“We have kids from Nicaragua, Guam, and Africa in my class…”
“We made masks from China, Peru, and Africa…”
“He is been to England, Africa, and Italy”
I have a pet peeve. It makes my skin crawl when I hear people referring to Africa as a country, instead of an immensely diverse continent. Did you know Africa has well over 2000 languages and innumerable ethnic groups, in its 54 countries!? My goal is to help parents and teachers dispel stereotypes by teaching a variety of stories from different countries in the continent.
One great book that counters stereotypes, “Africa is Not a Country,” gets to the heart of modern Africa: rural and urban families, living contemporary and traditional lives, and children in their homes, with their families, going to school, and playing with their friends. In this activity- which touches on 25 countries in Africa- kids will be locating and coloring countries on the map as they hear them mentioned in the story.
First, get a copy of the award-winning book “Africa is Not a Country” by Margy Burns Knight and Anne Sibley O’Brien. You will also need markers or crayons, and you should to print off a blank political map of Africa. You could print off a map that already has the countries labeled, or you could have the student use the globe to transfer the names to their map (this is what we did).
Read along in the book, and every page you will come across a different country, and one or two customs related to kids:
Arim and Efrem have breakfast in Eritrea (sweet, hot tea and bread and butter and marmalade) before their dad goes to their office downtown; Mantoh sells fresh milk from a gourd she carries on her head and has pap- cereal made from corn- for breakfast. From the snowy Drakensberg Mountains of Lesotho, traveling by moutain-savvy ponies to school, to the crowded sidewalks of Cairo, the children go to school. We learn about salt mining in Mali, sweet potato farming in Cape Verde, and fishermen in Senegal.
Ondel and Mbo watch cartoons on the couch after a hot soccer practice in the DRC, while Tadj and Josephine play siega (a type of mancala game) in Sudan. My kids noticed the kids sitting around the fire pit in Somalia, and the tent in Mauritania’s Sahara desert, and that the kids in Algeria sat on the ground around the dinner table.
As you listen to the book, you will begin to see that each page or two mentions a country. I paused as we got to the country name, and the kids took turns finding them on the globe, and then locating them on their own maps. Everyone was in charge of copying the proper name of the country onto their maps and coloring in their countries.
Not only do the kids begin to recognize the names, and learn of customs individual kids, but I think the mini-stories help us identify with children who live in the diverse countries of Africa. This beginner-level geography lesson is wonderful for kids who love to read books, and makes the book much more interactive that just passively listening.
A very random thing happened *literally* the day after we did this book. My daughter’s class got a new student who just moved here from Egypt. The teacher pulled out the world map and asked the class: “Who can show me where Egypt is?” Vivi was able to go to the front of the class and point out Egypt, and then asked the little boy if he was from Cairo (which he coincidentally was) and instantly our lesson materialized. She came home and found the page and wondered if he walked to school like the girls did in the book. These are mini-steps towards understanding a little more about the world for our kids, and I was so proud of her!:)
Note: I’ve tagged the countries that are listed in the book.