Saturday, July 23, 2022

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying Zimbabwe

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The Educational Summer Vacation is all about giving my kids and I some structure during those long summer days. 

Since 2011, my six kids (ages 6-18) and I have been learning about different countries in the world every summer. The little kids love quizzing each other on the flags we've hung up on the wall, and the teenagers say their heads are now full of random facts about faraway places that come in handy at unexpected moments.

This week, we learned all about Zimbabwe! If you homeschool or are just looking for a fun craft, recipe, or activity to do with your kids for an afternoon, please use anything you like that you see here.


I {heart} YouTube; we watch so many educational videos on there. This beautiful 4K intro to Zimbabwe had my kids spellbound. Me too, if I'm honest.

First, we located Zimbabwe (which until 1979 was part of a country called Rhodesia after British colonialist Cecil Rhodes) on our big wall map

I printed out a bunch of these blank passport pages for each kid, hole-punched the corner, and hold them together with a binder ring. We fill one out for every country we "visit," and the kids always like designing their own visa stamp in the little blank area.

Printable blank pages are here

After reading Count Your Way through Zimbabwe, the kids looked up the flag of Zimbabwe and copied it down on paper to color and add to our wall of flags. 

They also looked up the symbolism of the flag: green is for agriculture, yellow is for minerals, red is for the blood shed during the war for liberation, and black is for the black majority of the population. The white triangle represents peace and the red star symbolizes the country's aspirations. The bird is the national emblem, found in ancient Zimbabwean ruins we'll talk about later this week.


After reading a little bit from the book Zimbabwe from the Exploring World Cultures series, we focused in today on Zimbabwe's language.

Zimbabwe has 16 official languages. Most official government business is in English, but the most widely-spoken language at home is Shona. Since we already know English pretty well, we turned our attention to Shona.

We watched a TikTok on counting to ten in Shona a few times, and then practiced by playing number bingo. 

You could print out some cards here, but it was faster to have my kids make their own so that's what we did.

The caller draws a number card, says its name in Shona, and then everyone works out which number it is (teamwork is allowed) so they can put a candy on it. The game ends when all the M&Ms are eaten or when the youngest player runs away screaming because he didn't get a bingo, whichever comes first. It'll probably be the running away screaming one.

So maybe the 6-year-old didn't have a great time playing bingo, but he really did enjoy a cute picture book called Party Croc, which is adapted from a Shona folktale, which made up for it.

For dinner that night, we had nyama (Zimbabwean beef stew) with sadza (thick cornmeal porridge). I knew the kids would like the nyama and hate the sadza, but told them they had to try at least a bite of everything.

I was right about both things. 


Where Are You Going Manyoni? is a beautifully illustrated picture book that was a perfect introduction to today's topic: the natural wonders of Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe is home to Victoria Falls, which isn't really even a waterfall but an insanely wide sheet of falling water. It's known to locals as "the smoke that thunders" because of the mist that floats up from the bottom. 

We watched this compilation of 4K shots of the falls and then stumbled across this 360° video. Have you ever seen one of these? You can move around within the video like virtual reality, it's pretty crazy.

Zimbabwe is also a popular safari spot, home to the "Big 5" animals people want to see on a safari: African lions, African leopards, African elephants, Cape buffalo, and rhinos. 

I cut up a list of 10 facts about the Big 5 and asked my teenager to hide them around the room, then sent the little kids on a safari to find them and read each one aloud.

Then we went nature watching in our yard, taking turns with a binoculars and a magnifying glass to see what wildlife we could find. 

We checked our birdhouse (plenty of fresh nesting material so we know there were some chicks there in the spring), filled up our bird feeder, and each kid got a copy of a printout of common birds in our state in case they saw anything.

We didn't see many birds just then, but after we were done I taped the bird identification sheet to the sliding glass door by the feeder and my 8-year-old correctly identified his first bird by the next morning.


Right now, $1 USD equals around $361 Zimbabwean dollars. The country's annual inflation is at a staggering 190% (up from 66% before the Russia-Ukraine war), and that's still better than it was during the unbelievable hyper-inflation of 2008. (By contrast, inflation in the US is usually around 2%, though because of the upheaval of the last year it's gone up to 9%.) 

I admit the video was a little over my younger kids' heads, but it was a great place to start. I adapted this candy bar inflation activity to have a basic economics lesson, using Hershey Kisses.

I asked "what is money?" and was pleased none of the kids mentioned bills or coins. Money can be anything we agree to trade for other stuff: shells, jewels, etc. For the purposes of our demonstration, our money was going to be dried beans.

I gave each kid six beans and we bid on Hershey's Kisses for three rounds. I gave them three more pie weights each round, so by the end they were going for a little more than they were at the beginning, but not much.

Then I asked "what is inflation?" My 6-year-old knew inflation was blowing up a balloon, and that was a good place to start. Inflation means the balloon gets bigger, and when you're talking about money, inflation means you need a bigger amount of money to buy something than you needed a little while ago. A little bit of inflation is okay, but when a government keeps printing money like Zimbabwe's did in 2008, you get runaway inflation.

We did three more rounds of bidding, but each time I kept throwing in larger and larger amounts beans, until each Hershey Kiss cost 10x more than it had in the beginning, even though it was the same Hershey Kiss.

Regardless of how much they understood, everyone enjoyed all the chocolate.

That night, the teenagers and Phillip and I watched the first half of the documentary President, about the 2018 election against a corrupt dictator who'd been in power for 40 years. Unfortunately it was late for us old people, and we'll have to finish the rest soon!


Today you can visit stone ruins there of a walled city called Great Zimbabwe, which was once a major stop on a trade route in the 11th century.

We learned about it from the DVD Ancient Africa from the Arizona Smith series. Basically Arizona Smith is the Bill Nye of archaeology (Arizona Smith = Indiana Jones, get it? Womp, womp.) 

The stone structures of Great Zimbabwe were all built without mortar. There were no right angles  everything was round  and each precisely cut stone was a little recessed from the ones below it for extra stability. 

The younger kids took out our giant building blocks (best Christmas gift ever) and did their best to recreate Great Zimbabwe:

It looks like his structure is smoking and possibly on fire, but I think there was just water on my camera lens.

In Great Zimbabwe, there are also eight sculptures of birds carved from soapstone (you can see one on the country's flag).

Using a bar of soap and a handful of implements like butter knives, pencils, paperclips, and toothpicks, the kids tried out carving the Great Zimbabwe birds for themselves:

The younger kids preferred to sketch their designs on paper first and then trace them onto the bar of soap:

The 6-year-old accidentally broke off the beak, but he worked with it and didn't run away screaming, which was progress.

The finished products:

The older kids were groaning because we were carving the soapstone birds out of soap, and the soap was Ivory just like they traded ivory out of Great Zimbabwe... between that and Arizona Smith, I guess it was a really punny day.

To end the day, we read a nice picture book that was a true story about the value of education called The Girl Who Buried Her Dreams in a Can, and that was the end of our week in Zimbabwe.

We learned a lot this week, from Shona to sculpting to economics. Visiting Zimbabwe was a lot of fun, although if you asked the younger kids about it they'd probably cite playing with all the soap scraps from their bird carvings in a big bucket of water outside afterward was the funnest part of the whole thing. 

It certainly was the messiest.

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PurpleSlob said...

Love the puns!! Shona sounds fun to play Bingo in!

Kassie said...

I was impressed when I first saw your summer "vacation" when I discovered your website, and now I am finally taking the plunge. We are visiting two locations (since I committed late and school starts in a little over three weeks), and my kids chose France and Russia. Any good luck wishes or advice/itineraries you want to send my way, I'd appreciate! Thanks for the inspiration.

Jenny Evans said...

Kassie: I'm so excited for you! It's a lot of work but totally worth it. The beauty of doing it in the summer instead of as homeschool is that there's no pressure to make sure you're covering anything specific, so you can make it as simple as you want to. Whatever you do is just bonus learning.

We did France and Russia pre-blog so I don't have a record of the specific resources I used. In France, I remember having the kids copy/color a different famous painting every day and hanging them up gallery-style in the hallway like the Louvre all week. We also drew a giant Eiffel Tower on the driveway with sidewalk chalk and had a friend teach us basic ballet positions. I'm totally drawing a blank with Russia, though...

In general, I usually start planning by doing a 5-min Google search to find out what the country is famous for, and I also search for the name of the country in the library catalog and reserve what comes up. I sketch out an outline of one thing to cover each day, and if I don't have library materials for each thing I look for Internet articles or YouTube videos. I try to include one related activity/craft per day. I also Google "national dish of _______" and try to find a doable recipe for it (or find a nearby ethnic restaurant.)

Of course you don't have to do all that and sometimes I think I am a crazy person. But that's what we do.

Good luck!