Saturday, July 31, 2021

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying Ireland

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We learned about Northern Ireland a few years ago when we covered the U.K. for The Educational Summer Vacation, but this year it was time for the kids to learn about the Republic of Ireland!

This week we were learning about everything from hurling to Irish language (yes, there is one) to the Celts to the food. And I bought so many potatoes, you guys.

A few Ireland-themed fiction books I gave the kids to read on their own:


We got our first introduction to the Emerald Isle with the book This is Ireland by M. Sasek. (To be honest, the cadence of the words was a little weird and hard to follow, but kids just look at the pictures in picture books so it's all good.)

With some Irish music in the background, the kids found Ireland on the wall map and filled out a page in their passports. Free printable passport pages are here, you're welcome.

My daughter looked up the Irish flag and the youngest two kids colored it to add to our wall.

We watched a Globe Trekker DVD about Ireland, but this beautiful 4k video on YouTube is a good substitute if you're rushed for time.

For dinner we had Irish stew pie and it was so delicious. I mean, I don't even know why it was so good, the ingredients were nothing unusual. I am definitely making this again.

Not the prettiest thing but holy cow the taste.

Irish folklore is full of fairies, leprechauns, goddesses, and heroes. In fact, the DVD we watched earlier today talked about a famous Irish giant named Finn McCool. And since we happened to have a book on loan from the library called Finn McCool and the Great Fish by Eve Bunting. the younger kids heard it for a bedtime story.


We started off Tuesday with the book S is for Shamrock. I must be tired because I didn't realize why all the kids were laughing until they informed me I said it was called "S is for Scottland." Close, Jenny. So close.

Then we learned about two of Ireland's sports, Gaelic football and hurling (the female version is called 'camogie.')

Gaelic football is sort of a cross between soccer, basketball, and American football. We read about it and watched the video here.

Hurling is like all that but with the addition of wooden paddles, so we all went outside and tried a hurling match. Just kidding, someone would've needed to go to the emergency room after 10 minutes. That game looks brutal.

No, what we really did was watch a clip from Riverdance. It's a little sensationalized and not exactly true Irish dancing because they do use their arms a little, but it's close enough for us to at least get a feel for it.

We then attempted to watch this instructional video on how to do a basic Irish dance step and couldn't do it, even a little bit, even when the instructor put the video in slow motion and even when we watched it three times.

Dinner tonight was colcannon potatoes and Irish soda bread. Was it really a meal? Maybe not. But Phillip was out of town on a work trip and when he's gone we always have dinners that aren't real food (like parfaits or cereal,) and I figured why break tradition?

My kids begged me not to put raisins in this soda bread but liked it in the end. Most of them, anyway.


Each of the kids took a turn picking a question and reading the answer from Ireland Q&A by Mary Dodson Wade, and then we took a dive into the Irish language.

Does Ireland have its own language? Yes! A lot of Irish people can't speak it after hundreds of years of colonization (humorously depicted here,) but it exists. We learned how to say hello, goodbye, please and thank you with this video, and it took some practice but I think we pronounce them passably now.

Today Irish is written with the Latin alphabet we know and love, but in the 4th century A.D. it was written using a language called Ogham, otherwise known as "the tree language." 

Today, almost 400 "Ogham stones" (stones with Ogham inscriptions) exist in and around Ireland. The kids looked at these pictures and did these free printable worksheets from BBC to learn how to read Ogham.

Even the 5-year-old got how to decode this, so I was impressed.

One of the older kids put the younger ones to bed while I was running around picking the teenagers and dropping them off (Phillip was still out of town,) so I asked them to read Tim O'Toole and the Wee Folk as a bedtime story. 

I didn't hear the details but they said they weren't ready to take it back to the library yet so it must've been good.


We reviewed our Irish words from yesterday with another video, and then moved on to the Celts. Celtic people arrived in Ireland in about 500 B.C. Their religion celebrated nature and the seasons, so we talked briefly about that and I gave my 17-year-old a book called The Ancient Celtic Festivals and How We Celebrate Them Today since I knew she'd be interested.

Next we put on some Celtic music and learned about different kinds of Celtic knots. I printed out these diagrams for the kids and had them find each knot as I read to them about each of their meanings.

The little kids wanted to color their diagrams while the older kids and I tried out a few with ropes, and my oldest two girls tried to follow this tutorial on how to do a Celtic knot hairstyle on each other.

Pretty good, I think!

For lunch, we made soft pretzels but instead of twisting them into the traditional pretzel shape or symbols from Harry Potter like the kids usually do, we tried making them into Celtic knots.

Attempting Solomon's Knot.

Can you find each one on the diagram?

The Love Knot was probably my favorite.

Turns out that the Sailor's Knot was easier with dough than rope because it didn't slide around so much.

I didn't expect this to be such a fun activity, or for the kids to be so into it, or for it to take so long. Or for there to be so, so much flour all over the kitchen when we were done.


Today was all about iconic features of Ireland, starting with St. Patrick. 

We read a picture book called Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland, and then watched a short video documentary about the pilgrimage 40,000 Catholics make every year up a mountain called Croagh Patrick. Coincidentally, it's on the last Sunday in July which just happened.

Next up was Blarney Castle and the famous Blarney Stone you can kiss for the "gift of gab" (i.e: eloquent speaking.) Someone kissed the stone in this History Channel mini-documentary, and my 9-year-old yelled, "During Coronavirus?!? That's a terrible idea!"

"It's okay," the 5-year-old answered. "He's probably fully vaccinated." (Read this with a slight lisp to get the full effect.)

Lastly, we read about potatoes and the infamous Irish Potato Famine in 1845-1849. Even though potatoes are practically synonymous with Ireland today, they're actually not native plants. The potato was imported to Ireland in the 17th century.

Remember all those potatoes I bought? We used several of them to carve into stamps of whatever design the kids wanted. A good tutorial is this one if you've never done it before.

A moose, a smiley face, shamrocks, a Celtic trinity knot, and Darth Vader.

Again, it was fun but a huge mess.

I wanted to make Dublin coddle for dinner tonight but I didn't read the recipe closely enough, ran out of time, and ended up throwing the ingredients together in a dish I would call loosely inspired by Dublin coddle and not particularly picture-worthy.

This weekend, we'll try again with corned beef and cabbage. Which I know needs to go in the slow cooker for a while so this time I'll be ready.
Learning about Ireland is fun and hands-on with these free crafts, ideas, and activities for kids! #Ireland #Irish #educational

Building the perfect Ireland 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 Irish activities, Celtic crafts, books, and free printables for teachers and educators! #Ireland #lessonplan

This Ireland unit study is packed with activities, Celtic crafts, book lists, and Irish recipes for kids of all ages! Make learning about Ireland in your homeschool even more fun with these free ideas and resources. #Ireland #homeschool
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Anonymous said...

This is incredibly helpful! The kids and I are “traveling around the world” and they want to go to Ireland first! If you have anymore countries, I would love to see it!

Jenny Evans said...

If you're interested in the other countries we've done, you can check out the master list here: