Oceania Unit Study: Week 3

Our study of Oceania continues as we explore Polynesia! This week, we will spend a lot of time learning about the U.S. islands of Hawaii (also written Hawai’i). We will explore the geological formation of the islands, their complicated history, and their rich culture. Our activities will include some awesome science experiments, many opportunities for purposeful and creative writing, a fun gameschooling idea, and several recipes for your family to enjoy. Start by downloading and printing off your tracker here, and let’s begin!

What you need:

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

Coming soon books:

Aloha Everything by Kaylin George (this book was not yet published when we published this unit study, but check to see if it is available when you begin!)

Optional additional books:

Optional chapter 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.

Land formation demonstration:

  • large towels (like a beach or pool towel)
  • 2 large boxes

Volcano model:

Volcano chocolate cake recipe:

Lei craft:

Propagate a pineapple:

Pineapple sorbet recipe:

Hawaiian tacos recipe:

Ukulele craft:

Gameschooling idea:

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 continue our geography and map work of Oceania!

Activity 1: Polynesia is the third (and final) section of Oceania that we will learn about in this unit. These lands include: Hawaii, New Zealand, Bora Bora, and Easter Island. Find these islands on a map, an atlas, or Google Earth. Add Hawaii, Bora Bora and Easter Island to your map. (We will focusing on New Zealand in Week 4, so we’ll leave that one out for now.) Be sure to label all of Hawaii’s islands. Add the capital of Hawaii as well.

Activity 2: People arrived on these islands centuries before European explorers. Coming from a tradition of voyaging expertise and canoe making, Polynesians from the area now known to be from the Marquesas Islands were the first humans to visit and settle the Hawaiian Islands between 1000- 1200 AD. (source + photo)

The ancient Polynesians navigated hundreds of thousands of miles of the Pacific Ocean using a combination of celestial navigation and piloting. Polynesians were familiar with constellations in both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. They relied on oral tradition and the history of their ancestors’ navigation from different islands. 

They paid attention to regional and seasonal weather patterns. They also recognized different species of plants and animals (like migratory birds and whales) native to different islands and the waters that surrounded them. If a piece of driftwood belonging to a familiar type of tree floated to shore, or a bird known to live in a specific ecosystem flew by, navigators would have an idea of what type of land lay ahead and how far away it was. (source

Watch this video to learn more details about how Polynesian islands were first inhabited. (This is a long video. Watch for as long as your child remains interested.) 

Creative writing activity: Polynesians crossed over 2,000 miles of ocean in double-hulled canoes called “Waʻa” or “Hōkūleʻa.” What do you think it would have been like to cross thousands of miles of ocean? Write a series (3-5) of journal entries describing the months of travel. Utilize your imagination and resources from our unit. Describe in the entry what it might have been like to arrive on an uninhabited island.

Activity 3:  Our first Polynesian island we will explore is Easter Island, also called Rapa Nui. Although it is located in Polynesia, the island is technically part of the South American country Chile. 

(If you are working with younger students, refer to Level 1: Rocks Unit, Lesson 5 for a lesson on Easter Island.)

Start by watching this video about Easter Island and the famous rock formations that can be found there. There are many things that archaeologists have to assume about the Maua because there are no written records to learn from. This requires critical thinking skills. Hone your child’s critical thinking skills with this activity. Read the lesson and print out the downloadable printable. (This would also be a great group exercise!)

Activity 4: As you learned in Week 2, conservation efforts in the Pacific Ocean are very important to the health of the ocean. To learn about one girl’s tremendous efforts, read the book The Girl Who Heard the Music: How One Pianist and 85,000 Bottles and Cans Brought New Hope to an Island (or listen to this read aloud).

Are you inspired to turn trash into something else? Brainstorm or research ideas to recycle your household trash into something useful or crafty. You can get some ideas here.

Lesson 2: 

The Hawaiian islands are probably the most well known of all the Polynesian islands. Introduce the chapter book, One Boy, No Water, written by native Hawaiian Lehua Parker. If homeschooling younger children, review Level 2+: Hawaii Unit for more simplified activities.

Activity 1: The ancient history of Hawaii is captured by stories that are passed down from generation to generation. Let’s learn about these ancient myths by listening to this story of Maui

(-) Younger siblings might enjoy the book Maui Hooks the Islands (Hawaiian Legends for Little Ones) instead

(+) For more Hawaiian myths, read Hawaiian Myths of Earth, Sea, and Sky.

Folk stories and myths often help explain things that ancient civilizations wanted to better understand. Try writing your own folk story to explain the hard-to-explain. Although we know so much more about science today, choose an unknown from the list below and write a folk story to explain it:

  • Why do we have fingerprints?
  • Why do we have an appendix?
  • Why do we yawn?
  • Why do we dream?

Activity 2:  Some stories from Hawaii that we can enjoy today can be read in books or seen in videos. Others like the Kapaemahu rocks can be visited. Click here to see the Stones of Kapaemahu. Learn the legend of these rocks by watching this video or by reading the book Kapaemahu.

Let’s learn more about the geology of Hawaii. Hawaii is located thousands of kilometers from the nearest plate boundary, but it is volcanically active and geologically very young. The oceanic crust on which the Hawaiian Islands reside is nearly 90 million years old, yet the oldest of these islands was formed a mere 5 million years ago. In fact, the youngest is less than a half million years old. (+) Read this to learn more about the formation of the island.

The Earth’s outer crust is made up of a series of tectonic plates that move over the surface of the planet. In areas where the plates come together, sometimes volcanoes will form. Volcanoes can also form in the middle of a plate, where magma rises upward until it erupts on the seafloor, at what is called a “hot spot.”

The Hawaiian Islands were formed by such a hot spot in the middle of the Pacific Plate. While the hot spot itself is in a fixed location, the plate continued to move. So, as the plate moved over the hot spot, the string of islands that make up the Hawaiian Island chain were formed. (source)

Demonstrate the formation of land through plate movement using this hands-on activity.

Activity 3: Let’s learn more about the history of Hawaii. Read the book Hawai’i (or read it here on OpenLibrary), pages 16-20 to learn about the early history of the island. (+) Read more of the history of the island, its rulers, and the colonial takeover on pages 21-31. Next, watch this video for a history overview.

Finally, read the picture book The Last Princess: The Story of Princess Ka’iulani of Hawai’i (or read it here on OpenLibrary). This book will give you a history of how Hawaii lost its independence, became a colony, and then later gained statehood.

Using the information in the books and in the video, create a timeline of the history of Hawaii. Include photos, dates, and important events.

Lesson 3: 

Activity 1: Hawaiian is a Polynesian language spoken on all of the inhabited islands of Hawaii. It became a written language in the mid-nineteenth century. At the same time, it became the language of the Hawaiian government in public offices, the courts, the school system, and the legislature. In addition, it was the most widely used language among the general public, which included foreigners and various local ethnic groups. However, with the subjugation of Hawaii under the rule of the United States in 1898, Hawaiian was supplanted and English became the official language for all government offices and transactions.

By the 1900s, a Hawaii Creole language had begun to develop. This hybrid was the result of two language dynamics occurring simultaneously: 1) the attempt suddenly of a public, heretofore accustomed to communicating in Hawaiian, to speak now in English, and 2) the Pidgin Hawaiian that was spoken by immigrants. (source)

Many Hawaiian words have become part of the everyday language spoken on the island, even among people who speak English. Let’s learn some Hawaiian words with the help of this video series. Continue watching the series or save them to continue your language lesson throughout the week.

Next, read the picture book Aloha Everything, which includes 25 Hawaiian language words strung among a beautiful story. Use the guide in the back to learn how to pronounce the words and their meaning.

Activity 2: Hawaii is famous for its volcanoes. The ancient Hawaiians believed that volcanoes were created by the goddess Pele. Read the book Pele and the Rivers of Fire (or listen to this YouTube read aloud) to learn the mythical story. 

We learned in Lesson 2 that Hawaii was formed through underground plate collisions. Watch this video to learn more about how volcanoes form. Next, watch this video to see a real flowing volcano in Hawaii. Finally, read the book Explore Hawaiian Volcanoes to learn about the variety of volcanoes on Hawaii. Now it’s time to build a volcano with a fun STEM project!

Activity 3: If baking makes you happy, then you are going to love this activity! Prepare this chocolate volcano cake recipe.

Lesson 4:

Activity 1: Hawaii is famous for surfing. Our Level 3; Peru Unit, Week 4 introduced us to surfing in the Pacific Ocean, but Hawaii is considered the world’s surfing capital! Let’s learn the history of surfing in Hawai’i in this video. Surfing might look like all fun and games, but there is actually a lot of physics involved. Watch this video to learn about the science of surfing. There are many famous surfers from Hawaii, but Duke Kahanamoku is by far the biggest. Watch this video and then read the book Surfer of the Century: The Life of Duke Kahanamoku (or read it here on OpenLibrary) to learn his story.

Creative writing activity: Reading biographies helps us learn about people and their accomplishments. When a person writes about themselves, these books are called autobiographies. Today, try working with your student to write their own autobiography. This assignment may seem daunting to most students so read this blog post for tips before you get started. Print and use these two printables that include a planner and booklet to help write their story.

Activity 2: A tradition dating back hundreds of years, ancient Hawaiian luaus were referred to as an ʻahaʻaina, with aha translating to ‘gathering’ and aina meaning ‘meal.’ Generally a more formal event than your commonplace luau, these ancient gatherings were mostly focused on the traditions and ceremonies of the event rather than the entertainment level. In fact, these Polynesian feasts were often held not only to celebrate a commendable occasion like the launch of a new canoe, a battle victory, or a special achievement but also to honor the Hawaiian Gods. Certain foods at these feasts were even prepared as a way to represent certain symbols and attributes. (source) Watch this video to hear it described by a native Hawaiian. 

Read the book ‘Ohana Means Family for a poetic description of luaus today.

Another important element of Hawaiian culture and commonly seen in modern day luaus 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 learn about another crucial aspect of Hawaiian history―the 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.

Lesson 5:

Let’s learn some food history around a popular Hawaiian fruit, the pineapple!

Activity 1: Pineapples have been a symbol of Hawai’i for over 100 years, but they are not native to the Hawaiian islands. Pineapples can be traced back to their origin in South America and are linked together with Hawaii because of the large pineapple industry that was built on Hawaii in the early 1900s. For a while, Hawaii supplied over 80% of the world’s output of canned pineapple! (We’ll learn more about the industrial side of pineapples in Hawaii in Activity 2.) For now, let’s learn some interesting facts and the science of pineapples

Pineapples contain an enzyme called “bromelain.”  This enzyme breaks down proteins in your mouth. So when you eat a pineapple, it is eating you back! Once the bromelain enters your stomach, the enzymes are broken down―so you don’t need to worry about being eaten inside-out. Actually, pineapples have many medicinal qualities! (source) Fun fact: Workers on pineapple fields often don’t have fingerprints, which could be caused by this enzyme! (source)

Contrary to what most people think, pineapples do not grow on trees. Instead, they stay on short scrubs, 3-6 feet high, and remain in the ground surrounded by spiky, erect, and curved leaves. (source)

Unlike most fruits, pineapples are not grown from seeds. Common commercial varieties of pineapples are “self-incompatible,” meaning that the plants’ pollen cannot fertilize members of the same variety. So, unless different varieties are grown next to one another and flower simultaneously, the plant will produce a seedless fruit that develops without fertilization. (source)

When removed, the crown of the pineapple fruit contains small roots. If it’s planted into the ground (or a pot), a new fruit-producing plant will grow.

Additionally, the plant’s “suckers” (side shoots that grow in between the leaves of the main stem) and slips (tiny plantlets that grow out from the base of the pineapple fruit) can produce new plants when replanted.

With that in mind, let’s propagate a pineapple with this tutorial! 

Activity 2: James Drummond Dole came to Hawaii in 1899, after graduating from Harvard. His cousin, Sanford B. Dole, was a politician who became governor of Hawaii, which had been recently acquired as a U.S. territory.  Sanford was also a sugar tycoon who led the coup d‘état against Queen Lili‘uokalani in 1893, which is how he became president of the new provincial government. He urged James to try to develop a commercial market for pineapple. James took his cousin’s advice and bought 60 acres of land near Honolulu. He experimented with a number of cash crops, and after some trial and error, settled on pineapple. James Dole built a cannery to process his fruit for shipping, and in 1903 his newly formed Hawaiian Pineapple Company successfully shipped and sold 2,000 cases of canned pineapple. Within only a few years, this number had jumped to 25,000 cases.

Riding the tide of the industrial revolution, pineapple production in Hawaii quickly flourished, with spiky rows of pineapple cropping up across the state. According to the Hawai‘i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, for many agricultural workers, joining the pineapple workforce was the preferable alternative to sugar. Companies like Dole enticed laborers away from the sugarcane fields, promising higher wages and better working conditions. But conditions weren’t actually great. Workers planted pineapples by hand and harvested them into lug boxes, which were then loaded onto trucks to be processed at the designated cannery. Pesticides and fertilizers were used extensively, which not only posed a health risk to plantation workers but also led to soil contamination and agricultural runoff. (source)

In 1911, engineer and Dole employee Henry Ginaca invented a machine that could peel and core pineapples in an automated fashion, per request of Hawaiian pineapple magnate James Dole. His invention, the Ginaca, could process 100 pineapple cylinders a minute!

Today, there is a simple kitchen tool that helps home cooks core and peel a pineapple. Have you ever used this tool? If you enjoy eating pineapples, but not the process of cutting them, then you might enjoy this kitchen gadget!

With all that history in mind, let’s prepare this delicious pineapple sorbet recipe. For a delicious savory recipe inspired by the flavors of Hawaii, try this taco recipe.

Activity 3: While you wait for your sorbet to chill or your tacos to sizzle, listen to the iconic 1988 rendition of Somewhere over the Rainbow recorded by Hawaiian activist and musician, Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwoʻole. His rendition of the famous Judy Garland song from the Wizard of Oz was received overwhelmingly well around the world. It is now more well known to younger generations than the original. It even inspired a children’s book! (-) Read the book The Good Song: A Story Inspired by “Somewhere Over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World.” Do you recognize the lyrics?

The instrument you hear in the song is the most familiar Hawaiian instrument―the ukulele, a small type of guitar. The instrument was probably introduced to Hawaii 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 them 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.

Optional gameschooling idea: The Lattice Hawaii Strategy Board Game would be a great gameschooling addition to this week!

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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.