Saturday, August 15, 2020

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying Saudi Arabia

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I can't believe it's already Week 6 of our Educational Summer Vacation! 

Every summer, my kids pick one country a week and we try to immerse ourselves in the culture as best we can: we listen to the music, learn some of the language, try the food, and study its history. This week we traveled to Saudi Arabia.

Or, if you're my 4-year-old, "Saubi Aradia." He's working on it.


We started the week by finding Saudi Arabia on the wall map.

The kids filled out their passport pages (free to download here) with information on the capital city, bordering waters and countries, and physical features. They also get to make up a visa stamp and draw it.

Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the Middle East. It's also a relatively new country, founded in 1932. Here is the flag:

The writing is the Shahada, the Muslim profession of faith.

We watched this intro video about Saudi Arabia, which at 8K is pretty much higher resolution than real life, I think. It certainly looked pretty on our TV.

I also set out some Saudi Arabia-themed books for the kids to read during the week. 

My 8-year-old liked Yatimah from the Horse Diaries series and Dear Whiskers by Ann Whitehead Nagada.

My 16-year-old liked Daring to Drive by Manal al-Sharif and On Saudi Arabia by Karen Elliott House (both of them are adult fiction and not YA, so read with your own discretion.) I also set out Saudi Arabia from the Enchantment of the World series.


Today I sat the kids down and said "We're going to learn about Islam" and my 8-year-old wailed, "But we already leeeeeaaaaaarned about Islam!" 

Sorry, dear, but there are a lot of Muslim countries.

In Islam, Saudi Arabia is particularly important because it's home to the two most sacred Muslim sites: Mecca and Medina. In fact, the king of Saudi Arabia is called "the custodian of the two holy mosques."

We read a beautiful picture book called Muhammad by Demi and talked about how Mecca is where Muhammad was born. 

I knew Muslims face the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca when they pray, but I didn't really know much about the what, when, or why of the Kaaba. We learned where Muslims believe it came from and about the sacred black stone at the corner. There is even an interior to the Kaaba, which I didn't even know before today.

We read the picture book Going to Mecca by Na'ima B. Robert, and I gave my older kids Muhammad of Mecca: Prophet of Islam. My 16-year-old will be all over reading that book and learning about the different conflicts between Islamic and non-Islamic world during Muhammad's lifetime.

Medina is the second holiest site in Saudi Arabia, because Muhammad's tomb is beneath the Mosque of the Prophet, under a large green dome. He is buried behind the ornate green doors in this video (although I'm not sure anyone ever gets to go inside.)

Modeling it after the idea on this site, we made a Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) game. The kids decorated a spraypainted black box like the Kaaba, cut out a circular gameboard, and glued on pieces of paper in a counter-clockwise direction. 

Gameplay was a lot like Trouble, actually.

Participants in the Hajj go around the Kaaba 7 times, so we each had 7 pieces and rolled a die to get them around the Kaaba first.

My 4- and 6-year-olds wanted to play so that pieces could share a space, but my 8-year-old wanted players to send each other back to the start if you land on their space. Now that was an intense Hajj.


Saudi Arabia has two police forces. There are the regular police, and then there are the religious police, called the Mutaween.

As we learned in this video, Saudi Arabia isn't the only country to have religious police. But it's probably the most famous for it. Saudi Arabia follows Sharia Law, and besides that, most of the country is part of a conservative sect of Islam called Wahhābism. 

We watched one more video about the religious police and then read this article about what kinds of things they enforce and prohibit. Drinking and smoking, women being in the company of male non-relatives, and even too-Western customs like Valentine's Day are all against the rules.

Things are slowly changing. As of 2016, the religious police aren't allowed to arrest or punish offenders; instead they're supposed to report them to the regular police. In 2009, Saudi Arabia's first co-ed university opened, and women have been allowed to vote since 2015 and drive since 2018. In 2018, Saudi Arabia also started allowing non-Muslim tourist travel into the country.

The next thing we did was have a debate about the idea of having "morality police." My four oldest kids drew lots and had to argue for or against, then I had them switch and argue on the other side.

Maybe that will work better once they're all in high school, because our debate devolved pretty quickly into "Yeah? Well, you're a poopyhead!" and "It takes one to know one."

We'll try again in a few years.

For dinner tonight, we had the national dish of Saudi Arabia. It's called al kabsa.

Such a pretty meal.

I was impressed. It was kind of time-consuming and required a bunch of different pots, but now that I've been through the process once it wouldn't be so bad to do it again. Which I probably will  it was good!


95% of Saudi Arabia is desert, so let's talk a little about that. 

The plants there are xerophytic, which means they can live without very much water.

The animal life there includes wolves, hyenas, foxes, honey badgers, mongooses, porcupines, baboons, hedgehogs, hares, sand rats, and jerboa. Since I knew my kids would love them, we watched a video about jerboas.

They are so sad they can't have one as a pet.

Did you know there are no rivers in Saudi Arabia? Only wadis, which are seasonal. We watched a video about Saudi Arabia's water problem, agriculture, and how they're currently getting their drinking water. 

Then we learned about the Crown Prince Camel Festival. Camels are such a part of Saudi culture, it's like horse-lovers in the U.S. I was completely riveted by this video about the million-dollar camel race during the festival.

This longer video about the festival gave more details about the race, but other events like the camel beauty contest (kind of like a dog show, but for camels.) My kids couldn't believe that some people will try to cheat by injecting their camels with Botox.

Inspired and finding ourselves with a 99-cent pack of balloons on our hands, we decided to hold our own camel race of sorts. 

Two of the race contestants.

Have you ever done balloon rockets? Well, we did something similar. Our resident artist (my 16-year-old) drew camels on the balloons and we set up two parallel strings right next to each other so we could race. 

My 8-year-old also joined the camel race.

The races weren't terribly successful, but we had fun and liked looking at the teeny-tiny camels on the balloons after they deflated.

After we were done, I gave them the book Can You Survive the Desert? An Interactive Survival Adventure

Remember Choose Your Own Adventure books from when we were kids, where you turn to different pages depending on what decisions you make? This is the same idea. I love these books because there are multiple stories in one.


Bedouin means "dwellers in the desert" in Arabic. There are still Bedouin nomads living the same lifestyle they did thousands of years ago, so we watched a video about them.

And Native Bedouin poetry, known as nabaṭī, is extremely popular in Saudi Arabia. It loses almost all of its poetic nature when translated into English, though, and this article made us all think about why.

We haven't played with out magnetic poetry sets for years, but this was a great time to pull them out of the attic and let the kids create some poetry.

My 14-year-old wrote a poem about camels in the desert, made significantly more challenging my the fact that our magnetic poetry set didn't contain the word "camel." But I think she did a good job:

She had to get creative with tenses and spellings to say what she wanted to say.

Others of us just have really high self-esteem and aren't afraid to show it:

My attempts to go over the parts of speech with my 8-year-old were less than successful, but she did enjoy making some silly sentences:

Not pictured are any of my 12-year-old son's poems, which all prominently featured the word "butt." Whoever put that word in the magnetic poetry set definitely had him in mind as their target demographic.


Saudi Arabia produces the most oil of anyplace in the world. We looked at the book Oil from the Eyewitness Books series and found out how many products are made using oil (hint: it's a lot.)

We learned about how oil is formed under the ground (this video was good for the little kids and this video was good for the big ones.)

But how do they get the oil out of the ground? I've seen those oil derricks bobbing up and down before, but I never really understood how that worked so I thought this video was interesting. 

The last thing we needed to see in Saudi Arabia was to watch the national dance being performed. It's a martial line dance called "Al Ardha," performed by men wielding swords and chanting to drums. If you were paying attention, you saw a little bit of it in the camel festival video from Thursday.

To cap off the week, I thought it would be appropriate to make some Saudi Arabian cookies using this recipe. (After all, there's never an inappropriate time to make cookies.)

Date-filled deliciousness.

I wasn't sure what to expect but these were delicious. They were like Fig Newtons but way better, because Medjool dates blow figs out of the water.

Our week in Saudi Arabia ended up being so much fun. We learned about the world, got outside, did some silly things, and had some good food. You really can't ask for a better week than that.

Learning about Saudi Arabia is fun and hands-on with these free crafts, ideas, and activities for kids! #Saudi Arabia #educational #mecca #islam
Building the perfect Saudi Arabia lesson plan for your students? Are you doing an around-the-world unit or religious studies unit in your K-12 social studies classroom? Try these free and fun Saudi Arabia activities, crafts, books, and free printables for teachers and educators! #Saudi Arabia #mecca #islam #lessonplan

This Saudi Arabia unit study is packed with activities, crafts, book lists, and recipes for kids of all ages! Make learning about Saudi Arabia in your homeschool even more fun with these free ideas and resources. #Saudi Arabia #mecca  #islam #homeschool
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Kassie said...

I find your virtual trips amazing. How much time each day do you typically spend on these activities?

Jenny Evans said...

Kassie: Thank you! It is really cool, but it's a lot of work. I spend several hours (maybe like 5?) over the weekend reserving books and putting things together. And "doing countries" every day takes maybe an hour or an hour and a half. Depends what we're doing. My brain is fried to a crisp right now and I'm ready for a vacation!

Tana said...

This. Is. Awesome! Thank you for the links and details. It really helps! We do My Father's World curriculum and are in Saudi Arabia but I just wanted MORE and you totally delivered it in a pretty little package for me. Can't thank you enough- I am totally going to check your site for more countries and other things! THANK YOU!!!