Theme Unit Portfolio

Interdisciplinary Theme Unit: Kenya

Rationale: Kindergarten can be the first time that some children are experiencing different cultures within the classroom. Focusing on another culture can help them build empathy and awareness of differences and similarities between people and culture. It can also help to start conversations between students of different cultures in the classroom as children talk about different food, clothes, housing, customs, celebrations, families, and routines. Talking about places around the world can also help children begin to develop an idea of the size of the Earth and the variety of biomes, people, animals, and plants present. Exploring a faraway place can also be an opportunity to delve deeply into science, history, geography, economics, language, literature, music, art, and mathematics from the perspective of a world traveller.

Objectives: By the end of the unit, I want students to learn how to count in Swahili, to be able to identify Kenya on a map of the world, to have an understanding of some of the customs/daily routines of people in Kenya, and to be able to name some of the animals that live in Kenya. I would also hope that they take away an appreciation for Kenyan culture and the Swahili language.

Table of Contents:

Math Project……………………Page 3

Art Project……………………Page 5

Poems/Songs……………………Page 6

Literature and Vocabulary Project……………………Page 7

Chart Project……………………Page 9

Communication Tool/Strategy Project……………………Page 11

Letter Recognition and Formation Activity……………………Page 12

Centers……………………Page 14

Bibliography……………………Page 16

Math Project: Create a data table comparing the camouflage of animals that live in Kenya.


  • Big piece of paper
    • I used a 36”x27” piece of butcher paper
  • Marker to draw and label the data table
  • 12 laminated cards (one of each animal with its name and a clear picture/drawing)
    • I cut a regular 8.5″x11” piece of paper into 1/6ths to make the cards
    • My animals were: Spots (Giraffe, Cheetah, Spotted Hyena, D’Arnaud’s Barbet), Stripes (Zebra, Lesser Kudu, Tiger), and None (Rhinoceros, Baboon, Elephant, Lion, Hippopotamus)
  • Tape or Velcro to secure the cards to the data table
  • Way to display/hang the table (I used tape, but command hooks, string, or Velcro would also work)

Rationale: This activity will help kindergartners to successfully create and analyze data in the form of a table.  It will give the students practice with sorting and counting groups of things, as well as comparing the values of numbers. The activity also lays the foundation for talking about measures of central tendency, specifically mode.

Motivation: Who likes to play hide and go seek? Today, we’re going to talk about animals from Kenya that are really good at hide and seek. They have special colors and markings to help them hide better than almost anyone. We call these colors and markings “camouflage.” Animals use camouflage to blend in with the things around them. Some have stripes, some have spots, and some just use color to hide. We’re going to be sorting some awesome animals based on the kinds of camouflage they use.


  • Call on children to come up to the data table one at a time. Have them classify one of the animals and stick it under the correct heading.
    • As the table is being constructed, ask the students for predictions. Which kind of camouflage do you think most of the animals will use? Which kind would you choose to use if you were an animal from Kenya?
  • Once all of the animals have been sorted into “Spots,” “Stripes,” and “None” or “No Markings,” have everyone count the number of animals in each category and the total number of animals.
  • Label each column with the number of animals.
  • After the data table is labeled, begin to ask the students questions about the table. Have them share their ideas with a partner, then ask for thoughts from the whole group.
    • Examples of questions include:
      • Do more of our animals have spots, or do more of them have stripes?
      • Which type of camouflage was the most popular?
      • Which type was the least popular?
      • Which type do you think is the best? Why?
  • After asking questions about the table, make the cards available for further exploration. During center or choice time, students can sort the animals by other features like number of legs or color. They can also research other characteristics of the animals so that they can sort them by diet, size of herd, kind of home, etc.

Bibliography: I created all of the ideas for the activity, including the questions and ideas for furthering the experience. However, I did reference the Kenya Travel Ideas website when choosing which animals to highlight.

Hosenfeld, S. (2017). List of Kenya Wildlife. Retrieved from

Art Project: Design your own traditional Maasai necklace

Rationale: This project encourages students to create patterns using shapes and colors while learning about traditional Kenyan dress.

Materials: Large paper plates (one per student) with the centers cut out, tempera paint and brushes to decorate (or markers, crayons, or colored pencils), hole punch and string to close necklaces

Motivation: What kinds of clothes do you like to wear? What kinds of clothes do you wear to a fancy party or a wedding? Well, in Kenya, there is a group of people called the Maasai people, and when they go to a fancy party or wedding, they wear special necklaces with colors and patterns on them. Today, we’re going to make our own necklaces like the Maasai, and you can choose to use whatever colors, patterns, and shapes you want!


  • Cut the centers out of the plates before class
  • Have students choose a base color to paint their necklace
  • Wait for the necklaces to dry
  • Let students decorate their necklace using paint. Encourage students to create patterns with shapes and colors, especially circles and stripes, which are often used in traditional Maasai necklaces
  • Let patterns dry
    • If you don’t have access to paint or don’t want to have a waiting period, use markers, crayons, or colored pencils to decorate the necklaces
  • Punch a hole in both ends of the necklaces and fasten them with string so that students can slip them on over their heads

Bibliographic Data:

[Chani]. (African Necklaces (Paper Plates)). [Blog post]. Retrieved from


Poems and Songs:

African Animals:

Giraffes are tall with necks so long (Arms stretched above head, tiptoe)

Elephants’ trunks are big and strong (Bend forward, arms down, hands together, swaying)

Zebras have stripes and can gallop away (Gallop)

While monkeys in the trees do sway (Move from “tree” to “tree” with swaying movements)

Old crocodile swims in the pool so deep (Lie on ground and swim)

Or lies in the sun and goes to sleep (Sleep)


Stick Passing Song:

Come children, come children, come play as we pass the stick

Dan dah ran do (Dan dah ran do)

Dan dah ran do (Dan dah ran do)

Dan dah ran do (Dan da ran do)

Dan dah ran do (Dan dah ran do)



Early Learning HQ. (N/A). African Animals Poem. Retrieved from


Thompson, B. (2016). Stick passing song [Blog post]. Retrieved from


Literature and Vocabulary Project: The day of a Kenyan child with dialogic reading elements

Title: For You are a Kenyan Child by Kelly Cunnane, illustrated by Ana Juan

Rationale: While reading this book, students will learn about Kenyan culture in a very relatable way. They can compare and contrast the day of the main character with things they do on a normal day, and they can talk about what it means to be responsible as they analyze the main character’s job and choices.

Materials: For You are a Kenyan Child book, vocabulary charts with words, definitions, and pictures


Instructional Strategies: For the Swahili words, give the definitions then practice saying them to each other. When they are used in the story, have the whole class chime in. Use the words as greetings at morning meetings or encourage children to use phrases in dramatic play areas.

For the English words, provide a picture and describe a scenario that explains the meaning or shows how the word would be used.

  • Hodi: Anybody home
  • Karibu: Welcome
  • Jambo: Hello
  • Ndio: Yes
  • Kabisa: Of course
  • Una taka: Do you want
  • Ndudu: Bug
  • Cheza: Play
  • Maziwa lala: Sleeping milk
  • Twende nyumbani sasa: Let’s go home now
  • Eucalyptus trees: trees with leaves that have valuable oil
  • Maize porridge: like oatmeal or cream of wheat
  • Dung beetle: bug that makes a house out of animal poop

Extension Ideas:

  • Have children put scrambled pictures of events in the story in order.
  • Have children act out part or all of the story, being sure to highlight how the main character is feeling at different parts of the day.
  • Have a child pretend to be the main character and have the other students ask him or her questions about why they chose to do what they did in the story.
  • Have the students draw a picture of the village described in the story, or have each student draw one place the main character visited, then put the drawings together to create the village.
  • List the different jobs described in the story. Compare and contrast those with jobs the students know are performed in their town.
  • Talk about the value of welcoming people in the story. When the main character wanted to see someone, they always welcomed him in. Discuss how to make sure all students and visitors feel welcome in the classroom.


Doyle, B.G., & Bramwell, W. (2006). Promoting emergent literacy and social-emotional learning through dialogic reading. Reading Teacher, 59(6), 554-564.


Chart Project: Sing a children’s counting song in Swahili and English


  • “Moja, Mbili, Tatu” chart (see picture)
  • Ukulele or guitar (optional)
  • Translation chart (see picture)
  • Pointer for following along with the words

Rationale: This activity will introduce the students to counting in Swahili as well as basic pronunciations of words. Swahili and English are the two national languages of Kenya. The translation chart also showcases different methods of expressing numerical values (i.e. symbols vs. written out).

Motivation: Raise your hand if you know how to count to five in English. What about in another language? Does anyone know how to count to five in Swahili? That’s one of the languages spoken in Kenya, our theme country. Today, we’re going to count to five in Swahili using a song about fishing!


  • Sing the song in Swahili for the students
    • Ask questions like “Did you notice any new sounds in the song?” “Can you think of any words in English that start with two n’s or an m and a k?”
  • Sing the song in English for the students
  • Sing it in English again, but while pointing to the words as you go
  • Ask the students to join in the song in English
  • Go to the Translation chart and have the students practice pronouncing the names of the numbers in Swahili
  • Teach the children actions to go with the song

Moja, mbili, tatu, Nne, tano. –Put up one finger for each number as you count to five

Nimepata samaki, Mkubwa mno. —Show how big the fish was (spread arms out wide)

Nawe mwenye nguvu –Flex arm muscles

Kwanini ukamuwachia? –Bring palms up to the side (questioning arms)

Kaniuma kidole. –Hold up finger to show the bite

Nalia eee, eee .Nalia eee, eee. Nalia eee, eee. –Rub eyes to show crying

  • Have the children say the numbers and do the actions while you sing the song in Swahili


Yannucci, L. (2017). Moja, mbili, tatu: Tanzanian Children’s Songs. Retrieved from

*I did change one line of the translation from the site (“You who have strength” to “You who are strong”) to make it a little easier for kindergartners to understand. The actions are also my invention.

Extra: If you do accompany yourself on guitar or ukulele, here are the chords that I use:

(C)Moja, mbili, tatu, Nne, tano(G). Nimepata samaki, Mkubwa mno(C). Nawe mwenye nguvu

Kwanini ukamuwachia(G)? Kaniuma kidole. Nalia eee, eee(C). Nalia eee, eee(G). Nalia eee, eee(C).

I strum in a simple up-down-up-down pattern. You can develop your own chords progression and strumming pattern using the sheet music provided at You can also go there for help with pronunciations. A recording of the song and a video about Swahili numbers are provided.

Communication Tool/Strategy Project: Safari dramatic play area

Rationale: This play area will encourage students to communicate as leaders (safari guide) and to talk about issues of animal ethics and conservation. The play area may also become a way for students to create empathy for animals as they become the animals. They may imagine what the animals do, what they might say to each other, and how they might interact with people. This is a good way for children to start understanding the difference between fantasy and reality. The teacher may ask questions of the children being animals, such as, “Would a real animal be able to talk to people?”

Materials: Safari hats, plastic cup or toilet paper tube binoculars, toy or cardboard cameras, cardboard box safari vehicle (can be decorated by students), paper plate animal masks or headbands with ears, construction paper trees, vines, and grasses, stuffed or toy animals that might be seen on a safari, scissors and glue

Motivation: Sometimes people that visit Kenya like to go on something called a safari. This is when a guide takes a group of people in a car to look at some of the wild animals in Kenya. They see lions, elephants, giraffes, zebras, and more. People that go on safaris like to take lots of pictures of all the animals they see, and they sometimes use binoculars to look at animals that are far away. Today, you’ll have a chance to go on a safari yourself. We have a safari vehicle, some cameras and binoculars, and some wild animals to see. When you’re playing over here, you might decide to be the safari guide and tell the people in the vehicle things about the animals they’re seeing. You might even decide to be one of the animals!

Description of project nature and use: This dramatic play area could be set up in a corner or isolated area of the classroom. Children could choose to be the safari guide, safari participants, or animals being viewed during the safari. They may also choose to just use the animal part of the play area to take on the roles of different members of a group of animals. Small groups of students could choose to play in this area during center or free time.

Bibliographic Data: I created all of the ideas for this activity.
Letter Identification and Formation Activity: Kenyan geography pipe cleaner letters

Rationale: While doing this project, students will familiarize themselves with letter shapes while learning about the geography of Kenya. The students will be able to feel the shapes of the different letters and will get to see pictures of various landmarks, so the activity is very sensory.


  • 5-7 separate areas with flat surfaces (stations)
    • Possible station names include: lake, mountain, grassland, swamp, forest, ocean
  • One pipe cleaner for every letter in each of the station words (I used 37)
  • Safety scissors (one for each student)
  • Label at each station with the station name on it (for students to know which letters to make and how to make them)
  • Picture of the geographical feature at each station

Motivation: Today, we’re going to take a very exciting trip. Our classroom is going to travel to Kenya, and you are going to help it get there. We’re going to be making letters to spell out the names of some important places in Kenya, like a lake, a mountain, and a swamp! Who’s ready to start traveling?


  • Place pipe cleaners, scissors, label, and picture at each station.
  • Demonstrate how to construct a letter with the whole group.
    • Show bending, cutting, and connecting.
  • Give directions: As a team, form the letters of the word at your station.
    • Make sure the students know that each of them will only be making some of the letters of the word at their station.
  • Divide the students into station groups.
    • You can divide them so that each student makes one letter, two letters, or three letters, or more, depending on the size of the class and the number of stations.
  • As the students form the letters, ask them to tell you the name of the letter they are making.
  • When each station has finished, have the students “take a tour” of the room, looking at all of the geographic features and tracing the words at each station with their fingers. Have them say the name of each letter as they trace it.
  • Display the letters on a clothesline or wall so that students can remember the activity.
    • You could also put the letters in a tub and make them available for students to create their own words or just practice tracing the letters during a center or choice time.


Pipe Cleaner Idea:

LeBaron, M. (2011). Learning Letters with Pipe Cleaners. Retrieved from


Chepkoech, A. (March 2016). Yala Swamp: A birdwatcher’s paradise with view of the lakeRetrieved from

Climb Mount Kilimanjaro. (2016). What does Kilimanjaro look like? Retrieved from

Kimbrough, L. (2013). Forests in Kenya worth much more intact says government reportRetrieved from -government-report/

Lake Victoria Africa. (2017). Lake Victoria Facts. Retrieved from

Trimm, C. (April 2015). Kenya Walking Survivors Safaris Review. Retrieved from

Zee Media Bureau. (Jan 2017). Fluctuating pattern of rainfall connected to warming of the Indian Ocean. Retrieved from -connected-to-warming-of-the-indian-ocean_1966180.html

Math: Animal story problems

Literacy: finish sentences about a trip to Kenya


Math: This activity will help to reinforce students’ addition, subtraction, and story-problem creating skills in a tactile way. It will also help them build the connection between groups of objects and numerals, as well as the meaning of equations, building the foundation for future algebra topics. Using Kenyan animals as the subjects of the problems will remind students of the wildlife present there, as well as the whole-group data analysis activity outlined at the beginning of the unit.

Literacy: This center lets students practice writing a narrative, apply their phonemic knowledge as they try to spell new words, and extend the class conversation about Kenyan culture by imagining what kinds of things they would see and do if they travelled there.


Math: Small laminated pictures of animals to create story problems, paper with blank equations to record story problems, pencils for recording

  • This can also be done with whiteboards, dry erase markers, and erasers/socks or with laminated blank equation paper, dry erase markers, and erasers/socks

Literacy: Paper with “I saw…  I went to…  I met… I heard…” sentence starters and space to draw pictures, colored pencils/crayons/markers for drawing, pencils for writing, extra paper for students who want to extend their stories


Math: Do you remember when we made a graph of some animals from Kenya? Well, today you will get the chance to make up your own story problems with some of those same animals!

Literacy: Pretend you are on a trip to Kenya. What do you see? What do you hear? Where do you go? Who or what do you meet? You get to tell us all about it when you visit the Travel Center. Finish the sentences and draw us a picture of what happened on your trip.


  • Students pick an animal to create their problem
  • Arrange the animal pictures to represent the story problem
  • Record the problem on the blank equation sheet
  • Make addition and subtraction problems with different animals
  • Collaborate with other students at the center by swapping story problems and having others solve them


  • Students may start by drawing their pictures or by writing. They will complete each of the sentences, spelling to the best of their ability without help. The drawing(s) should show some of the things written in the sentences.
  • Provide extra paper if students want to write or draw more about their adventures.
  • Display the finished trip stories and drawings at the Travel Center to inspire other students to recount their adventures, too.

Connection to Dramatic Play: If you have a safari-themed dramatic play area, encourage students to write about the things they did and saw while on safari.

Bibliographic Data: I created all of the ideas for these activities.


Compatible Books:

  1. Kenya ABCs: A Book About the People and Places of Kenya by Sarah Heiman
  2. Mama Panya’s Pancakes by Mary and Rich Chamberlin
  3. Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema
  4. We All Went On Safari by Laurie Krebs
  5. The Princess and the Pea by Rachel Isadora
  6. Chirchir is Singing by Kelly Cunnane
  7. Masai and I by Virginia Kroll
  8. Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter
  9. Papa, Do You Love Me? by Barbara M. Joosse
  10. Imani’s Moon by Janay Brown-Wood

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s