Saturday, August 1, 2020

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying Morocco

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Every summer, my kids and I learn about different countries around the world. Do the kids complain about it sometimes? Yes. But we mix all the education-y stuff with fun activities, field trips, and movies. And secretly, the kids think it's interesting, too.

This week, we learned about Morocco! Did you know that tangerines are named after the Moroccan city of Tangiers, or that the fez (think of the hat Shriners wear) is named after the city of Fez? Follow along with us and you'll probably pick up more facts to impress your friends at trivia night.


We started by putting on some Moroccan music (this week we've been listening to this and a CD I got from the library called The Rough Guide to the Music of Morocco) and filling out our passport pages.

After finding Morocco, the kids flipped to a new page in the passports I made and wrote down everything they could learn about it from our giant wall map of the world. You can download the passport pages for free here if you want to try something similar with your own kids.

They also looked up and colored the Moroccan flag, which is green with a red star called the Seal of Solomon in the middle.

The colors are so patchy because my kids divide up every flag so everyone gets their own section to color. They're weirdly militaristic about this. Is that because we're a big family??

While they were coloring, I read from Morocco from the Country Explorers book series. I loved the format of a picture book we read next: Mirror by Jeannie Baker has no words, but it compares a day in the life of an Australian boy and a Moroccan boy by flipping side-by-side pages and looking at the pictures.

The most famous meal in Morocco is probably tajine, so named after the special pot that it's cooked in.

I couldn't afford the beautiful ones on Amazon, so I made do with my crockpot and holy cow, there were some wonderful smells coming out of that thing by dinnertime.

We used this recipe and probably should have tripled it. Everyone except my 6-year-old liked it, and he doesn't like anything. It wasn't much to look at once you layered the potato slices on top like you were supposed to, but it tasted amazing.

After dinner, we watched a 30-minute video about Morocco on Amazon (if you have a Prime account you can watch it for free with Prime Video.)


The official languages of Morocco are Arabic and Tamazight.

In our years of doing The Educational Summer Vacation, we've "visited" quite a few Arabic-speaking countries and remember a few Arabic basics like counting and some common phrases. (Although if we were to visit Morocco for real we'd be unlikely to understand people because I guess the Moroccan Arabic dialect is pretty different.)

In any case, we reviewed how to count to 10 in standard Arabic, as well as how to say "please" and "thank you."

What we spent most of our time on today was Tamazight, which we'd never heard of before today and probably you haven't, either. Past rulers have tried to ban it, but it's spoken by 40% of Moroccans and was made an official language of Morocco in 2011.

Tamazight (tah-mah-ZEECHT) is the language of the Amazigh people, who've lived in Northern Africa since basically the dawn of time. You might have heard of them being called the Berbers or the Moors, but what they've always called themselves is the Amazigh (pronounced ah-mah-ZEER, with a French-sounding 'r.')

We watched this short video explaining the fight for Amazigh recognition in Morocco, and then this longer, more comprehensive one called "Who Are the Berbers of North Africa?" that went a mile over the younger kids' heads but was interesting to my teenagers.

Then we learned to count to ten in Tamazight. It was not easy, probably because it bore little similarity to any of the languages we'd attempted to learn before.

Shifting back to Arabic, I explained that one of the reasons Arabic is so important in Morocco is because Morocco is an Islamic country. And the Islamic holy book, the Quran, is never translated into other languages... so if you don't know Arabic, you can't read it!

We reviewed the pillars of Islam project we did last week, and then Googled some images of Muslim prayer mats and talked about how they are used. We discussed how there is always some kind of point or dome in the design to point to Mecca when you lay it out on the floor, and then each of the kids designed their own.

Mat designed by my 4-year-old. Template is a free download here.

My 4-year-old wanted to know what the words at the bottom said, so I told him "It says 'Karima's Crafts.' Karima is the lady who made this mat for you to color."

Confused, he pointed at the 'www' part of the URL and asked, "But why does it say 'wuh wuh wuh?'"

From top, clockwise: 16-year-old, 12-year-old, 8-year-old, 14-year-old, 6-year-old.


Today we talked about some of the arts in Morocco.

There are a famous styles of traditionally Moroccan music, one of them being Berber music. We listened to a sample, got hypnotized, and woke up three days later.

The other is Moroccan chaabi music. Apparently chaabi isn't the same thing as belly dancing, but it looked a lot like it to my untrained eye. I tried to find a video to show my kids that wasn't too salacious and settled on this one. I waited for their reaction after the video, which was about 4 seconds of complete silence and then one, "That was weird."

I asked if the kids had ever heard of snake charmers. They're a common sight in Marrakesh or wherever you can find street performers in Morocco.

We watched a video of a Moroccan snake charmer at work and then I broke their bubble by reading "15 Things You Didn't Know About Snake Charming." Spoiler alert: the music doesn't actually charm the snakes, and most of them are mistreated and physically altered so they don't hurt the owners. #thetruthhurts

The type of snake most often used in Moroccan snake charming is the king cobra, both because it's the slowest and most sluggish of the big snakes, and because the hood makes it appear scarier. We read about them in King Cobras by James E. Gerholdt, and then my kids especially enjoyed Who Would Win? Komodo Dragon vs. King Cobra because we just learned about komodo dragons last week in Indonesia.

The last Moroccan art we learned about was henna. Dye from the henna tree is applied in an intricate design on women's hands and feet for special occasions, which stains the skin and stays for 2-3 weeks.

(Fun story: when we visited a mosque a few years back, my girls were offered henna tattoos on their hands and I said fine, thinking it would last for a few days. It didn't wear off for A MONTH.)

We watched this video of henna being done (at 1.5 playback speed:)

Then for my favorite part, I let the kids peruse this awesome page explaining the different design elements of henna, and let them try it out.

Some chose to trace their hand on paper and draw a design on it:

Some chose to take it up a notch and use themselves as an actual canvas:

The best part of my 4-year-old's week was getting permission to do this.

Some requested a sibling or mom to take a Sharpie to their hand:

And some of us totally phoned it in because they thought this was a dumb activity and just wanted to go play Minecraft:

For dinner that night we had Moroccan chickpea stew, which I made a ton of and no one really liked.

Leftovers for days.

Tonight's bedtime story was The Storyteller by Evan Turk, about how stories are as vital as water to the life of a desert city in Morocco. Not sure how much of the symbolism got through to the kids, but I liked it.


Did you know there are two Spanish cities at the tip of Morocco? Cueta and Melilla are port cities that are technically part of Spain, so anyone from those cities can just walk (well, take a ferry) right across the Strait of Gibraltar into mainland Spain without a passport. There are some pretty high fences around those two cities.

We found the Strait of Gibraltar on the map, and then we talked about the argan trees that only grow in Morocco at the base of the Atlas Mountains.

I knew my kids would love this video on the famous "tree goats" of Morocco, and we also learned a lot about argan oil and why shampoo that contains it is so expensive.

The Sahara Desert starts in southern Morocco and expands across a big portion of Africa. For the younger kids, I cut out cardboard camels and stuck wooden dowels to the back of them. While they colored blankets for the camels' backs and the older kids tried to make an origami camel, I read them some camel facts from this website and a picture book called Baby Camels.

After the younger kids took their camels out in the sandbox to play "Sahara Desert," and I tried to jump in and do some origami with the older ones.

As per usual, trying to follow origami tutorials online makes me feel like I have two left hands and only half a brain. It's only thanks to the heavy help of my son that I was able to produce the world's wonkiest-looking camel.

At least they can all stand up. Sort of.

I was excited to watch this 26-minute documentary on the Marathon des Sables, mostly because Phillip is a runner and I wanted to see his reaction. The Marathon des Sables (Marathon of the Sands) is an ultra-marathon that covers 150 miles over 5-6 days in the Sahara. Oh, yeah, and the participants have to run it carrying all their supplies on their backs.

For dinner we had chicken bastilla, which we billed to the 6-year-old as "chicken cake" so he'd eat it.

Probably the most interesting meal I've ever made, taste-wise.

This was a lot of work to assemble, so I actually made part of it yesterday to cut down on today's prep work. The finished bastilla was kind of savory and kind of sweet... how do you describe a dish that contains both chicken and powdered sugar??

Traditionally, Moroccans would gather around the bastilla and everyone would eat with their hands from their side of the dish. But kids are gross, so we didn't do that.

After the younger kids went to bed, we watched Casablanca, an old classic that I've actually never seen before. But it takes place in the city of Casablanca, Morocco, and that was a good enough excuse for me. I know cinematic history has already decided this, but I thought the movie was fabulous.


Tourists to Morocco often visit the "blue city" of Chefchaouen in the Rif Mountains. I read that it's mostly painted blue because it was a Jewish refuge in the 1930s, and legend says blue is the color of heaven. We watched this video, noting the unusually large number of cats:

Apparently, Morocco has a bit of a street cat problem. There are cats everywhere, just google "cats of Morocco" or "cats of Marrakesh." People visit there just to take pictures of the cats.

My kids love cats, so I gave them the books Super Cats: True Stories of Felines That Made History and Cats: Eyewitness Handbooks (which is 245 pages of pictures of cats of all breeds, my kids were in heaven.) I tried not to dwell on the fact that stray cats are often dirty, diseased, malnourished, or suffering from infections and just let them enjoy thinking about cute kitties.

We learned about the leather tanneries of Fes, where things haven't changed much since medieval times and it looks like hard and smelly work.

We learned about prehistoric rock art in the Sahara that dates back 5,000 years and is curiously not cave painting, but rock carving.

We ended up in the Draa Valley, where dates are grown and there is a date festival every October. Dates are a major crop in Morocco. 90,000 tons of them are exported every year, the most popular and expensive being the Medjool date.

For an activity, we decided to make a date-based treat, and settled on this chocolate milkshake. We actually buy an obscene amount of dates already, because we love them in smoothies and it's one of the few high-calorie foods our 6-year-old actually likes. But I bought the pitted kind this time so the kids could have the full experience of taking out the pits before adding them to the milkshakes.

Tasted just like chocolate ice cream.


You can't learn about Morocco without learning about Moroccan rugs, so that was our final stop today.

We watched this video and this one on the rug-making process for the Beni Ourain tribes of Morocco, who are known for producing the finest Moroccan rugs.

The younger kids wove paper mats while the big kids researched the currency of Morocco. They copied the bills and made Moroccan dirham, figured out the exchange rats for USD, and then set prices for the woven "rugs" the little ones made.

Moroccan dirham, my kids tell me.

I helped the little kids set up shop on the piano bench and encouraged them to play souk, a.k.a. market or store.

We planned to make Moroccan couscous tonight (well, sort of; Phillip can't have gluten so we were going to substitute quinoa for couscous) but ran out of time. It's a lamb dish that has to simmer for a couple of hours so we're going to try it tomorrow, since it really does sound yummy.

Overall, visiting Morocco was pretty awesome! I was surprised by how much I liked the food and I learned some truly interesting facts. Oh, and now the kids have a new life goal to go there and see the cats.
This Morocco unit study is packed with activities, crafts, book lists, and recipes for kids of all ages! Make learning about Morocco in your homeschool even more fun with these free ideas and resources. #Morocco #homeschool
Building the perfect Morocco 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 Morocco activities, crafts, books, and free printables for teachers and educators! #Morocco #lessonplan
Learning about Morocco is fun and hands-on with these free crafts, ideas, and activities for kids! #Morocco #educational

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Ann-Marie Ulczynski said...

You are amazing! This looks like so much fun! I’m always impressed with how deep into the country you guys get. And I am super impressed with the money your kids made!

adrar travel said...

Such a beautiful article! Thank you for sharing!
We are always happy to see such experiences that have been made in Morocco.

Ana said...

Wonderful and inspiring article with stunning pictures. Thank you for sharing this useful information with us.