Nigeria Unit Study: Week 1

Welcome to Nigeria! Bawo ni! Sannu! and Kedo! These are just three of the many ways people from Nigeria might say hello to you, depending on which language they speak. Nigeria is a country with a long, impressive history, starting with its first civilizations, the Nok. They’re a people with a rich and diverse culture that we will explore. This week, we will learn about the geography and botany of Nigeria and we will begin to explore the famous Benin Kingdom. Finally, we will end the week with the history of the cassava root as we enjoy some delicious drink and food. Click here to download your skills tracker, and let’s begin!

What you need:

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

Optional additional books:

Optional chapter book:

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

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

Salt dough map:

Flag cake

Optional gameschooling idea:

Plant transport STEM experiment:

  • clear glasses or jars 
  • food coloring (3 different colors)
  • celery with leafy parts

Tamarind juice:

Benin Kingdom lapbook:

Ivory cuff:

Boba tea:

(-) Tapioca Pearl Sensory Bin:

Fried cassava recipe:

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 Nigeria! Today, we’ll explore the geography of the African nation.

Activity 1: Find Nigeria on a map, atlas, globe or here on Google Earth.
Nigeria is a country located on the western coast of Africa. Nigeria borders the Atlantic Ocean and four countries. Nigeria’s four neighboring countries are:

  • Benin to the West
  • Niger to the North
  • Chad to the North East
  • Cameroon to the South East

The River Niger runs though the country of Nigeria ending in the Niger Delta. It is the third longest river on the continent, after the Nile and the Congo. It is about 2,600 miles (4,200 kilometers) long. Watch this video to learn more about the river. Next, let’s make a play dough salt map of Nigeria and its boarding nation neighbors. 

  1. Using this map as your model, draw a map of Nigeria and the bordering countries onto a large piece of cardboard or a pizza box.
  2. Color or paint the surrounding countries in green and the ocean in blue. Use black paint to make land boarders.
  3. Prepare the salt playdough by mixing 1 cup of salt, 2 cups of flour, and 1 cup of water dyed with a few drops of green food coloring to achieve a watery play dough.
  4. Mold Nigeria on the map with the green salt dough.
  5. Using blue paint, draw in the Niger River.
  6. Write the names of the countries on pieces of paper or index cards and attach them to the map.
  7. Look up the capital city of the country and add that label, too.
  8. Review cardinal directions as you discuss the map.

Activity 2: Discover The Nigerian Flag. Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi was only 23 years old when he gave Nigeria its national symbol, the green and white flag. In 1959, as a university student, he entered a competition for the best Nigerian flag design—and he won! His prize was 100 pounds ($281 in 1959), as well as a place in Nigeria’s history books.

The Flag of Nigeria is a three-line flag with green lines on the sides and white in the middle. The green color stands for the country’s wealth and rich natural resources. The meaning of the white color is peace and unity. The flag was raised for the first time at the Independence Day celebration on the first of October, 1960. (source and source) It looks like this:

Let’s make a flag cake and practice some math skills. Bake this vanilla sheet pan recipe, or prepare a boxed cake recipe. Bake your cake in a rectangle sheet pan or dish. Once it is baked and cooled, use a ruler to shape the cake into an even rectangle. Finally, measure the cake and divide it into thirds in order to decorate the cake in even stripes of green and white icing, just like the design of the Nigerian flag. 

Once your cake is decorated, let’s add some math applications to our lesson. Find the perimeter of your cake. (Here’s a video to help you learn or review finding perimeter.) Next, find the area of the flag cake. (Here’s another video to help learn or review how to measure area.) 

Finally, find the area of the green rectangles and the white rectangle.

Activity 3: Nigeria is on the African continent. Nigeria has the biggest population in Africa and the biggest economy. (source) Watch this video for a brief overview of Africa’s geography and to learn some interesting facts. Next, read the book Africa is Not a Country (or read it here on OpenLibrary). If you purchased this Map of Africa puzzle, work on it to review more geography. Alternatively, print out this map and puzzle printable.

Lesson 2:

Let’s explore some of the landscape and botany of Nigeria.

Activity 1: Forests cover only about 12 percent of Nigeria’s land area. The three types of forests found in the country include saltwater swamp, freshwater swamp, and tropical rain forest

Read Nigeria Enchantment of the World, pages 28 and 29 to learn more about swamps and the special trees that grow there. Next, let’s dig deeper into the mangrove trees. Start by reading pages 28 and 29 from the book The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth: Understanding Our World and Its Ecosystems. (These pages are describing the mangroves of Florida, USA, but share many of the same features of the mangroves in Nigeria.)

Draw and label the parts of a mangrove tree on a piece of paper using the illustration in the book as your guide.

Activity 2: Read about the rain forests of Nigeria on pages 30-31 of Nigeria Enchantment of the World. One of the famous trees of Nigeria’s rainforest is the African White Mahogany. The African White Mahogany grows to be around 115 feet (35 meters) tall and its trunk usually has a diameter that is between 2 and 3 feet (0.6 and 0.9 meters) in length. The wood of the tree is usually a creamy white or pale yellow color, and the pattern of the wood can have a variety of different looks due to its interlocked wood grain. (source)

(+) Trees like mahogany and cedar are being cut down at rapid rates. Read this article to learn more about the logging industry in Nigeria and how it is affecting the environment.

Let’s take a science detour! Watch this video or this video to learn about some interesting things that go on inside of all trees, including the phloem and xylem. Review and discuss what you learned with the help of this link.

Finally, bring all this tree knowledge to life in this STEM project.

Nature schooling idea: Do you live near a wooded area or forest? Take your learning outside with a sensory stroll as described here on the National’s website.

Activity 3: Discover The Savanna. Read pages 32 and 33  of Nigeria Enchantment of the World to learn about the Nigerian savanna. Next, read The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth pages 60, 61, 64 and 65.  Learn more about the savanna biome in this video. Many years ago, Nigeria’s savannas teemed with giraffes, elephants, lions, cheetahs, and large herds of antelope. Today, most of these animals have been killed by hunters or their habitats have been destroyed. (source) Today, the savanna grassland is where most of the farming in the country occurs. 

Among the beauty of the savanna, you will find the National flower of Nigeria, the costus spectabilis (also called the yellow trumpet flower). The flower is painted on the Nigeria Coat of Arms, but for an inexplicable reason the flowers are painted red. The flower is lovely and can be found all over the country. It symbolizes the beauty of the nation, its uniqueness, and prosperity. (source)

The coat of arms of Nigeria (pictured above) consists of a black shield with a wavy white pall Y, symbolizing the meeting of the Niger and Benue Rivers at Lokoja. The black shield represents Nigeria’s fertile soil, while the two supporting horses or chargers on each side represent dignity. (source)

Another plant found in the savanna is the tamarind plant. It is used as a spice in cooking, but it is also said to have many health benefits. It is a good source of minerals like copper, potassium, calcium, iron, selenium, zinc, and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure. It has a sweet-sour taste and it is part of this juice recipe. Prepare it and enjoy! How does it taste to you?

Lesson 3:

Let’s dig deeper into some of Nigeria’s ancient civilizations.

Activity 1: Read and Discover West Africa’s earliest known civilization, the Nok. The remarkable Nok civilization was first discovered in 1928 when a wealth of unique terracotta artifacts was unearthed by tin miners in the southern part of Kaduna state in central Nigeria. Since then, extensive archaeological excavations and research into the Nok have revealed that they may have been the first complex civilization in West Africa, existing from at least 900 B.C. until their mysterious disappearance in around 200 C.E. 

Artistically and technologically advanced, the Nok created unique terracotta sculptures and also used furnaces to smelt clay and iron ore at a very high temperature. Most ancient cultures discovered other metals such as copper and bronze before discovering iron, but the Nok moved directly from the Stone Age to the Iron Age without having a Copper or Bronze Age. This is impressive and unique! In addition to the figurines, excavators uncovered tools and ornaments made of stone and iron. Archaeologists have also found rock paintings and iron implements, including fearsome spear points, bracelets, and small knives. The sophistication of the objects lead archaeologists to believe the Nok based their terracotta figurines on wood carvings, but any wooden artifacts would have disintegrated long ago in the humid climate of West Africa. The refinement of the objects leads archaeologists to believe that the Nok civilization likely existed years before the oldest artifact. (source and source and source) Watch this video to learn more. 

Read this link to learn about the advanced judicial system that existed in the Nok civilization. After reading about the laws and the consequences for breaking the laws, compare and contrast that to some modern day laws your child may know about. Alternatively, ask your child to make a list of your family “laws and consequences” and compare those to the Nok’s judicial system. 

Activity 2: Next, let’s learn about several other Nigerian kingdoms that existed from 1000 C.E. onward in this video. It’s a very brief history that will introduce many historical features that we will learn about this week. 

(+) For more on the history of ancient civilization, read the book Centuries of Greatness.

Let’s focus on the famous and extraordinary ancient Kingdom, the Kingdom of Benin. Begin by watching this video.

The Kingdom of Benin existed around 1180 until 1897 in what is present-day Edo state, Nigeria. It was one of the most advanced states in West Africa. Originally, the name of the Benin Kingdom was Igodomigodo. It was named after Igodo, who was the first ogiso (king). According to oral history, the people of the Benin Kingdom were called Ubini, derived from the word Ubi, which means multitude. Ubi-ni means ”the people of multitude.” Due to frequent internal quarrels between the Oliha (Kingmakers) and the Ogiamien, Oba Oranmiyan renamed the empire, calling it Ile-Ibinu, which means ”land of vexation.” Around the 15th century, Portuguese merchants who conducted trade with the people of Ile-Ibinu coined the name Bini or Benin, as it is called today. (source)

Watch this video to see some of the artifacts that help us learn about this ancient yet advanced civilization. Next, read the book The Genius of The Benin Kingdom, pages 4-15, to learn about the Benin Kingdom, the people, the rulers of the Kingdom, their religion, and the many artifacts that archaeologists have discovered. 

As you learn about the ancient people of Nigeria, create a research lapbook. Include written paragraphs and pictures that depict interesting facts, pictures of artifacts, and other research. Add to the lapbook as you complete each activity in the next week or two. 

(+) Read the historical fiction chapter book Children of the Benin Kingdom.

Activity 3: Read + Discover. Queen Amina ruled over a Western African region called Zaria (today called Nigeria) during the 16 century. Read African Princess, Chapter 2: Born to Rule to learn about Amina of Zaria. (Or read it here on Open Library) Learn more about her story and the place she ruled here

Today, Queen Amina is honored with a metal statue that stands in front of the National Arts Theatre in Lagos State. You can see it here and read more about it here.

How do you think great leaders should be honored? Should statutes be raised in their memory? Write a list of ways rulers have been remembered through history. Include how you would want to be remembered.

Lesson 4:

The Kingdom of Benin. Introduce the book Osasu and the Great Wall of the Benin Kingdom. Begin by reading the prologue. We will read the rest of the book in two parts starting today and continuing next week.

Activity 1: Read chapters 1 and 2 of the book Osasu and The Great Wall of The Benin Empire. Next, read The Genius of The Benin Kingdom, pages 16-17. As you read, the Edo people were skilled designers and engineers. Their cities and walls were well planned. The walls helped to maintain borders and possibly keep the people safe from outside invaders. The Benin Wall is dated back to 1010 C.E. and is said to have been the largest man-made structure in West Africa. Although none of the city walls remain, experts think that the walls may have been four times as long as the Great Wall of China (but this is debated).


(-) Learn about the great Walls of Benin in this animated cartoon. (You can skip to about 5:00 start.)

(+) Watch this video to learn more about the structures built by the Edo people.

Build your own version of the Walls of Benin inspired by the picture and videos above. Design it in Minecraft, with Legos, or using recycled materials. 

Add information about the Benin Wall to your lapbook. What do you notice about the design of this great wall that would make it an effective way to protect the inhabitants within?  What, if any, drawbacks does this design have? What impressed you the most?

Activity 2: The Kingdom of Benin is known for its beautiful artwork and craftsmanship. Read The Genus of the Benin Kingdom, pages 24-27 and this article.

Next, click this download from the Philadelphia Museum. Read about the intricately carved armlet (pictured above) made for an Oba (king) of the Benin Kingdom. Read the two paragraph description about this piece and discuss together the ‘eye-spy’ questions listed.

Let’s create our own carving craft inspired by this ivory armlet. Creating an armlet with a bar of soap might be a little too difficult, so focus on the design of a cuff. Using carving tools to create your own pattern and carve it into the soap.

Lesson 5:

The Benin Kingdom depended on farming to feed its people. Read pages 20 and 21 in the book The Genius of the Benin Kingdom to learn more about the crops and livestock that the people depended upon.

Activity 1: Cassava was first introduced to West Africa from Brazil by Portuguese merchants as a form of trade around the 16th century. It was then introduced to East Africa through Zanzibar and Madagascar. It was during the 20th century that cassava spread from the coast to the main lands of the African continent. It gained popularity as a food secure crop, or a reserve against famine. It is now the third most important source of calories in West Africa. (source)

Although the root vegetable is popular all over the continent, each nation has their own way of preparing and using the vegetable. Nigeria is a main producer and trader of cassava.

Fun fact: Cassava has a short shelf-life. It deteriorates within 24 to 48 hours of harvesting, meaning the root is used primarily in food products that can be processed. (source)

Raw cassava, especially the bitter variety, contains cyanogenic glycosides (a natural plant toxin) and normally needs to be cooked before eating or turned into a stable intermediate product to reduce the toxic principle present in the cassava to a level safe for human consumption. The typical process in West Africa includes peeling, mashing, fermenting, sun drying, and toasting. (source)

One byproduct of cassava is tapioca. If you have ever had bubble tea, then you are already familiar with these starchy balls. The bubbles in bubble tea are made from tapioca flour, which is a starch. Unlike wheat flour, which contains starches, protein and fiber, tapioca flour contains only starch. And the secret to making bubbles lies in the way starch particles interact with water. Starch particles are created when a large number of glucose (a form of sugar) units join together. When these particles are mixed with cold water, they disperse and float around in the water. This type of mixture is called a suspension, and the suspension of starch in cold water is often referred to as goo or Oobleck. Note that the starch particles do not change when mixed with cold water. When you leave the goo out, the water will eventually evaporate and you will have your starch particles again.

The story changes when you add heat. Finish reading this article and make your own bubble tea with the recipe. Experiment with the tapioca pearls in cold versus hot liquid.

(-) If you have a younger child that wants to be a part of the lesson, then this tapioca sensory bin is for you!

Activity 2: For a more traditional use of cassava (or yuca), prepare this delicious recipe.

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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.