Geography, Africa, and Preschool Immersion

img_2071One of our most treasured and well-used classroom books is the Big Book of the World.  We love to look through the book as it shows not only physical maps of the world, continents and countries, but also animals, agriculture, and industry of countries all over the world.  When we begin to learn about a new place, be it a state, country, or continent such as Africa, this book is a perfect tool and a complement to our satellite map.  It was our first step, as we learned about Africa.


We spent at least two days “traveling”.  A satellite map was taped to a table.  We added magnifying glasses to get a close-up of both land and water, often getting sidetracked with discovery.  I asked questions:

What is the brown part of Africa?  Why is the water both dark and light blue?  Is there more land or more water in the world?  Where do you think the jungles of Africa are?

At this point we are clustered together, shoulder to shoulder.  Children have their own questions, typically beginning with “Where do I live?”  Yes, children need to learn where they live, and while we are learning about Africa we step back to find America.  Seeing it in the context of the whole world is important.

Our traveling expanded to include maps, travel tickets, real money, cash registers, clipboards, and pencils.  We have our very own travel box which comes along with us as we set up chairs to fly to Africa.


Now, we are excited and ready to learn!  We made a huge map of Africa, dividing it into the desert, the grasslands, and the jungles.  We learned that Jambo Rafiki are Swahili words for Hello Friend.  Of course we were eager to greet anyone and everyone with those Swahili words.  We practiced writing those words, along with Africa and the words of animals.  It became our hallway display, along with art work of painting maps and animals.


Animals are a favorite with children, and learning about African animals was even better.  We used large pieces of paper- tan, light green, and dark green- to represent the desert, grassland, and jungle.  Then we graphed animals using Beanie Babies to find out which animals lived where.  It was hands-on, and sometimes surprising, like discovering the crocodile lives in the desert.


We hosted a traditional African Harvest Celebration, which involves four important steps:


1) Teachers role modeled quarrels, “I’m not inviting you to my birthday party!” then worked out the problems.  Children often learn far better in an indirect way when it comes to conflict.  2) Teacher Shelley did real African drumming in a traditional costume.  3) I told the story of Abiyoyo, a classic African folk tale and a favorite with children. 4) We ate!


Our grand finale was a play performance of the African version of the classic book, Caps For Sale- a book everybody loves.  The Hatseller tells the story of Ba Musa and his fugalan (bright colored) caps.  The monkeys chant “Hoo-hoo-hoo”.


By taking the things children already know and substituting something new, such as the monkey’s chant, we open their world.  Preschoolers need to feel safe and grounded, yet they want to explore and learn.  Then, immersion can happen.  That’s what I do.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
This entry was posted in Diversity, Early Education, geography, Imagination, Learning About the World, Teaching young children and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to Geography, Africa, and Preschool Immersion

  1. magarisa says:

    This all sounds so fun!

  2. Ritu says:

    This is a wonderful idea Jennie!

  3. beetleypete says:

    Delightful! Using the stuffed animals to put their habitats in context was a joy. I developed a love of maps from a young age, based on us having a huge map on the wall when I started school aged five. And that aspect of knowing where you live yourself, discovering how it is far away from other places, that is so important. I know many people in their twenties here who cannot place countries on a blank map. Geography seems to have suffered to IT in our schools.
    This new world view projection is worth a look.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Jennie says:

      Glad you enjoyed this, Pete. When I plan a unit of study, learning about a country and geography is always successful. Children are naturally curious, and geography with a giant map opens the world 🌎 (pun intended). It is sad that schools are missing this important curriculum. Looking forward to reading your link. Best to you. Another foot of snow ❄️ is on the way today. 🙁

  4. This sounds like the perfect way to intrigue children, Jennie! I remember that my first contact with Africa also involved its wildlife represented by stuffed animals 😀

  5. Dan Antion says:

    This sounds like too much fun to be a learning activity 🙂

  6. An amazing lesson, Jennie. I’d love to be in your classroom! I always use maps when I do a read aloud. Kids are so interested to see where the story is set in the world and the relationship between the setting and where we live. It adds so much to their understanding both the book and the world!

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Susan. Yes, you are absolutely right. We had just finished reading The Story of Doctor Dolittle, so Africa was even more exciting. When I read the Little House books, we love using the map of the U.S. It really enhances learning.

  7. I can’t believe these are preschoolers learning all this wonderful stuff. I would love to sit in on your classes. I would probably learn with the children. 🙂 What a fun way to learn.

  8. Thank you to the parents for ‘allowing’ you to use the photos of their adorable kiddos in your classroom…what cuties!
    Our 30-something son-in-law is a map-a-holic! He pulls out ‘real’ maps (not on-line/phone ones) for info on a place as well as for directions. He often has a huge map of the area they live in on a kitchen wall and when we or others visit, he will trace out our route with his finger to show us where they’ll be taking us…I’ll bet some of your cutie-students will continue in their map immersion well into adulthood, too!
    Love the beanie baby ‘picnic’! HA!

    • Jennie says:

      What a great story, Laura! Hard copy all the way. Whether it is books or maps, or Beanie Babies, that’s what children will remember and how they learn. Thank you!

  9. Sounds like such a fun way to learn, Jennie. I love te picture of the kids acting out “Hats for Sale.” I love that book. Lovely post. 😀

  10. Norah says:

    What a great post and a fun way to explore Africa, Jennie. You have summed learning up very nicely in your last paragraph. Well done.

  11. Elizabeth says:

    It’s so true that children that age need both the feeling of safety and the freedom to explore. You found a fun, involving way to do that. Kudos.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s