Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying Austria

Every summer, I pretend to take my kids on a trip around the world using books, recipes, music, and whatever crafts I can get my hands on. Is it work? Yes. But it adds some structure to the summer, teaches us all something, and gives the kids something to do other than play iPad for 50 hours a day.

My 5-year-old demanded, very loudly, that our first country this summer would be Austria. At the end of her soccer season, they staged a "World Cup Day" where every team represented a different country, and I bet you can guess what her team was.

In fact, when I announced the day before that we'd be starting Austria, she beamed as her face glowed with a rapturous light and exclaimed, "My country!"

(You're welcome to follow along and use our ideas at home: links in this post are affiliate links, meaning that if you buy anything using these links I get a cut at no extra cost to you.)


Ahead of time I printed out passport pages (see the free download here.) I cut them in quarter size pages with an extra blank sheet in the front for them to decorate for a cover and stapled them together.

The kids searched the big wall map for Austria and filled out a sheet of their passports. Every year, their favorite is designing a visa stamp for the country.

Day by day details of how my kids learned about the culture and geography of Austria in a week.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
Around the map are all the flags from previous years. If you'll notice, they're strategically placed exactly two inches out of the reach of a 15-month-old.

Day by day details of how my kids learned about the culture and geography of Austria in a week.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

While they were doing that, I read Exploring Countries: Austria by way of general introduction to the kids.

On a sheet of regular 8.5x11" paper, the 13-year-old did the math to figure out where all the outlines for Austria's flag should go and equitable divided the red coloring sections into thirds for the other kids to color.

Day by day details of how my kids learned about the culture and geography of Austria in a week.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

While they were coloring, we listened to some yodeling music on a CD from the library, and things got a little out of hand when they finished and the little ones started dancing to it.

Because yodeling apparently makes 5-year-olds go kuh-razy.

To wind down a little, we watched Countries Around the World: Austria. Countries Around the World is my favorite series for this purpose. Each one is only 13 minutes long and follows a kid around his native country as s/he introduces it. We have different ages and attention spans, and this seems right for everybody.


In Austria, they speak German, so I wanted to have the kids learn a little bit of the language. We actually found that we even remembered a little from when we did Germany a couple of years ago... but not much.

This happened to be perfect for today because we had a piano tuner come to the house today and we needed to get out of his hair so he could, like, hear what he was doing.

So we quarantined ourselves in the basement watching German for Kids and Muzzy (in German) which frankly, both of my kids thought were pretty weird.

Day by day details of how my kids learned about the culture and geography of Austria in a week.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
That creepy computer animated dog will haunt your dreams.

They weren't the best language learning videos I've ever seen and the kids couldn't stop laughing over the creepy dog Schultz, but we did learn how to count 1 to 10 and say 'hello,' 'goodbye,' 'please, and 'thank you,' so I suppose they served their purpose.

Unprompted by me, the 5-year-old started saying 'please' and 'thank you' in German at dinner. I'd be thrilled just to have her say it in English, so this was great.

I also left out some children's books set in Austria for the kids to read independently:
My 13-year-old immediately flipped through the stack saying, "I read this. Read this. Already read this one." I think she's read the entire public library in our town. But I did find one or two she hadn't seen yet.


We started out by reading Look What Came From Austria. For such a small country, Austria contributed a ton of famous composers, Gregor Mendel, Sigmund Freud, and the guy who discovered blood types.

Oh, and croissants. The Austrians started making them as a celebratory pastry after defeating the Ottoman empire, which had a crescent moon on their flag. So every time you eat a crescent roll, don't forget that you're symbolically devouring the enemies of Austria.

I know we won't.

Another thing that comes from Austria is the Swarovski Crystal. We talked a little bit about crystals and how they're formed. The Swarovski recipe is a secret, but we did decide to follow this YouTube video to make borax crystals.

Aaaaaaand... nailed it!

Day by day details of how my kids learned about the culture and geography of Austria in a week.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
Stupid Internet tutorials. Why do I ever believe you??

We learned some things. One, white pipe cleaners are important. We just used the pink and purple ones we had on had, and you could see them through the finished crystals. Second, we used ¾ cup of borax to 1½ cups of water, and I think we needed more borax. Our pipe cleaners were hardly coated. Third, your crystals will get stuck in the jar if the neck is narrower than the rest of the jar, FYI.

Day by day details of how my kids learned about the culture and geography of Austria in a week.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

The mason jars we used ended up being prettier than the "crystals" we made, but they were hard to clean out. What finally worked was pouring in some boiling water (which broke one jar, so maybe don't use ones you care too much about) and soaking for 15 minutes, then swirling hot tap water in them several times to dissolve the borax.


Did you know that 75% of Austria is Catholic? I love teaching my kids the ins and outs of other religions, so of course we read Religions Around the World: Catholicism by Katy Gerner.

The younger kids were a little bored, but the older ones and I had a great discussion about the differences between our Mormon religion and Catholicism. To be honest, I've always had a soft spot for Catholicism. As Christians, and as people who also believe in the importance of priesthood hierarchy and ritual, I see a lot of parallel between us. Of course, we are worlds apart in other ways.

We reeled the younger kids back in by wrapping up our discussion and showing them how to make a paper doll chain. They chose four saints from this list of well-known Catholic saints (with pictures) and decorated the dolls in their likenesses. On the back, they put their names and more information about them.

Day by day details of how my kids learned about the culture and geography of Austria in a week.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
My 5-year-old's chain.

Did you notice the one on the right? LOOK at that face.

Day by day details of how my kids learned about the culture and geography of Austria in a week.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
Apparently hates being canonized.


Austria is famous for its music and composers. I left copies of Who Was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart? and The Story of Beethoven in strategic locations around the house so the kids would read them. (I'd say the reading level is about 3rd grade; older kids could easily devour them in a single sitting.)

Then we did a little quiz: I gave the kids the names of several famous classical pieces of music by Austrian composers, and then played them on YouTube so they could guess which was which. Do you recognize any of these?

1. Serenade No. 13 "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik," Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

2. Beethoven's 5th Symphony

3. Surprise Symphony, Joseph Haydn

(The night before as I was looking up songs on YouTube, I turned this one way up because it was so quiet at the beginning. Just as I was thinking, "I wonder why they call this the 'Surprise Symphony?'" the loud part blasted out my eardrums. I'm deaf now but it's still funny.)

4. Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, Franz Liszt

5. Der Erlkönig, Franz Schubert

At the end I read the English translation of the Erlkönig poem to the kids and we watched the little animation that came with this video. (Spoiler alert: the boy dies at the end and maybe preschoolers might be scared.)

All in all, our first week of pretend world travel wasn't so bad. It really helped that I now have a daughter old enough to help me research and get books and materials ahead of time!

I was disappointed that we didn't get around to doing any ethnic cooking this week, but I'm trying to be more patient with myself about stuff like this and remember that I kept the kids alive all week, and that's nothing to sneeze at.

If you want to try out some Austrian dishes, one of my wonderful readers Anne (an American living in Austria) recommends wiener schnitzel and kaiserschmarrn. Drop a comment if you try these foods, I'd love to hear how they were!
Learning about Austria is fun and hands-on with these free crafts, ideas, and activities for kids! Covers Austrian history and famous people, the flag of Austria, Austrian composers, traditional Austrian recipes, and the culture and music of Vienna. #austria #educational #aroundtheworld #kids
Building the perfect Austria lesson plan for your students? Are you studying Vienna or doing an around-the-world unit in your K-12 social studies classroom? Try these free and fun Austria activities, crafts, books, and free printables for teachers and educators! #austria #lessonplan #teaching #kids
This Austria unit study is packed with activities, crafts, book lists, and recipes for kids of all ages! Make learning about Austria in your homeschool even more fun with these free ideas and resources. #austria #homeschool #vienna #unitstudy

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PurpleSlob said...

Who says you'll never need math? lol What are those 4 round things above the map? Yesss! You won the "What hasn't she already read" battle!! (This time mwuahahaha!)
Keeping the kids alive is job one. Congrats!!

AnneMarie said...

This is so cool!!!! When I was in college, my now-husband and I spent a semester in Austria. It's such a cool country! When we were there, I was surprised by how much pork was consumed-it seemed that pork dishes frequently showed up in our cafeteria.
That expression on the paper-doll-saint's face is hilarious!

Jenny Evans said...

I thought someone would ask that! That's a set of 4 decorative plates that we have on that wall, and I guess I was too lazy to take them down when we put up the map and all the flags. I guess I should make up a more interesting story about them in the future.

Lyndsay said...

Love every bit of this! You would make one heck of a homeschool Mom.

Jenny Evans said...

Too bad I'm exhausted after 6 weeks! I think I'd only be good at being a September homeschool mom...

tinyhousehomeschoolmom said...

I suffer from the same issue. lol I do as much planning as possible before school starts. Then I just coast on it until Christmas break. Then I plan again during Christmas break. It is a slightly flawed system, but we manage. ;)