Teaching South African Culture to South African Kids is one of my most frequently asked questions I get. There doesn’t seem to be a cohesive place to start. I have a feeling that wherever you are in the world studying your own country is harder than it looks… you don’t want to do a quick study, but also you can’t possibly cover everything. South Africa is particularly awkward because we have a difficult history to unpack. That doesn’t mean it is something to avoid with our kids, but rather we need to find ways to expose our kids to South African Culture, ways to open conversations with your kids and specifically integrate loads of cross-cultural study. To be part of The Rainbow Nation you need to have a good understanding of what is out there and find ways to expose our children a to all facets of South Africa.
Outings are our preferred way of learning about South Africa, and in the past… a large part of our children’s education relied on visiting museums. And taking walking tours and bus tours.
I cannot express enough how useful it is to take your children on a guided walking tour of your city, these are usually free and readily available. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that walk about tours are just for tourists, they aren’t and they are a font of information for locals as well. Now that things are starting to open up again… look out for their school holiday specials, or birthday specials and go. You will learn the most amazing facts about your city, facts, history, culture… totally worth it and a fun and an engaging way to learn.
Here is a link to all our outings, and then a list of the ones that are most relevant to learning about South Africa. I just want to add that we are always looking for budget opportunities and you may be pleasantly surprised to know that City Sightseeing Tours always have specials for kids during the school holidays and they turn out to be a lot more reasonable than we ever expected. Also, their walking tours are free… it is nice to tip the tour guide, but otherwise they are free and are packed with valuable information and anecdotes for students.
- Walking Tours of the City was by Far our Favourite Way to Learn about the History of our city.
- There is even a walking tour of the Waterfront, and a self-guided tour too. Meanwhile, we are eagerly waiting for a time when Museum nights at the Waterfront start up again.
- Se7en + 1 Take a Mini-Peninsula Tour, an Epic Day Out, Thanks to CitySightSeeing Tours, Cape Town…
- Se7en’s Tour of Colourful Cape Town with CitySightSeeing’s Red City Bus…
- Saturday Spot: Cape Town by Night Thanks to City SightSeeing Cape Town…
- The District Six Museum is one of Cape Town’s Finest for Learning About Local Culture, the stories you read about and hear are told by locals, who grew up there… it is an unprecedented learning experience.
- Apart from the Natural History Museum, where you can learn about different people groups, there are a number of Iziko Museums that can be visited to learn more about history at the Cape. A visit to the Castle is fun, with or without the guided tour, it is a lot of fun. And even if you know absolutely nothing about our national sport… the Rugby museum is well worth a visit.
2. Meandering Mzansi – A South African Curriculum for South African Children
But with the outbreak of Covid and lockdown last year, we have to reinvent the wheel a little and think about ways to learn about South Africa from home. We were lucky enough to win a copy of the Mzansi Curriculum in a competition and honestly it couldn’t have come at a better time for us. This Curriculum definitely replaced outings for us, in a year where we couldn’t venture forth.
I have blogged about Meandering Mzansi before and now that we are way more than halfway through it, we still can’t rave about it enough. This is a complete curriculum that will leave you and your students familiar with loads of all sorts of things South African. Essentially this is a cultural exploration, geography and culture are explored in depth. It it written in four parts… I am guessing one for each term of the school year… we lingered long and we only managed three sections in the year and so will be carrying on with it this year:
- Part 1: Describes the physical aspects of South Africa, the major mountains, rivers and biomes. The physical infrastructure, roads, railway lines and such like.
- Part 2: The second Section includes the economic structure of South Africa, from agriculture to industry… mining to conservation. We found this section really interesting and is something that we have never really considered before. We learned masses.
- Part 3: The third section was our favourite so far… we learned about different people groups around South Africa, we went on several hunts around our home looking for relevant artefacts. It was a truly fascinating adventure. What different groups eat, there clothing, their particular history, their stories and so on.
- Part 4: This is the section that we didn’t quite finish and when we begin our school year again, that is where we are beginning again… it is a virtual voyage through each of the provinces. Something I have done with my kids before, but never in such detail… it includes landmarks, symbols, and loads more detail than we have covered before.
Journaling Through the Meandering Mzansi Curriculum
The great thing about the Meandering Mzansi Curriculum, whereas before my children were journaling there way through it, they have introduces a new workbook to go with it. And it is just fabulous. There are loads of pages with things to fill in, places to draw or write, depending on your child… places for recipes, places to draw different landmark, places to list facts. I know that my youngest child is absolutley going to love this and it is something that will keep him engaged and learning when we go through this curriculum together again.
3. Read Your Way Through South Africa
When we began homeschooling, several years ago, there were very few story books for South African children, set in South Africa. Context is important, so is representation… a child needs to see themselves in the story books that they read and luckily things in South African story telling have changed a lot… there are so many gorgeous picture books available to South African Children now,
As well as relevant and contemporary chapter books. Anything by Jaco Jacobs is an absolute win in our house and his books can be read in English and Afrikaans.
If you are looking for more stories within the South African context then this post is packed with them. Otherwise the story that stole my heart this past year was: Small Mercies by Bridget Krone and illustrated by Karen Vermeulen, is going to be our first read a loud of our school year. This book should be required reading for all South African children… it is delightful, it is deep and has the richness and massive heart that a good story requires.
This is the story of eleven year old Mercy. Mercy lives with her two very eccentric aunts in the poorer side of town, which happens to be modern day Pietermaritzberg. They are so poor that they only have one light bulb in their home and they old aunts are always writing (or Mercy is writing on their behalf), letters to the teachers excusing her of any school activity that she may or may not want to partake in, especially those activities that require some sort of financial contribution. Mercy’s life at school becomes intolerable as she is accused of stealing the raffle competition money, it wasn’t her of course but the injustice of it all… gasp. Also, one of the elderly aunts is taken ill and while they discuss moving her to a home, Mercy overhears and thinks that it is her that is going to be moved to a home… the only adult person who seems to be able to withstand the emotional onslaught, is a Mr. Singh, who is the lodger, that the elderly aunts take in to help pay the rent… he takes Mercy to meet Mr. Ghandi, the seeker of truth and a statue in the heart of Pietermaritzburg. All the while, there is a suspiciously difficult estate tycoon that is determined to buy the elderly aunts’ home but when things around the home start to break… it isn’t just Mercy who suspects that all is not as it seems. This is a delightful story (and spoiler alert… all’s well that ends well)… this story describes life in a typically South African multicultural context. I loved this book and can’t wait to read it with my children… an absolute must read for South African families looking for a relevant and contemporary read. (We received this book for review purposes from Panmacmillan South Africa).
4. Cook Your Way Through South Africa
The way to a child’s hear is defintitely through food… and when it comes to South African food there are so many cook books to choose from. One way to cover South African recipes is to find a good recipe book and cook your way through it. From Bobotie to Braaivleis, there is a lot more to South African cooking than a Boerwors roll outside the hardware store on a Saturday morning. We do have a cook book that we have worked our way through as a family and one of my kids definitely wants to cook through this book again… particularly his street food from all over South Africa.
This book contains real South African recipes for real South Africans… and is marketed as a township cookbook. In other words, fantastic food we have been eaten all our lives, but without any of the fancy extras and over the top add-ons you would expect from more formal restaurants. This book has everything that you need to teach your children about food from various corners and cultures of South Africa. From the Koeksister to the Koesister, this book covers them all. Not only was it packed with loads of family favourites, but there were a lot of new things for us to try… we did pass on the chicken feet and the pig’s head, but otherwise we were happy to give loads of new recipes a try.
I think, while our cultures overlap, there is still a lot that is unique to different areas of South Africa… we have spent this year learning about different cultures and regions in South Africa as part of our homeschooling journey and I have to say this book covers South African food like no other and should be the standard book for teaching kids what other cultures are eating in South Africa, with the recipes alongside for them to try and enjoy. From simple street food to massive celebrations, this book has it all… from pilchards to ice pops and everything in-between. We loved how he included street food from around the country… this was a big hit in our home:
- Kota from the North West Province and Gauteng: Which is a quarter loaf of bread stuffed with slap chips, Viennas, colony and atchar and basically anything else you can think of.
- Bunny Chow from Durban and Kwazulu Natal: The curry version of the Kota, a loaf of bread is cut in half and hollowed out and you fill the insides with curry, and the perfect way to warm up on a cold wintry day.
- The Gatsby, which we have blogged before, is a Cape Town special: This is a footlong “sandwich,” that is actually much more than a meal: a baguette is sliced in half and then layers of beef strips cooked in masala, lettuce, tomato, cheese, slap chips… everything is placed inside… and say good bye to your day as it will take a while to recover from this feast.
- Fish and Slap Chips: I cannot think of any Capetonian who doesn’t think that their local “Chippy” is the best one. But on the Main road in our town you do get the best Fish and Chips and folk come from miles around to feast on them.
- The Boerewors Burger from the West Coast: Perfect surfer food, made between two slices of white bread and including a recipe for another local favourite: Monkey Gland Sauce. No, it is not made from Monkey Glands (!)… no idea where the name comes from, but it is a combination of tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, chutney, tabasco sauce… you name it and it is in it!!!
Honestly this cookbook should be on all South African’s shelves… it is the kind of book that has “that” recipe that you wish you knew, but can’t find anywhere else.
This book is published by Quiver Tree Publications, and you can take a look inside it at this link.
5. Great Artists of South Africa
Galleries around Cape Town are opening up again and it is worth making a call and checking if they are open for visits. Top of our list of galleries to visit last year was the Norval, and after a year of closure, we are now desperate to visit.
Otherwise, last year I reviewed the book: Explore Awesome South African Artists, it is a font of information… in the hunt for great South African art to share with your children. In the blog post I link to each featured artist in the book and where you can find more of their work.
6. Nature Study Around South Africa
Nature study using South African resources has been made easy by Struik Nature publishers, they publish endless and wonderful nature books that are useful for nature lovers of all ages and stages. We have an ever growing library of Struik Nature books, we always have one or two of them in our backpack when we go hiking. We have used them to discover plant and animal, birds and rocks. Their Box of Rocks book inspired some serious rock collecting.
From beginner books…
To more advanced books… they literally have something for everybody.
They also have amazing nature posters that you can put up on the fridge or a bedroom door, perfect for a little stealth learning…
7. Play Your Way Around South Africa
Believe it or not there are boardgames you can play to learn more about South Africa… we have the Cape Town version of Monopoly, and there are several other locally based versions of Monopoly. There is also a board game called The Next Stop, which I have blogged about before.
It is a essentially a race to the finish, quiz/general knowledge game… good family fun and every time we play we learn something new.
Another South African Board game that we don’t own, but is on our wish list for school is called Bird Safari, it is available from Loot and looks like it could be a lot of fun.