice. If you were designing kangas, what saying or sentence would you write on yours? Why would you choose that saying? Write your phrase and explain its significance in one paragraph.

Lesson 3:

There is so much natural beauty in Kenya. From the mountains to the plains, there are rivers, lakes, waterfalls, and forests to explore. Watch this video to see the variety and a preview of the animal life.

Activity 1: Lake Victoria also called Nam Lolwe, ‘Nnalubaale, Nyanza and Ukerewe in various local languages. The British renamed it when it was sighted by explorer John Hanning Speke in 1858. (source) Do you think a visitor to a nation should rename its landmarks? The name of the world’s second largest lake is now up for debate. (source) There is even a petition to the government of Kenya to change the name. 

The lake borders three nations, including Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Click here to take a virtual boat ride on the lake. As your child watches the video, read this post to share more details of this majestic lake.

Activity 2: Read + Discover + STEM. What is a waterfall? A waterfall is an area of a river or stream where the water flows over a steep vertical drop, often landing in a plunge pool below. How is it formed? Erosion plays an important part in the formation of waterfalls. As a stream flows, it carries sediment that can erode the soft bed rock (limestone and sandstone) underneath. Eventually, this cuts deep enough so that only harder rock, such as granite, remains. Waterfalls develop as the granite forms cliffs and ledges. (source)

Watch this brief video to see this demonstrated.

(+) Read this article to learn more.

Kenya is known for its waterfalls. Click here to learn about four of them. Besides the beauty, waterfalls also have a practical side: They can be a source of energy! Hydroelectric energy is one of the most commonly used forms of renewable energy in the world. This technology uses the power of moving water to generate electricity. Kenya has relied on hydropower for generations to support its growing economy. (source) How does this technology work? Watch this video for an explanation of hydroelectricity.
(+) You can also read about this process here

Waterfalls possess kinetic energy. Watch this video to learn about kinetic energy. Let’s test the science of falling water with this waterfall kinetic energy experiment. Print this document to record the data in your experiment.

Discuss kinetic energy with students using these true/false questions:

  • True or False: An object’s potential energy depends on its height above the Earth’s surface. (Answer: True)
  • True or False: Kinetic energy is the energy of something staying very still. (Answer: False. Kinetic energy is the energy of an object in motion.)
  • True or False: An object’s kinetic energy increases as its speed increases. (Answer: True)
  • True or False: The greatest potential energy was produced by the falling water at the highest point. (Answer: True)

    Troubleshooting tips:
  • Make sure students use a dropper with same amount of water each time, otherwise the amounts will be inconsistent.
  • This activity works best when the water falls on a hard, flat surface.
  • Use a stool to stand on in order to increase the height of the water falling accurately.

Activity 3: Create a waterfall diorama

Activity 4: Lake Nakuru is another of the famous lakes in the Rift Valley. It lies to the south of Nakuru in the rift valley of Kenya and is protected by Lake Nakuru National Park. Nakuru means “Dust or Dusty Place” in the Maasai language. The lake’s abundance of algae attracts a vast quantity of flamingos that famously line the shore. Other birds also flourish in the area, as do warthogs, baboons, waterbucks, impalas, and hippopotamuses. Eastern black rhinos and southern white rhinos have also been introduced. (source)

Let’s learn about the flamingos that make Lake Nakuru their home. Begin by reading Flamingos by Jean Malone (or read it here on Openlibrary) or Amazing Animals: Flamingos by Kate Riggs. Next, watch this news report to learn about the flamingos in Kenya specifically. Finally, watch this video to observe flamingos swimming, walking, and flying. 

Optional documentary: Disney+ has a nature video called The Crimson Wing all about the flamingo. If you have access to this streaming service, this would be a great movie to watch this week.

Let’s use flamingos to inspire some gross motor skill work! As you read in the book, when flamingos eat, they turn their heads completely upside down and suck the water into their beak and strain out the food. Let’s try it ourselves! First, put out a bowl or bucket of water with small stones or coins in it. Give your child one ladle and one slotted spoon. Next, have them try to scoop up the “food” like a flamingo by keeping their legs as straight as possible, bending at the waist, and hanging their head upside down to reach behind them. Scoop up the “food” with the ladle and use the slotted spoon to strain out the water without dropping the food. If you have a family with more than one child, or want to make it a competition, set a timer and see how many stones or coins your child can pick up in 60 seconds.

Want an extra challenge? Try doing it while balancing on one leg like a real flamingo!

Lesson 4:

Activity 1: Kenya is one of the founding nations of the East African Community, and sports have been part of the nation’s culture since its prehistory. In modern times, sports have been a way for Kenyans to reconnect with their past and is also a means to get international acknowledgement. Some of the traditional sports in Kenya include wrestling, racing, hunting, and even board games. Football is the most popular sport in Kenya, but their national football team has not made that much of an impact on the international stage. Some of the other popular sports in Kenya include basketball, volleyball, rugby union, swimming, baseball, and softball.

With all of the sports played in Kenya, one in particular has put the country’s name on the map: track and field! There are a lot of Kenyans who have made a name for themselves in track events, including David Rudisha, a world record holder for the 800-meter race and one of the most dominant world champions. You can watch him setting this record in this video (skip to 3:00 for a look at Rudisha right before the race begins!)

Kenya has also racked up an impressive medal count in the Olympic Games, thanks to its runners like Pamela Jalimo and Samuel Wanjiru. Additionally, Kenya has long dominated when it comes to long distance running with a roster of world record holders including Kipchoge Keino, Tegla Laroupe, Catherine Ndereba, and Paul Tergat. (source)

Let’s get a literary look at this athletic tradition in the book My Brother is a Runner.

Curious how you’d stack up to David Rudisha’s 800-meter record? If you can go to a local track and use a timer to see how long it takes you to run two laps around. (You’ll likely be even more impressed with his speed after this!)

Activity 2: According to the Kenya Embassy in Washington D.C., one of the nationally recognized sports in Kenya is rugby. Learn the rules of this game here, and then watch this news report to see the positive impact this sport is having on kids in Nairobi. 

Lesson 5:

Activity 1: Let’s learn the history of the coconut in Kenya. “The coconut palm (Cocos nucifera)…was introduced to Kenya in the 16th Century by the Portuguese. Its cultivation spread rapidly, and it became an industrial crop during the 20th century. Its production and marketing were handled by the Arab traders and white settlers on big plantations until the 19th century, when small‐scale farmers started growing it. Today, the coconut is mainly a small‐scale farmer’s crop. Over 80% of coastal farm households derive their livelihood either directly or indirectly from the coconut tree.” (source)

Learn more about the coconut by watching this silly video. Next, watch the first section of this video to learn how a coconut gets water inside it. Finally, watch this video to learn how to drain and open a coconut without power tools or a hammer. Want to give it a try? See if you can get your hands on a real coconut from the grocery store or a specialty foods store near you.

If you enjoy using some power tools, you could also try this tutorial to make a coconut bird feeder craft.

Activity 2: Read about kuku wa kupaka here. Next, prepare this recipe for kuku wa kupaka (chicken in coconut). For a less spicy version, omit the chilis and reduce the ginger.

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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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