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Monday, 9 March 2015

Explore a Culture Through Its Traditional Ways of Living: Inside a Malaysian Village

Every culture has its own unique ways of living that are informed by climate, events of the past, stories that have been passed down from generation to generation, natural resources, education, political and religious influences. This month I am inviting the children to go back in time and explore life in a traditional Malaysian Village or "Kampung" (as it's called in Malay). The kampung lifestyle is often referred to nostalgically as a place of freedom, simplicity and proximity to nature, a place where relational ties are strong between family and friends.  With modernisation and the technological boom in recent decades, the kampungs have largely been deserted and the younger generations have migrated to the cities or modern housing estates. I put together these activities in the hope that the children will develop an appreciation for their Malaysian heritage and (having a grandmother who grew up in a kampung) learn a bit of family history along the way.

My main resource for exploring the traditional Malaysian kampung life has not been a textbook or a series of websites, but a couple of books by the renowned Malay cartoonist, Mohammed Nor Khalid (commonly known as "Lat"). The Kampung Boy, is a humorous recollection of his early childhood experience of living in a kampung: bathing and fishing in the river, being circumcised on a log(!), learning about the life of trees and plants from his father, receiving instruction on the reading of the Koran and attending a traditional Malay wedding.

The activities below are aimed at preschool aged children, but could be adapted for an older child and/or a different culture:

Kampung Small World
Our small world is an introduction to the setting of traditional village life.  At the centre is the classic wooden kampung house with a sloped roof (to drain off the rain) and set on stilts (to protect its inhabitants from predators).  I made the kampung house out of a bird box, craft sticks and various wooden shapes that can be purchased from a craft store.  (Once I've furnished its interior I will share in detail how I made it).  The peg dolls are clothed in tops and sarongs, with the women wearing their hair back in a bun (as was the custom).  I combined this activity with a language game where I taught Wugs the Malay words for the different objects he pointed out.

Making Batik
Batik is a traditional textile craft of Malaysia that goes back to (at least) the 17th Century according to the Malay Annals.  Batik involves creating patterns (usually flower or leaf motifs or geometic designs) on cloth from hot wax. The cloth is then washed in a dye and the wax is scraped off to reveal an intricate pattern.  My sister-in-law purchased these batik-making kits from Malaysia which have the wax design already on the cloth and a dye palette for the children to brush the colours on to the design.  Batik designs can also be created using glue and acrylic paint.  Check out these colourful designs from All Our Days.

Batik Matching Cards
When we were living in Singapore, I bought a variety of cheap batik material from a Malay market.  I decided to create batik patterned cards from it.  I placed the cards randomly on the table for the children to match them up according to colour and design.  Given how intricate the patterns are, this proved a bit challenging for my three year old.

A Kampung Meal
In Kampung Boy, Yesterday and Today, cartoonist Lat describes a typical kampung meal of boiled tapioca with grated coconut and sugar.  I decided we would dine kampung-style this evening and the sweet, creamy mix was met with approval from my boys.

Counting Sugarcanes 
One of Malaysia's natural resources is sugarcane.  Sugarcane is a stout grass stalk which can grow up to 6 metres high.  It is harvested for its sucrose, but can also be consumed in drinks (sugar cane juice) or (as Lat recollects) the sugarcane stick was chewed.  I created a simple counting activity using green painted cake sticks (for sugarcane) and a congkak board (congkak is a traditional childhood game in Malaysia, but a little too advanced for Wugs so we used it as a simple counting board).

Fishing in the Kampung
One of Lat's first skills as a young boy was learning how to fish in the local river.  Wugs had a taster of longkang (meaning "drain fishing") at a kampong in Singapore.  After heavy rainfall the drains would often be overflowing with fish and children would bring empty jam jars or tins to scoop up the fish.  For this activity, I printed off images of fish that would typically be found in a local Malaysian river, laminated them and put them in a tub of water between stones and plants for Wugs and Dooey to catch using tea strainers.  The children then needed to match the fish they caught with the images of fish on a reference sheet (with the name of the fish written underneath it).

Kampung Sensory Bin
The sensory bin was made up of things that are naturally produced in Malaysia (often in the kampungs).  Our bin contained rice, dried banana, sugar cubes, tin and rubber (gloves).  I added in some tongs for the children to use to pick up medium-sized objects and help strengthen those fine motor skills.

Rice Weighing
For this activity I borrowed a set of old weighing scales from my mum and instead of using the small metal weights (which are too heavy for the children), I measured out separate quantities of rice into bags.  On one side of the scales sit the bags (1 cup, 3/4 cup, 1/2 cup and 1/4 cup of rice) and on the other side, the children can add the loose rice into a bowl and experiment with weight and balance.

Traditional Childhood Games
Lat devotes a large part of his book , Kampung Boy, Yesterday and Today to the childhood games that were played in a kampung.  My husband also remembers playing these at school with his friends. In our basket is
- a shuttlecock-like object that is made of rubber and (traditionally) the feathers of a local bird.  It is tossed in the air and tapped or kicked.  The idea is for the object not to fall on the ground.
- a spinning top (traditionally made from guava bark with a nail pushed through it).  The string is wrapped around the top and then pulled away quickly.  Competitions were held over the distance covered by the spinning top, the speed of it etc.
- the ornate-looking catapult was traditionally made from guava bark and an elastic band.  This has proved to be a very popular toy in our house!
- the triangular bean bags are used in a game called batu seremban that involves throwing the bags on the ground and picking one up at a time, tossing it in the air and picking up another before the bag that is thrown in the air falls to the ground.

Whilst living in Singapore, I discovered a shop at One North MRT station (next to the Malaysian restaurant, "Penang Place") that sells the objects that are used in these traditional Malaysian games. Some of them can also be purchased at Kampong Glam (Muscat Street).


  1. Just stopping by from Weekly Wrap up. Your unit of study looks AMAZING! I would love to do it myself.

  2. Thank you for the opportunity to share. The boys are really enjoying the unit.

  3. I LOVE this unit! I love how you brought this village to life with your sensory type bin. I pinned this to pinterest. Just looking at this sparked my imagination. (Which I'm sure will be even more sparked if a child was looking at it)