Preschool Unit on Africa

Well, I spent most of the last year tired, sick, and pregnant. As a result, most of Charlie’s education came directly from school. We did some activities here and there, a lot of studying sight words, but nothing as fully developed as the units I did the year before he started school.

This year I decided it was time to get back into some unit study and after a visit from a friend who’s teaching Kindergarten this year, I decided to start with a unit on Africa. So here it is. It’s longer than previous units I’ve done, but I think that’s appropriate as Charlie is over. I took my sweet time with this one–working when we could, taking days off when necessary, but all in all I had a great time and I think some honest-to-goodness learning took place.


Objectives: The learner will recognize the shape of the continent of Africa. The learner will be able to name five animals that live on the continent of Africa. The learner will recognize the geography of Africa. The learner will experience some of the customs of Africa.


Introduction. To introduce Africa, I started with about six different images that I found on the internet. I also typed out the word in a large, red print. We started with the word, then looked at the images–a picture of the pyramids, an acacia tree, a woman in tribal dress, a large picture of the continent, and a picture of the desert. Charlie actually really enjoyed the images and I think this a great introduction to our topic. We continued to review these images throughout our study.

Beaded Necklace. We started by looking at a picture of a woman in traditional African dress who was wearing many beaded necklaces.  We then took colored pasta and strung it on a piece of yarn. I went with some traditional African colors–red and green. If you don’t know how to dye pasta, it’s simple–just put it in a zip top bag with food coloring and rubbing alcohol (or vinegar). Shake it up until everything is colored. I dried mine in the sun on my back porch.

I strung the necklace and Charlie showed zero interest, but when I put it on him, he broke out into a huge smile–pretty cool!

pictures of a child and a macaroni necklace

African Drum. We have formula cans EVERYWHERE at my house these days. I figured I’d put one to good use and turn it into an African Drum. We looked at pictures of an African drum, and we listened to some African drumming music. To make the drum, I did most of the work. I painted the mostly red can completely red. I covered the top with black felt, and secured it with a rubber band and then a green piece of string. Sadly, our drum was pretty lame. It got a lot more fun when we flipped it over and banged on the bottom with a spoon.

boy with a drum made from an old formula can

Textured Africa. A simple activity. I cut out sandpaper into the shape of Africa. I presented it to Charlie and we touch the rough, sandy texture. It was a new texture experience for him, and it took him a while to get used to it. We used both hands since often the right hand can tolerate things that the left one cannot.

Cutout of Africa made with sand paper

African Animals. I ordered a collection of African animals on Amazon, and we spent a lot of time looking at them, talking about their names, comparing and contrasting them, etc. Charlie also chewed on them quite a bit because that’s how he rolls. We talked about them for a few minutes each day, made their sounds, and continued going over their names. After about two days of this, we started quizzing him on the names of the animals. We’d hold up two and ask him to grab the correct one. Charlie is not a fan of tests, but with a little bribery, I got him to participate.

child with plastic animals

Hamsa. A Hamsa is a object of protection used in Northern Africa and the Middle East. It’s basically an open right hand with an eye on it. People wear it as jewelry or hang glass ones in their windows. It’s an old superstition shared by Muslims, Jews, and Christians in the area. I decided we would make one that could be hung in the window. I’m planning on doing a thorough how-to post for Allie on No Time for Flashcards, so I’ll just sum it up quickly here: crayon shavings melted between wax paper, cut out the child’s hand shape, and apply an eye cut out–ours was made of sticky foam, but you could also do construction paper. My husband called ours “the bloody hand,” which made me realize how gory my color choice was. Dang it!

step by step creating a hamsa

African Hat. This tied in with one of the book we read during this unit: The Hatseller and the Monkeys by Baba Wague Diakite . We made a hat like the one described in the book. To make the hat, I cut a circle out of poster board, and then cut a pie shaped piece out of that. I twisted the remaining cardboard into a cone shape and taped it together. Then we painted the hat using traditional African colors. Charlie was NOT thrilled with this activity, but he seemed OK with wearing the hat. I sense a theme here–he’ll wear costumes, but wants no part in making them.

Boy in an african-style hat

Egyptian Dig. Our final activity. I ordered some Egyptian figurines off of Amazon and put them in a bin with a bunch of sand. We encouraged Charlie to remove the figurines and as he removed them, we would tell him the name (the figurines came with a cheat sheet). If Charlie had no sensory issues, I would have buried the figurines to make it a little more fun. He has issues, though, and just touching the sand was grossing him out. Maybe I’ll try something with a shovel one of these days.

boy digging egyptian figurines out of the sand


I found a bunch of great books at the library for this unit. Many of them, I had to read a few pages at a time since Charlie has such a short attention span for books. Still, he’s doing much better with reading since he’s started school (victory!).

The Hatseller and the Monkeys by Baba Wague Diakite.  A fun little story about an African hatseller who has all his hats stolen by monkeys. It was a cute story from West Africa and there were lots of silly sound effects that made reading it out loud enjoyable.

South African Night by Rachel Isadora. A perfect bedtime story–this was a quick read that Charlie let me get through in just one sitting. I don’t have a link for this one because it appears to no longer be in print. Check your libraries and if they don’t have it, Rachel Isadora has a number of great books with African settings.

Why Mosquitoes Buzz In People’s Ears by Leo and Diane Dillon. I really wanted Charlie to like this story because I have fond memories of reading it when I was in school. Unfortunately, he wasn’t really into it. We started, but didn’t finish. Later, I realized that the recommended age was five and up, so maybe he’s just not ready for it. Still, it’s a wonderful book with gorgeous illustrations and it won the Caldecott, so you know it’s good stuff.

Other Resources

In conjunction with this lesson, we also listened to several African songs that I downloaded off of iTunes. Those will stay on his iPad, so he gets a little reinforcement whenever they come on. They have an album of African songs in their library, so it’s pretty easy to pick a few good ones.

I also had him watch a five minute clip from the Lion King of the characters singing Hakuna Matata mostly because I thought it was cute.

Including the Whole Family

Obviously, the four-month old twins are nowhere near ready for any sort of academic activities. I do like to include everyone in the learning, however. Because babies are at the stage where they like to look at black and white images, I printed out pictures of a black Africa shape on a white background,  cut them out, and placed them in the crib for the twins to look at. I also let them “dance” with us when we listened to the African music. Dancing for babies looks a lot like bouncing them on my knee.

I also took the time to read The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, which is set in the country of Botswana. The author does a great job of describing the landscape and the people, and I thought it was a great compliment to the study Charlie was doing.

As always, learning should be fun and not stressful.


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  1. Oh, I’m so glad units are back! I hope you realize that I’m planning on stealing them for Elia once she’s old enough. Um, and when would that be, again? I also love how the whole family gets in on the theme. Cute pictures :-)

    • I don’t recommend “Academics” until age two although natural learning takes place constantly–names of things, household work, etc. Also, you can do art with tiny children–my friend Allie who writes No Time for Flashcards has her itty-bitty painting already.

  2. This is AWESOME, Katy!! Would love to share this with my home school friends who are schooling their little ones!

  3. Engaging activities and useful tips: good job, Katy.
    It’s pretty cool that you find the way to involve the babies.

    P.S. Africa + Charlie: this post made my day :)

  4. Fantastic — thanks for sharing!

  5. Reading about Africa doesn’t compare to living in Africa. I’ve seen lions, zebras and elephants in real life you guys should come over to South Africa it is a country full of joy – I once heard our former housekeeper singing while she was cleaning the toilets.

  6. I wish I could move you in here with us! I love your units!
    Love the pasta necklace have to try that with my girls.
    (For the drum you should have kept the lid on then you would have had good bounce back)
    you are a good Mom

  7. Sylvia phillips says:

    Hello again! Love your Africa unit. I am going to try it with bethany! How did you find the time to create such an elaborate learning experience? The babies are getting oh so big! Just read your iPad blog. Bethany loves her iPad so much. She loves learning games especially jigsaw puzzles. Thank you and RIP Steve Jobs. We never could get her to use any communication device except sign language. She does have a limited verbal vocabulary now. Anyway blessings til next time. Sylvia