EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: TASTY LETTER RECOGNITION GAME.

O is a vital letter in the English language, and yet it rarely starts common words (indeed the worlds that we often think of are far more closely related to their Greek origins than most of the words we use in common language – ie octagon, octopus, ox etc) There are a number of O words that we may use as parents and teachers (ie organized, oblivious or even obnoxious… yes, I have been found trying to explain the meaning of obnoxious to my 5yo at those trying times!) but still, very few words that most young children will naturally say when compared to other letters.

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This activity is intended to highlight the importance of the letter O in our language, even if it is not at the beginning of a great deal of words.

Simply choose any book with a large font. (We used a Maisy book with lift the flap fun.) Hand your child some Cheerios and get them to label each O with a Cheerio.

(Alternatively if you would rather avoid Cheerios in your life then you can photocopy a book and have them highlight the letter O – but in our house Cheerios are quite novel so they are a very exciting O shaped dry snack – the kids have no idea that they are meant to be consumed with milk for breakfast!)

For early readers you can talk about the different sounds that O makes when influenced by other letters, for younger children simply identifying the O among the other rounded letters will be enough excitement and challenge.

Of course you can then check that they have found all the Os by reading the page, and eating the Cheerios as you get to each word with an O. Have fun reading!

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EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: PAINTING A PAPER PLATE WHALE.

We’re looking at Whales at the moment, and this is a sweet little project you can do one afternoon, (if you’re up for something a bit more challenging have a go at making your own giant box whale sculpture!)

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For this little exercise you will simply need a paper plate and a pair of scissors.

  • Fold your plate around 1 third of the way across the plate (this will be the whale’s somewhat flat head!)
  • Turn your plate 90degrees and fold down the middle of the plate (this will form the ridge of the back, feel free to add a blow hole later if you so wish!)
  • From about half way along the body, cut the curve of the back towards the tale (imagining how a whale back curves down then back up to it’s tail) Don’t cut all the way to the end!

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  • Instead of cutting the tail off, make your brain do some Olympics and cut a half tail facing back towards the whales back.  (When you unfold the tail away from the body you will have an open tail that moves up and down (like a whale) rather than side to side (like a fish).
  • Bend your tale out and paint/decorate as you wish

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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!

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: 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.

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.

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