How We Do Culture Studies
UPDATE JULY 2019: I originally wrote this post for Preschool but everything here still fits perfectly for Kindergarten.
We explore countries other than our own using the following resources and activities, which I will detail below:
- Living Books
- Letters From Afar
- Map Work (Geography)
- Age-Appropriate Nonfiction Resources
- Classic Stories & Folktales
- Animal & Biome Study
- Landmark Study
- Cultural Food
If nothing else, we usually START with stories set in different countries. This, to me, is the easiest and most natural place to start for my kids. So, instead of setting out a globe on the table and announcing, “We’re going to learn about France today,” we read Madeline! We first read living books — and if that story is set in a different country that ours, it provides a natural opportunity to locate that country on a map and explore it further.
Here are just a couple examples:
- Madeline and France
- The Story of Ferdinand and Spain
- Beatrice’s Goat and Uganda
- The Emperor and the Kite and China
- Monsoon and India
What Do We Do All Day? has a great list of books by country that may be of interest!
Letters From Afar
We recently signed up for a subscription from Letters From Afar and I am totally blown away at how wonderful and simple this is! I was honestly worried the letters would be too much for my kids at their ages, but they loved it! They are so excited for the next letter to come in the mail, to see where Isabelle might go next. Covered in the letters are famous landmarks, cultural events, climate, food, animals, and some history. It’s wonderful. For only $6 a month, this is absolutely worth it.
Map Work (Geography)
As stated above, we typically do not study maps in isolation of literary connections. That said, I’ll share some of the resources I have been using lately:
- World Map leather mat from Gathre
- MAPS book
- Continent Nomenclature Cards (free from The Helpful Garden)
- World Map from Montessori Print Shop
We do not have a globe at this point that that’s next on my wishlist! I would also love to find a high quality wood puzzle of the whole world with every country as its own piece, so if you know of one, please do share.
More could be done for Preschool Geography in terms of terminology, landforms, and even compass work, but for this blog post I wanted to keep the focus on the connection of map work to cultural studies. Montessori-inspired continent boxes are also a wonderful tool.
Age-Appropriate Nonfiction Resources
We read and explore the above-listed books enough where my son can actually make connections between the books. Sometimes it may take my effort but I never try to force the learning but instead follow the lead of my kids.
If it works out and interest is there, we search these books together to make connections between our Letters From Afar letter or a picture book we are reading.
Classic Stories & Folktales
There are lots of great folktales from a variety of countries in these two books:
The Table of Contents to both of these books has the stories listed and the country of origin. I just scan the lists and find a story from the specific country we are currently studying. We usually read these types of stories during our afternoon tea time.
Note that I do not use these books with every country we study. I do at most one story from these books a week.
Animal & Biome Study
We often look at our MAPS book and find animals on those pages. My kids LOVE animals and it’s fun to explore the natural world around the globe in this way. We play with small animal figurines from Safari TOOBs, explore the Atlas of Animal Adventures, read poems from Wild World, and watch scenes from Planet Earth.
Above is a picture of a Tiger study that also included a culture study of India. Connecting animals to places across the globe is such a fun way to make geography have some depth beyond “this is where India is on the map.”
This can be so simple and so fun! Flags are a great way to bring in some arts & crafts to the culture studies.
My kids have done the following to make flags:
- Cut construction paper and glue together pieces
- Color or watercolor paint a basic printed coloring page (found through Google)
- Build a flag out of LEGO pieces
For our Madeline and France study, we also focused on The Eiffel Tower. We looked up real photos and pictures, and then I had the kids do a special art piece featuring the Eiffel Tower.
My kids also love building with blocks and LEGOs, so when we were learning about England we built Big Ben and the Tower Bridge. Safari also has a World Landmark TOOB and Around the World TOOB with a variety of famous landmarks—these are all miniature and my kids enjoy this type of thing, but you certainly can skip buying stuff like this!
I also enjoy having these illustrated World Landmark Nomenclature Cards from Montessori Nature.
If you have the ability to hop on a plane and go experience the actual country you are studying, by all means! Next best thing? Videos! The internet can certainly be terrible (in my humble opinion), BUT it also gives us the ability to enjoy some people, places, and customs from around the world in our small home in rural Indiana. Not a bad thing!
We simply watch a variety of videos for our cultural studies. I already mentioned we like to watch Planet Earth for some features of specific animals and habitats, but we also may watch videos of a specific cultural celebration like Chinese lantern festivals or Andalusian Horse Dance shows. I usually wait to see what type of thing my kids are showing interest in from our stories and discussions, and then look up videos. I do not typically pre-plan this out.
What’s a culture study without international food!?
Here are some examples of foods we have made recently to celebrate another country:
- Crepes for France
- Samosas for India
- Churros for Spain
Don’t put pressure on yourself to make the best ever “authentic” fare — just find an easy version of a popular dish that you can make & enjoy with your child(ren).
World music — Celebrate some music from your country of focus. For preschoolers this needs no elaborate explanation or introduction–simply play the music while you cook or clean or play.
Dance styles — Look up a culturally relevant dance and try it out with your kids. We have even visited some local performances to enjoy a variety of types of dance and music.
Artist study — Is there a famous artist from your country of focus you want to explore further? I wanted to do Picasso for Spain recently, but we spent so much time exploring other things that I thought adding in an artist study that week would be too much. Really for preschoolers you could introduce the artist with one famous work of art — don’t feel like you need a huge history lesson and to explore his/her full body of work! Keep it fun.
Art projects — Is there a culturally-specific art technique or style you could try out in a preschool-friendly-version? Brush & ink calligraphy painting is used in China, for example, and could be done with a DIY ink version with preschoolers.
Every Star is Different has several helpful Continent Packs for all 7 Continents (plus The Arctic) with a lot of free printables. Go check it out here.
Little Global Citizens is a fun, thoughtful, and engaging subscription box for learning about a different country. There is a book included as well as numerous crafts and activities.