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Home Education Magazine

September-October 1999 - Articles

Passport to the World - Sue Smith-Heavenrich

My son is off exploring the world this year. Last month it was Asia; this month it's Africa. He's got his passport and a backpack loaded with books and a map... and a water bottle and granola bar for emergencies. He's even mastered a few words of Swahili.
"Chakula, mama," he says as he grabs an apple and heads upstairs to his magic carpet. Chakula, he's explained to me, means food. An important word for a growing boy to learn in any language.
Our state social studies curriculum outline for third grade lists "communities around the world" as the major topic of study. Not that I follow the state curriculum guidelines closely, but this sounded like fun.
When I was a child I wanted desperately to be from anywhere but normal-town USA. China, India, Brazil... they sounded exotic and warm. The food would be spicy and sweet, and I could ride a yak to school.
So this September I dug my old, expired passport out of the bottom drawer and walked into the kitchen. "So, how would you like to travel around the world?" I asked.
"Will I miss soccer practice?" Toby asked.
"Not if we use a supersonic magic carpet." We spent the first week just studying the passport and visas, and making a special student passport for Toby. He wanted it official, with photograph and his own registration number, which he punched in the cover using a straight pin. Once he signed it, he was ready to fly.
Because a lot of Toby's learning is child-directed, it was up to him to choose where to go. He decided to travel to South America - remember, it was soccer season! Needless to say, I had no books on South American countries. So our first week was one of getting ready. Toby and I played "Where in the World" to learn some of the geography, and visited the library where we collected books on countries, folktales, and wildlife. Also, it's during the first week that Toby draws his maps. These are drawn freehand, labelled and colored. South America looked a bit different than I was used to, but there was the Amazon River, in Brazil where it belonged.
Over the next month Toby read about various countries, and took a trip down the Amazon (by book and video). We learned about rainforest ecology and medicinal plants, read aloud from collections of folktales, and listened to music of the Incas. We went on an archeology expedition to study the Mayan culture, again by video, and visited the South American animal guests housed at our local zoo. We even tried making clay pots with air-drying clay and painting them with traditional designs. After Toby finished studying about a country, he drew a visa in his passport, then stamped it.
Our Asian tour took us to India, Japan, China and the "I-stans" as Toby calls the central Asian states. We found a wonderful children's history of the Samurai warrior - even discovered some armor at the art museum - and took a tour with "Big Bird" to China and Japan (great videos even for older kids). Because Toby's been corresponding with a pen pal in India for about a year, it made studying that country even more interesting. As a treat, we watched the movie Gandhi.
Because our winters are so cold, we wanted to visit somewhere warm. Thus Africa. Again, we spent a week finding books and other resources, drawing maps, and learning the names of countries. I've noticed the maps are becoming larger, the countries more well defined. This one took an entire week.
"I want it to be good, mom." I agree - don't want him getting lost in the Namib desert.
So far he's gone on a safari to the savanna and followed the migration of a wildebeest herd. He's visited countries through books and drawn visas. Now we're finding ourselves covered in flour paste to the elbows as we make paper mache masks... and he's been drooling over recipes for yam fufu and fish stew. "Chakula, mama," he reminds me.
"So where are we going next month?" I ask as I schlock the soggy newspaper onto my balloon. We're making animal masks for Mmanwe, a Nigerian festival held each December.
He shrugs and looks at the globe. "North America?"
"Well, we went to Canada last summer, so I guess we'll have to visit the Caribbean. That OK with you?" I ask.
He rubs the flour paste all over his hands, deep in thought. The paste drips off his wrist and onto his favorite green sweats. "What do you think I should draw on my visa for Nigeria?"
Later he brings his passport in for my "official" inspection. There is a colorful mask drawn for his visa, and it is stamped with the footprints of... "It's a wildebeest," he says, though we both know it's really the print of a white-tailed deer.
1999, Sue Smith-Heavenrich

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