Learning about Chimpanzees and Jane Goodall

After learning about Tanzania, we decided to study chimpanzees and Jane Goodall. Jane Goodall, as you all probably know, studied the chimpanzees in Gombe National Park, Tanzania.

We read a great children’s book about Jane’s life, The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps. We watched most of a documentary DVD about her (thanks, Netflix streaming!), Jane’s Journey.

On a side note, I wish I had learned more about Jane’s life when I was in high school. It was my dream to go to East Africa and study elephants; I was so surprised to find out that she went to Tanzania on her own (with her mother) and happened to get her dream job, just like that (being in the right place at the right time). I honestly felt that only a lucky few get to study elephants, so I let my dream slide away. Maybe I would have been more determined to follow my passion if I had studied Jane’s journey too. Though I am very happy with my new life passions now. And I do wonder now if I would hate living in heat; I am quite a crabby one when overheated. I have a love/hate relationship with the sun.

We read a few different books about chimpanzees from the library and colored coloring pages of chimpanzees. We watched the Disneynature Chimpanzee movie (again, thanks Netflix streaming!). I so hated the anthropomorphism in the movie, but it did make the movie entertaining for the kids. We did some of the activities from an activity packet on the Disneynature website, making a chimpanzee mask, dot-to-dot coloring, etc. We compared our footprints to a chimpanzee’s footprint, measured our arms and legs and compared them to a chimpanzee’s, and we discussed differences between monkeys and apes.

Whenever the girls and I study something together, I may write on the blog all that we studied, but that doesn’t mean that the girls learned everything. For example, when we studied Tanzania, we learned how to count to ten in Swahili and some other Swahili words, but a few weeks later, M really only remembers how to say hello (Jambo), father (baba), and maybe the number 5 (tano). We can study a subject often and still learn something new every time. That’s what learning is all about, right?

So here is what the girls can tell you about chimpanzees:

  • Jane Goodall studied them in Tanzania and saw them using tools.
  • Chimpanzees sometimes hunt and eat monkeys.
  • Chimpanzees use tools, like rocks for breaking nut shells or sticks for catching termites.
  • Chimpanzees make a nest in the trees out of sticks and branches for sleeping at night.
  • Chimpanzees nurse their babies.
  • Chimpanzees are apes.
  • Chimpanzees have thumbs on their hands and feet.
  • Apes can rotate their shoulders fully to swing from branches; monkeys can not.
  • Apes don’t have tails; most monkeys have (visible) tails.
  • Apes have arms longer than their legs; monkeys do not.
  • Apes and monkeys are diurnal (active during the day).

We’ve been talking a lot lately about whether Curious George is an ape or a monkey. I think he appears to be an ape, so it bothers!!! me that the author calls him a monkey all the time (this is a pet peeve of mine at the zoo, when I overhear a parent calling an orangutan a monkey to their toddler, for example. People, use the correct term, don’t dumb it down! Yes, I’m crazy….and probably too judgmental; perhaps the parent doesn’t know the difference between monkeys and apes–not everyone took a Primate class in college.). Anyhow, George is a fictional character, and the author has every right to create a new species of monkey like him. So I just need to Let. It. Go. Seems to be a constant practice in my life right now: breathing and letting go. 🙂


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  • "Living is learning and when kids are living fully and energetically and happily they are learning a lot, even if we don't always know what it is. " - John Holt
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