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: MAKE A WATERMELON WHALE.

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Pumpkin carving has captured the imagination of generations, but in the heat of an Australian summer it seems far more appropriate to carve a watermelon whale:

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  • Firstly obtain a whole watermelon. (Most supermarkets will have them available; just ask if there are any out back if there are only pre-cut ones on the shelf)
  • Cut off the base and have the children scoop out the flesh. (This flesh can go strait into the juicer to make a refreshing beverage – obviously this was much enjoyed as the productive little people set up a production line taking turns to make the juice!)

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  • Cut a ‘mouth’ wedge from the front of your whale head. (Fashion some teeth at this point if you so desire)
  • Use part of the wedge that you have just removed (from the mouth) to fashion a dorsal fin (if your species of whale has a prominent one). We used the ‘base’ as a tail.
  • Cut some eyes and a blow hole (a good time to talk about how they are mammals like us and need to surface to breath).

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Congratulations, your whale is finished! Fill with fruit salad if you wish, surround with blue jelly water if you feel like a bit of extra sugar. (We put a candle in ours as a glowing lantern. (Anica recalled the tale of Pinocchio at this point, though others might be more inclined to go with a religious tale, or perhaps Moby Dick.)

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Our whale was carnivorous and Anica thought it was hilarious when it ‘ate her arm’ (she photo above). Elka, however was later found eating the whale’s teeth one by one, she REALLY likes her watermelon!

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.

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!

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

THINGS TO SEE AND DO: BUILD A GIANT SAND SCULPTURE.

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Summers Bay, sunshine, splashing in the shallows, schools of small fish swimming past our feet, soldier crabs in the sand, and even the guest appearance of a stingray swimming slightly out of reach. We were delighted by the spontaneous S learning that we found at our trip to Sommers Bay (Tasman Peninsula, Tasmania). And while we’re told this is not unusual for this location it’s not something you can usually plan for in an outing. (As much as you’d like to, wildlife just doesn’t run to a predictable booking schedule!)

Sand sculptures on the other hand are something you can create at any beach (or large sand play area). Bring a bucket, spade and an (adult sized) shovel to get digging! The kids (and you!) will be amazed at what you can create in a beach trip.

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First up we chose a location, and the kids told me what to draw as I followed their collective instructions mapping out a big tummy, curly tail, long nose and head on the sand. We then all got our little spades and started to dig a big trench around the shape (piling the sand in the middle of the picture, as you would when making a mote around a sand castle.) Gradually the children tired of digging and got a bit distracted safely splashing in the shallows near us, and generally had a good time in the water. As us adults continued digging (and sharing the few facts we had learnt about seahorses!) the children came back and joined us. By the time we were ready to pat down and sculpt the shape, all the children were involved again. The giant 4m seahorse came together remarkably fast, and then much time was spent as the children decorated it with shells.

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The older children planned and placed and organised themselves on a mission to complete the seahorse (very important work, this seahorse building!) while the younger delighted in sticking shells in the sand.

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Sand play is always a winner for many reasons. It’s the elemental stages of physics, it’s tactile, it’s physical… and when done in a team like this the social development, planning, and problem solving involved is spectacular.

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Plus it’s satisfying. Go build a giant seahorse that will be washed away at the next tide. It’s brilliant.

EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: MAKE SIMPLE BUTTON CASTANETS.

Simple button castanets are a delightfully easy way to bring a little spanish culture into your home.

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Ask your tot to choose 2 large buttons.

Give them some elastic to thread through the holes.

Tie off the back of the elastic and attach to fingers.

This takes just a few moments, then they’ll want to make a set for the other hand!

We then held a little dance performance where each child showed us their moves. What we intended as a simple fine motor skills activity with some cultural background (making the castanets) turned into a full body improvisation of spanish dance and the kids couldn’t have loved it more! (Even Anica, who typically shys away from any performance, allowed her whole body to become a proud spanish dancer – see her take the stage with gusto below!)

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Allowing children to act (and excell) out of their usual comfort zone allows those parts of the brain that are rarely accessed to get more of a look in and build stronger connections for other areas of their life. What triggers this will be different for each child, just as will the skills that are outside their comfort zone! Anica in this instance showed all the traits of a percussive, passionate, extravert in her Spanish solo – where as previously she has told me she is the best at ‘staying in the middle and not being seen’! Anica is likely to always be a little more shy than her outgoing sister, and we don’t want to change this about her, but the more she has the opportunity to choose to venture outside her comfort zone, the more she will be able to function with her whole brain in day to day life.

Without getting carried away talking about the plasticity of the brain, this applies to a variety of what we deem to be inbuilt ‘personality traits’ – Our brain changes to physically become stronger at what we are told we are and what we are allowed to do. As parents, carers and educators we have a huge responsibility to the young ones around us to explore all the possibilities of who they could be, rather than predict or label their personality and limit their ability to grow into the well rounded adults we all want to see in our future!

As an ex-dance teacher I was also delighted to see how this simple prop changed the way the children moved from a technical movement point of view. Having watched a video as part of our research last week (that showed some spanish dancing) the children instantly changed their default flowing movement (influenced by their friends mimicking ballet) into a staccato passionate movement that they had seen in the flamenco dance. Their feet stomped, their arms held power and their little castanets went wild!

COOKING AROUND THE WORLD

Last year my children and I embarked on a culinary adventure around the world, with the vastly ambitious goal to cook food from every country on the planet (that’s almost 200 countries, just incase you were wondering!)

The exercise (still far from complete!) has proved very successful in terms of capturing their imagination, and indeed opening learning across a divers range of fields.

Measuring the ingredients for Anzacs from Australia.

Measuring the ingredients for “A: Anzacs from Australia.” Also a great opportunity to talk about the amount of sugar in sweets like this.

It comes as no surprise that cooking is a wonderful educational tool in itself: It is tactile (pouring, stirring, needing), sensory (taste, smell, sight), draws heavily on numeracy skills (weighing, counting, timing), scientific reactions (dissolving, heating, cooling), and literacy (from recognising the simple word ‘cup’ when measuring, right through to being able to read recipes independently) … Plus you get the satisfaction of creating something that you can eat at the end. This is probably the benefit my own 3 and 5 year olds enjoy most!

When we embarked on our culinary adventure around the world, we didn’t buy a plane ticket – instead we looked at what was in our own cupboard. From making Vietnamese rice paper rolls in the park, to investigating the origins of the pancake. Each county we ‘visited’ on our cooking journey we added a little geography, and a lot of discussion, and play surrounding that county. As a result both of my children have an expanded world view.

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