We recently completed an India Unit Study to learn more about this amazing country. Like our other unit studies, the ones based on countries include integrated literacy, math, science, art, and of course social studies disciplines.
My favorite part of grade school– ok the only part I even halfway liked– was Social Studies. But the way we learned it was mostly dreadful, with pages upon pages of definitions copied out of the glossary and questions about the main ideas of dryly-written paragraphs. Teaching about our beautiful, diverse world in this way is such a waste.
One of the goals I have for my kids’ education is that they develop curiosity about the world. So this is the first of hopefully many Study the World posts. We started with India.
India is a natural start for us because my husband was born there. It’s really important to me that the kids know about their Indian heritage. I hope they will learn to speak the language and take many trips to visit. They already get a lot of exposure through my husband and his parents and brothers. They are familiar with a lot of the food and can mostly understand their language. But my son was showing interest in learning more, so we did this little unit to study about India.
My son’s big draw is always animals. We were inspired by another poster to make our own map of India with animals on it. I really like drawing our own maps. For young kids, it helps them to focus on a few key elements. We included important cities, The Ganges river, desert and jungle biomes, and mountains. We also labeled neighboring countries.
Just like for the world map we made, my husband sketched an outline of India. Then we looked at our large world atlas to locate some important places like the largest cities and also where my husband was born and grew up. This is a great opportunity to explain map symbols and include a key on the map too.
We printed out this list of the state animals of India and a map of Indian states. After carefully cutting around the animals, we compared our map and the states map to decide where to place the animals. (There are some duplicates and we didn’t use every single one.) We also printed and added photos of the tiger, peacock, gharial, and king cobra.
This activity was a great lesson in forming educated guesses. For example, the snow leopard we know lives in colder climates, so we searched for its state in the north first. He really enjoyed this. I think we will be making more of these for countries all over the world.
Realia is an important part of any study about a culture. It is simply the ordinary, authentic items that students interact with in their learning environment. Since we have so much family from India, the realia was easy. I set out decorative plates, churies (bangle bracelets), a dupatta (large scarf), stamps and Rupees to be inspected and played with. There is so much you can do with realia, from using it as math manipulatives to imaginative play.
My daughter is very much into clothes and dolls so I was thrilled to find these international paper doll printables. They have so many to choose from! We colored her sari together. I decided to go ahead and glue it on, but an older child would enjoy changing the outfits from different cultures. We added gemstones to make her outfit really fancy. While we were finishing up she looked at the doll and said she wanted to be like her. This is exactly why I wanted to do projects like this.
A big part of Social Studies is learning about exports. India is historically famous for its spices. We talked about how Europeans were searching for a different route to India when Christopher Columbus accidentally stumbled upon the American continent. I explained that this is the reason that people incorrectly call native peoples “Indians.” This was something he’s been perplexed by before.
So in order to understand more about India’s famous spices, I put out a few for the kids to look at. They used their senses to explore. The main spices of India are: turmeric, cumin, coriander, cardamon, star anise, cloves, and cinnamon, among others. I explained how the spices grow and how sometimes they are used in whole form and other times can be powered. It was a really unique thing to study!
While my kids can understand a lot of Urdu, they are hesitant to speak. I want to encourage them in a fun way so I decided we would play the Indian game of Pachisi (a simplified version) and try to use only Urdu color words. I just wrote them out phonetically, but showing kids Urdu and Hindi scripts would also be a fun activity.
Mehndi is a beautiful Indian tradition. My daughter already loves coloring on her hands, so this was perfect for her. I printed out these coloring pages and we colored them together. I don’t have a photo because she got scissor happy with them after we were done! It’s okay though, because it was just fun sitting together and coloring together. I’m planning to get some to put on her this Ramadan. I know she will love it.
There’s obviously still tons more to learn, but I feel like this was a great start. Some things will be learned the “unschool” way by cooking with Baba or visiting their Daddah (grandmother) but we will also learn the history and geography of this diverse nation.
How do you teach about the World? What should we do next? I’m thinking Brazil… or Australia… or South Africa… so many choices!