February 22, 2005

Thailand History Lesson

The second half of our Thailand coop was spent highlighting some of the history of the country. This is the part of the coop that I teach, history and government. I decided to focus more on the history and just briefly covered the fact that Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. To bring that home to the kids I reminded them of the ruling dynasties in China (we studied China last month) and explained that is what a monarchy is like, and then reminded them of our own constitution and how we elect officials (we studies USA the first week)and how in Thailand they have a kind of mix of the two. It was not a perfect explanation but sufficient for most of their needs.

For the history part I began with the overview of what I wanted them to remember:

1. Thailand is the Land of the Free - also the Land of the Smiles as they reminded me
2. Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country to have remained free from foreign country control. They protect their borders.
3. They always protect their borders first, then they turn inward.

Then we went back in time to prehistoric time. I reminded them of hunting and gathering (we did a gathering exercise for China) and this time they got to try out a bow and arrow (a toy one of course). I had a mother who was more adept at this skill then myself teach them and assist them in doing it. This was of course exciting to them and they managed to stand patiently in line with few squabbles and each took two turns, though Ciaran did melt down when he was unable to take a third turn. It was hard to get them to settle down after that exercise. We talked about how it must have been hard to kill animals that way.

Then I talked about Buddhism. I passed around two little statues of Buddha and showed some pictures. I talked briefly about what Buddhism is and then talked about meditation. I had the kids try to sit still and quiet and you can imagine how hard it was for them to do. I showed pictures of young boys who went to the "Wats" to spend time training.

Next I showed them pictures of the Thai alphabet and ancient writings. I finished this section with some pictures of different forms of pottery and ceramics over the ages. By now the kids needed to move and I was ready for the activity.

This next activity was a bit chaotic but I think it was fun and drove home the message I wanted to get across about Thailand maintaining its freedom. With older students you could make this activity much more detailed and nuanced. I had mixed ages of 3-11 however so I was more limited in what I could do. I originally planned to include treaty writing as part of the activity but given the mood and ages of the kids decided to skip it.

On the wall behind me I had taped up cut outs of the maps of each of the bordering countries to Thailand with Thailand in the center so we could all see which country was on which border. On the ground I used yarn to rough out (and I mean rough) the border of Thailand. I had all the kids stand inside the border. Ahead of time I had made little signs for each country on different colors of paper (I printed out each country map from enchanted learning on a different color paper and then punched holes on each side and ran yarn through it so they could wear it like a necklace). It helps if the colors on their signs match the colors on your map on the wall. I rexplained what a border was and how Thailand always protected theirs and then I split the kids up, moving some into each of the bordering countries and leaving several in Thailand. The kids were wearing all their signs and then just put the one of the country they were in front.

I explained how sometimes people in a nearby country may want to move into your country or try to control or own your country. I reminded our Thai citizens that they could not allow this, I also set clear ground rules that we were NOT going to actually battle. Instead I had them stand in a line at the border and say "No you can not come in" - with older kids you might be able to allow pretend sword fighting. We started with one country and then another. Then we had two countries come in at once while they were blocking another country - the kids discovered for themselves that they would need to split forces and make sure that each border was protected. After they "got" this lesson. I put maps on several of the moms, we were the European countries that were stronger than the Southeast Asian nations. They could not keep us out with force or threat back to our country. Then I showed how they would use England and France against each other and still not give up control of their country. In the end, all the kids were still standing in Thailand and they had protected their borders.

All in all it felt a bit scattered and crazy at times. However, the other mothers assured me that it was a good lesson and they think the kids really got the message of the lesson and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. I think this activity could be expanded and done really well. I had intended to have the kids write treaties with each other as different countries but decided in the moment that may be too much for them and dropped that part out. I would recommend this activity.

Each child went home with an outline map of each country bordering Thailand (Cambodia, Laos, Burma/Mynamar, and Malaysia)and Thailand itself. If they detail cut them they should fit close enough together to be a jigsaw puzzle of Southeast Asia and reinforce the borders lesson. They also went home with the following pictures from our discussion.


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