World on the Weekend: Switzerland

Switzerland is positioned right at the crossroads of four distinct languages and cultural regions: French, German, Italian and Romansh.  Though it is geographically at the heart of Europe, it maintained a neutral stance during the two world wars of the 20th century.  The two main focusses I’ve chosen here are on the natural world, particularly the Alps as described in «Heidi», and the concept of the Red Cross and the Geneva Convention saying, in essence, that everyone has the right to medical attention.


Language arts

“Heidi” by Johanna Spyri, is a classic piece of children’s literature focussed as much on the wild beauty of the Alps as the lives of the characters.  You can also watch the 1937 version of the movie starring Shirley Temple, and compare the two. 


You can make paper clocks and practice telling the time (homeschooled kids, and those with a less rigid schedule may have trouble with this!).  For young children, this is an excellent opportunity to practice skip counting by 5s as well.

An interesting way to realise the difference between AM and PM and how this doesn’t necessarily correspond to the times when we are awake and asleep is the following: Divide the room into two sections, an «AM» and a «PM». Have the child do stretching movements to show awake times and contracting or shrinking movements to show sleeping. Then say, for example, «3AM»: The child must move to the «AM» side, but perform a shrinking movement. «3PM» would meaning standing on the other side, the «PM» side and doing growing and stretching movements. They can also act out what they do at the given time of day.

Another good math activity is to compare the heights of mountains. You can use cards like these:

  Mount Everest 8848m Nepal / China     K2 8611m Pakistan / China     Annapurna 8091m Nepal
  Cotopaxi 5897m Ecuador         Cayambe 5790m Ecuador   Reventador 3562m Ecuador
  Pichincha 4784m Ecuador         Kilimanjaro 5895m Tanzania   Matterhorn 4478m Switzerland / Italy  
  Mont Blanc 4807m France  Italy/  Switzerland     Mount Fuji 3776m Japan   Olympus 2918m Greece

Deal the cards out evenly between players. Everyone chooses one of their cards and places it face up in the middle simultaneously. The player with the highest mountain wins that round.


It isn’t difficult to make your own muesli.  Get some rolled oats and add dried nuts and fruit, shaved coconut, chocolate chips and even a few pieces of chopped fresh fruit like apples.  Put it in the over for 10 minutes and enjoy. 

Heidi drinks goat’s milk out of a small bowl; the bowl is what makes it fun, but feel free to use any milk you prefer.


Try this strategy game about the Red Cross and Geneva convention:

You will need a checker board, 5 dice, 20 soldiers in 2 colours and 1 soldier in a third color with Red Cross flag.  A toy car with a red cross drawn on it will serve as an ambulance (you’ll have to make the wheee-oo wheee-oo! sound yourself).

To play: Player 1 and player 2 each put their ten soldiers on opposite sides of a checkerboard but only on the white squares.  The aim is to get all your soldiers to the other side first OR to get one soldier there by exact count.  Soldiers can jump.  Roll 5 dice each turn and decide who to move.  If you land on a black square or the same square as opponent you are injured.  You can save the injured only when you roll a 6, at which point the “nurse” comes with the ambulance (wheee-oo wheee-oo!) and the “soldiers” can keep playing form where they were.


“Heidi”: book vs movie.  It is interesting that in the book, Clara, the “invalid” (as they called the disabled in those days) gained the strength she needed to walk from being in the mountains, whereas in the movie, it was only thanks to Heidi’s help.  Also, in the movie, the adults discovered the aptly named Fraulein Rottenmeier was the evil woman who hurt the children, whereas in the book, no adult ever seemed to realize what she was doing.

Telling time is still a challenge, perhaps because, unlike most people, Child’s life is rarely ruled by the clock.  She enjoyed practicing counting by 5s and she knows how to say things like «it’s four twenty», but it’s difficult to know if she understands that it’s about two hours before dinner. 

The mountain game seems simple enough, but it involves comparing large numbers so the child must remember how to read starting from the largest number on the left.

Muesli-making was a short, but creative experience.  I put out a baking tray and a number of small bowls of things to mix in.  She suggested oats, raisins, shaved chocolate, shaved coconut, chopped apples, dried cranberries and a few other things. We filled each bowl with the item, then put everything onto the baking tray, swirled it all around (carefully) with our hands and baked it.  We measured 10 minutes by the clock for more time telling practice. The final game was the first time I had designed my own strategy game for her.  It was meant to help her think about even and odd numbers.  Her favorite part of course was making the «wheee-oo wheee-oo!» sounds every time the «ambulance» came to help the wounded soldiers.  She concentrated very hard and seemed to enjoy it

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