Teaching kids geography and history with Napoleon, Wellington and Metternich

More late afternoon fun with a costumed history and geography lesson – this time with Napoleon Buonaparte, the Duke of Wellington and diplomat Klemens von Metternich. The kids can say where each key 19th century person is from, their job, why they were important and what happened to them (including the battle of Waterloo, Napoleon’s prison at Elba and Saint Helena’s, and the restructuring of Europe through Metternich’s diplomacy.)

Lots of geography – from Europe to the south Atlantic Ocean – covered here, while  real-life history can compete any story the boys can invent (and they can invent some great stories 🙂 ).

Why wait for Carnival? Getting into character – and into engaged learning

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 An English lesson about London, England and Great Britain – in costume and in character – makes kids so eager to participate that learning is effortless! 

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Note: the child in the video above, presenting London, knew very little English, and also very little about Tudor history and the current royal family until ten minutes before he did the presentation.  I am so proud of him! 

Carnival is not around the corner, but Halloween is only about five weeks away.  Why wait, though?  Since I have about 150 costumes (for both adults and children) in my collection, I like to use them whenever I can. As a foreign language teacher (who uses a strong communicative approach through drama and music), adding some festivity to any lesson is guaranteed to get children to learn their lesson, provided you let them know that the costumes are part of a lesson, rather than a free-for-all.

Last week we had a lesson about England and Great Britain, with a focus on London and some of England’s most famous monarchs.  We also included Scotland and the boys in the class were amused by the Scottish kilt, until I reminded them of the many kinds of traditional clothes. from around the world that include some kind of “skirt” worn by men.

Here are some photos of the teacher (Yours Truly) dressed as Queen Elizabeth the First, accompanied by a Queen’s Guard (yes, I know, the Palace Guards with the tall bearskin hats did not exist in Tudor times but from the Battle of Waterloo onwards – but the boy in that costume was able to explain to the class that he is in the service of the second Queen Elizabeth, the current monarch of Great Britain.)

Another child dressed as the formidable King Henry the Eighth.  He was loved pretending to be “my father”  :).

Included in this post is a video of a presentation of London, whose installation is made up of an amazing 3D map of the city (the children loved inserting the 3D representations of London’s historic and modern buildings into the spongy map base, and then adding the labels.)  There are also dolls representing King Henry the Eighth, Queen Elizabeth the First, her buddy William Shakespeare, Ada Lovelace, Jane Austen and Sherlock Holmes. There is also a plastic doll of England’s current Queen Elizabeth the Second, solar-powered to wave her hand to the crowds :).  Of course, there are lots of colorful photos of the many famous London landmarks, and a pop-up book as well.  Between the 3D map, the photos, the pop-up book, the realia and the dolls, there are enough materials to give each student a useful role in presenting London.

The children are aware that these historic characters did not all live at the same time, and were able to put them onto a five-century-long timeline.

I am so proud of these kids.  Most of them have not been in Germany longer than two years.  Fluent in German already (and helping me to get fluent in German as well), they are now learning English, and having a lot of fun in the process! Not to mention they can help tourists find their way around London using an Underground map (from my realia collection), tell you plenty of things about Tudor history, and describe Britain’s current royal family.

This lesson promoted the following vocabulary and acquired skills:

  1.  the family
  2. clothes (of the past and the present)
  3. the present and the past tense
  4. correct placement of people and events in history
  5. political geography and culture
  6. public performance
  7. team-work and confidence building through fun!

 

 

 

Geography Yoga with children –

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Two lessons were taught here: geography and some yoga.  Kids love  colors and shapes.  They love tangible materials and they love putting things together.  And of course, they love to stretch and move and have seemingly care-free fun doing yoga by putting various body parts on various “parts of the world” , in an extra-education version of the American game “Twister”.

Making the colorful yoga-mat continents involved a painstaking cut-out project where I glued together long strips of translucent baking paper, attached it to a huge, 2 x 1.4 meter world map in the main hallway of my school, got help from a 6th grade class to trace all the land masses and islands from this map,  cut out the continents and then transferred the pattern paper continents on to yoga mats, finally cutting those out, to produce some beautiful, Montessori-code colored continents.  Using a blue sheet “ocean” background, the kids (featured in all the photos in this post) used the map to recreate a world continent map of their own.

The process involved talking about colors and especially shapes, and having the kids recreate the shapes using gestures and their bodies themselves.  Once they were able to conceptualize the shape and form of each continent, I asked them to place those continents on to the blue sheet.   I asked them to try to remember the position of each continent in relation to the others, and to space them as correctly as possible.  We then looked at the world map as an answer key to see how correctly they had “re-created the world.”

Only some minor corrections were necessary; the kids had done a great job of memorizing the shapes and the disposition of our world’s continents!  Africa and South America needed to be moved farther apart – yet by widening “the Atlantic Ocean”, I was able to throw in a quick lesson in plate tectonics.   They then had fun putting the Africa and South America pieces together and then taking them apart, like puzzle pieces, further internalizing the concept of plate tectonics.

Below is a photo of a plate tectonic lesson taught in English to 6-7 year olds in a Czech school.

plate-tectonics-for-six-year-olds

(I can’t wait to do some lessons on paleontology and Earth history with them!  Especially since we all know how much kids are fascinated by dinosaurs.)

After our “yoga mat continent map” was finished, we identified some countries – especially big, “visually prominent” ones, first on the world map and then on the yoga-mat continent map with the blue sheet.

Then the kids looked at yoga positions on a brown yoga mat nearby, which I had reserved for that purpose.  They immediately started to copy the various positions on the mat.   There was little for me to do except to check that their backs were straight, that their yoga “shapes” were correct, and that they were breathing deeply and regularly.

Finally, we put it all together.  We made a game of “Geography Twister” using body parts – first in German, and then in English.  The kids had to put various body parts on various continents in specific areas on those continents (of course, vocabulary like “east / west / north, south” were used for this purpose as well.)

The results produced various yoga positions, reinforcement of their knowledge of world continents, countries and cardinal points, and lots of laughter.

There are thousands of ways to teach, learn,  and have fun in the process! As I saw on the day of this outdoor lesson, “Geography Yoga” is one of them.

The next lesson – with a foam puzzle floor map of the world – had the kids identifying the continents once again, but this time also the countries.  The map is made of foam and is a puzzle with over 250 pieces.  You know how kids love puzzles! They put it together joyfully and in the process, learned the name and position of many countries.  They were able to show me how they traveled across the Middle East to Germany.  We talked about time differences.  I asked applied questions about time and daily activities across the globe.  The kids were fascinated by the fact that my mother back in Los Angeles was just waking up, while we were finishing a late afternoon lesson… or that a Russian child in Moscow was having breakfast, while a Russian child in Vladivostock was going to bed!

This map is almost the same size as the hand-made Montessori color continent map we assembled and used today, but detailed with every country and the country flag.

More yoga and geography  is pictured below.   Kids sure love to move! They sure love colors!  They sure love to act on the following commands: “Put your left food on Australia and your right foot on Japan.  Put both your hands on north Brazil.  Keep a straight back.” The result, of course, is the yoga position “downward dog”.

I can’t wait to do this lesson again and the kids are looking forward to it as well!

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The Power of Play

“Play is the work of the child.” – Maria Montessori

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Kids love to play.  Playing helps them to be happy, to explore, to create original thoughts and to express themselves without guidance.  Most importantly, playing helps children make sense of the world around them. 

The first independent learning that  a child will ever experience, is through play. Playing is a such a powerful thing!

Obviously, I have been watching children play all my life.  As an educator, I have been observing children play for as long as I can remember being a teacher (nearly 17 years to date 🙂 ).

Yet I never fully appreciated the POWER in their playing – until I started teaching English (with Spanish and French as occasional lessons), in a Montessori school, seven years ago.  It was in such an environment that I finally “got it” about why play is so important and so powerful.  For the first time, I started to see children playing with new eyes.  This was not just play I was observing.  This was work.  

Have you ever taken care of a child (or spent time with your own child or students), and said something to that child, while he or she was playing – only to find your words falling on deaf ears? Have you ever had to physically interrupt your child from playing – a tap on the shoulder, for example, because, lost in the deep focus of the play activity, that was the only way the child could “hear” you?

 

If your answer is yes, then that is not surprising at all, because what you observed was far more than just play.  A child working on an art project – whether devised by the teacher, parent or by the child, is using the hands to create something first devised by the mind, or to realise something tangible without having a goal initially, but to “see what will happen”  with the materials once the work is done.  According to philosopher and pedagogue Maria Montessori, the child “does it with his hands, by experience, first in play and then through work. The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.” (The Absorbent Mind, p. 25.)  And if a child’s play can be considered by its own, intrinsic value, as a means to identify and solve problems, experiment with data and formulate questions (responding to the world around him or her as experienced with all five senses)  and indulge in his or her curiosity about the outcomes of his or her play, it is work in a child’s eyes.

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This is true even if the child is not highly conscious of the fact that he or she has actually done anything that is work in the conventional sense of the word: it can be guided or it can be 100 percent agenda-free.  There is fantasy play with dolls and toy animals that are given a voice, where life is breathed into them through the voice and hands of the child.  I am talking about a child mesmerised by the feeling of various materials (modelling clay, sand, mud, different types of paper) between the fingers.  I am thinking about the quirky things that children do when they are given funny toys and told to simply create stories with those toys, and how they enjoy making a doll character “smell the breath” of a “dead [toy] dinosaur”, or tickle the feet of a “sleeping” plush toy gorilla to “see” (or decide 😉 ) what that great big, fearsome animal will do to the “tickler” when he wakes up.

Then there is also fantasy play that does include an agenda – an academic one  that includes real people from our time or from the past.  I use lots famous people in my English workshops-  and the learning of culture they represent or contribute to the world.  Encouraging make-believe not only  “involves multiple perspectives and the playful manipulation of ideas and emotions that reflect a critical feature of the child’s cognitive and social development” for the normal development of a child (Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., Beautiful Minds, 2012), but gives a teacher a chance to engage children in learning about the great minds of scientists and artists and the work those masters did which, like children, was “play ‘at work'”:

Below, a second grade boy impersonates Leonardo Da Vinci.  His contemporaries complained that he took ages to complete a task or never completed it at all, in addition to abandoning it to take up something else.

Below,  Degas, played by a third grade girl, is grumpy because his “work is interrupted” by the curious class members.  They are happy to learn about impressionism and art history, through make-believe:

Kaufman also talks about “the important concept of ‘theory of mind,’ [as]  an awareness that one’s thoughts may differ from those of other persons and that there are a variety of perspectives of which each of us is capable, is closely related to  imaginative play.” (Jenkins & Astington, 2000; Leslie, 1987; Singer & Singer, 1990; Singer & Singer, 2005).

Play is what children do best. We have all done it, and our children do it too. It is a very special kind of work that gives pleasure and therefore motivation.

Back in the 5th century B.C.,  Confucius said:  “If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life”.  If this is true, then play is every child (and adult’s) opportunity to do something that is both pleasurable and useful.  Play gives children the chance to practice what they are working on, the chance to practice what they are learning.  “Play is the work of the child”, said Maria Montessori at the start of the 20th century.  By extension, she continues to say that “a child’s work is the man [or woman] who he [or she] will become.”

The Power of Play:  What are the benefits that the child (and his or her family) get to enjoy? What are the powers?

  1. Problem-solving:  Play helps a child to develop all these wonderful and necessary life skills.  How about the child that understands how frustrating but necessary it is to do something over and over again in order to produce a result, despite countless failures?  Below, a “scientist” is given a gift of two robots for his birthday.   When the robot does not follow his commands properly because it is not yet “programmed properly”, the “scientist” must keep trying to fix the problem, the way he sees his parents do, in the adult world.  And when the robots are finally programmed, the scientist discovers the irony of the statement “Be careful what you wish for …” :

2.  Practicing empathy and tolerance: how many times have we seen children pretending to be a mother comforting a child? Or pretending to work in a zoo, “washing and feeding” the animals?

Or practicing what they are taught regarding loyalty and kindness to those who love them?As wisely stated by Scott Barry Kaufmann (Beautiful Minds, 2012): “When children use toys to  introduce possible scenarios or friends, the representation of multiple perspectives occurs naturally.”

In the “sequel” to the above video, evil does not ultimately triumph; the young student chooses, in his subsequent English workshop, to have a natural catastrophe kill Darth Vader – using the same meteor that fell on Earth and caused the extinction of the dinosaurs! See below: 

3.  Play allows for what psychologist Sandra Russ (2004) calls divergent thinking (the ability to come up with many  different ideas, story themes, and symbols) and reinforcement of previous learning  – including the learning of academic subjects, historical notions and cultural practices from around the world.  Given a bunch of toys, and breathing life into them, a child can both internalise and integrate elements of a teacher’s lesson (the culture content which I always include in my English lessons) into his play.   I tell a second grader who loves Star Wars about the tradition of English knighthood, both medieval and modern and this is what he comes up with:

The above video also shows another component and benefit of the power of play – laughter and creativity – which lead us to #5, below:

5.   CREATIVITY! I call it “a child’s magic realism“. I love the oxymoron of the words “magic realism”.  And I love its definition by Merriam Webster. “a literary genre or style [associated especially with Latin America] that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction.”  Watch the video below for an example of  a child’s magic realism – putting Frida Khalo, Mozart, Beethoven, a T-Rex and a Firefly together into a Mexican jungle and creating a story.   Pure creative genius that comes from the power of play: 

There is also Magical Realism that involves other Famous People : Take Gandhi, who lost his sandal, for example – a cute little improvisation entirely thought up by a first grader, on the spot!

Or the toy lobster (“Mr. Lobster”) who has committed some “crime” and is now in “court”. What will be the final verdict?

Sometimes play is too much fun for me not to get involved. I love toys as much as children do! I want to play as well. In English, of course!
Our class restaurant is irresistible:

Watch the five year old waiter in this video improve his service skills as he progresses through the role play, and how well he (and the others) learn English expressions for use in the restaurant – and the kids’ spontaneous improvisation throughout this little video. I love their creative “in the moment” contributions, mixed in with my suggestions.

Long live the power of a child’s play … and the power of the imagination!

Foreign languages, drama and children: A winning combination!

You know your son or daughter is an extraordinary child. Now it’s time to make your son or daughter a GLOBAL child. How better to do this than introduce them to a foreign language – or even three? And what better means than through drama?

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It is widely accepted that children are “open” to learning new languages. It is also no secret that most children are excited at the prospect of performing and being at the center of attention. Global Kids Drama brings together English (or Spanish and French, depending on the group), multi-disciplinary lessons using Montessori principles and methodology, with a dramatic expression.  Every workshop involves public speaking, performance, recording on video (upon agreement with every child and with every child’s parents), for an experience that no child can ever forget!

Global Kids Through Drama and English workshops help children to become sophisticated, worldly individuals.  They can do more than just speak a few words in English, (or any target language of the class: Spanish or French may be included or taught exclusively.)  Through diverse methods (games, songs, dances, mini-plays and art projects), children will have the opportunity to learn about the colorful history and culture of nations in six continents and to talk openly about the world. As part of the Global Kids Drama Workshop experience, children can learn to integrate into any company, anytime and anywhere – by having the confidence to not only to converse but to entertain others – in a language not their own.   Globally minded, multi-lingual children – including children who just started learning a new language –  confidently make connections with people and places in countries or cultures different from their own.

Global Kids Through Drama and English workshops also aim at teaching  practical skills for every day life – all mini-plays, comedies, songs and fun, active or artistic word games involve telling the time, reading (and making) weather forecasts, finding ingredients on labels, or for tricky travel situations.   Children learn how to help their parents in tricky travel situations:  choosing a destination, booking a flight, how to pack, airport rules and procedures; they can help their parents navigate a map of London’s Underground, or New York City’s subway … Oh, and of course, they know what to do (because we practice this in class) if they get separated from their parents, and must turn to the right stranger to get help … in English!

The most important thing of all?  The children become presenters, and by extension, experts and teachers – to their own parents who are watching them perform Every kind of “expert” can be found in the drama classroom:

  • paleontologists and curators of a Natural History museum, using my collection of minerals and rocks from my many trips in nature around the world.   Some children put on an ” Indiana Jones” costume and show artifacts that presenting the phases and details of life on Earth LONG before the dinosaurs, as well as during the dinosaur era and our modern era.

(add compilation video of “paleontologists” here.)

  •   They might role-play as Picasso getting into trouble with his teachers and being sent to “detention” – where they can comically show a happy artist “in the making”, who does not mind so much that the teacher punished him, because he can now draw in isolation and silence :).

(find and add picasso role play video here)

  • Children can play the role of  “art critic”or “apprentice”too, standing next to the famous artist.  They have a great role to play as well as the “artist”.   They can tell me, or a parent who is watching: “Be quiet!” and not to disturb  Leonardo Da Vinci , because “he has been working on this painting (the Mona Lisa) for three years. He is concentrating.”

It is a common enough occurrence for a parent to attend a Global Kids performance or watch a video of the children, and say:That was enlightening! I actually learned something that I didn’t already know.

Thus, the children, seeing themselves passing on their learning to adults, fully own their education.   And THAT does wonders for the child’s self-esteem, like NOTHING else!

Both language practice and theatrical performance help children to work together, solve problems, achieve fun, worthwhile goals, and develop empathy and tolerance.

What makes Global Kids Through Drama and English Workshops an  extra-special experience?

  • The CONTENT (funny, every-day situations set in many different countries or cultures around the world – or in different periods of history) the method (art, music and drama).
  • The unique – and incredibly FUN MATERIALS (authentic materials from around the world, food, currency, scores of costumes and clothes – some from the target language country – and literally hundreds of props)
  • The PERFORMANCE.  Every moment of Global Kids workshops contains some level of performance.  The children learn new concepts and the English words for those concepts with holistic Montessori-style practice (Montessori materials, methodology and philosophy) and work towards a performance which takes place in the last part of the workshop.   I encourage lots of comedy because, as children inherently know, laughter is the most important way to know that you are happy – and it makes others happy, too!

This rich combination – (interesting content  + original materials + Montessori-style learning + performance (with a comic twist)) – guarantees that children experience the world from different perspectives.  It guarantees that they will be far more confident in “foreign” or “out-of-comfort-zone” situations. 

Another benefit to including drama in every language lesson is that it improves a child’s abilities in many academic and life skills.  It has been shown that drama  increases literacy skills in ANY language (including their own).   Drama increases a student’s skills in the  visual arts, in the learning of sciences, in geography, in world history, and of course, in communication skills.  Here are some sample videos of young students “becoming experts” even while they are learning!  All through play and performance 🙂

In the grown-up world,  confident communication skills increase positive outcomes in  networking with others, in business and travel, in creating positive and useful connections and relationships.   Combining drama with English helps children to what to do when one of life’s  challenges appears unexpectedly.  Drama helps us to be “psychologically ready” and to “know what to say”.

(find and insert video on children training for “On holiday: I lost my parents.  Which stranger do I ask for help from?” lesson.)

Drama and is a perfect complement to school and preparation for any child’s higher education.  Make the child the expert and that child will NEVER forget the words that he or she learned in that “play-session”, nor the content of the subject or discipline in question.  I asked some review questions to the “presenters” of the video below – three months after we made the video together.  They remembered nearly everything they presented about Paris and France – including the English words!

 

Most importantly, foreign language through drama allows EVERY KIND OF CHILD to confidently enjoy visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile experiences, which are inevitably include every kind of child into the lesson: from the most outgoing to the the most introverted and even the shyest of children.   Hearing the lines, speaking or responding, seeing the actions and reacting,  feeling the props, acting out the movements and using unique learning materials, funny toys, authentic souvenirs and realia, will inspire EVERY child to make his or her unique contribution to the stage … and then to the world.  And not only as a successful foreign language learner – but as a sophisticated global citizen!

To paraphrase the one and only Shelley Vernon, an international speaker and author on ESL/EFL for children:

Foreign languages, drama and children: A winning combination!