We are so excited for this week’s wild ride through the African savanna! Our lessons will also introduce your child to different areas within Africa, focusing a lot on Kenya (including several overlaps with our Level 3: Kenya Unit for homeschool families in both levels). Ready to get up close and personal with the flora, fauna, and people of this gorgeous area of the world? Start here by downloading your skills tracker—and then get ready for an adventure!
Note: Occasionally we include project upgrades (for kids ready for more) and modifications (which can be useful for including younger siblings). We’ll mark those with the plus (+) or minus (-) symbols.
What you need:
Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):
- The Tree of Life: The World of the African Baobab by Barbara Bash (or read it online at OpenLibrary)
- Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivola (or read it here on OpenLibrary) OR Seeds of Change by Jen Cullerton Johnson
- The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kwamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (or read it here on OpenLibrary)
- Mama Panya’s Pancakes: A Village Tale From Kenya by Mary and Rich Chamberlain (or listen to this read aloud)
- For You are a Kenyan Child by Kelly Cunnane (or read it here on OpenLibrary or listen to this read aloud)
Optional additional reading:
- The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kwamkwamba and Bryan Mealer – This is the chapter book version of the picture book we’ll read for our lessons. If your child is interested in learning more about William Kwamkwamba’s story, this would make a great read aloud book for the next few weeks.
Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything)
- atlas, globe, or world map
- African animal figurines
- binoculars (optional)
- Barrel of Monkeys set (or you can use any manipulative, but these fit nicely into our theme!)
- paper + access to a printer (don’t have one? we like this model)
- laminator + laminator sheets (optional, but recommended for repeating lessons)
- velcro dots
- popsicle sticks
- paper cutter (not required, but it does make prep work go more quickly)]
- purple party blowout
- white cardstock
- lined paper for copywork
- 2 small paper cups
- bendable straw
- 4 pennies
- block of wood (a sturdy piece of cardboard would also work)
- hot glue gun + glue
- wire cutters
- paper plate
- single hole punch
- 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
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!
Let’s start with some map work. Let’s find the African Savanna on Google Earth.
The African Savanna biome is a tropical grassland in Africa between latitude 15° North and 30° South and longitude 15° West and 40° West. (Use a globe or world map to review how to use longitude and latitude to find a location with your child.) It covers Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote D’ivore, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, and South Africa. (source)
You can also point out Kenya since we will be learning more about these places this week. You may also want to find these places in your atlas, on a map, or on your globe.
Activity 1: What is a savanna? Begin by watching this video. These details are shared in the video. Review them with your child:
- Savannas are an in-between biome, not really a forest and not really a desert. This habitat is home to many different species of plants and animals around the world, and in Africa it is home to the largest land mammal in the world, the African elephant.
- Savannas are found in tropical hot climates and are defined by the seasons. They don’t have the traditional summer and winter seasons that we are familiar with in the United States. In the savanna, seasons are defined by how much rain falls. Because of this, they only have two seasons instead of four: wet and dry. (source)
- Savannas are comprised mostly of grasses and a few scattered trees. The Acacia tree is an interesting plant in the savanna. It has an umbrella shape, with branches and leaves high off the ground that giraffes like to eat. (source)
Activity 2: Does your child know what a biome is? A biome is a large area characterized by its vegetation, soil, climate, and wildlife. There are five major types of biome in the world (aquatic, grassland, forest, desert, and tundra), though some of these biomes can be further divided into more specific categories, such as freshwater, marine, savanna, tropical rainforest, temperate rainforest, and taiga. (source) You can show your child many of the major biomes in this world map.
(+) If your child likes color-by-number pictures, you can have them create their own world biome map with this printable. Note: This map only highlights 6 of the terrestrial biomes—it doesn’t break up the types of grasslands.
Next, let’s play a game inspired by Go Fish to review biomes. Click here to download and print the cards on cardstock. (You may also want to laminate them for durability.) Our card game reviews the 8 major terrestrial biomes. Print two sets for each person playing, and then deal each person four cards. Play Go Fish until your child ends up with a pair of each, reviewing each biome when you find a pair.
Activity 3: Africa is an incredible continent, and one reason is because of its diversity of life. This diversity is possible in part because Africa has such a variety of biomes within its landmass. Let’s discover them with this color-by-number printable. (Note: This printable breaks down the biomes even further than our card game. Use it as an opportunity to do some online research into these more specific biome types.)
Activity 4: We’ve done a lot of focus work today! Let’s end the day by getting up and getting outside (if possible). First, draw a map of your backyard (or living room). Next, use your African animal figurines to create your own safari for your child! Hide the figurines around the yard or room, and mark an X on your map where each animal can be found. Next, let them start finding animals! (You may also want to give them a pair of binoculars, but that’s purely optional!) Once they have found the animal, have them identify it. Is it an herbivore or a carnivore? How does it impact its ecosystem? Next, examine the landscape. What kind of biome do you live in?
Today, we’ll learn more about some of the amazing life in the savanna. Start by reading the story The Tree of Life: The World of the African Baobab to learn about this amazing plant and all the animals that depend on it to thrive in the savanna.
Activity 1: Our book today introduces a variety of animal that rely on the baobab tree to survive in the African savanna. These types of relationships are called symbiosis. Let’s watch this video to learn more about it. There are actually different types of symbiosis in the animal world—today, let’s learn about the three main types: mutualism, commensalism, and parasitism. Review the definitions of each below, and then complete our activity to bring it life in a hands-on way.
- Mutualism: A symbiotic relationship where both sides benefit.
- Commensalism: A symbiotic relationship where one side benefits and the other is unaffected.
- Parasitism: A symbiotic relationship where one side benefits and the other side is harmed in some way.
Let’s bring it to life! Print this symbiosis activity and laminate, if possible. Cut out the relationship cards and creature circles. Using velcro dots, put one dot on the back of each of the creature circles (use the rough side of the velcro dot) and put a soft velcro dot on the end of a popsicle stick. As you review each relationship cards, have your child attach the creature circle to the popsicle stick so it can “interact” with the plant or animal on the relationship card. Read them the details of the relationship and ask them to determine which type of symbiotic relationship this is. They can then sort the relationship card into the printed chart.
Activity 2: The acacia tree, the acacia ant, and the giraffe are an awesome example of symbiosis on the savanna. Let’s learn more about the acacia in this video, then watch this video about the acacia and the ant’s mutual relationship. The giraffe relies on the acacia as a food source, but the acacia tree uses it’s super long thorns, a special chemical called tannins (that tastes bad to giraffes), and the stinging ant to protect itself. (source) But the giraffe has a clever trick to bypass some of those defenses—its super long tongue!
Let’s learn more about giraffes in this video. Next, let’s make a craft to demonstrate the reach of that amazing purple tongue. Start by printing this mask template out onto cardstock or other thick white paper. Have your child color in the giraffe mask. Next, cut out the eyes and mouth holes. Finally, stick a purple party blower through the mouth to create a tongue, like this:
Activity 3: One animal we saw in our book was the baboon! Let’s learn more about these interesting, inventive creatures in this video.
Next, let’s get some monkey math practice with this printable and a Barrel of Monkeys set (or some other similar manipulative). Start by printing and laminating the baobab tree page. Next, set up a story about monkeys in the tree—but they keep falling out! Start with a certain number of monkeys in the tree, 1-20. Have your child write the number in the first box. Next, tell them that some silly monkeys fell out and give them a number to subtract. Have your child write a minus symbol (-) in the middle box the number to subtract in the second box. Finally, have them find the difference. You could even sing a version of the “5 little monkeys jumping on the bed” song, changing the words to:
“10 little monkeys in the baobab tree.
4 fell out…how many do we see?“
You could also use this activity to practice addition. Simply write the addition symbol (+) in the middle box and pretend more monkeys are climbing into the tree.
Activity 4: Let’s practice a little safari literacy! Start by printing and laminating these pages. Next, cut out the safari car slider and the word cards. (We have also included blank cards to write in whatever words you like—just use a dry erase marker if you laminate.) Take your first word card and lay the safari card slider on top. Then, slide the safari card to the write, gradually revealing each letter to help your child focus on blending each letter sound. Work through the cards until your child reads all the words or for as long as they want to work!
Today, we are going to learn about two famous people from Kenya who had a big impact on the world. The first is Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. (She was also the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree!) Let’s learn more about her story by reading either Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai (or read it here on OpenLibrary) OR Seeds of Change. Want some background on the Nobel Peace Prize? You can also watch this video to learn more about how it was founded and how it works.
Activity 1: Wangari Maathai is certainly an inspirational person. Let’s use one of her quotes for our copywork today! Choose the quote below your child likes best, and then write it clearly on lined paper. Have your child copy the quote directly below what you have written. (For more tips on our approach to copywork, check out this blog post.)
“When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and seeds of hope. We also secure the future for our children.”
“As I told the foresters, and the women, you don’t need a diploma to plant a tree.”
“No matter how dark the cloud, there is always a thin, silver lining, and that is what we must look for.”
“The generation that destroys the environment is not the generation that pays the price.”
Activity 2: Another person from Africa who made great strides in conservation was William Kwamkwamba. Let’s read more about his discoveries in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (or read it here on OpenLibrary).
Activity 3: African animals crossword.
One of the countries in Africa that is popular for safaris is Kenya. Located in Eastern Africa, Kenya has more than 40 national parks and game reserves have been set aside for the conservation of wildlife and natural habitat. The country’s official name is the Republic of Kenya, and its capital is Nairobi. (source) Help your child to locate Kenya in an atlas, on a globe, or on this world map. Let’s learn more about life in Kenya with today’s lessons, starting with the book For Your are a Kenyan Child. You can also watch this fun video about some of the history of Kenya.
Activity 1: You can see a picture of the Kenyan flag here. The Kenyan flag was adopted on 12th December, 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 was added later to symbolize peace and honesty. (source) Let’s color this picture of the Kenyan flag. As your child colors, you can show them this video tour through Nairobi.
Activity 2: In Kenya, more than 60 languages are spoken and there are more than 40 ethnic groups. Almost everyone there speaks more than one African language, but Swahili and English are the two official languages. (source) Let’s learn some Swahili in this video!
Activity 3: The traditional game shisima (which means “body of water”) from Kenya is a great, play-based way to teach math. let’s learn how to play it today in this post.
For our last day of our unit, let’s learn about a folk tale (or a traditional story that was originally passed on through word of mouth), music, art and cuisine from Kenya. Start by reading Mama Panya’s Pancakes.
Activity 1: In our book, we see some of the young people playing a mbira, or a thumb piano. This instrument was invented by the Shona people of Zimbabwe, but it has become popular in other parts of eastern Africa, including Kenya. The instrument typically consists of 22 to 28 metal keys mounted on a gwariva (hardwood soundboard) made from wood of the mubvamaropa tree. Although the metal keys were originally smelted directly from rock containing iron ore, now they are made of steel from bed springs, bicycle spokes, car seat springs, and other recycled or new steel materials. (source)
Activity 2 Another society found in parts of Kenya are the Maasai people. The Maasai land can be found in southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania. This website shares more information about the Maasai and their ways of life. One thing the Maasai are famous for is the intricate beadwork of their jewelry and traditional clothing. You can learn more about it and see more photos of this beautiful work here. Next, let’s make a necklace inspired by the Maasai’s work with this tutorial.
Activity 3: We’ll end our week with a taste of Kenya using the pancake recipe from our book. Here’s what you’ll need:
- 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
- In a bowl, mix all the ingredients with a fork.
- Preheat a nonstick pan at a medium to low setting.
- 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.
- Cook until you see tiny bubbles in the pancake, then gently flip it over.
- 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 and then roll it up and eat it.
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