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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THINGS TO SEE AND DO: JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE WORLD!

Well that’s a slight exaggeration, but Hastings caves does reach a good long way into the crust of our world (we’re not really going to get anywhere near the core… but it’s a great adventure in to the depth of our planet never the less!)

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Newdegate Cave is around 1.5hrs – 2hrs drive from Hobart and is remarkably the largest tourist cave in Australia which occurs in dolomite, rather than limestone. Its richly decorated chambers began forming tens of millions of years ago (great for bringing in those Big History concepts on your young ones timeline) and is formed by water! (Showing the immense power of water – in an entirely different way to the power of water in our recent water wheel investigation!)

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During the walk to the cave the excitement built, and the kids were keen to read and learn everything they could about the caves. As we waited for the tour guide we looked at the map and tried to think of what could have made such a big hole. This is Anica’s face when she learnt it was water that created the giant caves that we were about to enter.

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Once inside with our small tour group the crystal cave was beautifully lit and totally captured the imagination of the kids. The guide explained how the stalactites and stalagmites were formed, and answered questions as we moved though the upper section of the cave. (The cave is considerably deeper than the public are able to explore, but the 45min tour was perfectly timed for us and we were very happy to see the amazing sights in the public areas of the cave.)

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We were also lucky enough to see some critters inhabiting the caves (a rare occurrence) and with the help of our guide we managed to spot a small cave spider and a cave cricket. The caves and tour are very well run, and impressively they have a wealth of free printable educational sheets relating to the caves available here. Many of these sheets are a little old for my own youngsters, but I look forward to re-visiting the ideas when they are older.

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The caves are also near a hot (warm) spring that fills a pool that you can swim in during your visit. Unfortuantly a large tree had fallen over the boardwalk just before our visit, so the Hot Springs walks (where you can feel the water from the spring running joining the water from the creek) is closed until further notice while they repair the track, but a splash in the pool gave the kids a great concept of water coming up from the warmer parts of the earth as they could see where it entered the pool (warmed) and then left the pool to join the creek. (The staff when asked were very helpful at explaining this, and obviously possess a great deal of knowledge beyond simply selling park tickets!)

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Despite the daunting idea of a 3-4hour round trip to see the caves, I recommend inviting a few friends, bring a picnic, stop on the way and making a day of it – the cave tour followed by a swim in the warm springs was great fun, (and surprisingly relaxing!) way to spend a family day!

BAKING GEOGRAPHY (THE IMPORTANCE OF CAKE IN A CLASSROOM)

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

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

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

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

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

RECIPE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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First grab your supplies:

  • Moulding clay
  • Disposable spoons
  • A smooth stick

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Now to construction:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: 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!

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: 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!