Often times, lessons to help kids learn about other countries are geared toward older children. This is a lesson plan to present a new country to kids as young as preschool- in a way that they will remember! They will explore and learn about other countries using their five senses: seeing, touching, listening, tasting, and smelling their way to discover a new place. I recently presented this lesson about Ethiopia in my son’s preschool class, and the kids loved it. It can be easily adapted to any country, with a bit of research.
I began by showing the kids the country on the map, and talking about its location; I showed them Ethiopia and asked why the region was called the “Horn of Africa?” Within a minute of noticing the shape of Africa and its “horn,” and then passing around the globe, the kids were able to identify Ethiopia (though surely other countries will take longer:).
Learn about Other Countries through “Touch”
We first explored some items I brought that the kids were allowed to touch. The kids felt:
- a cold, metal cross
- cow horn spoons
- soft cotton weavings
- smooth cowrie shells on a leather belt
- a straw basket
- a wooden, carved figure
- the inside and outside of a dried calabash
- a painting on dried leather.
We used description words and talked about each item’s texture. What engages kids, and impresses onto their memory is being able to hold and interact with special objects. I wouldn’t pass around something ceramic with 3-4 year olds, unless it doesn’t matter if they break it, but choosing typical items that are durable allow the kids to experience them beyond just “seeing” them. This is a tactile way to learn about other countries. I let the kids wrap themselves in the soft blanket, try on the belt, and sit on the wooden shepherd’s chair. Clothes items are fun for allowing dress-up, but remind them that not everyone wears traditional/national dress all the time: it may be reserved for special celebrations, or used only by certain people (such as rural or urban, married or unmarried, elderly or children).
Learn about Other Countries through “Sight”
For sight, I used pictures of people in Ethiopia, as well as scenes from modern cities and the rural countryside. I believe we should not perpetuate stereotypes, and by showing kids a diverse range of scenes, we don’t limit them to a single story. I had a display of pictures, but also passed around photos so the kids could point and notice the details. You can gather your pictures from on-line if you haven’t yet visited the country, from travel magazines, or old National Geographics. (Here are some great photos of Ethiopia I’m happy to share).
Learn about Other Countries through “Smell”
There are so many different scents in Ethiopia, I head a hard time choosing! I finally chose: freshly roasted coffee (of course), popcorn, garlic, berbere (spicy chiles), and turmeric.
I simply put the different scents into empty spice bottles, so the kids could pass them around, smell through the holes, and not spill (too much). These could be left out on the science table for kids to smell throughout the day. At one school, we laid out a green and a red paper and the kids would smell the containers and decide if they like it or not, by placing their “vote” on the papers.
Learn about Other Countries through “Hearing”
The most obvious choices for listening are 1) hearing the native language and 2) listening to music. We listened to some religious chants, heard a bit of a song by pop star Teddy Afro, and also listened to some children singing a traditional kids song from the Sidama region (that someone had given to me on a CD). I think with older children you could also do the National Anthem of the country you’re studying, or discuss other famous musicians and genres. We passed around a drum and a traditional instrument called a krar, and kids were able to beat the drum and pluck the strings. We repeated some common words in Amharic, like “thank you,” “friend,” and “hello.”
Learn about Other Countries through “Taste”
The possibilities of taste are endless! In our case, the school would only allow food that was store bought (or else I would have made some delicious Ethiopian food!). I asked my son what he wanted me to bring in, and he chose injera and some dabo (bread). Carbs (and sweets) are always a hit with kids:).
Other items to consider that help kids learn about other countries through the 5 senses:
- touching weavings, fabric, and textiles
- running their fingers over wooden or metal carvings trying on jewelry, clothing
- seeing pictures (include modern cities and rural scenes, animals, people)
- watching a colorful video montage with scenes from the country
- listening to music either from a CD or by trying out instruments
- smelling spices, coffee, tea, or flowers
- tasting a new flavor such as goat milk, seaweed snacks, or a new fruit like rambutans or star fruit.
What other ideas could you use in a sensory adventure? If you decide to use this method, share which objects you chose!