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

discovery packpack adventure

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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ALL PARENTS FEEL GUILTY (BTW, IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT).

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To my surprise one of the most common responses to my little blog is people saying it makes them feel guilty. But why do these attempts to share lead so many of us to feeling guilt at our own parenting efforts? Is it because we only see the glossy clean houses of our blogging friends, the smiling faces of their delightful children, and wholesome ways they live?

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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.

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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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: LIFE SIZED MERMAID PORTRAITS.

Mermaids are not historically a very good female representation for my young kids (creatures who use their physical beauty and singing voices to lead unsuspecting love struck men to a watery death) and while there is less death in the contemporary versions, Mermaids today are certainly not much better in terms of an example for my kids to model their understanding of the world and relationships!

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My children however love the whimsy of mermaids, and while it’s a parents job to guide their kids interests to a certain degree, it is also my responsibility to follow their passion and use it to our learning advantage. This is a simple little bonus activity for anyone else who has children who love the watery depths at a fictitious level.

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Me as a mermaid:

Have child lay on a large piece of paper (we used brown wrapping paper to get the length)

Trace around upper body.

Finish lower body with a fish like tail.

Draw, paint and decorate with sparkly sequins and glitter.

Cut out and hang in your living room for all the world to see.

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As we decorated our mermaids we sung “Yellow Submarine” (the closest thing I know to a sea shanty) and introduced a few of the historical ideas about the stories sailors told of mermaids. We questioned whether mermaids are fact or fiction (50/50 votes in our house), and we looked at a number of historical drawings of the creatures. (By chance I have inherited a book that tracks the art depicting mermaids through the centuries, though similar resources would also be available at your local library.)

NOTE: Yes, I know it’s a stretch to include mermaids under the letter S as a “Singing Siren from the Sea,” but with all this Sea action – some “W= whales and water” to follow – and a little “O= octopus in the ocean” after that – Mermaids had to come now so they could swim in the watery depths with the other sea creatures.

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!

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!