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Into the Wilds of Africa!

"Come with me to Africa..."  That's how the chorus of our theme song for our Into the Wilds of Africa project begins.  And it really alludes to the idea behind Brain Compatible Learning (or Integrated Thematic Instruction).  You can take a person and fill their brain with facts and they *may* remember them for a time, OR you can get someone so excited about a topic or idea that they want to learn more, and their knowledge grows and blossoms as they make new discoveries, and they remember things forever.  We aren't just studying Africa, we are wrapping ourselves in Africa.  Many of the families in our group have decorated their homes to go with the African theme - our themed decor is limited to a border of straw-like material, about two and a half feet tall that I ran along one open side of our living room, along with large wall maps, a rug, and then a couple africa-themed print pillowcases that one of the moms made for each of the kids.  Many fieldtrips are planned, and we even all have matching "I'm spending the year in Africa" tshirts.  But the idea is that you create a sense of excitement and wonder about this "voyage" that you are about to undertake.  The parent (or teacher) comes up with key points of discussion for each day, as well as a list of Inquiries for the child to choose from to go further on their own (or with your guidance).


The theme was not chosen at random.  A group of interested homeschooling parents got together and came up with a list of topics and ideas that they knew their child/ren was interested in and excited about.  This list included bats, caves, gold, explorers, volcanoes, the yukon, dinosaurs, foreign languages... it was quite an expansive list.  The next step we took was to try and group together interests that could have a common theme - like, gold, pioneers, camping, bears, native americans.  In the end, we came up with an overall topic that could address the interests of each of our children to some extent.
From there our theme is broken down into more managable components.  We chose four: the land (geology, geography, and some are studying early humans here), the animals (anything related to African wildlife), history (islam, trading routes and practices, slavery, etc), and cultures (art, pottery, clothing, music, tribes).  At the beginning of each component we have a big "kick-off" party to get the kids (and the parents, to some extent) energized and excited for the 8-9 weeks ahead.


A day studying Africa will be different for each family because each is approaching the four components in their own way.  One thing that is the same is the use of Key Points/Discussion Points and Inquiries.

So for example, we may have a key point for the day that talks about weather and changing seasons. We'll get online to watch a NASA kids video on about the equinox and the position of the earth as it travels around the sun. Already having discussed the location of these cities, Natalie's inquiries include:

1. If you went to Casablanca today, what would you want to wear? If you went to Cape Town, what would you need to wear? Cut out the paper doll. On one side, draw and color in the outfit you'll wear to Casablanca, and on the other side, draw and color what you'll wear in Cape Town.

2. Go to your room and get changed into clothes you could wear if you were in Casablanca today. Tell me why you chose that outfit. Run back and get changed into something you would wear in Cape Town today. Tell me why you chose that to wear. Which clothing (of the two choices) would you be most comfortable in here at home today, given our current weather?

3. What is your favorite season? Can you make up a song or a poem about your favorite season? Maybe there's something special you like to do during that time of the year, or maybe there's something you enjoy seeing, hearing, or smelling at that time of year? Tell the song or poem to Mom so she can write it down for you.

4. Can you act out the path of the earth orbiting around the sun throughout the year? Use balls, globe, light/flashlight, people in our family, or anything else you want to use. See if you can figure out where it is hottest and where it is coldest as the earth makes its orbit.

The materials for these inquiries would be prepared ahead of time, and she would choose just one to do for that day.  A daunting task for a homeschooling mom to prepare exciting inquiries that her child may decide not to do.  The beauty of it is in the prep work - working with other parents to plan out a year's worth of key points and inquiries before the year begins.  Weeks of intense planning go into it, but the payoff is a year of knowing that you have everything you need once it begins.