Montessori Style Art Activities for the Study of the Continent of Africa!

THINKING OF AFRICA: BEADS, CLOTH, & BEAUTIFUL PATTERNS THAT CHILDREN LOVE! Necklaces, baskets, and cloth wraps bring the environment to life in a lovely way.

Photo from the artists at Dollar Photo Club

Most Montessori classrooms feature the study of the seven continents, and Africa, in my opinion, is one of the most fascinating! African music & dance always come to mind, and this is a great way to first  introduce the content to children. You can read more at my past post: Music Story & Dance from Africa for Children to Enjoy!

Another very inviting area of African studies is the art that is produced by the diverse cultural groups of the continent. The everyday living of each region offers wonderful examples of amazing fabrics to wear and even more amazing jewelry, especially the bead work. In many African villages, intricate bead work is worn everyday and not just on special occasions. The following photo is of a person in the daily life activity of making a fire for cooking and you can easily see the amazing beaded adornments!

Photo from the artists at Dollar Photo Club

I have found that bead work with young children is a wonderful enhancement to a Preschool African Studies unit. Preschool children not only enjoy beading necklaces together with colorful beads and sturdy string, but this is also an important activity for building skills using the small muscles that are developing in the hand and fingers (important for writing!)

Showing the children photos of African jewelry art is a good place to start and usually children really love the colors and older children notice the patterns, right away!

For children under two yrs old, I limit the beading activities to very large beads that are not a choking hazard (use a choke tube to test your bead choice) and I always closely supervise this activity. 

With older children who are not likely to put smaller beads in the mouth, I use the standard "pony" beads in a variety of colors. After children have had some experience with the process of making a bead necklace or bracelet, I like to introduce making a bead necklace using a pattern. (example: black, yellow, red, black, yellow, red, black, yellow, red)

Photo by Carolyn at Magical Movement Company

I have a choice of "bead patterns" set up on a tray with little containers of pony beads separated into the various colors of beads in the pattern models. I made the "Bead Pattern Controls" by glueing beads on a small dowel and leaving the ends of the dowel exposed so as to create a little "handle" on both ends of the pattern. There can be a variety of these little teacher made patterns for the child to choose. Also, the patterns should start simple (3 color pattern repeated 2 or 3 times on the small dowel) and then you can gradually offer more complicated patterns for the children as they gain skills. (5 or 6 colors in a repeating pattern).

The photo below shows a simpler 3 color bead pattern on a dowel and a 4 yr old boy is making his necklace from the pattern. I definitely show children a finished necklace so that they can really see how the pattern repeats and how it looks when there are many beads on the necklace. Sometimes, children think that the bead pattern necklace they make is supposed to be limited to the nine or so beads you have put on the dowel, so you might have to explain that they can keep the pattern going (continue to repeat the pattern) and really make a long and beautiful necklace or bracelet. That's why I often show a finished necklace I have made from the pattern. 

Photo by Carolyn at Magical Movement Company

Another African necklace work that is great for the children who aren't that interested in beading, is simply coloring in a pattern on a paper plate with the center cut out. This is modeled after the wonderful necklaces of South Africa that hook around the neck of the wearer as in this photo: 

Photo by the artists at Dollar Photo Club

I was fortunate to find one of these beautiful necklaces (Cost Plus) made in Africa and after I show it to the children and let them try it on, I display it in the Art Area and each child can make one for themselves using a paper plate, scissors, and colorful markers.

Photo by Carolyn at Magical Movement Company

For younger children, the teacher can prepare the paper plates with the centers cut out or an older child can do this for a younger child. We use the centers that are cut out for our "salad spinner art" (read about this art activity at this past post of mine: "Please Pass the Salad Spinner: Preschool Art!")

I really love the beautiful bead necklaces that are worn in abundance! And, I happen to have one that was given to me by a woman from the Xhosa people of South Africa.(read more by tapping this link:

Photo by the artists at Dollar Photo Club

I like to wear my beautiful necklace and lovely "kanga" (African sarong) to school when we are studying South Africa and below is a photo of me greeting the children in my Preschool class with a hand shake and the hello word in Swahili, "Jambo!" (Sorry that the picture didn't show the beautiful orange colors on my voluminous necklace!)

Photo from Carolyn's Archives: Magical Movement Company

After the children see me all dressed up, they enjoy trying on the African cloth I have set up in a basket on the Cultural Studies Shelf, and then wear their necklaces they have made while they do their work at school!

This 4 yr old in the photo is recording math problems with his friend and they wore the African cloth ALL morning!

Photo by Carolyn at Magical Movement Company

It's also nice for the children to set up the snack table for the day with table cloths made of African fabric, as in the photos below. The children love the vibrant colors and wonderful patterns!

Photo by Carolyn at Magical Movement Company

Photo by Carolyn at Magical Movement Company

There are some lovely ideas for matching African cloth as a classic Montessori Sensorial Activity that I found at the Trillium Montessori Blog. Just click on the link to see these activities: Trillium Montessori Blog: Study of Africa.

Trillium has a huge Download Bundle, The Seven Continents A-Z  that includes a wonderful selection of beautiful photos and cultural studies materials  for the continent of Africa as well as the other six continents...that is an incredible deal! I happen to be an affiliate marketer and  I have a special link where you can see more and even purchase if you like: 
Affiliate Continents A-Z Carolyn at Sendowl

 Just so many fun ways to study about this amazing continent! The animals of Africa are very fascinating for young children and there are so many different cultural groups could devote a whole year to this continent! I have a few more upcoming blog posts about musical instruments of Africa (even some to make with your children) and a wonderful dramatic presentation, "Welcoming Song & Dance", suitable for a "Cultural Evening" Celebration in your program.

Photo by the artists at Dollar Photo Club

I hope you have gotten some helpful ideas from this post and I always enjoy hearing from you so please feel free to write a comment in the section below!

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  1. Replies
    1. Yes! I checked out your site and you do have beautiful fabric. Sometimes it's hard to find good African fabric. Hope you liked my article, Mohammad.