If you ask most preschoolers about Africa, they will probably tell you what they saw in The Lion King. The Africa of lions, giraffes, hyenas and meerkats all living on the savannah in Africa is only a small part of a land that can exhaust the use of superlatives.
Africa is so much more than the second largest continent in area and population. It's a diverse land filled with amazing animals, rich in ethnicity and traditions, political unrest, environmental problems, art, music and culture.
Preschoolers are drawn to this land by its animal life, but it's also important to show them that there is more to this continent. There are so many ways to introduce your child to Africa that all you need to do is pick a topic and run with it.
Fifty-three countries and 800 million people make up the continent of Africa. Over half the world's diamonds and gold are found in Africa. The world's largest diamond (until 2007) was found in South Africa in 1905. Almost 40 percent of the gold mined on Earth has come from South Africa. Scientists estimate that gold deposits there are 3 billion years old. Probably the gold and diamonds in your wedding ring came from Africa. Africa is already in your home.
Africa is a lesson in diverse climates. It ranges from tropical to subarctic on the highest mountaintops. The northern half of the continent is arid desert, the central and southern areas are covered in savanna plains and rainforest jungle. Africa is home to the longest river in the world, the Nile. It runs through Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. The Sahara desert, the world's larges desert, and the Sudan, the world's oldest desert, are both located in Africa.
This huge continent is almost an island too. It is only connected to Eurasia by a narrow strip of land. The Suez Canal cuts through that so ships don't have to travel all the way around. It is also the most centrally located continent in the world. The equator divides the land mass almost in half.
Africa is the continent where the leading evolution theories tell us that mankind originated. So, we may all come from Africa and trace our most distant relatives there. People of many different ethnicities live in Africa, and it is estimated that over 1,000 languages are spoken, making it the most multilingual continent in the world. It is common for people to speak more than one African language as well as one or more European languages.
Africa also has the world's largest, most diverse and densest wild animal population. The animals that live in Africa also still have a large free range, in mostly non-private areas. Lions, cheetahs, hyenas, wild dogs, water buffalo, deer, elephants, zebras, giraffes, rhinos, hippos and camels call the savannah and Kalahari area home. Four of the world's five fastest animals live in Africa -- cheetah, wildebeest, lion and gazelle. South Africa is also home to a penguin colony.
Here are a few ideas to bring Africa from halfway around the world into your home:
Take a live peek at what's happening at real African waterholes from your living room. Then re-create the animal life of Africa with your preschooler is to make animal masks out of paper plates or foam shapes, yarn, glue and pens.
As with everything in Africa, the music of the continent is as diverse as the land itself. Drums are a large part of the music of Africa. To demonstrate African music, take an empty coffee can. Decorate it with acrylic paint or foam shapes. Use geometric shapes, bright colors, beads and anything else you can find. Children can use the decorated can as a drum. In West Africa, the people use "talking drums" to pass important messages.
The Broadway Production of The Lion King is a great introduction to African music to listen to with your preschooler. This isn't authentic African music, but every preschooler knows Hakuna Matata. Much of the music will also help introduce your preschooler to African rhythms and harmonies.
Experiment with African food by making authentic dishes with your preschooler. AfricaGuide.com has a cooking section full of recipes from across the African continent.
Snuggle up and read a good book about Africa. Here are some of our favorites:
Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears by Verna Aardema
My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken and Me by Maya Angelou
A is for Africa by Ifeoma Onyefulu
The Fire Children: A West African Folk Tale adapted by Eric Maddern
Zomo the Rabbit: A Trickster Tale from West Africa by Gerald McDermott.
To learn more about Africa, PBSKids.org has an entire interactive section dedicated to the continent. Or NationalGeographic.com has a great kids' section complete with interactive cards on Africa's countries. Preschoolers can look at maps, watch videos, look at pictures and learn more about the countries that make up the place where the real lions, warthogs and meerkats live. Happy travels!