EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: MULTI-SCHOOL GIANT WHALE PROJECT.

This is a not quite as big as a real blue whale, but it certainly is a monster project (unless you are working with a large group, or have an enthusiastic marine biologist on your hands, you may like to scale this one back a little – the Blue Plate Whale is a smaller one to do at home!) IMG_4661 First, fashion a ‘box whale’ from a few cardboard boxes and lots of packing tape. The exact shape of your whale will be determined by your boxes, but we found it far easier than initially imagined to make the basic whale shape. (We also used some packing to help support the inside of the shape, though this was more about what happened to be in our boxes rather than something you need to seek out.) We then had a little more ‘softening’ to do before our box looked truly like a whale. We scrunched newspaper and taped this down with sheets of paper (like wrapping a big newspaper present!). We did this in any places our whale needed a few more ‘curves.’ IMG_4649 Once the shape is achieved mix 1part water ; 1 part PVA glue in a tray. Tear paper into more manageable pieces and dip in the glue before placing over your whale. Aim to overlap your paper for strength and cover as much of the whale as possible. (Our young sculptors were not so focused on the idea of overlapping for strength, but their enthusiasm for covering the top of the whale meant that it happened anyway!) Your whaled dry time will be different depending on the thickness of your layers. Ours took about 4-6 hours to dry on a sunny day. IMG_4926 Once dry we painted our whale (blue of course!) and the squelchy squashy finger paint was a hit, as always. IMG_4930 This particular whale will then visit my 5yos Prep class soon, for a little more decoration and as they are investigating sea creatures at the moment, it will then come back to us for an under the sea birthday party, and then find it’s home at the daycare centre – not bad for a bit of news paper, a few old boxes and lots of little enthusiastic hands!

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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!

BAKING GEOGRAPHY (THE IMPORTANCE OF CAKE IN A CLASSROOM)

We’ve talked before about our mission to cook around the world, but in this case we are baking the actual world it’s self!

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To link in with our concepts surrounding volcanoes (inspired by our destination of the week; the volcanic islands Wallis and Futuna) we’ve been investigating the layers that make our world.

The inner core is the hottest (imagine the seed of a tick skinned fruit) the outer core is still darn hot, but a little cooler than the very centre (think of the flesh of your fruit) then there is the far thinner crust of solid, hard rock (imagine the skin of the fruit) and on top of that are all our oceans and islands. That’s our world in a fruity sense, but we decided it would have a more memorable impact on our learning to EAT CAKE!

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I’ve reflected a little in the past about the importance of a ‘Purple Cow’ approach applied to learning activities (that is, a thing so remarkable that you actually remake on it, and then by re-telling that exciting story you wire those nurons again and again). It’s a marketing concept (by marketing guru Seth Godin) combined with the brain science (best explained in easy reading books like The Whole Brain Child By Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson). While you might not want to fill your kids up on sugar every time you learn a new concept, tossing in a ‘purple cow’ now and then (something they’ll be excited enough to talk about) will enhance their learning as well as bring a wide grin to their faces.

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First get measuring and mix up a cake batter, any think cake batter will do, but we used this slightly modified recipe from the Country Women’s Association Cook Book (that I’m proud to report 3yo Elka corrected me to: ‘Country Women’s and Men’s cookbook’ – I’m glad to see equality going both ways in my young lass!)

RECIPE:

  • 2 Large tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups self-raising flour
  • 3/4 cup milk

Mix all. Bake at 180 until a skewer comes out clean.

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We doubled this recipe (making 2 sides of the globe) though I have left it in it’s single form. The task of doubling the recipe was given to the 5yo, who (on top of the usual measuring and mixing) enjoyed the challenge of a little extra numeracy. The fraction was a little too advanced for her, but she was able to deduce that 2 halves were one cup, and 2 quarters were half when it was broken down for her. Fractions is not really something that she needs to concern herself with in terms of formal learning, but introducing the concept in relation to cooking (where there are so many fractions!) is a great place to begin to build her understanding.

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We then separated the mixture into 2 bowls and each child was responsible for mixing the colour for a different layer in the centre of the world. One for the inner core (red) and the other mixed the outer core (yellow/orange). This sense of ownership (and also colour reference) came in particularly handy when we re-visited the concept of layers later.

We then poured our otter core (yellow mixture) into the ‘ball tin’ (yes, I bought a ball tin on impulse years ago and it gets very little use – 2 rounded bowls would be just as effective!)

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We piped our inner core into the centre of each tin, and then popped it in the oven.

Due to the nature of cooking both colours at the same time the exact shape of your core will be a little unpredictable, but the thick mixture should hold it’s place fairly well. (Plus the neater alternative of cooking 2 separate cakes and ‘nesting’ the cakes during the icing process is far too complex for me to attempt with children!)

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We then iced the world in blue butter icing, and made some (roughly shaped) continents to place on our world. To create the continents we printed this map, taped it down with clear plastic on top. The kids then filled the continent shapes with fondant (we happened to have some coloured fondant left over from a cake, but most supermarkets also stock batches of ready made pre-colourd fondant in an easy pack).

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Elka (3yo) particularly enjoyed making these play dough like shapes out of fondant – though she did ‘accidentally’ eat Australia (see the photo of her face just as she was caught popping Australia in her mouth!)

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The kids learnt the continents more than I thought they would from this exercise, more than I thought they would. They also took a lot away from the concept of a world made out of layers. When entering a cave they asked if we would get far enough down to see the lava, and each time we talked about the layers after they would tell me ‘that’s the one I mixed’ and so on.

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THINGS TO SEE AND DO: VISIT A WORKING WATER WHEEL AND MAKE ONE TO TAKE HOME.

We’d like to note that W is also for Whisky, and while taking children to a distillery is not usually seen as a positive parental moment – that’s exactly what we did and it was fantastic!

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Nant Distillery has one of the oldest functioning water wheels in Australia and is well worth the journey just for the sake of the kids – even if you don’t like Whisky yourself! (Nant is in Oatlands, about 1 hour road trip from Hobart). The entire mill (originally used to mill flour) has been fully restored as a working barley mill. The water wheel is made up of original parts and is easily seen from the outside (where the stream moves the wheel) and shop area (where you can see the cogs turning as result of the water moving the wheel). All this is free and visible even without a tour of the building. We were lucky enough to be spotted making our water wheels and the kids were given a full tour of the premises by the friendly staff before we sat down for hot chocolates… truly a wonderful day for the whole family!

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Now, while I whole heartedly recommend making a family day trip to Nant to check out the function of a real water wheel, here’s an activity that you can do in the bath if you don’t happen to make it to Oatlands today.

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First grab your supplies:

  • Moulding clay
  • Disposable spoons
  • A smooth stick

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Now to construction:

  • Form a ball of moulding clay around the middle of your stick (ensuring that it is fairly evenly weighted around the stick)
  • Insert the tops of the spoons (handles removed) into the moulding clay at even spaces (ensuring all are facing the same way when turned, as in the pictures – after a little trial and error this little engineer found that the 3 ‘paddles’ as shown here work better for us than the theory of many paddles.)

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Your water wheel is made! We first tested ours in some still water to see what would happen (nothing) then in some slow moving water (still nothing). We asked the kids what they think needed to happen to help move the wheel around. Faster water!

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When held in the faster water we were delighted to see it spin rapidly, turning the ‘shaft’ in our hands. (We loved the small waterfall flowing though the grounds for this, but a tap or watering can could provide the same result for your water wheel if you are doing this at home.)

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We talked about how that energy could be used. To make power was the favourite answer (after our talks about wind creating power).

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At this point we moved over to the real water wheel to see how the energy could be transferred to cogs to mill barley. (See the photo above for Anica’s reaction when it began to move by the power of the water in the stream!)

We were then also guided through the rest of the distillery to see how the barley is ground, and eventually made into whisky. The mechanisms are beautiful to admire, and our guide perfectly matched the informal nature required for a tour group as young as ours!

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A wonderful day out that was finished with a hot chocolate and gallivanting around the greens.

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Our trip home was the perfect time to chat about what we had seen, think about how much power water holds, what water is in different forms (ice, liquid, steam etc). We also touched a little on the gravity that makes water always run to the lowest point (gravity of planets being a recurring theme but a new and rather abstract concept for the kids when talked about previously in our space activities.) The car is always a nice place for questions, and after our activities the kids had plenty!

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!

EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: THE FLYING TOILET TUBE!

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We’re looking at the weather this week; Wind is invisible, we can see it’s effect on objects, but we can’t see wind it’s self. Have a think about this with your young tots as you make these fun Wind Tubes that will ‘show’ the wind.

What you will need:

  • Cardboard tubes
  • String
  • Tape
  • Streamers (or ribbons, or strips of paper.)
  • Optional: Hole Punch, Scissors, drawing implements.

First, give the children some streamers to hold and head outside in the wind to build your wind tube. (This makes the build process a little more chaotic, but it has more impact to their learning about the wind than working inside!)

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At this point the children will probably want to run wild with their streamers, so let them go!

One of my all time early childhood heros (the amazing Amanda Urquhart) showed me the best windy day activity that I have ever seen: She simply handed out streamers during outside play, and every child (at a wide range of developmental stages) was completely consumed as they invented a whole range of new play – it was beautiful to watch. It was simply the most engaging, and easy, activity imaginable.

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  • Once the children are ready to create their wind tubes tape the streamers to the base of the tube.
  • Decorate tube as desired (if children wish, we just wanted to fly ours ASAP).
  • Punch holes in the top and have them tie a string through the holes. (Leaving a length of string about equivalent to their height to hold their ‘wind tube kite’ with)
  • Done! You now have a wind tube ready to catch the next gust of wind that comes your way. (leaping, running, jumping and testing will follow).

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Once calm again, ask your tots where the wind comes from. What are their ideas?

You may like to watch this, or if you have the supplies you could conduct the experiment yourself. (Be warned, this video is a little retro, but it’s very clearly presented concept to understand where the wind comes from.

EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: BUILD A VOLCANO!

Volcanos in the Pacific – a tactile science experiment for kids of all ages.

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Wallis and Futuna are two small island groups in the South Pacific between Fiji and Samoa that were settled by French missionaries at the beginning of the 19th century. It is now classed as an “Overseas Territory” of France and there are 3 kings who assist in rule with a parliament of 20. While Wallis and Futuna are not necessarily a “country” in a technical term, they do have one very exciting element that can’t be missed in any child’s upbringing… Volcanos!
Futuna in particular is a volcanic island, and thus we can’t pass up the opportunity to bring out the baking soda and vinegar experiment that we all loved so much as children.

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Now, if you need a refresher on volcanoes (also linking up that big picture by making clear links to the work we’ve been doing around the sea and space) then check out this video (with or without your child, depending on how old they are and how much they watch).

The video will run you through how to create your volcano (instead of building one you may wish to do it at the beach with a sand volcano with bottle inside, though our little group enjoyed the measuring, mixing and making of the volcano just as much as the actual eruption.)

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When you conduct this experiment, you may wish to focus entirely on the power of volcano’s to form the land (such as the islands Wallis and Futuna) but if you have a budding chemist in your group, then you might want to take it further and conduct a series of volcanic experiments to asses the chemical reaction in their own right. Ie Bicarb and water (no visible reaction), Bicarb and vinegar (bubbles), Mentos and diet cola (explosive bubble reaction).

Ask kids to predict what they think will happen in each instance, hypothesise what the reason is for the different reactions and realise that there is nothing “wrong with being wrong” in science (A negative result tells you as much as a positive one!)

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Having read a little about chemicals with the 5yo, I was surprised that she later formulated a hypothesis about the volcano that was quite accurate; She thought that there was a chemical reaction that made a gas and that created the bubbles that she saw. While this is probably not going to be a fact that she remembers later, the process of linking known information and apply it to new situations and observations to form a new hypothesis is something we want to encourage at every point possible on the road to adulthood!

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We’ll later have a little road trip to look at more detail about where the heat for real Volcanoes comes from, but this little science experiment is a great place to get those little scientists thinking!

EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: STARDUST PLAY DOUGH GALAXY.

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We’ve talked before about the benefits of cooking with children, and we all know the benefits of playing with dough… adding a little glitter to your next batch of playdough just brings a bit of sparkle to the imagination (and the kitchen!)

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Use your standard play dough recipe.

I use the one below, though any will do:

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup salt
  • 4 tbs cream of tartar
  • 2 tbs oil
  • 2 cups [boiling*] water

Then to create ‘ stardust playdough’ simply add the left over glitter from your sparkle writing tray, and a splash of black food colour.

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*Due to laziness I personally opt to boil the water before adding to the mix, thus I don’t need to stir a hot pot on the stove, but instead just leave it churning in the mixer until it is fully combined. I find this better for my own process, but also easier for the kids to be involved. If a little sticky I add a pinch more flour until it reaches the right texture.

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After mixing give the dough to the children so they can get those little fingers working while they finish kneading the still warm dough (I’ve found kids explore the warm dough differently to once it is cold). Then simply let them go wild with what ever their minds dream up. We chose to bring out our planets from our solar system adventure so the older created a mini solar system in her dough, while the younger acted out scenarios between the planets.

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Once you have finished with the playdough remember to wrap it so that you can use it for many days to come. There will be a bit of glitter lost each session, but I think the delight of playing with it is worth a few extra sparkles floating around the house.

EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: A SCHOOL OF [GUM LEAF] SARDINES.

Shiny silver sardines swimming above your head certainly enhances the feeling of being under the sea! This fun little activity only takes a moment and will have you (and your kids!) day dreaming like a baby as you watch them turn gently in the breeze.
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Next time you are near a gum tree take a moment to gather a collection of dry leaves. If your children are anything like these two you should allow at least 20 min for this activity – collecting is one of our favourite things to do right now!

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Lay your leaves outside and paint both sides (we chose silver spray paint due to the vast quantities of leaves that we collected, though your tot may wish to paint each with a brush instead – or at least wear a safety mask, as not shown in our image!)

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Once dry simply remove the stork and add a small eye to each side (as shown in the picture). This is the point where we found the most imaginative play was had, as more fishy friends were created to join the school and have adventures together. IMG_3018

If you wish to hang your fish as a mobile then attach some cotton (or fishing line!) to the balancing point of your fish and suspend! As we move into W on Wednesday we’ll start looking at water and whales and we should have an entire underwater landscape developing.IMG_3012

THINGS TO SEE AND DO: SORELL STRAWBERRY FARM

A Sumptuous day of picking strawberries in the sunshine, who wouldn’t enjoy that!?

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Somewhere along the line we (collectively) stopped producing our own food in favour of supermarkets. While many families (ourselves included) are bringing back a bit of token home grown produce to the table, the true art of gardening for sustenance is not as common as it once was.

As a result, a growing trend in teaching kids about the process of ‘paddock to plate’ is emerging as an essential learning area to cover in the early years. This is a concept we will re-visit regularly throughout the year… And strawberry picking surely has to be one of the tastiest and most enjoyable ways to get started!

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Just past Sorell, this fruit farm was perhaps the children’s favourite experience yet. We met at tthe entrance, paid our entrance fee, and then were let loose to pick as much as we desired (provided that we didn’t leave with more than our container full – eating as much as you can on the farm is entirely encouraged.)

The costs are:

$13.50 per adult

$6.00 per child (3yo and under free)

By the time we left I had no doubt that we had well and truly got our money worth. We were at the farm for about 5 hours, exploring the different fruits at various states of growth, picked continually, filled our containers and our bellies with an array of fruits and all 5 kids were fully engaged throughout process.

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So while we left with a tub of berries each, we achieved far more than the acquisition of fruit:

  • We expanded our berry tasting pallet (even the pickiest eater was willing to try each new fruit that we came across while in this environment, and she found a new berry that is her favourite food now!)
  • We ran, laughed, jumped through the rows (with fairly good sight lines the kids had a little more freedom to explore independently while we could still see them easily). For young children the responsibilities to explore freely with friends are few and far between!IMG_3679
  • We searched, spotted, assessed for ripeness, plucked and tasted each fruit. The day was like a giant tasty tactile game of hide and seek, even the youngest member was delighted with this sensory rich experience.

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  • The kids asked lots of questions and we all expanded our technical fruit knowledge. (The different kinds of bushes that different fruits grow on, what shows us it is ripe for different fruits, what season each fruit ripens etc.) The kids (having seen corn and apples in the field near the berries) can’t wait to return in Autumn for another harvest experience.

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As always, learning is re-enforced by re-telling and/or acting out what has been learnt. The story telling process fires up and connects those exact same neurons almost as effectively as the actual experience itself. I’m delighted that the ‘harvesting’ has continued after we returned from the farm. We have even been treated to a ‘harvest festival’ entirely planned by the children. (With a selection of fruit, herbs (and weeds!!) that they picked from the garden – a good opportunity to hi-light that not all plants are good to eat!

With strawberry season coming to an end, get yourself out to Sorell Fruit Farm for a delightful day of exploration and learning. There are good facilities (toilets, a little shop and even a cafe) it is easy to find, open 7 days, and we highly recommend the experience!