As I’ve mentioned many times before, my two Beans (and I) LOVE learning about other countries. They relish the opportunity to find out about the people, their language, culture and religions; the flora and fauna; the geography; and the history of countries very different from their own. So much so in fact, that they asked to do three country studies this year: Indonesia, New Zealand and Australia.
We go all in when we complete country studies, reading their folk stories, watching captivating documentaries (one of their favourites was Dara and Ed’s Road to Mandalay – their humour massively appealed to the Beans!), making recipes, trying our hand at traditional art techniques, listening to their music and learning as much as we can about the country in question.
Taking Indonesia as a core example (although also dipping into Australia and New Zealand where needed), I thought it might be helpful to show you how I go about planning an in-depth country study.
Step 1 – Books, books and more books…
The very first step entails finding a “spine” book written at a child’s level about the country; something which provides the basic information from which you can jump off and dive deeper into topics you’re particularly interested. For example, for Indonesia, I’ve found a wonderful book called All About Indonesia; Stories, Songs, Crafts and Games for Kids, a comprehensive guide to the country written in an accessible way and covering a whole gamut of topics from everyday life in Indonesia to key festivals to traditional puppet shows. It’s actually part of a series – we used the All About Thailand equivalent book in preparation for our holiday there earlier in the year and loved it. Within this series, there are also guides to Korea, the Philippines, China and Japan.
Although these are the best and most comprehensive spines I’ve found for country studies, there’s always something available to give you an overview. For Australia, we opted for Australia and Oceania – it’s a simple book but it gives a good overview. For New Zealand, we’re using a combination of these two books: New Zealand (Country Explorers) and New Zealand (Countries Around the World).
On top of the spine book, I’d also research and order any supporting literature written about the country. I always start by checking my copy of Give Your Child the World by Jamie C. Martin, a compendium of all the wonderful children’s books available for each part of the globe, broken down by age range. We’ve probably read 50+ books from these selections and without fail, all have been exceptional. For Indonesia, it recommends Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life; A Story of Sustainable Farming, an account of Balinese rice farming and their intricate system of water sharing and crop rotation, which respects the balance of nature and makes it a perfect example of sustainable agriculture.
In addition to the above selections, I also do my own search on Amazon to find:
- traditional folk tales (for example, Indonesian Children’s Favourite Stories) or fiction based in the country, such as The Whale Rider for New Zealand;
- non fiction selections about key plants or animals of the country (for example, Komodo Dragons); geographical features (such as Where is the Great Barrier Reef for Australia); historical monuments; or cultural and religious beliefs (for example The Maori of New Zealand);
- relevant colouring books, such as this Maori Patterns book or this New Zealand’s Birds Colouring Book.
Step 2 – Plan section by section
Using the spine as a guide, create a mind map of all the different elements you’d like to study. For our Indonesia study, Bean9 wanted to be involved in this process, so we sat together and worked out which areas she’d like to investigate in more depth.
The chosen elements can be grouped into six major categories:
- Maps – highlighting key cities, islands, oceans, seas, mountains, volcanoes, and other significant geographical (such as Ayers Rock) or historical features (such as Borobudur Temple on Java, Indonesia).
- Flags – my two love colouring flags and learning about the meaning of the patterns and colours.
- Coats of Arms – Indonesia’s Garuda Bird Coat of Arms is fascinating. The five emblems on the shield represent the five principles of Indonesia (Belief in a God, Humanity, Social Justice, Unity and Democracy) and the feathers represent the date Independence was claimed (the number of wing feathers on one side indicates the date; the tail feathers the month; the base of the tail the first part of the year and the neck feathers the second part).
- Key Facts – so the population, area, currency, religion(s), capital etc.
- Key Habitats – depending on the country, you might want to do a mini study into rainforests or coral reefs for example.
- Weather – average temperatures, seasonal changes or unique weather patterns, such as monsoons.
- Flora & Fauna:
- Interesting Animals – for example the Orangutan or Komodo Dragon for Indonesia.
- Interesting Plants – for example the Rafflesia Flower.
- Everyday Life – anything unique about the daily habits of the country’s citizens, from early afternoon sleeps (known as tidur siang in Indonesia) due to the intense heat, to how they wash using a mandi, a large built-in tub of cold water in the corner of a bathroom and a scoop to throw the water over yourself (very refreshing, although not as easy as a shower!).
- Traditional Food – a great opportunity to incorporate a hands-on element by making a traditional recipe, such as dadar gulung (a sweet green pancake).
- Children – what life is like for children of the country, what their school is like, what games they play, their homes etc. The Children Just Like Me book is an excellent resource for this topic.
- Homes – for example, they might be interested in the traditional stilt homes of Indonesia.
- Transport – I know the Indonesian becak, a three-wheeled pedal powered bike with a passenger seat, like a rickshaw, will fascinate my two!
- Sports & Games – Bean7 will undoubtedly be captivated by Takraw, an Indonesia game in which a woven rattan ball is kicked over the net (a cross between football and volleyball). I suspect they might have to create their own version and try it out in the garden.
- The Arts
- Music – either instruments or styles of music unique to or originating in the country in question. For example, we’ll be attending a family Gamelan workshop to have a go at playing this bewitching traditional Indonesian instrument.
- Dance – watching traditional dances are always a big hit in our house!
- Arts – another opportunity to get hands on by trying out a traditional art technique. For Indonesia, we’ll be having a go at Batik.
- Stories & Drama – traditional folk tales, for example The Story of Kancil (about a wise mouse deer), which we intend to bring to life by making puppets of the key characters and putting on a puppet show, a popular pastime in Indonesia.
- Dress – in the case of Indonesia, each major island has its own traditional dress, which we’ll review.
- History: an overview of the key historical events of that country. For example, when studying New Zealand, we’ll be reading about the Maoris, the European settlers and the Treaty of Waitangi. As we follow the Story of the World curriculum for our history studies, we sometimes use relevant sections of this book to cover the history elements of a country study. As luck would have it, our current book (Book Three) has a dedicated chapter on New Zealand and Her Rulers, including a section on the Treaty of Waitangi and The New Zealand Wars.
- Religions & Beliefs:
- Religions – within Indonesia, there are four main religions, namely Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. Out of this group, Hinduism is the only one we haven’t studied before, so as part of our country study, we’ll do a mini study on this religion.
- Important Religious Buildings – for example, we’ll look at the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the stunning Borobudur Buddhist Temple and the impressive Prambanan Hindu Temple.
- Significant Festivals – such as the Hari Galungan and Selamatan festivals in Indonesia.
- Cultural Beliefs – In New Zealand for example, we’ll do a mini study on the Maori culture and belief system.
For each section they choose to cover, I’ll complete the following preparation, adding everything to a summary Word document. Here is an example for Indonesian Lapbook:
1. Read, Summarise & Document
Firstly, I make a note of which books to read and the relevant pages or simply save a website link. For most areas, they’ll write up a short summary of the key facts they’ve learned. For the Beans, the most engaging way of doing this is by making their own lapbook (see this post for more information) and writing up their summaries onto a lapbook template to stick onto a lapbook folder.
There are a huge variety of different templates available from mini books, to pockets which store information cards to flapbooks. We source ours from Homeschoolshare – if you go into the Lapbooks tab on the main navigation and then click on Type-It-In Lapbook Templates, it’ll bring you to a page showcasing blank versions of the different lapbook templates. Select the one you want, type in a title onto the relevant section and print out. I then store all these together in an A4 folder.
Within this website are also a large number of ready made lapbooks for unit studies ranging from Ants to Earthquakes to Knights. Some countries are included and if yours is there, it’s worth looking through the templates already designed and available to download and print. Even if there isn’t a specific one available for the country you’re studying, there may be something else relevant. For example, there is no Australia country study, but there are free lapbooks available for coral reefs and marsupials, both of which we’ll use for our Australia country study.
2. Hands-on Activities
The next step is to identify associated hands-on activities to bring the unit study to life for the children. This could be:
- recipes to make
- restaurants to sample
- traditional art techniques/styles to try out
- games to play
- monuments to build (for example we once made a replica Great Wall of China out of building blocks!)
3. Extension Activities
It’s easy to incorporate maths and English work into your country study with some related extension activities. They could, for example, write some poetry about the landscape or a favourite animal from the country. Alternatively, they might like to rewrite one of the traditional folk stories or fictional tales, changing the characters, setting or plotlines but maintaining the same overarching moral or lesson.
For example, The Great Kapok Tree is a beautiful Amazonian story in which a man goes into the forest with the intention of chopping down a kapok tree, but instead falls asleep. He remains asleep while each animal in turn whispers into his ear about the importance of the tree to their lives, demonstrating the significance of the tree and interconnectedness of the flora and fauna in the rainforest. The man wakes and resolves not to chop down the tree. This would make a great story to rewrite by simply changing the ecosystem to maybe a coral reef or a hedgerow.
From a maths perspective, statistics is an obvious choice to weave into your study. They could draw a pie chart of the different religious beliefs or a map of population density for the islands of Indonesia. They might like to include facts in their lapbook, such as the GDP, average life expectancies, lowest and highest points in the country, how much rice they produce each year etc.
4. You Tube Videos, Documentaries & Day Trips
As a last step, I search for relevant You Tube clips about, for example, traditional festivals, dances, music or monuments. In addition, my two are huge fans of the humble documentary – a large part of their knowledge comes from this source. So, I’ll research relevant documentaries about the country in general, a significant animal (such as the Orangutan – the Beans loved the recent BBC documentary Orangutan Jungle School), habitat type (such as Great Barrier Reef with David Attenborough), religion etc. And lastly, I’ll identify and book any pertinent day trips available, such as the family gamelan taster session at the Royal Festival Hall.
Step 3 – Make the lapbook
The final step is to make the lapbook itself. The video below shows how we make our simple lapbooks from A4 folders:
The children also print off images of their choice, be those orangutans or pictures of Indonesian children, ready to be stuck onto the front of their lapbook as a title page.
I then collate these images, the lapbook, associated books, the file of lapbook templates and summary document into a little basket and we’re ready to start!