Oceania Unit Study: Week 1

Welcome to the Pacific Ocean and the island nations of Oceania! We will explore the countries and cultures of this vast area better known by their geographic divisions of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. This week will focus on Melanesia―including the islands of Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands. Our unit will include some fun geography and earth science projects, animal and nature studies, a tasty DNA lesson, and beautiful art creation. You will love all you learn as we explore this beautiful part of the earth! But first, download and print out your skills tracker.

What you need:

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

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.

Large Oceania map:

Edible DNA:

  • 2 Twizzlers
  • colored gummy candies (at least 4 different colors)
  • toothpicks

Rainbow eucalyptus tree model:

Mud art:

Hindu temple:

Underwater volcano eruption experiment:

Turtle model:

Talautu recipe:

Chai tea recipe:

Solomon Island tuna recipe:

(+) Kokoda recipe:

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:

Let’s begin with some geography and map work!

Activity 1: Simon Says Oceania. Let’s learn the names of the places we will be exploring about this month. To begin, find the Pacific ocean on a globe, atlas, or on Google Earth. (It’s best to have a large map for this activity.) Find the Pacific Ocean. Next, locate the equator and the International Date Line. Review the continents that border the Pacific Ocean. Next, look at different islands in the Pacific Ocean. If your child has any previous knowledge of these places, make those connections now. Once you are familiar with both old and new information on the map, play the Simon Says Mapping Game. Using the Simon Says statements listed below (or any you can think of), direct students to visit various locations in the map. We suggest playing this on the floor if using a large flat map. If you are using a computer screen, you will have to make modifications. If you have more than one child, divide up the commands by name or teams.

Simon Says commands:

  • Put your finger on the equator.
  • Put one toe into the Pacific Ocean.
  • Use your hand to pretend to swim from north to south.
  • Lay your hand on Australia.
  • Put your elbow on Asia.
  • Put your chin on North America.
  • With your eyes closed, find west on the map.
  • Point to Fiji. 
  • Point to Hawaii.
  • Point to the Solomon Islands.

Activity 2: Mapping Oceania. Oceania is the name of the collection of land masses and islands located in the Pacific Ocean. Read the book Pacific Ocean or this Pacific Ocean book (pages 1-20) from OpenLibrary to get better acquainted with Pacific Ocean and the landmasses within it.

Additionally, you can read some interesting facts about the islands located in the Pacific Ocean here. As this reading explains, the Pacific Ocean is divided into three sections: Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. These divisions were made mostly by European explorers, so they are sometimes based on faulty assumptions. Despite this, these labels remain today. This week, we will learn about the islands of Melanesia, which include places like Fiji, New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Torres Strait Islands, and Vanuatu. Using Google Earth, locate these islands to get better acquainted with them. (We will learn more details about most of these islands later in our unit.)

Using a large piece of oak tag and colored pencils, let’s create a large scale map of the Oceania. We will use this map as our guide.

  1. Begin by drawing the equator and the International Date Line. 
  2. Draw in the edge of Australia in the bottom left corner. Add in the country islands of Indonesia and the Philippines on the left.
  3. Identify the islands of Melanesia and draw them in. Color them green. Label each island using black pencil. Include the following islands in your map:
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Solomon Islands
  • Vanuatu
  • Fiji
  • New Caledonia
  • Norfolk island (part of Melanesia but is also a commonwealth of Australia) 
  • Indonesia (considered part of Melanesia but also Asia)
  • Torres Strait Islands (considered part of Melanesia but is a commonwealth of Australia)

(Note: We will do the other sections of Oceania in the following weeks, so keep your map safe and handy!)

Activity 3: Next, let’s learn the flags of the nations of Melanesia with this card matching game.

Activity 4: Discover the Mariana Trench. The Pacific Ocean is famous for one of the deepest craters on earth―The Mariana Trench. (We first learned about this back in the Level 2: Oceans Unit. We also learned about the animals that live deep down in the ocean floor in our Level 3: Australia Unit.) (-) For a brief recap, watch this video

Let’s learn a few facts about this deep ocean crater in this video. You can also watch these documentary-style videos to learn more about the trench, the animals that live there, and also how scientists explore this ecosystem. Watch as many videos as your child is interested in. (We suggest starting with “Deep Water Exploration of the Marianas.”)

Now that you are very familiar with the Mariana Trench, add it to your map (from Activity 2) using this picture as a reference.

Lesson 2:

Let’s begin learning about Papua New Guinea by watching this video. (It’s a long one, so take breaks if your child’s attention starts to wane.) As you learned in the video, there are many tribes and cultures in Papua New Guinea.

Here are some of the island’s basic facts to know:

  • The 8.8 million inhabitants speak over 800 languages. The three most common languages are English, Tok Pisin, and Motu.
  • The majority of inhabitants consider themselves Christian. Their religious traditions also include pre-Christian practices.
  • The island is close to the equator so its climate is mostly tropical and has the world’s third largest rainforest. But some of its tallest mountains will at times be snow capped.
  • The island has dozens of volcanoes.
  • It is rich in history and has been influenced by Britain, Australia, and Japan. It has been an independent country since 1975 but remains part of the British Commonwealth. (source + source)

Activity 1: Papua New Guinea is home to some amazing and unique animals. Start by learning about the famous ones here. Next, ask your child to research one animal that particularly catches their attention. Look for books, videos and websites about the animal to learn about their habitat, diet, and what makes them special. (A-Z Animals is a good place to start!) Create a lapbook or write a brief research paper (5-paragraph essay with three facts about the animal). 

New to writing a research paper? Use this series of videos to start learning how to write a research paper. (Note, if this is your child’s first attempt at research papers, this assignment will likely take several days.)

Activity 2: Discover DNA. There are some people in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands that have a unique feature for the area: they are blond! Scientists have recently studied the genetic makeup of the people living on these islands and found that the genetics from people who are blond living in Oceania are different from the genes that make people blond in Europe and Asia. Isn’t that fascinating! (source)

The reason for the color and shape of our eyes or hair, our height, and even some parts of our personality is genetics! More specifically, it’s in our DNA. DNA is a short nickname for deoxyribonucleic (pronounced: dee-OK-see-ri-bo-new-klee-ik) acid. DNA is the genetic information inside the body’s cells that helps make people who they are. In other words, it’s the instructions for how to make the body, like the code to a video game or blueprints for a house. Read the book DNA or (-) The Secret Code Inside You to learn the ins and outs of what makes you, well, you! Not able to get the book? Watch this video to learn more about DNA and how it works.

Here are some of the main points to review after watching the video: 

  • If you used a very strong microscope, you would see that DNA looks like a twisting ladder. 
  • Four different chemicals called nucleotides (pronounced: NEW-klee-uh-tydes) pair up to make the rungs of the ladder. 
  • Groups of nucleotides make up genes. 
  • DNA is stored in the chromosomes (pronounced: KRO-muh-soamz) that are inside every cell of the body. 
  • Everyone inherits two sets of chromosomes, one from each parent. (source)

DNA is composed of repeating units called nucleotides or nucleotide bases. There are 4 types of bases that make up the rungs of the DNA ladder. These are called adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine.

They are paired together like this:

Cytosine (C) will “pair” to Guanine (G).

Adenine (A) will “pair” to Thymine (T).

Let’s see how they connect with the help of this printable. Next, use the printable to guide you as you make an edible DNA strand.

(+) Want a non-edible upgrade? Try this DNA origami.

Activity 3: Discover the Rainbow Eucalyptus Tree. This is one of the most unusual and beautiful trees in the world. It is native to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. Tree bark comes in many different patterns and textures and is vital to the health of a tree.
Some bark naturally splits as the tree grows, revealing the inner layer beneath. This sometimes produces beautiful patterns, like the rainbow eucalyptus. Learn more about this unique tree here

The rainbow eucalyptus can also be found in other Pacific Islands like Hawaii, but there it is considered an invasive species. Learn more about that here.

If you enjoy mixing play dough colors, we have a project for you! Let’s create your own rainbow eucalyptus tree model. Take several colors of playdough (or modeling clay) and twist and blend them to recreate a colorful rainbow eucalyptus tree bark. Use toothpicks or skewers for the branches above the bark and green tissue paper for the leaves.

Lesson 3:

Next, let’s explore Fiji. Fiji is officially called the Republic of Fiji. It gained independence from the British Empire in 1970 after 96 years as a British colony. Native Fijians of Melanesian and Polynesian ancestry make up 54% of the population. The main official language of Fiji is Fijian. There are two other official languages: English and Fijian Hindi, or Hindustani (a mix of Hindi and Urdu). (source

Activity 1:  Fiji is famous for many things, including its beautiful beaches and being an exotic vacation spot. Here are a few more things Fiji is famous for: 

  • Hot springs heated by geothermal heat—heat from the Earth’s interior. In volcanic areas, water may come into contact with very hot rock heated by magma. Hot springs in active volcanic zones may produce superheated water, so hot that immersion can result in injury or death. In non-volcanic areas, the temperature of rocks within the Earth also increases with depth—this temperature increase is known as the Geothermal Gradient. If water percolates deeply enough into the crust, it comes into contact with hot rocks and can circulate to the surface to form hot springs.
  • Mud pots are surface features that occur when limited amounts of geothermal water is mixed with mud and clay. Acid and bacteria in the water can dissolve surrounding rock forming viscous pools of bubbling mud.

Mud pools are often used today for relaxation and health. Next, let’s use mud to inspire some art. Mud offers many opportunities for creativity, especially outdoors. Invite children to experiment and use their creativity with the following activities. (source)

What you need:

  • soft mud
  • powdered tempera in assorted colors
  • dishwashing detergent
  • plastic containers, one for each color
  • paintbrushes
  • thick paper such as poster board or cardstock

What to do:

  • For each color, scoop a heaping cupful of mud into a plastic container.
  • Sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons of tempera over the mud and mix well with a spoon.
  • Add a squirt of detergent to make the mud spread more easily. Detergent also helps remove the mud from clothing and towels in cleanup.
  • Stir the mixture well. Add more tempera or mud to achieve the desired color and consistency.
  • Encourage children to paint as they wish—squiggles, designs, or pictures of objects!
  • (-) Make mud prints. Dip a hand into a tray of mud paint or plain mud, and press on a sheet of clean paper to make a handprint. (Or try a footprint!)
  • Let the print dry.

Activity 2: There is a large Indian immigrant community and culture in Fiji because, under British rule, Indian servants were brought to Fiji to work in the sugarcane fields. Descendants of these Indian laborers are called Indo-Fijians and currently make up around 40% of the population. Indian culture and religion can be seen in many places in Fiji. The Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple is a Hindu temple in Nadi, Fiji. It is the largest Hindu temple in the Pacific. Here’s a picture of it!

Hindu Architecture evolved over the centuries from simple rock-cut cave shrines to massive and ornate temples which spread across the Indian sub-continent and beyond, forming a canonical style which is still adhered to today in modern Hindu temples across the globe. Essential elements of Hindu architecture are precise and harmonious geometry when viewed from all four sides and above, the square form and grid ground plans, soaring towers, and elaborate decorative sculpture which includes gods, worshippers, erotic scenes, animals, and floral and geometric patterns. (source)

Explore this amazing and intricate architecture by building a similar structure using cardboard, Legos, or in Minecraft.

Lesson 4:

The Solomon Islands consist of about 1000 islands! That includes six major islands and approximately 900 smaller volcanic islands, coral atolls, and reefs. More than 300 of them are inhabited. They stretch about 900 miles in a south-easterly direction from Papua New Guinea toward Fiji. The major islands are Guadalcanal, Choiseul, Santa Isabel, New Georgia, Malaita, and Makira (or San Cristobal). The terrain is mountainous and heavily forested. Get a closer look at some of the islands and their unique characteristics here

Activity 1: There are many active volcanoes under the water in the Pacific Ocean near the Solomon islands. Let’s learn more about them in this short video. (We’ll learn more about volcanoes in Week 3 when we explore Hawaii.)

Let’s bring this idea to life with this STEM activity.

Activity 2: One of our favorite animal residents in the Solomon Islands are the sea turtles. Let’s learn about the conservation efforts being made to save the sea turtles in this video. This group is helping endangered hawksbill and green sea turtles on the island.

Create your own sea turtle craft using modeling clay.

Activity 3: The Solomon Islands have beautiful coral reefs, beaches, and scenic land stretches. Watch this travel video to get a sneak peak of the islands. Some places are very populated, but other islands are more secluded. Watch this video documentary of a family from Norway living in Tikopia. 

Creative writing: Based on what you have learned so far about the Solomon Islands and other islands in the region, write a short story about:

  • A family shipwrecked on a remote island
  • An island vacation
  • A treasure hunt on the island
Lesson 5:

Let’s enjoy different foods from the islands of Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands.

Activity 1: As you would expect from a tropical island, Papua New Guinea has delicious fruit! Let’s prepare Talautu, a coconut pineapple fruit salad. (Use this recipe, but don’t watch the video in front of your kids if you are sensitive to cursing.)

Before you can make the recipe, you will have to learn how to open a coconut. This is no easy task―it takes between 20– 400 pounds of force to crack a coconut! Watch this video and this video to learn how to do it.

Activity 2: Next, let’s enjoy a taste of Fiji. Although tea leaves were not indigenous to the island, they have become part of the culture today. Tea plantations were established in Fiji in the late 1800s at Wainunu on Vanua Levu to provide European plantation owners and the Colonial Government with income. Many teas are now grown in Fiji and enjoyed by many inhabitants. Let’s enjoy a taste of Fiji with this chai tea recipe. (This is an alternative recipe with ingredients that you might have an easier time finding.)

Enjoy your tea while you read this poem written by a Fijian about his home island. 

This poem is very descriptive of the island, the food, and the people. Write a poem in a similar style about your hometown.

Activity 3: Next, let’s enjoy a meal from the Solomon Islands.

The tuna fishery business began on the Solomon Islands in 1972 with the establishment of Solomon Taiyo Limited (STL). Since then, the fishery has grown to become one of the major foreign exchange earners and the largest employer in the country. (source) The Solomon Islands relies on the fish around its land to support its economy. 

(+) Learn more about the challenges of the tuna industry in this video

Now, let’s learn some tuna facts! 

  • Tuna fish is one of the most consumed species of fish in the world. It is a saltwater fish that is silver in color with large eyes and spiky fins and dark blue backs. Their rounded body tapers to a slender tail base. (source)
  • Tuna are fast swimmers. They have been observed swimming at up to 77 km/h! 
  • Several species of tuna are warm-blooded.
  • Most species of fish have white flesh, but the flesh of the tuna is different because it is pink to dark red. This is because tuna muscle tissue contains greater quantities of myoglobin. Myoglobin is a molecule that binds oxygen. Some of the larger tuna species, such as the Northern bluefin tuna, can raise their blood temperature above the water temperature with muscular activity. This enables them to live in cooler waters and survive a wider range of circumstances. (source)
  • Tuna is not only a main export, it is also how many local fishers feed their families.

Prepare this tuna recipe from the Solomon Islands. It includes some of the favorite local flavors, including coconut and curry.

(+) Prepare this Kokoda recipe for those wanting a bit more of a culinary challenge.

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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.