African Story Time – 3/22/17

By Awnali Mills

When I was searching for some music, I ran across the song Funga Alafia on the album Bouncy Blue by Eric Litwin.  I loved it so much that I researched it and discovered that it was a Swahili song from East Africa.  I thought it would be a great part of an African story time and so I looked online for other African storytimes and heard…crickets.  Most everything I found focused on either jungle animals or savannah animals, but very little was on African culture.  I thought that was kind of sad.  This storytime grew out of my research and determination to put together a good African storytime.  The books I chose were Old Mikamba had a Farm by Rachel Isadora and Rain by Manya Stojic. (Just a note: most African stories I found were too long for storytime for 3-5 year olds.  If you have better ones, please post them in the comments.)

We started storytime by doing a stretch and then stretching out our arms and flying to Africa.  Once we had zoomed to a stop, we sang Funga Alafia, which is a traditional welcome song.  I made up movements to go with it that were basically waving one arm, then the other, then both together in a beckoning motion.  Then, I brought out my antelope puppet friend, who was very shy, but brought us the letter A.  We talked about words that started with A, and then about African Animals.  Then I did the flannel I made for this storytime called Walking Through Africa.

Walking through Africa, what do I see?
I can see inyoka looking at me.   (inyoka (een-yoh’-gkah) a snake)
Walking through Africa, what do I see?
I can see ufudu looking at me.   (ufudu (oo-foo’-doo) a tortoise, /oo/ as in fool)
Walking through Africa, what do I see?
I can see indlovu looking at me.   (indlovu (een-dloh’-voo) an elephant)
Walking through Africa, what do I see?
I can see ikhozi looking at me.   (ikhozi (ee-koh’zee) an eagle)

Note from source: This is a Zulu chant the children “sing” while they stalk about. The translation would probably be closer to “walking through the bush…,” but my children love to say Africa. I’ve translated all the words but the animals.


Our first book was Old Mikamba had a Farm.  This book is lovely, but much too long for my group.  I paper clipped several pages and skipped them.  For the rest, I sang the book and had the children make the animal noises with me.

Next, Mr. Roman joined me on the drums while we sang the call and response Che Che Koolay which is a nonsense children’s song from Ghana.  It goes:

Che che koolay,
     Che che koolay 
Che che kofisa
     Che che kofisa 
Kofisa langa,
     Kofisa langa, 
Kaka shi langa
     Kaka shi langa
Whoops ah lay lay
     Whoops ah lay lay

There are many variations of this song.  I chose this version.  Usually I have a younger crowd, and was really unsure how this was going to go.  It was fantastic.  The kids and grownups (it was critical to have the grownups) did a great job.  Things were kind of hesitant at first, but they really caught on, and having Mr. Roman there to lead the echo was perfect.  I think, too, that it helped that I pointed to my mouth when it was my turn, and pointed to them when it was their turn.  I also shook a gourd rattle when it was their turn.  I threw my ELT in here: It’s so good when you encourage your child’s curiosity and talk about the world.  The more they know about the world, the better they will do in school because they’ll understand what they’re reading about.

Then I talked about what a school bus looks like in America, and put up a picture of it.  Then, I put up a picture of an African kombi that children use for going to school (basically, a VW bus.)  Then, I put up a picture of an African driver and explained that bus drivers in Africa are called vusi.  Then we sang The Wheels on the Kombi.  Each time I introduced a new word, I put up a picture of it.  Next to each picture was the written Zulu or Afrikaans word and the American word (yay for print awareness!)

The wheels on the kombi go up and down
The vusi (driver) on the kombi says move on back
The babas on the kombi say wah, wah, wah
The umamas on the kombi say shush, shush, shush
Words are in Afrikaans and Zulu – two languages spoken in South Africa

 This was my adaptation of this African song:

Vusi Drives the Kombi
Vusi drives the kombi that takes us all to school.
We open all the windows so the air blows nice and cool.
He hoots when he fetches us, he hoots when he goes,
He hoots at the cows that are standing in the road.
Vusi drives the kombi that we all love to ride.
If you want to travel with us, there’s lots of room inside!

Note from source: a “kombi” [pronounced like “calm-bee”] is a small passenger van. These vehicles are used as taxis in South Africa. Most school children travel to school on these taxis. Vusi is a common Zulu name. Pronounced /voo-see/, it means “to lift up.”


I felt that it would be easier for my kids to put some unfamiliar words into a familiar context rather than trying to get them to learn another completely new song.  And it worked beautifully.  The kids sang right along, and loved it.  I made sure to point to each word as we sang it.

Our next book was Rain, and then we did the flannel Where is the Rain?  I got the words from here, but I made the flannels up.  The flying ant was a toughie, but I got as close to the picture as I could!

Where Is the Rain?
The giraffe and the elephant went for a walk.
They stopped in some shade and started to talk;
“I wish it would rain,” said the giraffe with a sigh.
“I’m tired of watching the clouds pass us by!”
“Yes,” said the elephant, “Where is the rain?
I wish I could eat fresh green leaves again.
The sun is so hot and the land is so dry;
When will the rain fall from the sky?”
Later in the day the sky turned grey,
The flying ants flew out to say,
“The rain is coming! We smell it in the air!
And in the distance, thunder we hear!”
The giraffe and the elephant looked up at the sky
And heard the black eagle give forth his cry,
“The rain has come, The rivers will flow;
The dry season is over; now the green grass will grow!”

Note from source: Most rivers in Africa are dependent upon the rains. During the dry season they literally dry up and leave a brown, twisting snake-like path. The rainy season in KwaZulu is Summer time, when we get the most fantastic thunder storms imaginable. And these horrible flying ants always appear right before the first big storms!


To finish, I had the children stand up and we made our own rainstorm by rubbing our hands together, clapping, slapping our thighs, stamping our feet, jumping up and down while shouting “Boom!” and reversing the process.  Then we sang our goodbye song.  I got a lot of great comments from the parents, so the storytime was a hit, even though I wasn’t able to fit in quite as much culture as I was hoping for.  Turns out that much of children’s rhymes and songs revolve around animals–much as they do here!


This entry was posted in Story Time, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to African Story Time – 3/22/17

  1. Morrisa says:

    Sounds absolutely wonderful!

  2. Jess says:

    I was struggling with my Africa story time (we go to a new country every week) and you really made my day!! I can’t wait to try this stuff!

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 )

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s