Beautiful Feet Books: Africa

I am loving the Beautiful Feet Books curriculum, “Around the World with Picture Books” which we are using this year. With this post, I hope to highlight some of the reasons why…

Once we finished North America with My Father’s World (you can read about that here), it was on to Africa. This is where I put down MFW and picked up Beautiful Feet Books. MFW’s “Exploring Countries and Cultures” curriculum walks through the continents geographically: North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica. But I wanted to travel based more on the ecosystems we are studying. So while we were talking about deserts, Africa was the next logical choice; that way we could continue our desert mural we started while in Mexico.

MFW only covers Kenya in detail, but Beautiful Feet Books has units on Morocco, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, and Tanzania. These units are so beautifully done; using quality picture books as the backbone to almost every lesson, incorporating educational videos from online, and encouraging artistic notebooking on everything learned from geographical features to samples of cultural artwork to indigenous animals. The book, Maps* by Aleksandria and Daniel Mizielinska, that is used is a unique “atlas” that presents the special features of each country with lovely artwork that resembles something like an “I Spy” book. I think that’s why my kids love it so much! They can spend an hour or so just staring at a country’s page and finding all the fun features (animals, cultural costumes, geographical sites) it shows. Each page is as interesting as the country it’s representing.

For me, the notebooking has been the most fun. I bought three Japanese notebooks* of high quality and I am loving adding to my own! And while my kids don’t necessarily appreciate the value of the notebooking process yet, I’m confident that one day they will! For now, they really enjoy practicing water colors and making their own maps of each country. I believe they are learning so much more by creating their own maps than by simply studying one in a book. They get to pick which features of the country are most interesting to them and add those to their map. And in the notebook it goes, along with their own examples of artwork and animals from each country.

Some of our favorite books from Africa were Mirror* by Jeannie Baker (Morocco), The Day of Ahmed’s Secret* by Florence Parry Heide (Egypt), Emmanuel’s Dream* by Laurie Ann Thompson (Ghana), and Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears* by Verna Aardema. Our favorite crafts were recreating Kente Cloth (using paper) from Ghana, and painting animals in the Tanzanian “tinga tinga” paint style.

If you know me and my love of food and cooking, you won’t be surprised that I set out to make a meal for each country we “visit.” While studying Africa we made a lot of chicken and rice and enjoyed some fried plantains. We even had an elaborate Moroccan feast and invited my parents over to sit on pillows in our living room surrounded by candles and Moroccan music while we enjoyed a five-course meal.

African animals are fun to learn about! And although we didn’t add as many details to our desert/grassland mural as I would have liked, we took field trips to the zoo and Worcester’s EcoTarium, where they have the African Communities animal center. Our pastor and his wife go to Rwanda every year and she agreed to talk to us about their trips and what life in Rwanda is like. She even brought in lots of trinkets, jewelry, and native clothing, which was awesome! I gave us an extra week in Africa to wrap up any unfinished notebooking and fit in our field trips. (I’m determined to not keep a super strict weekly schedule so we can take extra time in interesting places if we want.)

A Brief Word on Nature Walk and Collecting…

Even though we are not studying forests anymore, we are continuing our weekly nature walks. They are their own entity. I find that scheduling and making them a priority has helped all of our mental and emotional healths. So rather than say we’ll try to fit it in after school, we often do it almost first thing on Thursday mornings. (Thunder Thursday, remember?) Then we come home and drink tea and do the rest of our school work. Because we had an extra week in Africa, it also allowed us more time to do nature art. We had a great time collecting interesting things in nature and then putting them together to form animals and designs. We’ve also started listening to Chopin’s piano concertos but haven’t talked about his life, yet. We’re easing into our music study while we do other things. This is why we homeschool. Days like this are beautiful.

Here are just a few extra photos from our time in Africa… playing a geography game, Mancala (believed to have originated in Africa), and an afternoon movie party of the “live-action” Lion King complete with animal cracker snacks and spicy popcorn!

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Zooming In on Our First Units: North America, Forests, and Author Studies

I’ve always been a fan of unit studies, so I love that this year’s curriculum lends itself easily to unit style learning. I know this goes against everything Charlotte Mason advocated, and I’m okay with this area of disconnect. Though I do find it funny that while she disliked unit studies, she did advocate for the study of a single artist or composer at a time… sounds a little “unit-esque” to me. 😉

In a previous post, I outlined what curricula we’re using for which subjects, and what our days look like. In my last post, “What’s in a Name“, I touched on how our weeks are structured as a whole and how we’re managing to fit in all the “fun stuff” on a regular basis. If you read those, you know I spent a significant amount of time over the summer planning out our school year. Though not necessary for all homeschoolers, I like to get a big picture of our year and then zoom in on each piece or unit, and enhance it if I can. I rearranged the countries that were outlined in My Father’s World to suit my preferences. (I wanted to study Antarctica in January rather than late spring–call me crazy–which led to rearranging the other units as well. I was happy with the result, though!) Then I added in the units from “Around the World with Picture Books” from Beautiful Feet Books, the combined 3rd and 1st grade sciences, and the author studies for first grade.

So here’s a “zoomed in” look at our first units: studying the countries of North America, forests and deserts, and author studies on Laura Numeroff plus the start of Eric Carle.

We started in the U.S.A. with a review of what we were learning last year through our exploration of United States history. We also began our unit on forests. Both curricula we’re using this year call for quite a bit of notebooking and rather than try to make it all work together and exasperate my children with an intense amount of writing and recording, I decided we’d make a mural out of butcher paper for each ecosystem studied in lieu of an ecosystem notebook. It makes a nice addition to our homeschool decor and it’s fun to see the scene come together over time.

While studying deciduous forests, we used our home field advantage and took several nature walks and field trips around the area. We’re attempting to take a nature walk every week this year but in addition to that, we climbed Mt. Wachusett, hiked Quabbin Reservoir, and took other walks off the beaten path…

To help keep Emmalyn included in our studies, she had her own “units” on trees, leaves, autumn, and the changing colors. I also found these cute “cut & paste” papers on ecosystems for preschoolers. They are a great way to practice those scissor and glue skills and make a nice addition to our mural! We did lots of nature collecting on our walks and made these neat field guides with leaf prints on the covers. In the end, we had a pretty awesome forest mural happening…

After the United States, we hit Canada, while staying within our forest unit. This allowed us to expand to talking about coniferous forests as well. (You may have noticed the very hastily completed “pine tree” that graced our forest mural…) While studying Canada, we made “Inuit sculptures” out of soap, and “poutine” for dinner one night!

Before I talk about Mexico, I should mention our author studies. When Abby was in first grade, I split the curriculum into two years because I started her schooling at a young age. So with only half of a one-year curriculum to complete, it was easy to fit in monthly author studies with their own lessons. This year, we are essentially trying to do 3 different curricula in one year PLUS the author studies, so it’s not as easy to do all the lessons. But just as Charlotte Mason saw the value in studying a single artist or composer at one time, I still see the value in zooming in on a single author to study their voice, style, and genre. We may not do all the lessons and activities that I wrote a couple years ago, but we still learn a little something about each author as we go. We began with Laura Numeroff and transitioned into Eric Carle when we started Mexico because his books are easily found in Spanish and I thought it would be fun to do some side-by-side reading! Eric Carle’s art is really fun, too, so we did find a way to fit that in! To find out how I structured those author studies when Abby was in first grade and to download the material for FREE, click the links for Laura Numeroff and Eric Carle.

On to Mexico! And deserts! We finished up North America by spending an AMPLE amount of time in Mexico; reading Spanish picture books, studying deserts, making plenty of tortillas and churros from scratch, blasting mariachi music while we cleaned the house on “Work Wednesdays”, and I even found an old movie I watched as a kid called “Friendship’s Field” about a family who hired Mexican workers to help them on their farm in the 1960s–that brought back memories! Capped it off with a family dinner at a local cantina and decided our homemade salsa was just a little bit better. 😉

Next, we head to Africa and continue our desert study. Hopefully I can get that post up soon!