Moja Means One: Swahili Counting Book

This colorful picture book introduces children to Swahili and the continent of Africa.
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by Muriel L. Feelings

Moja Means OneThis book teaches the numbers one through ten in Swahili as well as various aspects of east African culture.

Swahili is one language that is spoken in Africa, a continent where about 800 languages are spoken. It is difficult for children to imagine the enormity of this; it is not like having a separate language for every one of the 50 states of the United States. Even if 10 different languages were spoken in each of our 50 states, that would be only 500 different languages. When we understand other people and the problems they face in communication (including numbers), we gain a greater appreciation for our own unified language and number system.

Enrichment Activities
Internet Resources
Books by Muriel L. Feelings

Enrichment Activities

Locate Africa
Locate Africa on a globe or map.

Count Aloud
Go through the book page by page and learn to say the number names from one to ten. In the book, the names are spelled phonetically to help with accurate pronunciation.

Learn About Africa
Go through the book page by page to learn something about Africa – its marketplaces, storytelling customs, beautiful pottery designs, and so on.

Highest Mountain
The mathematical concept of "highest" is communicated through the text accompanying the explanation for moja (one). The highest mountain in Africa is Mount Kilimanjaro. Have children locate it on the globe. What is the highest mountain in your state, or the highest hill or building in your community?

Mbili means Two. Mankala is a counting game played by young and old. It is played with a wooden container that has two parallel rows of six holes (similar to an egg carton), and little balls or beans or seeds. This game is well known throughout Africa and is called by different names. Village children have played the game by scooping dirt from the ground to make two sets of six holes, or twelve holes. In some areas, the game boards have been cut into the big rocks so you just need your counters to play.

Look for information about how to play this game. Today there is even a computer version of Mankala. Perhaps your school has a copy, or you can get one on the Internet.

North, South, East, West
Tatu means Three. On this page, the text deals with directionality, namely "east." Where is north, south, west, and east in relation to your classroom? Draw a simple map of your classroom and label the directions. Look for these directions on signs that have street names. How many live on a street that has a direction in its name?

Baby Carriers
Nne means Four. Four mothers are shown carrying babies on their backs. How do we carry our babies-back or front, or both? Name vehicles on wheels that we can use to transport babies. Divide a paper into quarters and draw four vehicles with wheels in which a baby could safely ride. Print the number of wheels.

Rote Counting with a Bouncing Ball

  • Have children bounce a big ball and count from one to ten in Swahili on each bounce. Children can take turns bouncing the ball while everyone counts aloud. Keep the ball bouncing. If you miss, begin again.
  • Students can work in groups of two and bounce the ball back and forth as
    each one takes a turn at counting in Swahili.
  • Echo Counting. Students can work in groups of two and bounce the ball back and forth. On the first bounce, one students says, "moja," and on the next bounce the student says, "one." On the next bounce, the first student would say, "mbili" (m.bee.lee) and on the next bounce the echo would be "two." This could also be reversed. When students become proficient at rote counting in both Swahili and English, they can mix up the numbers as they call them out to keep the partner alert. Keep the ball bouncing.
  • Students can work in groups of two. Clap hands together for "one," clap hands with partner for, "moja," and so on.
  • Student partners can do rote counting with hand clapping and see how high they can rote count using English.
  • Students can sit in a large circle and rote count by clapping hands together for "one," and clapping hands on knees for "two," hands together for "three," hands on knees for "four," and so on. See how high the group can go. Next, start from the beginning but whisper the number every time hands clap together (one) and say the number out loud (two) when hands clap knees. What is happening? Students are rote counting aloud by twos. (This will help children when they have to write their numerals by twos. Many will refer to this rote counting game as an aid.)

Any single number is called a "digit." In English, "digit" means "finger" or "toe." Since people used to count with their fingers and toes at one time (and some still do) perhaps the connection is understandable. Children can count from one to ten using fingers. Work with the whole class or work in small groups or with pairs; have one person hold up a flash card showing the digit (numeral), and the other(s) must then hold up the correct number of digits (fingers).

In a Time Before Numbers

Pretend that we live in a time before written numbers. Students can put one hand down flat on the table and line up a row of toothpicks for each finger on their hand. How many are there? Scoop up the toothpicks and do this for the other hand. How many are there? How many are there for both hands? (Reinforcement exercise for numbers one to ten, and also five and ten.)

Base 5
People have been counting on their hands for centuries. In some languages, the word "hand" means "five." If you ask a farmer how many goats he had and the farmer answered, "hand," how many goats would that be? (Five.) Suppose you have not yet thought to use two hands but just use one hand for counting. You can use toothpicks for this, and put down one I, then another 11, and another III, and one more IIII, until you have five IIIII. Now, how do you represent six if you can't count on your other hand? (Maybe you could just use the same hand over again, or cross the picks.). Lead children to discover the following:
6 is 5 and one more
7 is 5 and 2 more
8 is 5 and 3 more
9 is 5 and 4 more
10 is two 5s

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