THINGS TO SEE AND DO: PENGUIN SPOTTING.

Here in Tasmania we are lucky enough to have penguin colonies living literally on our back door step. The most centrally located one that I am aware of is located on Sandy Bay road, a place we walk past every day on our way to school.

Penguin spotting is bast done a particular times of year and it also requires a degree of stillness and silence in the evening. Unfortunately my own children have not yet mastered enough stillness and silence (at least in the evenings!) to make it safe to take them penguin watching at our local colony. (I say ‘safe’ because noisy children disturbing these birds can interfere with their mating and nesting patterns, so we’re talking about ‘penguin safety’ rather than ‘child safety’ in this case!)

IMG_8243Instead we opted to see our penguins at Singapore Zoo, and simply talk about where they live in the wild. One day I hope to share the wild penguin experience with my own kids. However, if your children are better at keeping their excitement quite, then pack a thermos of hot chocolate and head on down for a memorable evening of waddling penguins. Please read this guide from Parks and Wildlife before you head out to help make sure you care for these little creatures while you watch.

As you sit sea side and watch the penguins waddle in from the sea this is the perfect time to explain that these animals (along with many other species of wildlife that live in our towns and cities) were here long before the houses built in the area. That these fragile animals are afraid of dogs and cats (because they eat them!) so it is really important that we keep our pets contained. It is our responsibility as pet owners to make sure that our pets (and yes, that includes cats!) don’t wonder freely because they are skilled hunters who can do far more damage than we see.

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THINGS TO SEE AND DO: PENGUIN EGGS

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Our Favourite thing to do at Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery is to borrow a backpack. We used to borrow tool belts (filled with activities for the young explorers as they adventure through the museum) but we’ve sort of ‘graduated’ onto the backpacks.

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EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: FREE PENGUIN PRINTABLE.

This week we’ve got a little reader book for your young tots to colour (it’s a free download, but you will need to sign up to the free membership for Teachers Pay Teachers – I signed up myself and have not regretted it.)

Sample of the work found in the full pack of penguin printables made by teacher Jennifer Drake of Crayons and Cuties in Kindergarten.

This download is great for learning the different penguins and also early readers. Because my oldest is right at the transition into independent reading I splashed out the $10 and downloaded the full set of penguins for us to carry with us on our travels. You can see what is included at the creators blog. The books don’t just give an opportunity to colour, but also give great facts about the different types of penguins, their environments and what similarities and differences there are between the different species!

THINGS TO SEE AND DO: MAKE A GIANT SAND OCTOPUS.

IMG_4963 We have built large sand sculptures before, and they are a great hit for the young construction workers. This time however we had a change in focus beyond a simple sculpture, we want to talk a bit about camouflage.

We chose an appropriate spot and drew a large circle in the sand (for the body). Each child took control of one tentacle (mapping it out and digging around their shape to pile it up as a long 3d sand arm).

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We didn’t have 8 children building tentacles at once so this allowed for some great maths questions during construction; how many have we made now? How many do octopuses have? How many more do we need to make?

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As the tentacles shaped up the kids moved on and created the body and eyes in the centre, decorating with shells. The small group used great negotiation techniques throughout the process to organise themselves to finish the octopus, helping each other when they needed it, and collectively deciding on plans.

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Now, that’s a great physical project, but it was not our focus as we built. We wanted to talk as much as we could while building – What do the kids know about octopuses? (They take a long time to have their babies, they live in the water, they shoot ink at predators, they have no bones – these were the things the kids collectively knew about octopuses and it was a delight watching them inform each other and add to the knowledge that the other children were sharing.)

When we came to the idea of camouflage we stayed on the topic for a little longer. We talked about what would be good camouflage for an octopus, and how it can manipulate the shape of it’s skin to form different textures. It can change the shape of it’s body to mimic other creatures, and can even change the colour of it’s skin to form different patterns to blend into it’s surroundings! No other creature has all these camouflage skills.

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In our case we talked about our octopus being ‘camouflaged’ in the sand around it, but over the next couple of days we will revisit the concept as the opportunities present themselves. (See how that bird blends into it’s background? Why do you think that tiger in the book has stripes? What makes good camouflage? Why is it important for each of these animals to be able to hide?) Camouflage is a topic that is of great interest when learning about animals and it will come up time and time again as we work our way through the year, and a physically active project of building a sand sculpture is a fun way to introduce it!

EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: OCTOPUS OUT OF A GUM NUT.

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At a recent beach trip we had some craft supplies and these delightfully simple Gumnut Octopus proved to be a very easy and fun activity.

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Firstly gather some gumnuts (there is a large gumtree in the middle of Kingston Beach if you are keen to combine gumnut hunting with a beach octopus adventure.)

Choose your favourite gumnut and cut 4 lengths of string. (at this point your intelligent little marine biologist is almost certainly going to correct you – everyone knows octopuses have 8 tentacles, not 4!)

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Tie a knot in the middle of your 4 lengths of string (so all 4 are joined, leaving 8 ends hanging from your knot)IMG_0129

Insert the knot into the hole of the gumnut (depending on the size of your gumnut and the thickness of your string you may need to tie a double knot to make it the right size to stay, we found 1 knot suited some gumnuts, 2 knots worked better for others.)

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Simply attach some eyes and you have your little critter ready for his ocean adventure.

This activity was a winner for Anica (5yo with arthritis) as her knees were not on their best behaviour on this particular day and it gave her the chance to do something special while her friends ran and played in the sand. Later the other children came to investigate what we were doing and created their own creatures, but Anica is developing a real sense of ownership and accomplishment for these type of activities that let her quietly distract herself from more challenging things in her world at this time. She has even written her own blog on how to make a wombat, which I’ll post with her help shortly.

BIG HISTORY CONCEPTS FOR LITTLE TOTS.

We’ve talked before about the importance of introducing a bit of ‘big history’ into early learning, and with everything from the dinosaurs to when mumma was born classed as ‘the olden days’ this project will help give a little perspective to our place in time.

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Our strategy for the year is to provide some understanding of big history concepts. We have created a time line on one wall and as we come across facts, figures, dates and details we add them to our timeline.

When we visited a cave (that began forming tens of millions of years ago) we added that to our timeline, giving the experience even more historical wonder than the simple beauty they saw. When we talked about how the waterwheel that was used to make flour in the ‘olden days’ we were able to add that to our time line and see that it is relatively recent in our history. When the kids asked when the first person was born (being a believer in evolution rather than creation) we added that to our timeline and could explain the idea of evolution far more simply when they could physically see the degree of time passing and the changes happening.

We have left some space for the future too, so they can imagine and dream about what might be in store in the near future. We hope to get to this after a few more history concepts are visited. (Over the coming months as we work through the letters we will look back at the first civilizations, dinosaurs, and so on). I am also excited to see a few more concepts overlapping (ie “this was happening at the same time the pyramids were being built” etc).

Now, if you plan to set up your own timeline you may wish to ‘cheat history’ a little as we did. Human history is so tiny in relation to many of the other big history concepts (such as the evolution of plants, Dinosaurs, mammals etc) that our entire human history is just a dot at the end of a 2m stretch of history (and that’s not even going back to the formation of planets etc!)

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To solve this problem of scale we ‘expanded’ our little dot of history into another timeline to allow for more detail in the human history. We used a coloured ribbon for each timeline (blue for the overall time line, with a dot of orange at the end. And orange for the human history.) This colour reference made it easer for the little historians to understand that the orange line represented that tiny little dot at the end of the blue line. We marked up our history over a 3m stretch of wall, simply using chalk directly on the wall to label the periods in time, and to add new concepts. When adding new ideas the little historians often create an image (painting, gluing, drawing etc) and we blue-tack that image to the wall at the relevant place on the timeline. This visual cue that they created is far easier for them to remember and explain to the other adults in their life than a simple text ‘entry’ on our timeline. By re-visiting the concepts as they explain their work they re-enforce their understanding of what they have learnt.

If you wish to create a similar timeline in your own learning space, we used this as a guide for our own timeline (you can calculate and measure this out to fit your space, but we were not so precise as the exact accuracy of the spacing is not so important – it’s a general concept that we are working towards at this stage so just sketching up an approximation is totally fine!)

World History:

  • 600 million years (before common time) – until the year 3,000(ish)
  • Separated at 100 million year intervals.

Human* History:

  • 10,000 years (before common time) – until the year 3,000.
  • Separated at 1000 year intervals

*Please note; the beginning of ‘human history’ that we expanded is determined at a point where there are some interesting things to add to the timeline (ie beginning of farming etc) rather than the beginning of Humans as a species. For practical scale reasons we found this to be more workable as it allowed a little more space between centuries once scaled to fit our space.

While my own little historians are not the ‘remember exact facts and figures’ type of learners, that is not our primary goal. Our aim with this timeline is to give the little historians a sense of their place in history. A sense of belonging in something much greater than themselves, an idea that things change gradually over time, and (as we enter further into human history) some understanding of how they can alter the future by their own actions.

A sense of belonging in time (as well as in space, community, culture etc) is vital for growing our young people into the adults we want in our world.

EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: PLAY OCTOPUS WITH TOILET TUBES

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Octopuses are wonderful creatures, and the slimy things have managed to work their way into every childhood. Maybe it’s because they start with O (and that’s handy for the alphabet), or because their distinctive body shape is so easy to recognise, or maybe it’s that they conveniently have 8 legs (and that’s nice when we’re looking at numbers!)… Whatever the reason, we’re in love with the concept of an octopus.

Yet their truly fascinating qualities are often overlooked, this little hands on project is a fun thing to make with little hands, but it is also a good chance to talk about a few of the things you know about the lovely Octopus.

You might talk about how Octopuses are considered the most intelligent of all invertebrates. That the ink they shoot out even contains a substance that dulls a predator’s sense of smell, making the fleeing octopus harder to track… and if they are really under threat they can loose an arm and grow it back latter! Here is a good site for a brief refresher on your Octopus knowledge.

Make a couple of these little Octopuses and get playing with your knew found knowledge!

You will need:

  • Cardboard tube
  • Scissors
  • Paints/drawing or decorating implements
  • Googly eyes and string (optional)

Let’s make an octopus.

Cut the base into 4 equal sections (you may like to refer to this as quarters to help with fractions)

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Ask what would happen if you made each of these into 2 parts, how many would you have all together? (In our house we talk about it as 4 “lots of” 2, or 2 “lots of” 4)

Once you have worked out your sum, check by cutting each in half… count 8 parts… how many legs does an octopus have? You just made an octopus!

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We then decorated our octopus and added googly eyes.

To create a more ‘swim like motion’ we hung our octopus from string, and like our tube kites we watched it fly with much joy.

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EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: OCEAN SCIENCE IN A BOTTLE.

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This is a brilliant little experiment (inspired by happy hooligans) is great to teach the layers of the ocean and also a little science regarding that good old oil vs water experiment! (Plus it’s really easy to make with household items, we put this one together on a whim before bed last night – too easy!)

If your young ones watch Octonauts then they might already have a bit more of an understanding (than most adults) of how the Ocean is made up of ‘layers’ or ‘zones’. (We’ve talked before about Screen time, and my own children do enjoy a bit of Octonauts thus have lots to say about the layers of the ocean!)

For a bit more detail (and a refresher for yourself) take a quick read through this short article that explains the layers as well as a few other great facts about the ocean that you might want to pull out this week!

You will need:

  • Cooking oil
  • Water coloured with blue dye
  • Clear bottle
  • (Safety goggles entirely optional, but after our explosive volcanic science 5yo Anica felt it would be necessary to wear them!)

Half fill your bottle with water, mix in colour, then fill the remaining with oil. Secure lid and mix.

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The oil and water will separate into a gradient and then into layers. While it is mixed is a great time to talk about the gradient of layers that exist in the ocean and how the different levels of light affects the creatures living there.

As the oil separates you will probably also want to talk about why that oil doesn’t mix with the water – for a short explanation of what is going on you can read this great article. The details of polarities of molecules is not something my young ones are ready for, but this can be simplified and the idea of density is something that is far easier to explain.

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It is also a great to mention that because oil and water don’t mix, sea creatures can use oily feathers or fur to stop the water getting to their skin. If you feel ready you could cover one of your little scientists hands in oil, leaving the other without oil. When both hands are submerged in the food coloured water one had will come out wet (and coloured) while the other will come out with the water (and colour) running off. This involves a little clean up, but is something that will really drive home the concept of animals using oil as a form of protection from water.

Note that these pictures do not do the movement of the oil on water justice, the wave like swirls as it was mixed were mesmerising, and if I didn’t have to get the kids to bed I’m sure they would have enjoyed watching it for hours!

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EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: WINDOW WONDERLAND.

Transform a window into a wonderful water wonderland that can house all your sea creatures.

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What you will need:

  • Cellophane (blue)
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Whiteboard markers (or we used chalk pens, the kind they use to write menus – there are a good selection to choose from at Artary)

Hand your children a ‘special window pen’ (and in our part of the world it’s important that we make that definition – drawings tend to ‘creep’ here!) Talk about all the things they might like to draw in their watery wonderland. Do they want to draw a seahorse like last week? How many legs do crabs really have? Where is that fish swimming to? (While drawing you may like to show them images of the creatures that they are drawing to assist them in ‘seeing’ rather than simply representing with the symbols they have learnt represent particular features – though if your fish still needs a belly button and a nose to be complete, then let them go for it!)

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After the artwork is complete simply tack your cellophane waves to the window (overlapping looks great as it gives various shades of blue). On a sunny day this will give blue light to your room, with little shadows of their drawings – it is quite sweet to see.

Once you have finished take a photo of your young tots from the other side of the window so they can see themselves ‘swimming’ in the water. (Seeing ourselves is an important part of developing self-reflection – plus they will think it’s a hoot!)