by Pam Gentry

Take a good look at the locale of your family’s work assignment. Hiding within that environment are a wealth of learning opportunities your family can explore. Many topics studied in the elementary classroom can be discovered just outside your doorstep even if you do not have many books.

Using a scrapbook format to collect your children’s discoveries and reflections, your family can explore the village, city, or country where you are assigned and document your school work at the same time. All the normal school subjects can, to some extent, be incorporated into your scrapbook project. Science, social studies, and writing, however, are the most widely applicable. To get you started, activity possibilties for these areas are listed below.

It is actually possible to use a scrapbook as the main focus of your school work for a whole school year. If you do, include a math text and some literature at your child’s reading level. Children reading at a beginning level can use their corrected daily writing as a source of supplemental reading material.

You may also want to gather a small collection of books relevant to the history, geography, flora and fauna of the country where you live. An encyclopedia on disk or a collection of Eyewitness Books on disk would be extremely useful if you have a computer with CD-ROM. Local sources of information and goodies to stick in your scrapbook might be the Peace Corps office, which often has a library; the national post office, which may have stamps on different topics; the tourism office and its publications; and in-flight magazines published by the national airline.

Materials to make a scrapbook may be available within the country where you work. Heavy paper such as card stock cut in a large size makes excellent pages for a scrapbook. Choose something heavier for the cover. An office-supplies location may have a binding machine, or large metal brads can be used to hold the whole thing together. If supplies in the country are extremely limited, you may need to take them with you.



  • What are the seasons and weather cycles of your locale? Make a calendar that reflects these.
  • Find out about the causes of the unique weather phenomena in your area.
  • Make a rain gauge or use a commercial one to record and graph rainfall. If you have access to pH indicating papers, you can also record the acidity of the rain over time. Record and graph the temperature each day. Compare the rainfall and temperature graphs.
  • Keep a weather log over several months that records cloud cover, rainfall, temperature, and barometric pressure (if you have the means to record this).
  • Write a story about your experience during a storm, a rainy day, a hot day, a snowy day, etc.


  • What constellations can you see in your locale?
  • Do the people have stories or special names for things found in the night sky?
  • Describe the village or city at night and during the day.
  • Describe a moonlit night. Record sunset and or/sunrise over the course of several months.
  • Keep a “moon log” which shows how the moon changes each night over the course of a month.

Life Science

  • Describe the creatures and plants you discover in various environmental communities (or biomes) of your locale.
  • Make a map showing how these communities coexist.
  • If a plant or animal is particularly diverse in your area, record and describe or illustrate the varieties.
  • Collect and press leaves and flowers. Identify the parts and the name of the variety.
  • Illustrate a food chain or web you have observed.
  • Draw a plant or tree that has many uses in your locale.
  • Identify what each part of the plant is used for.
  • Collect and identify feathers from various types of birds.
  • Make leaf rubbings.
  • Collect shells.
  • Categorize your collections according to physical characteristics.

Earth Science

  • Collect and identify different types of rocks. Are any particular rocks used by the people you live with? Describe the properties of these rocks and how they are used.
  • Identify land forms in your area and research the forces that form them.
  • Make a photo collage of different land forms near you.
  • Identify the forces of erosion in your environment.
  • Identify sources of pollution in the country.
  • Do a trash survey focusing on a particular item in a designated area and make a graph to show your results. Example: How many plastic bags or discarded aluminum cans are left in front of your house each day?
  • Make a map to show the rivers in your area.

Social Studies

  • Make maps of your village or locale; indicate the uses for different areas on your map.
  • Describe the houses or draw a picture. How are houses built? Explain how the materials used reflect the environment.
  • Interview someone in the language group to get an oral history of their origins, a cataclysmic event, or any-thing important to the community.
  • What kinds of artistic expression are evident in the culture? How do these forms of expression reflect the values of the people, their environment, and the materials available? Make a collection.
  • Describe the national flag or draw a picture of it. Explain the symbolism of the flag.
  • How is the community organized to solve problems, and how does this compare with your home country?
  • List things you like and do not like about your locale.
  • Do you live in an industrial area? What products are important to the economy? Visit a factory if possible and use a flow chart format to illustrate how the factory produces its product. Research to find out where the country’s products are distributed. Make a map to show what you discovered.
  • Make a small book of children’s games. Explain how to play and what materials are needed to play.
  • Make paper dolls to illustrate the local form of dress. How does the way people dress reflect their environment and climate?
  • Who are the different people in your community and what role do they play? Do a photo essay with captions.
  • Describe important cultural events through writing or illustration. Focus on a particular event and paste items from that event into your scrapbook. Make a note about each item’s significance. Include photos with captions. Make a calendar of important cultural events. Compare and contrast the celebration of Christmas in this culture with that of your home culture.
  • Retell or illustrate a traditional story or myth. Can you tell from the story something about the values of this culture?
  • What kind of currency is used in the country where you live? Make coin rubbings or glue sample coins into your scrapbook. Explain the symbolism on the coins if there is any. Draw a chart showing the exchange rate to American dollars for each denomination. How do the values of the different coins compare with each other? i.e. how many smaller coins equal one of higher value?
  • Is barter a strong part of the economy? Illustrate a series of barter transactions using a flow chart. Which system do you think is better, barter economy or cash economy? Write an opinion paragraph about this. Make a trade map that shows how your community interacts with others on an economic level.
  • Make a time line of important historical events in the country’s history.
  • Identify and research some important heroes or historical figures.
  • Use photos to illustrate a family tree of one of your friends.


Six basic forms of writing are encouraged during the elementary school years: procedural, narrative, opinion, evaluative, and descriptive writing, plus various poetic forms. In addition, children are encouraged to write lists and keep a journal.

Using these writing forms, any number of writing assignments can be made relating to science or social studies. Many more examples can be found in the above listing. In addition, writing assignments using the basic forms can make a connection between the children’s reading and the world around them because children’s reading is often organized around universal themes.

Here are examples of writing assignments which make a connection between literature themes and the living environment:


  • Procedure: Tell how to play a game.
  • Narration: Tell a story about a something scary that happened with a friend.
  • Opinion: What makes a good friend? Or what makes a good neighborhood?
  • Evaluation: Compare and contrast your best friend in the village with your best friend in the home country. What do you do together? Where do you play? What do you talk about? How do you feel about these friends?
  • Describe a friend in your location. What does the friend look like? What is important to this friend? What does he or she like to do? How do you feel about your friend?
  • List the things you do with your friends.


  • Procedure: Tell how to care for a pet.
  • Narration: Imagine you are your cat or other pet. Tell about an adventure you have had.
  • Opinion: What animal makes the best kind of pet?
  • Evaluation: Compare and contrast the way people treat pets in the country where you work versus your home country. Or compare and contrast two different kinds of pets.
  • Describe your pet.
  • List the kinds of pets you find in your neighborhood.


  • Procedure: Give directions to a chosen destination in your vicinity.
  • Narration: Tell a story about a trip you took. It could be as far away as another country, or as near as the village gardens.
  • Opinion: If you were the first western explorer to discover the place where you now live, what would you do?
  • Evaluation: Compare and contrast modes of transportation used where you live.
  • Describe a place you have explored. Include all five senses in your description.
  • List survival items you should take on a trip in the country where you are living.


Various forms of poetry work easily into literature themes, social studies, and science. The easiest forms of poetry to write are descriptive. Thus, a poem describing the wind, a rainy day, a flower, or a moonlit night ties in nicely with science study. A poem describing the sounds and smells of the city or a village celebration coordinate with social studies.

One simple but effective type of poem uses an anagram to provide the structure. Down the left-hand side of the paper the child spells out in capital letters the word he wants to describe. The child then uses each letter to write a short sentence or phrase about the word he has written. You can learn about other simple types of poetic structure in books about writing.

One excellent resource is If You’re Trying to Teach Kids How to Write, You’ve Gotta Have This Book, by Frank Marjorie. Another excellent resource that covers the whole writing process for students is Write Source.

Benefits of the Scrapbook Format

The scrapbook approach to school provides a flexible framework that can support your whole school program or supplement a traditional program. It can provide for your family’s first year of language and culture learning some structure that is relevant to your daily living situation. Or you may choose to add to the scrapbook over several years of living in your work assignment as items are relevant to your regular school program.

The scrapbook will become a valuable tool for you and your children to share your experiences with others during furlough. Knowing there is an audience for their writing will give children purpose and motivate their best efforts. You may choose to do a scrapbook as a family or encourage each child to build his or her own. No matter which path you take, the outcome will be a treasure of memories of your time on the field, a treasure from your child’s perspective.

Permission is granted to copy, but not for commercial purposes.