G’day! Welcome to our week-long Australia Unit, where we’ll be exploring a variety of landscapes, animals, and art forms across this diverse continent (and country!). We have a lot to cover, so let’s get started! Click here to download our weekly skills tracker.
Note: Occasionally we include project modifications (which can be useful for including younger siblings) and upgrades (for children ready for more). We’ll mark those with the minus (-) or plus (+) symbols.
What you need:
Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):
- Welcome to Country by Aunty Joy Murphy (or listen to this read aloud)
- Over in Australia by Marianne Berkes (or listen to this read aloud)
- Keepers of the Reef by Dr. Sharon Wismer
- Walking in Gagudju Country: Exploring the Monsoon Forest by Diane Lucas, Ben Tyler, and Emma Long (or listen to this read aloud)
- This is Australia by Miroslav Sasek
Optional additional reading:
- Getting to Grips with Grammar by Martin Manser (we will reference this book throughout the year with different language arts lessons, and it is a wonderful resource to have to break down these concepts for young learners!)
Optional chapter book:
- Bindi by Kirli Saunders
Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):
- paper + access to a printer (don’t have one? we like this model)
- cardstock (white, black, and one bright color)
- cotton swabs
- tape measure
- masking tape (or sidewalk chalk if you’re doing this activity outside)
- laminator + laminator sheets (optional, but recommended for repeating lessons)
- dry erase markers (if laminating)
- brown paper lunch bag
- googly eyes (optional)
- chocolate candy melts or chocolate chips (these are cheaper to buy at a local grocery store)
- large marshmallows (these are likely cheaper at a grocery store)
- Pull-and-Peel Twizzlers (these are likely cheaper at a grocery store)
- assorted materials from your recycling bin
- coral reef figurines (optional)
- manila folder
- cardboard mailing tube (these are expensive on Amazon, so check your local mailing supply stores)
- ingredients for this recipe
- Vegemite + bread (optional)
- base 10 blocks
- white paper plates
- blue cellophane (or you can use construction paper or tissue paper)
- star stickers and glitter glue (optional)
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!
Australia may be the smallest continent on the planet (and the only continent that’s also a country!), but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in diversity of life! To begin our lessons this week, do a little map work by helping your child find Australia on a globe, world map, or in an atlas. (Don’t have one? We love this one!) Next, let’s get acquainted with a people called the Wurundjeri, an Indigenous Australian people who have lived in Australia for millennia. Originally, the Wurundjeri lived peacefully in the Birrarung (Yarra River) Valley before British settlement of the area, around the present location of Melbourne (source). One notable thing about many Indigenous Australian cultures is their “Welcome to Country” practice where an Indigenous custodian or elder from a particular traditional area welcomes people to their land through speech, ceremony, or music with the intention of wishing them safety and peace as they traveled through the land. It’s also the focal point of today’s picture book, Welcome to Country. Let’s read it before moving on to today’s activities!
Activity 1: Let’s learn a bit more about the rich Wurundjeri culture. This website shares more about the Wurundjeri culture, history, and places of significance, including a drone video of the Yarra Bend. Next, watch this video of a Wurundjeri elder performing their Welcome to Country.
Activity 2: Australia today looks very different than it did before it was colonized by the British in 1788. Show your child this map that illustrates all of the Indigenous Australia territories. Next, let’s do this puzzle to learn Australia’s current states and their capitals. (We recommend printing on cardstock or other sturdy paper.) Compare the two maps. What does your child notice?
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.
Activity 3: Dot paintings have become internationally recognized as integral to Indigenous Australian culture. While also being beautiful, this unique art form was created to serve a deeper purpose: to disguise the sacred meanings behind the stories being painted from outsiders.
Before they began painting on canvas, Indigenous Australians would create art in the soil or with body paint. In both cases, these sacred designs could be washed away before they were seen by anyone not in their society. Once the art forms began to be transferred to canvases, the artists started to abstract the designs so they could not be understood by Westerners or anyone not privy to their regional stories. Originally colors were restricted to variations of red, yellow, black and white produced from ochre, charcoal and pipe clay. Later acrylic mediums were introduced allowing for more vivid colorful paintings.
“Aboriginal artworks painted in acrylic are a beautiful blend of traditional and contemporary. The dot technique gives the painting an almost 3D effect and a sense of movement and rhythm. Many people comment that the paintings look alive and that they literally seem to jump out at you. The flat canvas comes to life with energy and vivacity just like the dreamings and rituals that inspired them.” (source + you can also see many examples of this art form at this link!)
This art form is extremely sacred to the people who create it. You can learn more about its importance in this article.
Would your child like to try creating their own art inspired by this beautiful style? Let’s try this craft next. If your child enjoys storytelling, you could also see if they want to try creating a story to inspire their own art. Here are some animal templates you can use for their craft—we recommend printing onto cardstock for durability!
Activity 4: Let’s end today by learning about another native Australian—the kangaroo! Begin by watching this brief video to learn a bit about these amazing animals. Did you catch how far a kangaroo can hop in a single leap? Twenty-five feet!! Bring this to life for your child by having them measure out 25 feet with a tape measure and marking the beginning and end with tape or chalk. Next, have your child see how far they can jump and measure this. Next, have them subtract their jump to find the difference in the measurements.
(+) Want some more math practice? Have them measure out these animals’ leaps and subtract them from 25 to find the difference between these numbers and the kangaroo’s jump:
Today, we’ll take a closer look at some Australian animals. Begin by reading Over in Australia. Which animals has your child heard of before? Which ones are new?
Activity 1: 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).
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. (You could also pretend to be the animal while your child “interviews” you to get answers to their questions!) 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! We’ll look closer at one of these in the next activity.
Activity 2: One of the most amazing animals in the world can be found in Australia…the platypus! Let’s learn more about this fascinating creature in this video. Next, let’s make our own platypus with this paper bag craft. (You can keep yours brown to keep if more realistic, if desired.)
Activity 3: For our final activity today, we’re going to learn about a part of speech: pronouns! If you have the book Getting to Grips with Grammar, you can go to page 18 for more about what pronouns are. If not, you can explain to your child that a pronoun is a short word that takes the place of a noun. (You may want to remind your child that a noun is a person, place, or thing.) You can use a pronoun rather than repeating the noun. There are several different types of pronouns, but for today, we will focus on personal pronouns. Common personal pronouns are:
Open up Over in Australia again. Can you spot some of these personal pronouns in the text? Let’s use this printable activity to figure out what pronouns to in a hands-on way. Begin by cutting out each strip of text and the boxed pronouns at the bottom of the page. Next, read through the first text with your child. Ask them which pronoun could replace the pink boxed words within the text. Have your child select the pronoun and place it over the boxed words. Read the sentence again to demonstrate how the pronoun has taken the place of the noun.
Once you’ve done all the sentences, look at or read a few pages of our book again. See if your child can point out the pronouns they see or hear!
Another thing Australia is famous for is its Great Barrier Reef. This incredible coral formation is the world’s biggest structure made by living organisms. It’s so large, it can even be seen from space! (source) Many organisms contribute to the health of this amazing ecosystem. Let’s learn about a few of them in Keepers of the Reef. You can also watch this video to see and learn more about it.
Activity 1: All coral reefs start out as a single coral polyp. Use these printable sheets to learn the anatomy of a coral polyp. Take a closer look at the life cycle of coral on page 7 and 8 of the book, or you can look at this illustrated diagram:
Finally, bring it to life by creating this edible coral polyp!
Activity 2: Next, let’s build our own coral reef using recycled materials and craft supplies you have on hand! You can use this post (which has some printable animals you can add) or make your own. Here’s an example of how it might look:
Activity 3: Did you know there are several artists that use their work to try to help protect coral reefs like the Great Barrier Reef? One example is artist Vanessa Barragão, who creates textile rugs, tapestries, and wall hangings that address how the textile industry pollutes the ocean. Every piece is handmade using discarded textile waste and a variety of techniques, including crochet, latch hook, hand-tufting, embroidery, felting, and knitting. Her piece ‘Coral Garden,‘ even visualizes the effects of coral bleaching. See more of her work here!
As you look at ‘Coral Garden’ from various angles in this post, here are some question prompts you can use to get your child thinking like an art critic:
- What do you think of this piece? How does it make you feel?
- How does it change when you look at it up close or from a distance?
- What do you think the artist was thinking about as she created this? Do you think she was happy? Sad? Angry?
- How do the colors make you feel?
- What do you think it would feel like?
- What do you think the artist is saying with this piece?
Would your child like to add a textile element to their coral reef model? Use this simple tutorial to make a few pom poms by hand.
Part of why Australia is home to such a diverse amount of life is due to it’s variety of terrestrial and marine biomes. (Need to review terrestrial biomes with your child? We have a game that can help in our Level 2: Savanna + Safari Unit in Lesson 1, Activity 2.) In today’s book, Walking in Gaguju Country, 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)
Activity 1: There are so many amazing plants and animals in this book! Is there a particular animal that your child is especially interested in learning more about? Let’s turn their interest into a simple research project by creating a lapbook. (Never heard of a lapbook? Click here for more information on how to do it.) Some topics you may want to include are: what kind of animal it is, its habitat, what it eats, if it has any predators, its size, and any fun facts you are able to find.
Activity 2: Have you ever heard of a didgeridoo? The didgeridoo is a musical instrument created by Indigenous Australians from Australia’s Northern Territory. But it wasn’t originally called a didgeridoo. There are dozens of names for it within Indigenous Australian culture, but the most common two are Mago and Yidaki. The term “didgeridoo” was actually coined by colonizers who were baffled by the sound it made and tried to pick a name that resembled the sound. (source) This link has several videos where you can hear the sound of this unique instrument.
Activity 3: We’ll end today with some Australian Tea + Poetry! Start by making either this Australian pavlova dessert or (if you’re feeling brave), you can try Vegemite on toast! (Note: Don’t overdo it with the Vegemite—it’s intended to be spread in a very thin layer!) As you snack, read through some of this poetry by Australian poets.
We have packed SO much into our week of Australia—and we’ve barely scratched the surface of this diverse country. For our last day, we’ll take a closer look at Australia’s biggest city, Sydney, plus one more famous Australian native. Begin by reading This is Australia.
Activity 1: A unit study about Australia wouldn’t be complete without a koala lesson! First, let’s watch this brief documentary about koalas. Next, make this koala mask by printing the mask onto cardstock, cutting out the eyes, and using a hole punch and yarn to hold it on your child’s face—your child can continue wearing it for the next activity.
Activity 2: Koalas are the star of our math activity today! Begin by printing this koala math sheet and getting out your base 10 blocks. Using the sheet as your “equation,” build an addition problem. For example, in the top row, you could start by having your child build the number 13 (1 ten bar, 3 single pieces). Then right the number 13 on the line next to the top row.
Next, you could have them build the number 7 in the second row (7 single pieces) and write 7 on the line next to it.
Finally, add the numbers together by sliding all the blocks to the third row and demonstrating how to find the sum, first with the blocks, and then writing it on the line next to the third row.
Repeat as many times as your child is willing to before moving on!
Activity 3: Sydney is a beautiful city in Australia rich with culture and architecture. If you’ve never been, this video gives a nice overview of some of the sites. Probably the most famous landmark in Sydney is the Sydney Opera House. Take a tour of it in this video! Next, let’s build our own with this collage craft.
Activity 4: Of course, we can’t discuss Australia without talking about music! Today, let’s learn from the Sydney Opera House pros themselves how to do music composition in this video. Next, encourage your child to make their own composition like the one in the video! If you are working with several children, have each of them play a different part. If not, you can record the separate parts on your phone and put them together with a free music composition app like BandLab or something similar. (Here’s a virtual piano if your child wants to try adding some notes!)
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