EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: WINDOW WONDERLAND.

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

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What you will need:

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

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

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

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

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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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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!

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 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: 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.