Australia Unit Study: Week 2

This week of Australia exploration is filled with history and science! We will learn about the British influence on the Australian continent, and we will also enjoy creating a diorama of an important point in history. We will explore the national parks and biomes of Australia, as well as some of its famous animals, inventions, and contributions to science. We will end the week with a tasty dish and some fun Australian music. Ready to get started? Click here to download your weekly tracker, and let’s go!

What you need:

Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):

We will be doing a research project for Lesson 4, Activity 4, but your child can pick the animal they want to research, so you can use whatever book you are able to find that suits their topic. Here are some examples of books that could work:

Optional chapter books:

Optional additional book:

Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):

Note: We break down our supply list so you can choose what you need based on which lessons you plan to do with your child.

History diorama:

(-) Dinosaur diorama:

(+) Fossils classification activity:

Penicillin mold experiment:

Create an advertisement activity:

Biome research board:

Animal class detective game:

Animal research project:

Vegemite toast:

  • Vegemite
  • bread
  • butter, cheese, or avocado (optional)

Lamb and vegetables dish:

What to do:

We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!

Lesson 1:

Tody, we’ll begin learning more about the colonization of Australia and how the country and its people were impacted.

Note: Colonization can be a difficult subject to discuss, but it is a crucial part of sharing and teaching historical truth. Want tips for how to discuss it in a gentle, age-appropriate way? This article can help. We recommend doing this lesson together as a family instead of assigning the reading. Some of the topics in the articles discuss details of colonization that are difficult for children to process on their own. This lesson will provide many opportunities to hone in on critical thinking skills.

Start by watching this history video, which summarizes Australian history in about seven minutes. It outlines the First Nation, the Dutch arrival, the British colonization, and the creation of the penal colony. It continues with a summary of the Australian rebellion against the British and the terrible treatment of the Indigenous people during the 1900s.

Activity 1: Read + Discover. In the late 1700s, the British Empire sent Captain James Cook to the southern hemisphere to lead a science expedition and a secret mission. Start by reading this Australian history website to learn more about British colonization. Next, read this article about Captain Cook and his explorations. 

Compare the tone and the perspective of these two articles as a critical thinking activity. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Do you notice a difference in the way Captain Cook is described and perceived in these two articles?
  • Was Captain Cook a hero and explorer to the Aboriginal people?
  • How do you think the British viewed him?
  • What information is included in the first article but missing from the second (and vice versa)?
  • Why the difference?
  • Who is telling the story in each case?
  • Whose story is missing from these articles?
  • What questions are you left with after reading these articles?

(+) Watch this video about Captain Cook for more details and some conflicting opinions about his death. There are also some wonderful conversation starters in this video, especially for co-op groups.

Activity 2: Between 1788 and 1868, the British government transported around 162,000 convicts from Britain and Ireland to serve their sentences in various penal colonies in Australia. A penal colony (or an exile colony) is a settlement used to exile prisoners and separate them from the general population. This is done by transporting them to a remote location, often on an island.

Read Australia: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know pages 14, 15, 42 and 43. Next, watch this video to learn what a penal colony is and how it came to be in Australia. 

Next, read about another important person of Australian history: Captain Arthur Phillip, the first governor of New South Wales. 

You can also begin the historical fiction chapter book Time Machine 20: Bound for Australia to learn more about this time in history.

Activity 3: Next, let’s learn about the Australian Gold Rush of 1851-1861.

“Victoria is a world-renowned gold province, and our history is closely connected to gold mining. Gold discovery at Ballarat in 1851 sparked Victoria’s famous gold rush. An estimated 6000 diggers (miners) arrived each week seeking their fortune.

Ballarat was considered the world’s richest alluvial goldfield during its peak between 1852 and 1853. Our gold rush brought migrants from all over the world to Victoria. Over the space of one year, nearby Bendigo was transformed from a sheep station into a bustling town of 40,000 people. Melbourne earned the nickname ‘Marvelous Melbourne’, drawing comparisons to Paris and London, due to the huge influx of wealth and migrants. The economic and cultural impact of this mass migration shaped the future of Victoria.” (source)

Read Australia: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know pages 74, 75, 82, and 83, and then watch this video to learn more about this time in history. 

(+) Conditions on the goldfield were not easy. Read the subheading “Life on the Goldfields” in this Encyclopedia link to learn more.

Using this document, create a Venn Diagram comparing the life of a child on a goldfield to your own. There will be many differences, but you might be surprised to see what things you have in common.

Want some more historical fiction reading this week? Read the chapter book Goldfields Girl by Australian native Elaine Forrestal. 

Activity 4: Create a history diorama. Using the information you learned about up to this point or any additional research you have done, create a diorama from one part of Australian history. Here, here, and here are samples to get you started. 

Lesson 2:

Let’s go traveling! Today, we’ll explore some of the national parks of Australia and some of the incredible things discovered there.

Activities 1: Begin your travels with this video inviting you to learn more about the national parks of Australia. Visit the national parks of Australia by visiting this travel website. Next, read the book Walking in Gagudju Country: Exploring the Monsoon Forest, where we’ll learn a bit more of Australia’s ‘Top End,’ or Northern Territory, by exploring Kakadu National Park. This park is called a monsoon forest, or a tropical deciduous forest. Instead of the deciduous trees losing their leaves in the fall as they would in the northern hemisphere, they drop their leaves during the dry season and bud again at the start of the rainy season. (source)

You’ll notice that the national parks look very different from each other. There is much diversity in the environments of Australia. Learn more about them here on the Wilder Quest website. This website has many activities, virtual games and videos to explore. (You will need an adult 18 years or older to register or play as a guest.)

Activity 2: Let’s discover dinosaurs in Australia!

“Fossils are formed in different ways, but most are formed when a plant or animal dies in a watery environment and is buried in mud and silt. Soft tissues quickly decompose leaving the hard bones or shells behind. Over time sediment builds over the top and hardens into rock. Scientists learn about dinosaurs through the fossil evidence they have left behind which might be a fossilized bone, tooth, footprint or even poo!” (source

Read about Australia’s dinosaurs here and here. Next, watch this video to learn about the most unique and interesting dinosaurs that were discovered in Australia. If your child is really into dinosaurs, they will really enjoy the book Amazing Facts About Australian Dinosaurs.

(-) Let’s bring what we’re learning to life by creating a dinosaur diorama.

(+) Ready for an upgrade? Learn how to classify fossils with this activity. (This website has other links with activities and videos. Invite your child to explore them all!)

Lesson 3:

There are many scientific inventions that come from Australia. Let’s learn about some of them, beginning with penicillin!

Activity 1: Has your child ever heard of penicillin? Read the below paragraph to learn more about the medical application of this important medicine:

“In 1939, Australian scientist Howard Florey purified penicillin from a special strain of mold. The team demonstrated penicillin’s ability to fight bacterial infection in mice and, later, humans. The antibiotic was mass produced and used to aid victims of World War II. Penicillin has been used around the world saving many lives through the combating of infection by common bacteria. Today, it is still widely used in combating infections, but its efficacy is at risk from the growing resistance to the antibiotic.” (source)

Howard Florey was one of three scientists who received a Nobel Prize for his work with penicillin. Watch this video to learn about how penicillin became the antibiotic medicine that we have today. Next, do this STEM experiment to learn more about what started it all—mold.

(+) Activity 2: Examine this old advertisement about penicillin. What can you learn about penicillin from the advertisement? What was the message it was trying to convey? Was it funny or serious? What details does it include and exclude? 

Learn more about the field of advertising here in this web article. Topics to discuss and examine include:

  • What is advertising?
  • What are different types of advertising?
  • Should there be rules (regulations) for what companies are allowed to say in an advertisement? For example, should you be allowed to lie in an advertisement? (This can also springboard conversations about learning how to examine commercials and other media our children are exposed to.)
  • Do we believe a statement just because a company claims it?
  • What should we ask ourselves when we see a commercial?

Take a look at other antique advertisements here and here and here and here and here. What do you think? Are they different or the same from the advertisements you see today? Would these companies be allowed to advertise this way now? Why or why not?

Now let’s try some advertising of our own! Choose your favorite toy, household item, or game and create your own advertisement about the product. Think about what makes your product special and who would be interested in using it.
(+) Is your child just bursting with ideas? Let them create a commercial for their product as well and record it. 

Activity 3: Discover ultrasound and David Robinson. Although ultrasound had its origins in Glasgow, Scotland (source), engineer and Australian native David Robinson was a pioneer in his contributions to diagnostic ultrasound. His ability to mix medicine and engineering put Australia ahead of much of the rest of the world and helped to make ultrasound a routine safeguard in pregnancy, making birth less dangerous for mothers and babies. (source)

Watch this video to hear an explanation of how ultrasound works and how it is used to image the body. The webpage also has downloadable printables that can help your child to understand the science of this technology and provides questions for group discussion.

Lesson 4:

Australia is home to a variety of different biomes, and, as a result, we find a wide variety of animals there! Let’s learn about some of them today.

Activity 1: Read + Discover. What are biomes? How many biomes does Australia have? Learn the answers to those questions and more by watching this video.

Let’s create a project board. Divide your board into sections with one for each biomes. (Here’s a list of the names of each biome for reference.) Find or draw a picture to represent each of the biomes and paste it on the board. Next, list the characteristics of the biome under the picture. Finally, find the fauna and flora that live in the biome and either write or draw them in the section as well. 
(-) You can also include Safari Toob animals if you want to add more hands-on, three-dimensional fun to your biomes project board.

Activity 2: Discover the outback. The term “outback” means far from any major city, sparsely populated, filled with infertile soils, and subject to seasonal, erratic, infrequent rainfall. Start your discovery of this unique part of Australia by watching this video to learn about some of the most popular and dangerous animals in the Australian outback. Next, learn more about the outback with the unique and fun book Outback: The Amazing Animals of Australia by Dan Kainen and Ella Morton. Begin by reading the introduction to learn a few more details about this environment, and then pick a few animals to read about, too. We are sure you and your kids will get a kick out of the “pictures” in this book!

We have an Australian destination for your bucket list: the Australia Zoo! The zoo was founded by the famous Australian family, The Irwins. For now, enjoy this video tour of the zoo with Robert Irwin. Are you a fan of Bindi Irwin? Read one of the adventure books in the series Bindi Wildlife Adventures! by Bindi Irwin

Now that you’ve learned about so many of the animals that live in the outback, try your hand at drawing them with this free downloadable drawing guide.

Activity 3: There are so many different species of animals in Australia! People who study animals, called zoologists, use special terms to classify animal types into groups. One way they do this is by dividing animals into classes based on things they have in common in a process called taxonomy. You can learn more about it in this video. (If your child is not grasping how classification works, bring the example of toys in your home to life by helping your child to actually sort some toys into groups.) We also love this song for helping children see the difference between the vertebrates! Next, let’s dig deeper to learn more about how animals are classified in the five types of vertebrates (or animals with a spine). 

Share with your child these five classes and what they mean:

Mammals: warm-blooded, has some type of fur or hair, nurses their young with milk, and typically gives birth to live young (not eggs). 

Birds: warm-blooded; has feathers, wings, and a beak; lays eggs, and typically able to fly.

Fish: aquatic (living primarily in water) vertebrates with gills and limbs (when present) in the shape of fins. Fish are also poikilothermic, which means that their body temperature adjusts with the outside air.

Reptiles: An air-breathing, cold-blooded vertebrate with scales instead of hair or feathers. Mostly egg-laying.

Amphibians: Cold-blooded vertebrates that need water or a moist environment to survive and follow an egg-larva-adult life cycle (with a metamorphosis). 

Within those classifications there are even more categories. For example animals like the kangaroo and the koala are marsupials, a type of mammal. Read more about them here. 

Next, let’s classify some animals with our Animal Class Detective game! Print that download, laminating the first page, if possible. Next, cut out the animal clue cards. One by one, go through the cards, having your child mark off on the first page the animal’s features. When they get to the end, determine how the animal should be classified. You will likely notice that there are several animals that defy classification in Australia!

Activity 4: Animal Research assignment: Pick an animal that lives in the outback that interests you and research more about it. You may also want to check your local library for books about this animal. (We’ve listed a few potential options in our book list above.)

Next, create a research poster or lapbook for the animal of your choice. Include a picture of the animal. (Not sure what a lapbook is? Click here for more details on how to make one!) Write any interesting facts or characteristics you have learned about the animal, including details about their habitat, the food they eat, and how they care for their babies. Learn the animal’s classification, and add that to the board or lapbook as well. 

(-) If your child is just learning to record their research, we’ve created a printable research template for the tasmanian devil, wombats, platypus, emu, cockatoo, kangaroo, koala, and echidna to get them started.

Lesson 5:

Today’s activities are all about food and music. Let’s dig in!

Activity 1: Have you ever heard of Vegemite? Vegemite is a dark brown savory spread invented in Australia in 1922. Most Aussies love it, making it an iconic Australian food, but the taste can be polarizing to those unfamiliar. The thick paste is made from yeast extract and flavored with vegetables and spices. Dr. Cyril Callister, a chemist employed by a company that would become Kraft Foods Limited, developed Vegemite.

The base of this thick, dark-colored food spread is made from the leftover yeast extract from beer production. There are no artificial colors or flavors; only salt, vegetable extract, malt extract from barley, and B vitamins such as niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, and folate. In addition to spreading it on toast, Aussies use it on sandwiches, crumpets, and as an ingredient in pastries. Typically, Vegemite is lightly spread on toast or crackers along with some butter. The keyword here is “lightly,” as a very little goes a long way due to its strong taste. It also can be spread on toast with cheese slices or avocado. (source)

Now it’s time to try some! Do you like Vegemite?

Activity 2: Food History in Australia. The British settlers who arrived following Captain James Cook in 1770 did not adjust easily to the staples of the indigenous diet, much of which they didn’t recognize. The First Fleet arrived in Sydney in 1788 with basic food supplies, including flour, sugar, butter, rice, pork, and beef, expecting to grow food when they arrived. When they landed, however, they found that the soil around Sydney Harbour was so poor that they headed west to Parramatta to establish farms. They also traded their stodgy offerings for bush tucker from the Indigenous people, but the European palate didn’t take to this unfamiliar fare very well and relied on food arriving by ship.

Flour was a staple, usually baked into bread or damper. Meat was salt-preserved, apples worm-enriched, and tea was the beverage of choice. (source) They did find some foods that were familiar, including fish, geese, swans, and pigeons. The settlers put much effort into developing agriculture to provide a more familiar European diet, including introducing sheep and cattle throughout the continent and planting familiar crops. (source)

As a result of this effort, modern Australian cuisine has been strongly influenced by the palettes of migrants to the country. Asian food was introduced to Australia during the gold rush of the 1800s, when Chinese prospectors yearned for the tastes of home. (For many Chinese people, opening a restaurant became a more financially-attractive option than panning for gold!) However, the real cultural food revolution came after World War II, when Australia opened the gates to European migration. (source) Australian chefs are renowned worldwide for their fusion cuisine, combining traditional European cooking with Asian flavors. (source)

Let’s try creating a savory fusion dish that combines flavors. Try this easy lamb recipe with this warm vegetable side dish. It will feel very gourmet!

Activity 3: While you prepare your meal, enjoy some music by popular Australian artists like Keith Urban, Iggy Azalea, and Vance Joy.

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Published by The Learn + Live Letter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-12.