Editor's note: Last Fall, our Read to Feed® team launched a new children's book and lessons set in Rwanda. We were excited to give teachers and students a new resource about the East African country and Heifer's projects there. Shortly after that launch, Homa Tavagnar wrote this article about the importance of teaching children about Africa. Many of her reflections and tips on teaching about Africa mirrored the thought processes we had for our educational resources during their design and development.
Through our Read to Feed program, we hope that teachers and students will enjoy learning about our connections to people all around our world and that children will recognize the power they have to make a difference in the lives of others. Now is a great time for teachers to incorporate learning about Africa into the classroom: A generous donor has pledged $30,000 to match funds that students raise for the East Africa Dairy Development project with Read to Feed. That means the students' contributions to Heifer will be DOUBLED! This campaign is only available this spring, so please share this opportunity with the teachers you know!
Seven points to remember when teaching about Africa by Homa Tavagnar
- Go beyond the animals and the tragedy. It's common for U.S. schools to teach about Africa through "safari" animals. This could turn into a valuable lesson on biodiversity and protecting their environment, but wildlife in Africa shouldn't be the sole focus of a study on culture or a continent. Other times, children hear about poverty or disease, like the AIDS crisis and now Ebola, which exist in some regions but do not define an immensely diverse continent.
- Fight the urge to refer to "Africa" as a country or single entity. Did you know Africa has over 2,000 languages and many more ethnic groups, in its 54 countries? So, when teaching about the region or a specific country, be careful not to generalize information and refer to "Africa" unless you are consciously referring to the continent.
- Get to know how big Africa really is, relative to other countries and continents: (Just pause and take this in for a few minutes. It's true that the West African region struck with Ebola covers a land mass comparable to the southwestern U.S., but look at all the other countries and regions that fit inside this one continent!)
- Dispel stereotypes by teaching a variety of stories from different countries in the continent. One book that counters stereotypes, "Africa is Not a Country" by Margy Burns Knight and Anne Sibley O'Brien, gets to the heart of modern Africa: rural and urban families, living contemporary and traditional lives, and the children in their homes, enjoying their families, going to school, and playing with their friends. As an introductory activity (the book touches on 25 out of the 54 countries in Africa), kids can listen to the book and then can locate and color individual countries on a printable map of Africa as they hear them mentioned in the story; then when they really learn the geography, they can color blank maps. (Here's a resource for labeled and blank maps of continents and regions). The entire activity is explained here on this Kid World Citizen pagehere.
- Choose a specific country and dive deep. Look for books that showcase rural and urban kids, fiction and nonfiction stories, folk tales, biographies, history, and stories on innovation. For example, this list helps children explore many aspects of South Africa through appropriate children's literature, and the Global Education Toolkit's multicultural book list has dozens more. Use Google Earth streetview to take a "walking tour" of major cities, national parks, and landforms. Find some major festivals and talk about the values and traditions that are celebrated, and for higher grades, look at the role of religion.
- Tie in lessons to your curriculum: if you are studying biographies, read Nelson Mandela's abridged biography for kids, or learn about the other TEN Nobel Prize winners from South Africa. Other important biographies can include Nobel Peace Prize winners like Wangari Maathai (Kenya), Kofi Annan (Ghana) and Leymah Gbowee (Liberia) or Nobel Literature laureates like Wole Soyinka (Nigeria) and Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt). Apartheid and various nations' independence movements can illuminate a study of Civil Rights. Science classes can look at poaching of the rhinos, desertification, water resource challenges, alternatives to the electric grid in the United States, or compare National Parks in various countries.
- Make it personal. When kids feel a personal connection to a place, ideally through a friendship or someone's life they connect to through blogs, stories, social media, art, music, food, and sports, then empathy, compassion, and respect can build. It starts to feel silly to generalize a whole continent when your friend, favorite team, or artist is Nigerian or Gambian, Tanzanian or Congolese. Thanks to digital technologies, it's never been easier to connect to real people and make friends.
Read the original article here, and then go sign up for Read to Feed!