This unit will send us to the breathtaking African savanna. We will explore this amazing ecosystem, including animals and plants that can be found on over half of the African continent. We will also learn about the Massai culture and the language that is spoken in Tanzania, and we will take a virtual safari tour in Kenya and add to our nature journals. Pack your bags, and let’s go! 🐘🦒🦓 (And don’t forget to print our tracker to keep a record of the books you read and skills you work on this week.)
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)
- Sounds of the Savanna by Terry Catasus Jennings (or read it here on OpenLibrary—it says it’s in Spanish, but it is actually in English)
- We All Went on Safari: A Counting Journey through Tanzania by Laurie Krebs and Julia Cairns (or read it here on OpenLibrary or listen to this read aloud)
- Anna & Samia: The True Story of Saving a Black Rhino by Paul Meisel (or listen to this read aloud)
- Hippos Are Huge by Jonathan London (or listen to this read aloud)
Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything)
- brown paper bag
- construction paper
- small box (shoebox size or slightly bigger)
- foil (could also use paper)
- the savanna animals from these zoo animal figurines
- paper + access to a printer (don’t have one? we like this model)
- large glass bowl
- plastic wrap
- laminator + laminating sheets (optional but recommended for repeating lessons)
- 2 toilet paper tubes
- hole punch
- yarn or string
- sensory bin (you could also use a baking sheet, shoebox, etc.)
- dried beans, uncooked rice, grass clippings, etc. for sensory bin activity (use what you have!)
- party blowout
- yellow craft foam sheets (you will need larger sheets for this project)
- brown foam sheets (or you could use a brown marker)
- Mancala game (or you can build your own with an empty egg carton and glass beads)
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!
Letter of the week: Z
Our letter of the week is inspired by one of our favorite savanna creatures—the zebra! Begin by introducing your child to the letter with this printable coloring sheet. Review the letter Z’s one single-letter sound with your child, /z/ as in “zebra.” You could also show your child how Z looks the same as an upper and lower case letter. As you go about your lessons this week, look for opportunities to review this sound!
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. 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 point out Tanzania and 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: Read 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. The Baobab tree is sometimes called the upside down tree because their leaves and branches look like roots. Let’s make our own model of the baobab tree with a paper bag and some tissue paper. Let’s modify this activity a bit. Make the trunk very thick and instead of yellow and brown leaves add a few green ones.
As you craft, watch this video to see how some people take advantage of this gift.
Activity 3: Let’s create a diorama of this amazing ecosystem. Include our baobab tree from the previous activity, tall grass, a watering hole, and some animals. We will add to this all week as we learn about new plants and animals. (You can also scale it back to fit in a shoe box like this photo shows.)
Activity 4: Create a safari sensory bin. Add a watering hole and trees.
The animals of the savanna are some of the most amazing of all the world. Let’s read the book Sound of the Savanna to begin learning about them. (If you have an Alexa or a Google Dot, ask them to tell you what each animal says to hear the real thing!)
Activity 1: Animals make some incredible sounds, as we learned in our story. Let’s explore the idea that some animals can hear the vibrations of another animal even before they can see them. Sometimes humans can also see vibrations made by sound! Let’s explore this idea using this experiment.
(-) You can also modify this experiment with the one in the back of the book. Use salt instead of paper on the plastic wrap. Instead of using music, drum the side of the bowl with your fingers or a spoon, bang two metal objects, or clap your hands. Which sounds cause the salt to jump?
Activity 2: Camouflage is an important part of animal survival. Using this link as your guide, discuss how animal skins help some animals blend into their environment. Collect the savanna animals you have at home such as the African elephant, lions, tigers, zebras, cheetah, baboon, wildebeest, snake, etc. Next, examine the animal skin and draw the pattern you see together with your child. If they like to draw they may want to tackle this on their own. If they need help, begin drawing the outline and have them color it in. Look at this blog for inspiration.
(-) Alternatively this printout and this printout have some animal skin pictures you might want to use. Let’s practice matching animals to their skins. Print out the pages and match them to animal figurines or stuffed animals that have the same skin pattern. Take note that not all the animals in the second pdf are actually from the African savanna so pull out the ones that don’t belong.
Activity 3: Safari Count to 30 game.
Activity 4: Tanzania has the tallest mountain in all of Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro. ⛰️ Mount Kilimanjaro was once an active volcano! Look at this picture of Mount Kilimanjaro. Using your finger, trace the top of the mountain. Do you see that it makes a trapezoid shape? Using blue construction paper, draw out a trapezoid on the top of your paper. Using crayons or white chalk, continue to draw Mount Kilimanjaro’s snow capped rim, the rest of the mountain and the trees below. Once your picture is complete add it to your diorama as a backdrop.
Tanzania in Africa is known for its lustrous savanna. Read the book We All Went on Safari – A Counting Journey through Tanzania. You will learn to count in Swahili and learn about the Maasai people.
Note: There aren’t many secular videos available about the Maasai that depict them as they really are. We found that one that is kid-friendly but quite long. Share this video with your child for as long as it captures their interest.
Activity 1: Some of the most well-known African mammal species are native to Tanzania: wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, elephant, rhino, lion, and leopard. In fact, some of the money of Tanzania has animals depicted on it. Take a look at these pictures. The money is so colorful!
Now let’s make our own money copying the design of the shillings of Tanzania. Using this template, draw the faces of your favorite African animals and assign a value to each bill. Once you have several bills drawn, let’s play pretend shopping. Make up a game with your child where they have to buy supplies or food for the animals in their diorama. Supply them with grass or water in exchange for their money. Assign a value to the products they want to purchase to practice adding sums or skip counting.
Activity 2: Make this binoculars craft as we prepare to go on a pretend safari.
Activity 3: Let’s pretend to go on a safari. Check out some real animals using these Live Cams found in Kenya. Click on the links to see who’s awake! 👀 Draw pictures of any animals you see in your nature journals. (If you don’t see anyone now, check back throughout the day and week to see what you can catch!)
Activity 4: Let’s make a literacy activity from our safari adventure. Once you have identified and drawn animals, practice labeling them. Try one of the following activities based on your child’s literacy readiness.
- Find the first letter sound of the animals.
- Using movable letters or another letter manipulative, spell out the animal’s name.
- Label and write the names of the animals directly into your nature journal.
- Write a sentence describing what you observed the animal doing.
We can learn so much from observing the animals. We are going to learn about hippos, rhinos, elephants, and cheetahs today. Let’s start by watching this zebra video to learn some reasons why scientists think a zebra has black and white stripes.
Activity 1: Let’s read Hippos are Huge. Animals like the hippo in our story do many things instinctively like swimming and scaring off prey with a “yawn.” Discuss the difference between innate and learned behavior with your child. Here’s a video about horses that breaks it down easily.
Activity 2: Read the book of the true life story of Anna & Samia. In this story, Anna works at a reserve. A reserve is a place for animals to live who are endangered of being extinct and need help being protected from poachers, or illegal hunters. Learn more about rhinos in this video or this video. When an animal goes to a reserve, it becomes their new habitat. What is a habitat? A habitat is an animal’s home. As we learned in our Animal Care Unit, a habitat must include shelter, space for the animal to move around, food, and water. Use this sensory bin activity as inspiration to create a habitat for a rhino. It should include water and land since rhinos spend a lot of time in water.
(-) Animal rescue activity.
Activity 3: The African elephant is the largest land mammal. It can be up to 10 feet tall! Measure 10 feet on a wall to get a sense of how tall an elephant is. Measure your child against the same wall and compare the height. The elephant trunk is used for smelling, breathing, detecting vibrations, caressing their young, sucking up water, and grasping objects. The tip of their trunk is comprised of two opposable extensions, or fingers, which allow for some serious dexterity. (source) Watch this video of an elephant using his trunk to push down a tree! Now let’s make an elephant craft. Start by printing this template onto a piece of gray or light blue cardstock. Next, cut out the elephant and cut out the hole for the truck. Stick a party blower through the hole and let your child make their own elephant trumpets!
Activity 4: Watch this video about the cheetah. They are the fastest runners on earth. If your child wants to know more, click here for additional cheetah facts and photos. Next, let’s do this Foam Cheetah Feet and Counting Race Game activity. (There are several activities listed on this blog post, so scroll down to the cheetah one.) If you can take this activity outdoors, modify it to make it a running game. Instead of counting steps, count seconds. Time your child running for 10 seconds and see how far they go!
(+) Upgrade this activity by using multiple dice and have your child add them together.
It’s Art + Music Day! Let’s learn more about some of the incredible art native to the countries of the African savanna and a musical inspired by the animals that live there.
Activity 1: Our art lesson today will bring us to three different museum exhibits—one in Georgia, one in NYC, and the other in London. Wood carving is one of the oldest forms of art in human history. The problem with wood is that it rots over time, so we don’t get to enjoy the wooden art from long ago. Some pieces, however, have been preserved enough for us to still enjoy today. Let’s look at the three different wooden pieces. They are all of a type of game called mancala. It is one of the oldest games in the world, and these are some of the most beautiful art wood carvings in the world.
Compare the three carvings. How are they different? How are they similar? Which do you like best? Why?
(+)Want to see how wood carvings are made? Check out this video.
Activity 3: The Lion King, which features all of the animals we have learned about this week, has become one of the most popular musical theater shows on broadway. In our Butterflies + Migration Unit, we learned about operas, which are theatrical performances featuring classical music where all of the lines are sung. Musicals are also theatrical performances with songs, but musical theater often has spoken lines between the musical numbers. Here are some other differences between operas and musicals:
- Musical theater performances often have much bigger dance numbers than operas.
- In opera, music is at the forefront—this is why so many of them are not translated from their original language even if they are played in a different country. In musical theater, though, words are necessary for plot development.
- Operas feature what is considered classical music, and typically the singing style will sound more formal to the audience. Musical theater has taken inspiration from modern music, espeically in more recently written musicals, and the music can sound more like pop, rock, jazz, folk, or even rap and hip hop music!
- Opera existed before microphone technology did, so opera singers often don’t use amplification when they perform. Musical theater is a newer form of entertainment, so its singers typically use microphones. (This also makes it easier to hear spoken lines in a big theater.) (source)
Want to watch some of The Lion King musical? Click here for one of the most incredible songs of the show. The opening lines are sung in Zulu, the most widely spoken home language in South Africa. In English, the first line means “Here comes a lion, father.” (And, in case you were wondering, “hakuna matata” is not Zulu—it’s a Swahili phrase that means…you guessed it…”no worries!”) Discuss how the actors dance in a way that makes them move just like real animals. Ask your child to pick their favorite animal and show how they would dance like that animal!
Optional field trip: Do you live near one of these safaris in the U.S.? Plan a trip this weekend.
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