Background Knowledge – The Land and the People
Learning a little bit more about the country and its people is a great way to begin your Italian theme. For preschool students, having this background knowledge will be helpful as you begin to encounter Italian references in the stories you read and activities you share.
The country of Italy is a boot-shaped peninsula surrounded by the beautiful blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. It is a country full of history and flourishing culture, as the Italian people, past and present, have contributed valuable influences to the rest of the world. Most of the people of Italy today live in the major cities. Rome is the capital and considered one of the oldest cities in the world, even though today modern offices and hotels stand side by side with the ancient ruins. Naples is the chief port, with one of the best views of the famous Mount Vesuvius volcano. The city of Pisa has the most unusual tower in the world. During construction the ground beneath began to sink, causing the structure to lean. Today, it leans almost 14-feet to one side and is nicknamed The Leaning Tower of Pisa. Venice is considered a unique city as there are no roads, only water canals. People travel from place to place in small boats called gondolas.
Visit the country of Italy through pictures and books. Also, show the children on a world map or globe where the country is compared to where the children are today. Some suggested books are:
Italy ABCs: A Book About the People and Places of Italy by Katz Cooper [Picture Window Books, 2003]
C is for Ciao: An Italy Alphabet by Pamela Duncan Edwards [Sleeping Bear Press, 2008]
Ciao Bambino! A Child’s Tour of Italy by Danna Troncatty Leahy [AuthorHouse, 2004]
The Italian Flag
Start your multicultural lesson by making a flag of Italy. Have the children take a sheet of white construction paper and divide it into three sections vertically. The left side is green, the center section white, and the right sections is red. The colors are said to represent the virtues of faith, hope, and charity. There are several ways the children can place the colors onto their flag. They can used crayons or markers. Another way is to cut small squares of red, green and white tissue paper and wad each piece. Glue each color in the correct section and fill the page like a mosaic.
Puppetry has been famous in Italy for centuries. Clay puppets have been found among the ruins of Rome. Every child cherishes the story of Pinocchio, a wooden marionette that came to life like a real boy. The story was written in 1880 by the Italian author Carlo Collodi.
Make a Pinocchio puppet replica in class with the children. Glue wooden craft sticks (Popsicle sticks) together to make a stick figure, including a body, arms and legs. Cut a circle from poster board for his head and attach it to the stick body with glue. Paint and decorate this wooden boy as desired. Punch a hole at the top of the puppet’s head and insert a large rubber band in the hole. The Pinocchio boy will bounce and dance as the children manipulate the puppet by holding the rubber band.
Pasta and Herb Pictures
The Italians love their diet of pasta. There are many varieties of pasta made in Italy today. In our supermarkets, you can obtain different shapes and colors of pasta. Have the children glue a variety of pasta onto cardboard to create unique pictures and designs. Talk about the different shapes as you work. Read and share the book Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola; a humorous story about a magic pasta pot.
Besides making pasta , Italian cooks are known for the herbs they use in their dishes. Bring in some fresh sprigs of herbs such as rosemary, basil, sage, and parsley. Explore the herbs with the senses (sight, touch, smell). The children can take these sprigs and dip them into tempera paint and then drag them across white paper to make creative designs. Or, have the children lay the paint-coated herbs down and press for a "print."
Communicate the Italian Way
Introduce the children to three phrases that are used daily in Italy.
Buon Giorno (BWAWN Jor noh) – Hello
Arrivederci (ahr REE veh DER chee) – Good-bye
Grazie (GRAH tsee) – Thank you
These are only a few projects to include in your Italian theme for preschool. As you read about the country, the culture is rich in history and many famous people who have made contributions to our lives were from Italy. Don’t forget to tell the children that Christopher Columbus, an Italian explorer, set sail from Spain to discover the New World in 1492. That is why we are here today and this can begin an entire new unit for your preschool class.