Level 2+: Hawaii Unit

Aloha! And welcome to the beautiful islands of Hawaii (also written Hawai’i). We are so excited to explore some of the rich history and culture of this beautiful place while also practicing math, science, phonics, and more. Throughout the week, your child will have the chance to try native Hawaiian recipes and recipes inspired by iconic Hawaiian ingredients, get up close and personal with plants and animals that can be found there, and see how culture and nature collide through folk tales and science. Ready to learn? Click here to download your skills tracker for the week.

Have you printed a Learn and Live passport? Don’t forget to add a stamp to your passport!

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):

Optional additional books:

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

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!

Phonics Guide:

New to our phonics guide? Start here. The Phonics Guide this week will highlight the phonics rule that English words cannot have two I’s next to one another. (So you know Hawaii isn’t an English word!)

Lesson 1:

We’ll begin our week with an overview of many of the most iconic parts of Hawaiian culture. The book A is for Aloha will introduce your child to the rich culture and landscape of these beautiful islands. Next, let’s bring some of the things we read about to life with these activities. We also recommend helping your child to locate Hawaii on a map before moving on.

Activity 1: Hawaii is the only U.S. state to have two official languages. The first is English, and the second is Olelo Hawai’i (the native Hawaiian language). The Hawaiian alphabet has only 12 letters: Vowels: A, E, I, O, U and Consonants: H, K, L, M, N, P, W. English, on the other hand, has the same five vowels and 21 consonants. Let’s review the five vowels and then work on some literacy with this consonant teams activity!

If it has been a while since you’ve reviewed vowels and their sounds, your child may enjoy this silly video that reviews the long and short sounds of each vowel.

Next, print these vowel team ladder sheets. You might recognize many of these vowel teams from our Phonics Guide throughout the year! You will also need moveable letters (like what you might have as magnets or a moveable alphabet), or you can laminate the pages and use a dry erase marker to write the letters.

From here, you can either let your child try to build their own words using the moveable letters and the vowel teams, or you can give them these example sheets (give them one at a time) to help them get started. As they build the words, discuss the sound the vowel team makes and practice until they’re comfortable reading the words.

Activity 2: Would you like to learn to speak some Hawaiian? This video starts with some simple introductions, or you can learn some animal names in this video. Want more? Let’s learn to sing this popular song in Hawaiian!

Activity 3: Another fun fact about Hawaii? Hawaii doesn’t observe daylight savings timeand it actually has its own time zone, known as Hawaiian Standard Time!

The United States uses nine standard time zones. From east to west they are Atlantic Standard Time (AST), Eastern Standard Time (EST), Central Standard Time (CST), Mountain Standard Time (MST), Pacific Standard Time (PST), Alaskan Standard Time (AKST), Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time (HST), Samoa standard time (UTC-11), and Chamorro Standard Time (UTC+10). (source)

Watch this video to learn more about the time zones and how they work. Next, print these two pages. On the first page, you’ll see a map of the U.S. time zones. As you move from zone to zone, the time changes. There are two hours between Hawaiian Standard Time and Alaskan Standard Time, and then one hour between the rest of the zones as you continue moving east. So if it’s noon in Hawaii, it’s 2 p.m. in Alaska, 3 p.m. in California, 4 p.m. in Colorado, 5 p.m. in Iowa, and 6 p.m. in New York!

Now go to the second page of your printout. On each clock, determine what time it is in your starting location. Then, in the box below, write what the time would be in the second location. This is a great way to review time-telling along with some simple math!

Lesson 2:

Hawaii became the United State’s 50th state on August 21, 1959, but it had a long history before then. Over 1,500 years ago, Polynesians explorers arrived in Hawaii after navigating the ocean using only the stars to guide them. (source) Let’s begin our day by reading a fictionalized account of what it might have been like for these intrepid explorers to first land on the islands in the book Dog-of-the-Sea-Waves (or read it here on OpenLibrary).

Activity 1: Coming from a tradition of voyaging expertise and canoe making, Polynesians from the area now known as the Marquesas Islands were the first humans to visit and settle the Hawaiian Islands between 1000- 1200 AD. Keen observers of natural phenomenon such as the stars, migratory birds, ocean currents, rainbows, and whales, Polynesians crossed over 2,000 miles of ocean in double-hulled canoes called “Waʻa” or “Hōkūleʻa.” (source + photo)

Let’s create our own model of one of these incredibly sturdy boats. As you build, encourage your child to image what it would be like to spend weeks aboard one of these vessels without maps or GPS to guide you!

What you need:

  • 1 paper towel roll
  • popsicle sticks
  • 1 wooden dowel or chopstick
  • felt
  • stapler + staples
  • hot glue gun + glue

What to do:

Begin by cutting your paper towel roll in half lengthwise. Pinch the ends of each piece and staple them in place to form two canoes.

Lay 5-8 popsicle sticks across the two canoes to create a base and hot glue into place. Leave a small gap for the dowel.

Cut a large triangle out of felt to be the sail and glue this onto your dowel.

Finally, attach the dowels to the boat using hot glue. (You may want to use a small clump of play dough to hold the dowel in place until the glue dries.) You’re ready to set sail!

Activity 2: Hawaii is an archipelago, or chain of several islands, including eight major islands. Let’s do some discovering of our own by creating a large map of the islands and labeling them. First, use this website to print an oversized map of Hawaii on cardstock or other thick paper. (Select the “Hawaii – Alone” map and the “2×2” printing option to print onto four pages.

Tape the map together, and then let your child color it in with either crayons or watercolor paints. Finally, label the islands using a world map or atlas as reference.

Activity 3: The staple foods of First Hawaiians were taro and poi, breadfruit, sweet potato, bananas, taro tops and some other leafy vegetables, limu, fish and other sea foods, chicken, pig and dog. Taro, a starchy food, is a good source of vitamins A and B, calcium, phosphorus, and iron. (source)

Poi is a traditional dish made from taro root, believed to have sustained Polynesian travelers during their long voyage to the then-uninhabited Hawaiian islands. In Hawaii, taro is known as kalo, and it has cultural and spiritual significance. According to Hawaiian mythology, the stillborn child between Wakea (Sky Father) and celestial goddess Hoʻohokukalani was born as taro. The taro was buried and nourished the second child, Haloa, the first human. In return, Haloa’s descendants must take care of the taro.

To make poi, taro root is steamed and pounded with water until it becomes a smooth paste. This nutritious and life-sustaining starch is low-fat, gluten-free, and high in phosphorous and vitamin B. It’s traditionally eaten plain, but can be customized with a bit of salt, sugar or soy sauce. You can eat poi fresh, but most Hawaiians like to let it sit for several days so it ferments and develops tang. When fermented, poi has more good-for-your-gut probiotics than yogurt!

Would you like to try this native dish? It’s easier to make than you might think, and the taste is often compared to yogurt. Click here for the simple recipe.

Does your child want to learn more about Indigenous Hawaiian culture? They might enjoy the book The Last Princess: The Story of Princess Ka’iulani of Hawai’i by Fay Stanley (or read it here on OpenLibrary).

Lesson 3:

The Indigenous peoples of Hawaii have profound connections with their native lands, territories, and resources. For hundreds of years, Native Hawaiians have coevolved with the natural environment of these islands and have accumulated deep knowledge and understanding of their ancestral lands and seas. Today, Native Hawaiians continue to rely on the environment as a primary source and foundation for Hawaiian culture and worldview.

According to Hawaiian cosmology, Native Hawaiians have a unique kinship relationship with the natural world. (source) The ancient Hawaiian religion is polytheistic, with four major gods – Kāne, Kū, Lono, and Kanaloa – and thousands of lesser deities. For Hawaiians, all aspects of nature, from animals and objects to natural elements like the waves, volcanoes, and the sky, were associated with a god or goddess (a type of spiritual belief which is called animism). If your child is interested in learning the names of the primary gods and goddesses of Hawaiian religion, you can find a list here.

Today, we are going to read about Pele, goddess of volcanoes and fire. You can read Pele and Poliahu (or listen to this read aloud) OR Pele and the Rivers of Fire, depending on which one you are able to find.

Activity 1: Volcanoes are an extremely important part of the landscape and history of the Hawaiian islands. Not only is the state home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes (in addition to four other active volcanoes), the entire island chain exists as a result of volcanic activity millions of years ago. (source)

Most volcanic islands originate from passive lava flows on the seafloor. These passive flows harden into rock and build up the height of the underwater mountain over millions of years. Eventually, some volcanoes reach heights above the seafloor where lower pressure allows for explosive eruptions. (source) Let’s demonstrate what an underwater eruption can look like with this hands-on activity!

Activity 2: Pele also plays an important role in another crucial aspect of Hawaiian historythe hula!

Before Western contact in 1778, hula had been a part of Hawaiian life for hundreds of years. Dancers would move to chants at temple ceremonies honoring gods and chiefs or tell stories explaining topics including weather patterns, the stars, and the movement of earth and lava. Hawaiian myths recount multiple stories about the origins of hula, often featuring Pele, the goddess of volcano and fire. The legends—and the movements they inspire—vary by region and geography.

Prior to the 1820s, there was no written language in Hawai‘i, so hula was one way for residents to pass knowledge from generation to generation. But during the 19th century, the sacred dance was spurned as Christian missionary influence swept over the islands. Public performances of hula—deemed a vulgar pagan ritual—were outlawed. Hula went underground, though hālau hula (hula schools) continued to operate in rural villages. 

Over the next several hundred years, there were several attempts to revive hula as a key part of Hawaiian culture. It also experienced whitewashing during the early 1900s, when America and Hollywood experienced a “Hawaii craze” and images of cellophane skirts and coconut bras became commonplace. From the 1970s on, though, a Hawaiian Renaissance has taken place, moving many to return to the roots of the dance, performing more authentic versions and embracing (and sharing) the true culture behind the tradition. (source) This brief video shows you a popular hula dance and the meaning behind the moves and words. (Your child may even recognize the song!)

Would your child like to learn some simple hula? This kid-friendly video is a great place to start.

Activity 3: The most familiar Hawaiian instrument is the ukulele, a small type of guitar. The instrument was probably introduced to Hawai’i in 1879 by Portuguese settlers from Madeira who brought with them a small guitar called the braguinha. The settlers included three men, Manuel Nunes, Augusto Dias, and Jose do Espirito Santo who knew how to make braguinha. The small guitar quickly became popular with Hawaiians and by 1888 Nunes, Dias, and Espirito Santo were all producing examples for the local market.

The ukulele found favor in the court of the Hawaiian King David Kal’kaua, a champion both of customary Hawaiian music and musical innovation. Under Kal’kaua’s patronage, the ukulele was adapted to accompany hula dance performances, transforming the more sedate tempo of earlier types of hula into the more lively rhythm characteristic of many hula performances today. 

There are several accounts of how the ukulele got its name, which means “jumping flea.” Edward Purvis, a small, lively musician popular in Kal’kaua’s court was reportedly nicknamed “‘uku lele” and the instrument may be named after him. Alternatively, the rapid action of the musician’s figures when playing possibly reminded Hawaiians of jumping fleas. (source)

Let’s make a ukulele craft with this tutorial. Once it’s built, try playing along to this popular song performed by Hawaiian musician Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwoʻole.

Curious about more Hawaiian folklore? Try reading the book Punia and the King of Sharks: A Hawaiian Folktale by Lee Wardlaw!

Lesson 4:

Hawaii is home to an incredible amount of natural beauty, so it’s not surprising that many artists have been drawn to its stunning landscapes and wildlife. Let’s learn about the influence it had on one famous artist in the book Georgia in Hawaii: When Georgia O’Keeffe Painted What She Pleased.

Activity 1: Georgia O’Keeffe was one of the most original American painters, famous for her large format flower paintings. Known for her fierce independence and her unique artistic vision, she painted throughout most of the 20th century, spanning virtually the entire history of modern art in America. Let’s learn more about Georgia O’Keefe, beginning with this brief video about her life and work. One of the most distinctive elements of Georgia O’Keefe’s work is how she would paint a huge, blown-up version of a single flower, celebrating each detail as though you were looking at it through a magnifying glass.

Flowers are also quite plentiful in Hawaii! The state flower is the Maʻo hau hele, or the yellow hibiscus. You can see some large photos of it on this website.

Next, let’s use the instructions in this tutorial to paint some Ma’o hau hele in the style of George O’Keefe. Print a photo of the flower or keep it open on a computer or tablet for your child to reference as they paint.

Activity 2: Another important floral element of Hawaiian culture is the lei! Let’s learn about the history of lei making in this video. Next, let’s make our own lei out of tissue paper with this simple tutorial (that is also great practice at tying knots!).

Activity 3: Let’s use flowers to inspire our math activity for the day! Start by printing these pages (we recommend printing the pages 1-3 on yellow cardstock and the remaining pages on light pink, purple, or some other petal color). Cut out the flower centers and petals and present them to your child by laying out the centers in a grid pattern and giving them the petals in a bowl. Have them draw one petal at a time and solve the equation on it, putting the petal with the center that has the correct answer. Continue until they have matched all the petals or are ready to move on.

Lesson 5:

Hawaii is home to a rich variety of plant and animal life. Today, we’ll learn a bit more about some of it, including preparing two recipes featuring popular Hawaiian ingredients. Let’s begin by reading Honey Girl: The Hawaiian Monk Seal by Jeanne Walker Harvey.

Activity 1: There are only two mammals native to Hawaii that remain on the islands today. They are the Hawaiian monk seal and the hoary bat. Both are listed as endangered species. Let’s learn some more fun monk seal facts here. Next, create a lapbook about the Hawaiian monk seal. Include details like where it lives, what it eats, information about its babies, and why it is endangered. You can also draw or print a picture of a monk seal to include in your lapbook.

Activity 2: Hawaii is the leading producer of pineapple in the United States. But the story of how that came to be is an interesting one! While the fruit itself has unclear origins, most botanists agree that the pineapple originated in the Americas, most likely in the region where Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil meet. It is believed to have been brought to Hawaii in the late 1700s or early 1800s, but no one knows exactly who made the first transplant. (source)

So how did the humble pineapple become the hero of so many Hawaiian dishes–and begin to be exported beyond the shores of the Hawaiian islands? The answer is a man named James Drummond Dole. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Dole studied business and agriculture at Harvard University in Massachusetts and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1899. Shortly thereafter he moved to Hawaii, which had been annexed by the United States in 1898. Although at first planning to grow coffee, he quickly decided that the area was more suitable for cultivating pineapples.

Dole realized that fresh pineapple was not a good product for transportation (it spoiled quickly and was costly to ship), so in 1901 he established the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (now the Dole Food Company) to produce and market mass quantities of canned pineapple. Preserving and canning food slows spoilage. When done properly, canning removes oxygen, destroys enzymes, prevents the growth of microorganisms and helps form a high vacuum in jars that keeps liquid and air and microorganisms out. (source)

At first, he was met with a lot of skepticism, as others had tried to can and ship pineapple in the past, but without success. Dole’s venture, however, eventually succeeded through a series of innovations (including a pineapple corer that sped up production) and a series of aggressive advertising campaigns, and for the next 70 years Lanai produced some 75 percent of the world’s pineapple crop. (source)

Would you like to try some pineapple yourself? Then you’ll need to know how to cut one (unless you own a pineapple corer!). This tutorial tells you the best way to do it.

Activity 3: Pineapples are intriguing plants! Contrary to what you might think, they don’t actually grow on a pineapple treespineapples come from pineapple plants, which are bromeliads, or spiky plants that grow on the ground.

Pineapples contain the protein-digesting enzyme called bromelain. Bromelain is also used as a meat tenderizer. In fact, some people are very sensitive to the enzyme and find that it makes their lips and tongue sore. This is because the bromelain is working to tenderize your tongue! Don’t worry—once it gets to your stomach, there shouldn’t be much of a problem.

This is why pineapple juice is often incorporated into marinades, particularly in Hawaiian dishes. Let’s put those tenderizing powers to work with this Hawaiian-inspired Huli Huli Chicken Tacos recipe.

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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.