Saturday, July 6, 2019

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying Poland

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This week of our educational summer vacation, my kids wanted to learn about Poland. If you search for "Poland" in the library's catalog, you'll get books about (1) Polish fairy tales and (2) the Holocaust. But there's more to Poland than that, as we learned this week.


While the kids found Poland on the wall map and filled out the passport printable I threw together several years ago, we put on some Polish folk music and I read Poland from the Country Explorers book series. The kids were ridiculously preoccupied with a spider they saw on the ceiling, so I hope they got something out of it.

The Polish flag isn't hard to draw (much to my kids' disappointment, who like the challenge of copying complicated crests.) The white symbolizes a hope for peace and red is in remembrance of their many struggles.

We also discussed the white eagle, which is Poland's coat of arms and sometimes appears on the white portion of the flag.

We then turned to YouTube to enlighten us generally about Poland. We watched this animated 3-minute video that I knew would hold everyone's interest, and then we watched this longer video (1 hour.)

As I suspected, half the kids gradually drifted out of the room and by the time it was almost over I was truthfully becoming a little restless, but we all learned a lot.


We started out today by reading P is for Poland by Agnieszka Mrówczyńska, and trying to figure out how to pronounce her name was actually the perfect introduction to what we were learning about today: the Polish language.

The Polish alphabet has 32 letters, which I printed out and made into one long strip, then I asked my littlest kids to drive their Hot Wheels cars to the letters that were different from English. (I used an all caps alphabet because my 3-year-old can't recognize all the lowercase letters yet.)

Great idea, but it quickly just turned into driving up and down the road regardless of what letters were where.

That morning I'd made Play-Do with the little kids, because my 3-year-old recently mixed all the colors together and then left them out overnight. (I'd never made homemade Play-Do before, and I don't know if I ever will again because it was a lot of work to knead in all the colors.)

By the time they finish this, they will all be too old to play with Play-Do.

Using our freshly-made Play-Do, the big kids and little kids worked in pairs to make letters from the Polish alphabet. After reviewing the letter sounds, I used this chart to read one and then the big kid identified it and helped the little kid roll it out with his dough.

This took up most of the time we had today, but we also briefly reviewed how to count from 1 to 10 in Polish and how to say "please" and "thank you." Because I require them to at least try to say it in Polish at meals for the rest of the week.

I also pointed my language-loving teen to this more in-depth article on Polish to read on her own.
more in depth for my language-loving teen to read on her own.


Throughout history, Poland has been occupied, invaded, and sometimes even disappeared from the map entirely. We talked about why that might be and what effect location has on a country.

One of the most well-known occupations as far as the rest of the world is concerned was by Germany during WWII. The Germans then proceeded to build Auschwitz and Treblinka there.

I left out a copy of a book on Auschwitz from the Place in History kids' series in hopes that my big kids will pick it up and thumb through it later this week (they usually do if I leave it out without saying anything) and then read two picture books to the kids: The Cats in Krasinski Square and Irena's Jars of Secrets.

I also checked out a copy of  The Boy in the Striped Pajamas to start reading as a read-aloud with my 11-year-old. I already read it with my 13- and 15-year-old when they were younger.

For lunch, we made Polish pierogies with this recipe. It took a long time and was a lot of work, and by the time we'd finished putting the pierogies together and had to freeze them before boiling the kids were so hungry they fell on the leftover filling like ravenous wolves and ate it right out of the pot. (Full disclosure: they also do that when they're not starving.)

Making pierogis.

Dinner that night was kielbasa cabbage skillet, which was a lot like a meal I used to make but everyone stopped eating for some reason.

Phillip claims this was better, and I told him it was because of the added sugar (if you follow the recipe I did, do not put all that sugar in there! I used 1/10th of what the recipe called for and it was fine.)


Today was our day to learn more about the culture of Poland. We started by reading Cultural Traditions in Poland by Linda Barghoorn, which contained mostly Catholic holidays we were at least sort of familiar with.

But the kids were baffled and horrified at the Drowning of Marzanna, a Polish tradition of pagan origin that involves making a straw effigy of a human figure that is then lit on fire and drowned to welcome spring. It gave us an opportunity to talk about the traditions we have that must seem really weird (even if slightly less violent) to other cultures.

Then we watched this short documentary on the mazurka, a traditional Polish dance:

Then we learned about an old Slavic form of papercutting called Wycinanki. Polish peasants cut out the designs on colorful paper and used them to decorate the walls and windows of their houses.

We Googled Wycinanki and looked for commonalities in the designs: they most often featured roosters and flowers, and they were all symmetrical.

My older kids designed their own, the 7-year-old copied one from a Google search, and I cut out hearts with the 3- and 5-year-old to demonstrate what symmetry is.


Famous Polish people in history was our focus for today. We were going to talk about Marie Curie, Frédéric Chopin, and Copernicus. Short biographies of each can be found here.

To learn about Marie Curie, we read Marie Curie by Demi, who is one of my favorite nonfiction children's authors in the world. I told the kids they could either do a handlettering print of a Marie Curie quote they found online or they could draw a picture of her doing something we read about in the book.

My 5-year old chose to draw Marie teaching her husband's classes in college after he passed away:

My older daughter claimed that the slanted letters in her quote were symbolic:

And this quote seemed pretty weighty for a 1st grader, but she did a nice job anyway:

Then we read this biography of Frédéric Chopin and did the associated word search. I liked it because (1) it had a YouTube video of a Chopin song you could listen to while you did the word search (I told the kids whoever completed theirs before the end of the song won) and (2) it didn't tell you which words were in the word search so it was more of a challenge.

We never did find the seventh word, though. Anyone know what it is?

While the older kids were working on the word search, the younger kids colored a piano-themed coloring page.

I found a few ahead of time and let them pick out what they wanted, and they each chose a different one. I used this, this, and this (the octopus playing the piano was my favorite.) 

He is probably playing the mazurka.

Lastly, we learned about Copernicus. Copernicus was born in Poland in in 1473 and is most famous for formulating a model of the solar system that was heliocentric. Before that, it was commonly accepted that everything revolved around the earth.

My older kids helped the younger ones label this diagram of the solar system with the names of all the planets in order, and then we went outside to do a sort-of hands-on demonstration of how planets orbit the sun.

With sidewalk chalk they drew the sun and some (slightly wonky) orbits going around it. I told them each to get a ball and walk around the orbit while spinning it in their hands.

If I'd thought of it at the time, I probably would have taped a picture of a person on the ball so they could see how we experience night and day when we're facing the sun or turned away from it.

It got a little hilarious when my older two wanted to be a planet and a moon orbiting that planet (I may or may not have been overheard saying "Don't trip over each other because I'm not paying for new front teeth for anyone today!")

I'd also checked out a few library books of Polish fairy tales: The Glass Mountain: Tales from Poland by Jan Pieńkowski and Favorite Fairy Tales Told in Poland by Virginia Haviland. I cleverly stuck them in the car right before we drove an hour to the beach, so the kids had no choice but to read them or die of boredom.


I left today mostly open
to finish anything we still needed to work on, but we didn't have much left except for a short YouTube documentary on the Wieliczka salt mine and this 4k drone video of Warsaw:

Yesterday we made dough for Polish cream cheese cookies called kołaczki. We were going to make them but we ran out of time before going to the beach, so we left them in the fridge, made them this morning, and we ate them after lunch.

Everybody really liked the kołaczki, and I think with a little more practice on our technique we could start making some really pretty ones at Christmastime.

For dinner we had these cabbage rolls, which definitely tasted better than they looked. (The recipe said to saute them on the stovetop but I baked them in the oven, instead.)

I really liked the taste of the filling, I'm just not sure that the kids could get over the looks of the cabbage it was wrapped in so I don't think this will make it into our regular meal rotation.

Overall, visiting Poland was a success. I know because my 5-year-old now points it out every time we walk past a map and I heard my 7-year-old say several times she wants to go to Poland for real. And for us, that's kind of the whole point of the educational summer vacation.

Teaching your kids about Poland is fun and hands-on with these free crafts, ideas, and activities! #poland #polish #learning #kids #educational
Planning the perfect Poland lesson plan for your students? Are you doing an around-the-world unit in your K-12 social studies classroom? Try these free and fun Poland activities, crafts, books, and free printables for teachers and educators! #poland #polish #kids #students #aroundtheworld #lessonplan
This Poland unit study is packed with activities, crafts, book lists, and recipes for kids of all ages! Make learning about Poland in your homeschool even more fun with these free ideas and resources. #poland #polish #geography #aroundtheworld #homeschool
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Jennifer said...

All four of my great-grandparents on my Mom's side come from Poland in the twenties, so I grew up with pirogi and kolacky. My sister, brother, and I have taken over the Chrismas Eve pirogi making. We set aside an afternoon a few weeks before to make the pirogi, and then freeze them. We thaw the day before, and then fry them Christmas Eve. It is so much work to do all in one day. Everytime we make them, I am so impressed with my grandmother who would make them more than once a year. If you liked the potato ones, you might enjoy the cabbage ones as well.

Your kolacky look beautiful. I'm amazed that was your first try. We use Solo pie filling for ours. What did you use? We have experimented with other brands, but they seem to be too runny, but yours are not. This is another one we will freeze as well. We set aside a day to mass produce them, and then freeze.

Thank you for sharing your take on part of my, and now my kids, childhood memories.

Kristina said...

Very thorough! Your older daughter's handwriting is lovely.

PurpleSlob said...

The things you do are amazing!! The paper cutting were fantastic!!
And the cookies looked so appetizing!

Kimberly said...

I'm really impressed by your older girls' paper cutting skills. And by the time you put into organizing all of this. :)

Jenny in WV said...

I just found the 7th word! It is Romantic Era. It is backwards on the diagonal.

Jenny Evans said...

Jenny: It's times like this that I love the Internet. I never, ever, EVER would have found that.