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Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Books: Countries of the World

Angola, Brunei, Cambodia, Dominica, Eritrea, French Guiana, Ghana, Honduras, India, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Oman, Peru, Qatar, Russia, Singapore, Tajikistan, Uruguay, Vietnam, Western Sahara, Yemen, Zimbabwe...

Moving on from the study of the Periodic Table, we've been going around the world from our armchair, learning about the countries of the world, just for the fun of it.

These "studies" at home come about organically — no rigid schedule, no "lesson plan", no lofty goals, no pressure, and no set time-limit –  typically guided by the younger one's current interest. It starts and stops on its own, and progresses at its own pace.

Are there any volcanoes in Iceland? Does Madagascar have mountains? What language do they speak in Brunei? Why does the map show Turkey in Asia and Europe, like Russia? What do they eat in Myanmar?

When a lot of questions get asked about a particular topic, it seems like a wonderful window of opportunity has opened up to further our understanding of the world...

One continent at a time. A few countries by region/sub-region till all UN-listed countries are covered. A few facts about each country - where it is located on the map, what language(s) do they speak, any famous landmark(s) there, what is their favorite food, is it hot or cold there?

"Go find Cambodia on the map - it is in Asia" would start off a weekend morning with wonderful destinations. A reasonably-sized world map hangs on the wall in the kids' play room and the younger one loves to go country-hunting on that map.

What better way to help us learn than make a book ourselves? Book-making has always been a passion at home. And that's how these books were created— adding a handful of pages at a time, continent-wise/sub-region-wise - thanks to the World Wide Web and some wonderful books from the library. Speaking of which–
  1. The Cultures of the World series of books by Marshall Cavendish has a good amount of information, geared towards older kids. We bring home a handful at at time from the library, and read a few pages at random.
  2. Rookie Read-About Geography series by Children's Press (an imprint of Scholastic) is a huge hit with Og as it is just his level and easy for him to read on his own. They have States (in the U.S), Continents, Countries, Bodies of Water...
  3. Though not a book, TMBG's Alphabet of Nations song is a huge hit with both the kids; and the whole Here Comes A,B,Cs Music CD by TMBG is the current obsession with Og
  4. The Italy ABCs, France ABCs, Australia ABCs and so on by Picture Window Books (Capstone) were good read as well, though the information for some letters of the alphabet seemed contrived
  5. Two books on Egypt that enjoyed repeat-reads in our house: Count Your Way Through Egypt by Haskins & Benson, illustrated by Sue Rama; We're Sailing Down the Nile by the Laurie Krebs, illustrated by Anne Wilson

There are way too many good books on this topic appealing to all age groups and reading levels...

From searching with me online (and offline), to getting the good-to-go pages from the printer; from assembling the page with the relevant content to gluing them; from coloring the outline map to indicate the current country of interest to arranging the pages to laminate, the younger child was completely involved, while the older one just detached herself from the project and waited till the book was done to read it at her own leisure.

First stop was Asia.

The Countries of Asia book was made listing the countries, alphabetized by sub-region, with a small map and a few facts for each, until all the recognized countries in the continent were represented in the book.

Next we went to South America - which was a quick day trip.

With only fourteen countries, it was the easiest and quickest book we made so far. Rather than a pre-colored map, I printed out outline maps with countries and had the little guy color in the country for each page. And then assemble the papers and glue them on to black card stock to make the sturdy book.

Then came Africa which seemed daunting at first with about 58 countries, but, turned out rather easy as we worked our way through each geographical sub-region, starting with North African Countries.

Of course, none of this happened in a flash. Over the course of several weeks since Halloween, we've been learning a little at a time, finding small pockets of time to make a few pages of the book on evenings and weekends.

I am sure the Puzzle Maps in his school is getting worn thin by the kiddo's daily use, but, it seems to have sparked and reinforced his love for the world and the people in it.

"If I visit Namibia, I can talk to them because they do speak English there, Mama!"
"When I go to Argentina I would not want to try to climb up Mount Fitz Roy, it is so steep!"
"Did you know you could talk in Tamil if you visit Réunion, you'd be so happy, Mama!"
"Papa, look! This is the coolest! In Uruguay there is this sculpture called Hand in the Sand, and guess what? It is a huge hand in the sand!"
"Burkina Faso is such a strange name. It is right here in Western Africa. See the map, Ana!"
"Why is there no X country? Is there only one O country in the whole entire world?"

Of course, everything is more fun when we turn it into a game.

Starting with simple clues like
"Name an A country anywhere in the world"
we move on to
"I am an archipelago country made up of more than 7000 islands. What am I and which continent can you find me in?"

The usual, "I am thinking of a country..." game with 20-questions style clues has been the dinner time game for the last few weeks. Before that it was the Periodic Table of Elements. And before that it was all about Harry Potter books... and we usually default to animals.

And, as far as games go, a surprising hit was Professor Noggin's Countries of the World trivia game. There are 3 easy questions and 3 hard questions. Kids can progress at their own level. The idea is to win as many of the country cards as one can by answering the questions correctly. But, the first few days we just played it for fun to get to know some facts and reinforce what we know...

We are just wrapping up our North American tour, after which we will be visiting Europe and learning a little more than the usual Eiffel Tower/Leaning Tower of Pisa/Neuschwanstein Castle/Big Ben/Stonehenge...

Of course, the 7 yo prefers not to do the same topic as the little guy's current interest, and prefers to be left alone to do what she chooses. Which is great as I can progress at the pace that he is comfortable with.

In all this, I learnt quite a bit as well. Not just countries and capitals, but a little about the history, culture, resources, and nature beauty unique to each part of the world. Now, will I remember most of it a month from now? Perhaps not. Did I enjoy the process of discovery with the kids? Absolutely.

It seems like my posts are getting tediously long these days, but then, since I manage only about a handful of posts each month, it seems to work out all right...

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