THINGS TO SEE AND DO: JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE WORLD!

Well that’s a slight exaggeration, but Hastings caves does reach a good long way into the crust of our world (we’re not really going to get anywhere near the core… but it’s a great adventure in to the depth of our planet never the less!)

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Newdegate Cave is around 1.5hrs – 2hrs drive from Hobart and is remarkably the largest tourist cave in Australia which occurs in dolomite, rather than limestone. Its richly decorated chambers began forming tens of millions of years ago (great for bringing in those Big History concepts on your young ones timeline) and is formed by water! (Showing the immense power of water – in an entirely different way to the power of water in our recent water wheel investigation!)

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During the walk to the cave the excitement built, and the kids were keen to read and learn everything they could about the caves. As we waited for the tour guide we looked at the map and tried to think of what could have made such a big hole. This is Anica’s face when she learnt it was water that created the giant caves that we were about to enter.

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Once inside with our small tour group the crystal cave was beautifully lit and totally captured the imagination of the kids. The guide explained how the stalactites and stalagmites were formed, and answered questions as we moved though the upper section of the cave. (The cave is considerably deeper than the public are able to explore, but the 45min tour was perfectly timed for us and we were very happy to see the amazing sights in the public areas of the cave.)

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We were also lucky enough to see some critters inhabiting the caves (a rare occurrence) and with the help of our guide we managed to spot a small cave spider and a cave cricket. The caves and tour are very well run, and impressively they have a wealth of free printable educational sheets relating to the caves available here. Many of these sheets are a little old for my own youngsters, but I look forward to re-visiting the ideas when they are older.

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The caves are also near a hot (warm) spring that fills a pool that you can swim in during your visit. Unfortuantly a large tree had fallen over the boardwalk just before our visit, so the Hot Springs walks (where you can feel the water from the spring running joining the water from the creek) is closed until further notice while they repair the track, but a splash in the pool gave the kids a great concept of water coming up from the warmer parts of the earth as they could see where it entered the pool (warmed) and then left the pool to join the creek. (The staff when asked were very helpful at explaining this, and obviously possess a great deal of knowledge beyond simply selling park tickets!)

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Despite the daunting idea of a 3-4hour round trip to see the caves, I recommend inviting a few friends, bring a picnic, stop on the way and making a day of it – the cave tour followed by a swim in the warm springs was great fun, (and surprisingly relaxing!) way to spend a family day!

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EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: THE POWER OF THE WIND.

If the breeze is blowing grab a few craft supplies, your young engineers, and head down to Sullivans Cove Waterfront for an investigation into the invisible force that is wind.

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What you will need:

  • 4 paper cups
  • Strong cardboard (2 lengths about the shape of a ruler)
  • Pin (drawing pin, dress makers pin, or sewing needle)
  • Pencil (with rubber on top)
  • Tape
  • Scissors

Make a cross with the 2 lengths of cardboard, and tape at the middle so they form a ridged and evenly spaced ‘X’

Tape a cup to the end of each of the ‘arms’ of the X (ensuring they are all facing the same way when it turns)

Place the pin though the centre of the X and attach it to the pencil (by sticking the pin into the rubber end of the pencil as in the picture).

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The X should now rotate freely and the cups should catch the wind to make it spin.

Finished! You just built a wind turbine (admittedly it is not turning anything at the base, but that is probably an engineering feat for slightly older children!)

Of course this is a great time to talk with kids about how the wind holds energy, and how that energy can be ‘caught’ and transferred through rotation to create power that we can use.

If you do this experiment on the waterfront you will be able to point out the wind turbines turning in the wind on top of the buildings.

If you are venturing through the midlands (or feel like a day trip) you may like to visit the Callington Mill at Oatlands for this experiment. We visited this earlier in the year and being able to reference the internal cogs that they saw at the windmill really helped our kids understand that the rotation caused by catching wind was able to to run a ‘motor.’

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We’ll show you how water can generate power in a post soon, so no worries if you don’t get to Oatlands today… that turbine action will come back into play soon with another little potential road trip!

HOW TO LIMIT SCREEN TIME WHILE BUILDING DIGITAL LITERACY.

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Screen time, it’s an issue that we all confront. An issue that is changing drastically in our kids short lifetimes. I highly recommend listening to this segment from our favourite radio host Ryk Goddard speaking with Professor Stephen Houghton on ABC Radio.

On the other hand we also want to prepare our kids for the future, and building their digital literacy is an important part of that. For a little listen on this front you might like to click over to this segment where ABC Radio’s Rachael Brown speaks with Jillian Kenny about how Australian students are chasing non-existent careers.

As many of you may know, I have spent a good deal of my life creating videos for a living. (Everything from film clips to schools programs on drug education – a wonderfully divers and mind-blowing job). Yet when I had my first child we didn’t let her watch TV or videos. Even now, with a 3 and a 5 year old, we still don’t have a TV at our home.

But this lack of TV does not mean we don’t have screen time, we indeed do have a wide range of screens in our house, and our young kids are no stranger to using them: They find their own audio books on the ipad, they send e-mails on the laptop, they draw letters on my phone (indeed they asked how I could have possibly learnt hand writing in the olden days when there were no ipads with LetterSchool to teach me!) and they also like a good deal of shows on iView (particularly when our oldest is suffering from her Arthritis, there is nothing quite like a movie to take your mind off feeling sore and sick!)

While I certainly don’t believe kids should spend their entire lives waiting for the next show, I do think that screen time comes in a range of different levels of educational quality, and while we are living in such changeable times that there is no clear research from the past that we can accurately apply to the long term effects of what our kids are faced with today, this is how I have built my own personal philosophy on screen time:

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With less than 5% female representation among professional coders (and indeed; low representation across all technology fields) I actively want my daughters to be given every opportunity to “think like a coder”. Fortunately for us my brother is a software developer and has been able to introduce my children to the simple puzzles that allow them to gain the first basics of code. Like any activity for children, these games are fun, playful, challenging and lets them solve puzzles of increasing difficulty. Watching the intensity that my 5oy has when solving these puzzles I am in no doubt what so ever that her analytical brain is building at a rapid rate during this type of screen time. Puzzles that are programmed to respond and change individually with the child’s developing mind is far more advanced than ever before, and indeed personalised development supersedes any previous notion of following a precise generic sequence of puzzles laid out in a work book.

Physical interaction with the screen is something that is not taken into account with many of the previous studies done into kids watching TV. A 3 month old who is learning the finer points of controlling her fingers was held in front of a touch sensitive light pad, and her little arms went wild as she discovered the colours she could create by touching the screen. She explored fine details, sweeping motions and saw what her actions could make. Very few parents would be willing to let their 3 month old baby loose with finger paints, and yet this (less the valuable tactile squashy feeling she will get to experience a little later in life!) was exactly what she was doing. She was painting with light, learning physical control and the relationship between cause and effect. The ‘screen time’ was giving her an opportunity to do something that she would otherwise not have been able to do. Screen time will never replace the learning that is achieved with direct human interaction, but when used as an age appropriate tool (rather than a substitute) the learning potential is immense and to be encouraged.

This TED talk by Salman Khan is a great look at how screen time can assist rather than hinder in an older educational setting.

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Let’s sit and watch something. This is the one we all feel a little uncomfortable about, myself included, and yet in smaller doses I believe that this entertainment is a valuable and important part of growing up. In recent discussions about volcanos my 5yo clearly explained to me the cause of hot springs, volcanos, and tectonic plates (while she was missing some of the technical terminology, her understanding was surprisingly comprehensive!) I asked where she had learnt this – perhaps school? Or did her grandparents explain it to her? No, it was the “dinosaur train” – one of the shows my kids like that I am the least enthusiastic about but in watching it she has gained a conceptual understanding of the Earths structure that astounds me.

I am careful about what my children watch for entertainment because I can directly see the themes and relationships shown being re-created in their games, wiring in to their understanding of the world. But I also know it is important that they have a connection with those around them. I myself grew up largely without TV and radio, and while that had a great impact on my life, my adult friends often need to explain cultural references that I miss because I do not have the same “cultural background” as them. The entertainment of a culture is part of that culture, thus TV watching (even the trashy kind!) is part of growing up and being a part of this culture too. In a sense, it is important for my kids social and emotional development that they know who Elsa is, but they don’t need to watch Frozen enough that they model themselves on it!

Of course, none of us will know how this new kind of screen time effects our young ones until many years from now, and indeed what ‘screen time’ is will continue to evolve at a rapid rate, but this is how I personally navigate the current screen time dilemma. Love to hear how you are approaching this with your young ones.

EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: MEASURE OUR GALAXY.

IMG_3055 Now, you’ve made a solar system – let’s get some idea of how vast that solar system is… for this you will need a wide-open space and some skewers. Initially we printed little planets for colouring. (Alternatively you could bring the solar system that you just made, but with a little wind in the air we thought it safer to opt for the smaller representation of each planet!) Attach each planet to a skewer with tape and head to a wide open space (we went to the local sports field). Place your sun in the centre of the field and begin to measure your planets. For accurate measurements of the distances between planets you can look here. We chose to be more approximate in our own measurements, with ‘kids steps’ as our form of measurement, and the furthest being 30 steps from our sun (to allow for shorter counting attention span of the 3yo!) IMG_3042 Each time you pace out your planets, place your skewer as a marker. You should end up with a little gathering of planets near your sun, then some so far away that you can barely see them! (Well, 30 large steps away at least!) Before you head out you may like to watch this demonstration that I was delighted to find (after doing ours, but still great to watch!) – he did it on a slightly larger scale but has some great facts about the planets that you might like to include when you are doing it with your young ones. Once all in place have a look at how long it takes to walk around the sun if you were Venus, or perhaps Mars… now how long does it take to you to move around the sun if you were Neptune! (See Neptune (3yo Elka) taking a bit of a shortcut as she orbits the sun (5yo Anica) below) IMG_3052 Depending on your young ones you may like to talk about how our Earth year is determined by a rotation around the sun. (We will be looking at weather a little shortly, so we’ll answer some of those seasons questions in the coming week!) – and make sure you bring your planets home again, they will be useful for our upcoming galaxy play-dough! IMG_3066

ONE SIMPLE STRATEGY TO HELP KIDS OVERCOME FEAR.

Each of my children, at a particular point in their lives, have become terrified of spiders. Not caused by any traumatic event, but as though an instinctive ‘fear switch’ for 8-legged creepy crawlies is suddenly turned on. I’ve talked with other parents, and this seems common.

Elka, the 3yo, recently started being scared of spiders. She is fine with all other creatures, but spiders make her squeal.

As luck would have it, when we were looking for S words on our first day we spotted a spider on the wall. Initially seen by her older sister who said ‘SPIDER!’ I replied ‘Yes, SSSSpider SSSStarts with SSSSS too! well done!’ But then she corrected me, there was one on the wall behind me. And this is when the screaming started. Elka climbed on the table and squealed in a pitch that could shatter windows!

I trapped it under a glass, and showed it to her. It was a little one (locally known as a ‘daddy long legs’ because of it’s ridiculously long legs in relation to it’s tiny body). I asked Elka to count the legs, to think about how the spider was feeling trapped in the glass with all us big people looking at it. To look at it’s funny knee joints. She instantly relaxed and started using the logical part of her brain to think about the spider, rather than the instinctive part of her brain to react to the spider.

Before long she was drawing the spider, squinting to get a closer look at it’s eyes, and very happy for me to “let him go in the garden so he wouldn’t be scared any more!”

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This is a technique I have read about and trialed a number of times for various situations. In this instance the conditions were right for Elka to face her fear and very quickly overcome it. It may not have been so successful if she hadn’t been as receptive (ie tired or hungry etc) but for now Elka is far more sympathetic towards spiders than she is scared of them.

If only all the problems of the world were this easy to solve!

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Update: This last image was taken recently at SIngapore Zoo and and I thought I should add it to show how Elka’s new found curiosity for our 8 legged friends has truly taken over any fear that we dealt with all those weeks ago, putting in the effort to deal with the situation as we did seems to have paid off in this case!

BIG HISTORY FOR LITTLE PEOPLE

The stories we tell about our being (both public and private) are a cornerstone to our developing sense of identity – for an individual child, and indeed for the community as a whole.

After watching a presentation by David Christian (a key mover and shaker in the Big History movement) I am further inspired to incorporate ideas of ‘Big History’ (that is; history understood form a big picture perspective) into play based learning for early childhood.

My own daughter, Elka 3yo, insists that everything before now is ‘last year’ (yes; yesterday is a very long time ago when you are 3!) So with this daily reminder I fully understand the realities of a developing mind struggling to grasp the concept of time passing. Research shows that neurological pathways in Elkas young brain are forming to understand the complex idea of time, but the extensive process of developing that understanding will only be fully accomplished with the experience of time passing.

With this unquestionable evidence noted, even 3yo Elka can tell you (with some genuine understanding) that ‘dinosaurs lived a long time ago, and they’re not alive any more’. This is a concept that has been built upon by the numerous references to dinosaurs around her (from dress ups, toys, and stickers, to book and even all out dinosaur birthday parties). While history is usually reserved for older students, it is not such a giant leap to conclude that other milestones in our ‘big history’ could equally be as engaging subjects for play based learning in these early years!

From imagining the world of ancient civilisations to looking at how our landscape was formed (volcanic eruptions and a century of erosion is as simple as sand play with some added baking soda and vinegar!)

While I am yet to experiment on my darling offspring, I believe that her being able to understand a vague order of chronology (ie dinosaurs before kingdoms, pyramids before Nan and Pop etc) is well with in her abilities and would be aided by a general time line in her environment that we can refer to when we make new discoveries.

This sense of belonging (and owning a place in time as well as physical space) is something that will enhance all aspects of the growth: from empathy and understanding, to exploration and a desire to invent the next thing to change the course of history.

Now, on the topic of history: the Yoyo is believed to be the second oldest toy in human history. (Without google) do you know what the oldest is? (Note your answers in the comments below, future post will show how we made the oldest toy in history.)