Saturday, August 8, 2020

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying Thailand

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One way I try to keep my kids' brains active during summer vacation is to pick something to learn. In 2011, I had the idea to make our summer vacation a pretend trip around the world, and every year since we've been "visiting" a new country each week and learning all about it.

This week the kids wanted to visit Thailand!

Throughout the week, I set out the following books:

I put them in a box in the living room with some other nonfiction books, and one of the things they are supposed to do before getting screentime for the day is "read a book from the box for 15 minutes."


The kids started the week by coloring Thailand's flag and adding it to our wall, which is getting quite full by now since we save all the previous years' flags and hang them back up every summer!

I read fun facts from Thailand, part of the Country Explorers book series as the kids found Thailand on the map and filled out their passport pages.

Bangkok used to be called "the Venice of the East" because of all the canals, called khlongs. Most have been filled in to make streets, but some are still there. I thought this video was so interesting  the khlongs today are used like subway tunnels, with stops and maps and everything.

We use this giant laminated wall map and it's held up great.

If you're interested in downloading the passport pages I use for free, here is the link:

Download the Passport Pages

Then we watched a 90-minute video on Amazon Prime called Passport to the World: Thailand. It followed a family on vacation and narrated everywhere they went in Thailand.

When sitting down to watch an educational video, I often have to remind the kids it's about the educational value and not necessarily the viewing experience (I swear some of them were filmed with my dad's camcorder from 1995.) But this was a really beautiful movie!

Admittedly, we didn't make it all the way through and the video probably would've been better if it were half as long.


In Thailand, they speak Thai which is a tonal language. A great way to explain what that means is this article, which we used last summer when learning about Vietnam.

Next, we watched a video about the Vietnamese alphabet. Written Thai seems insanely complicated, with 44 consonants and 16 vowels, and they don't put spaces between their words.

I found this handwriting worksheet with a fun Thai-themed border to color (since it printed out a little small, I cropped the image in half and printed it on two pages and taped them together) and we tried some handwriting practice with the Thai consonants. (More worksheets are here if your kids really like it and want to do more.)

Probably the prettiest script I've learn about in all our Educational Summer Vacations so far.

We then attempted to count to 10 in Thai. It was really difficult to remember. I think I need to watch this video about 50 more times.

For dinner that night, what else could we possibly have but pad thai? I've had pad thai several times at restaurants and honestly, I always think it looks better than it tastes. But I really liked this recipe from Tastes Better from Scratch.

I guess it really does taste better from scratch.

This is definitely going in our regular rotation (even though we have one peanut-allergic child so I have to be careful to set aside his portion before adding the peanut sauce.)

As is tradition, whenever the kids ask for anything at the dinner table during The Educational Summer Vacation, we make them say "please" and "thank you" in whatever language we're learning about that week. Thai has no direct translation for please, but we did our best to use the Thai for 'thank you.'


Kohn is a traditional maked dance from Thailand telling the story of the Ramakien. The Ramakien is the Thai version of the Sanskrit Indian epic poem Ramayana.

It's arguably the most influential piece of Thai literature, kind of like how The Odyssey is the blueprint for all of English literature for the rest of eternity.

I found plenty of full-length kohn videos online, but they seemed kind of slow-moving and I didn't think the kids could sit still for it. So we ended up watching this video, which explained a little bit about kohn and showed plenty of clips from the dance so my kids could get a feel for what it looked like.

The details of the story are pretty out there, especially if you haven't grown up hearing them (every culture has their own things that are bizarre if you really think about them) but I tried to explain that the Ramayana and Ramakien are more than just the sum of their details.

Just like The Nutcracker is so popular because underneath it's a story about the magic of childhood, the Thai love the Ramakien because it's an epic story of courage and loyalty. Here's a promotional trailer that illustrates what I mean:

Epic, right?

We then watched an animated retelling of the Ramayana. There's a full 2-hour cartoon, but we watched an abbreviated 10-minute version because that worked better for us.

Afterward, I had each of the kids write a newspaper article about the events of the Ramayana/Ramakien.

I found this editable newspaper template for the older kids to work on together and this one for the 8-year-old. I just made a simple one for the 4- and 6-year-olds.

My 4-year-old drew a picture of the palace. It says "Where Rama lives."
My 6-year-old drew a picture and told me what to write. The 10-headed drawing is priceless.
My 8-year-old is hilarious.

Collaboration between my 12-year-old and 14-year-old.

Dinner tonight was tom yum soup, and other than one kid who was neutral about it and one kid who said it should be called 'tom yuck soup,' I was pleasantly surprised.

Check out the giant chunks of tofu floating in this. I'm actually thrilled my kids didn't all claw their tongues off just looking at this.

It was an interesting soup. The intense flavor came from the broth, while the things in the soup were pretty bland.


Thailand is known for its beautiful Buddhist temples, called 'wats.' So there were no shortage of bad puns today ("A temple is called a 'wat.'" "What?")

We watched a few YouTube videos of Thai temples, like the Temple on the Glass Cliff and Doi Suthep.

Then the kids kept busy with these Buddha coloring pages while listening to Becoming Buddha: The Story of Siddhartha.

Most people in Thailand follow Theravada Buddhism, which emphasizes the importance of monastic life. In fact, all Thai men are supposed to become monks for at least three months (I didn't even know temporary monkhood was an option.)

So we watched this video on the day of the life of a Buddhist monk and talked about what the kids thought it would be like to lead that kind of life.

Buddhism is explained with what it calls The Four Noble Truths, so we made a poster of it with images of a lotus flower (symbols of peace in Buddhism.)

If the Noble Truths explain the "what" of life, the Eightfold Path explains the "how." This is how Buddhists believe we should live in order to achieve enlightenment. 

I printed out the names of the 8 parts of the Path, cut them up, and hid them in numbered Ziploc bags around the room. The kids had to find them and unscramble them, and glue them to the right part of this poster around the 8-spoked wheel of dharma.

The kids couldn't find the first step on the Eightfold Path and I couldn't remember where I'd hidden it so we had to write it in with a marker, suggesting we might be sort of lousy at attaining elightenment.

I tried to start a discussion about what each one meant, but the kids were kind of (read: completely) antsy and done for the day, so I hung the poster on the fridge and hoped they'd learn by osmosis while getting their 150 daily snacks.

For good measure, I added the book Buddhism from the Eyewitness Books series to our box of nonfiction books in the living room.


When reading Cultural Traditions in Thailand, we learned about Loy Krathong. It's a Thai holiday where people release small floats made of banana leaves, flowers, incense, and candles into the water to send away troubles from the past.

We decided to make our own krathongs and let them go! After watching this how-to video, we got started.

Traditionally you'd use a piece of the trunk of a banana tree for the base, but we were fresh out of those. So we took slices of good old Wonderbread and decorated them with leaves and flowers from the yard.

My 4-year-old was more interested in eating the Wonderbread than anything else.

We used pieces of toothpicks to pin everything in place and left out the incense and candles, both to make them biodegradable (because I didn't want to fish those things out of the water after we were done) and so we didn't start a forest fire.

The water in this brook is pretty still, so the kids were disappointed that they just sat in the water and didn't go anywhere. But at least they didn't sink!

Then we talked about the animals of Thailand.

We learned about Siamese Cats (Thailand used to be called Siam) with Siamese Cats by Stuart A. Kallen and learned about the Annual Monkey Buffet (my kids were relieved to know it's a buffet for monkeys, not a buffet of monkeys.)

We also read Elephant by Will Travers and watched a documentary on Amazon called When Elephants Were Young. It was boring for my younger kids but everyone 8 and up was pretty interested. At my suggestion, the younger kids played a few rounds of Zimbbos.

My kids love this game.

For dinner, we had Massaman curry.

It was really good! We already have a curry recipe in our meal lineup, but this one was a completely different flavor and everyone ate it, so we'll add it into the rotation for sure.


The Grand Palace in Thailand no longer houses the royal family but it's now a popular tourist attraction. I didn't expect it to be so huge or impressive, but this video proved me wrong.

As a family we watched The King and I, a movie adapted from a stage play about a British governess to the King of Siam in the 1860s. It's actually banned in Thailand because of how it depicts the king. (Speaking badly of the royal family is still punishable by jail time in Thailand.)

When I was prepping for this week, I was reading over a list of Thailand's major exports and when I got to rice (#3 on the list,) I stopped and thought, "You  know, I actually don't know how rice grows." So I thought this would be a good time to find out with the kids.

We watched this video on how rice grows and then as an activity, dyed uncooked rice with food coloring.

What will we use it for? I don't know. People let their toddlers do sensory play with colored rice, and I'm sure my three youngest kids can think of plenty of ideas on their own.

Needs to dry out for 24 hours, but whatever the kids do with afterward, they're doing it outside.
As a general rule, I hate doing crafts with the kids. It's always messy and time-consuming, and they get frustrated when there are steps they can't do by themselves. But this was easy, awesome, cheap, and fast. Five stars out of five. Would do this again.

Our last activity of the week in Thailand was one final Thai dinner: phat kaphrao.

Served on brown rice. Yum.

Phat kaphrao was a tasty change from our usual stir-fry so we're keeping this one, too. So far, this summer has been amazing for our future dinner menus.

All in all, this week of The Educational Summer Vacation was time well-spent. I loved the food, the kids liked the activities, and we all learned a lot. And did I mention the food? I'm in love with Southeast Asian cooking now.

Learning about Thailand is fun and hands-on with these free crafts, ideas, and activities for kids! #Thailand #Thai #educational
Building the perfect Thailand 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 Thai activities, crafts, books, and free printables for teachers and educators! #Thailand #lessonplan
This Thailand unit study is packed with activities, crafts, book lists, and recipes for kids of all ages! Make learning about Thailand in your homeschool even more fun with these free ideas and resources. #Thailand #Thai #homeschool

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