Oceania Unit Study: Week 4

Our final week of Oceania will introduce us to the islands of New Zealand and Tahiti. We will focus on two world famous artists that were inspired by the Polynesian islands―and their beautiful art will inspire some of our own projects. We will also enjoy doing several STEM projects as we learn about earth science, marine biology, and physics. The food this week will also really make our mouth water―puddings, ice cream, and burgers! But first, download and print your skills tracker here. Are you ready? Enjoy!

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):

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.

Lapbooking about New Zealand animals:

Glow-in-the-dark activity:

Māori bone necklace:

Creating a Taniwha:

Weather inspired art:

Paua seashell art:

Gameschooling idea:

Make a whistle:

Vanilla bean ice cream recipe:

Octopus camouflage activity:

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:

Activity 1: The islands in Oceania were largely influenced by the underwater volcanoes aptly called the Ring of Fire. Let’s begin our week by learning about this amazing underwater phenomena.

About 75% of the Earth’s volcanoes are located in a region called the Ring of Fire. This 25,000-mile “ring’ is located around the Pacific Ocean. It runs from the southern tip of South America and up the west coast of North America. It continues across the Bering Strait and then south through Japan to New Zealand.

The ring sits along the outline of several tectonic plates. Tectonic plates are the large puzzle pieces that make up the Earth’s crust. The crust is Earth’s outer layer. Most volcanoes form at the edges of tectonic plates. These huge plates are constantly shifting. Sometimes, the plates pull apart or slide into each other. When this happens, magma rises to fill in the space. Strong pressure and intense heat force the magma upward. It squeezes upward like toothpaste through a tube. (source)

Using the image below as your guide, add The Ring of Fire to your map of Oceania.


Activity 2: Let’s take a crash course in all things New Zealand! Read the book New Zealand (Country Explorers) and add the islands to your map.

Next, watch this video to learn about the history of the country and the indigenous people of New Zealand, the Māori. (This video is quite long, so only watch as long as your child is interested or in parts.) While you listen to the video, let’s finish coloring in our map today. Color in the Pacific Ocean space with blue pencil. Add a map compass and a legend to the corner of your map.

Activity 3: New Zealand is home to many unique animals. Read this post to learn about some of the native animals of these islands. Among the animals that live in New Zealand are seals. Read the charming story book about a seal in New Zealand in Elizabeth: Queen of the Seas.

After reading about the variety of animals, choose one animal to learn more about and do extra research. Using your local library or the internet to do your research, create a lapbook or a research report on your animal of choice.

Lesson 2:

Today, we’ll take a closer look at the islands of New Zealand.

Activity 1: The Māori people created beautiful art using bone carvings. These designs are full of meaning and craftsmanship. Read about their significance here. Next, create your own necklace with modeling clay using this tutorial.

Activity 2: If you were to visit New Zealand today, you might want to put the Waitomo Caves on your list of must-see sights. When you step inside most caves, you would be surrounded by darkness. But the Waitomo Caves are different―the cave’s walls twinkle! The light comes from tiny bioluminescent creatures called glowworms. Read this page to learn about the caves and the science of glowworms. Watch this video to see it yourself!

Inspired by the beauty of these caves, let’s create our own glow-in-the dark room decoration with this tutorial.

Activity 3: Click here to listen to an ancient Māori story, Rata and the Waka. (Your library may have a copy of the book Rata and the Waka, but it is no longer in publication.)

Taniwha are supernatural creatures in Māori tradition, similar to serpents and dragons in other cultures. They were said to hide in the ocean, rivers, lakes, or caves. What did they look like? Some were like giant lizards, sometimes with wings. Others were reptile-like sea creatures. Or they took the shape of sharks or whales, or even logs of wood in the river. According to the legends, some could change their shape. (source) The taniwha is also the inspiration of many children’s books and art.

Let’s create some art inspired by the taniwha.

Lesson 3:

Activity 1: Read the book Georgia in Hawaii: When Georgia O’Keeffe Painted What She Pleased (or listen to this read aloud). The author of this book was inspired by the works of Georgia O’Keeffe. Learn more about the artist here. O’Keeffe’s works can be seen around the world in museums and private collections. Look at one of her art pieces called the Red and Orange Streak here. Use this download to understand and discuss the piece with your child.

As we read in the printable, a lightening storm inspired Red and Orange Streak. Weather can inspire artists today, too! Go outside and watch your weather, and then create an art piece inspired by it.

Activity 2: The Pacific Ocean is home to some unique and beautiful ocean animals. We’ve talked about ocean life extensively in our Level 3: Australia Unit, but we would be remiss not to mention the unique aquatic and land life that can be found around the islands of Oceania.

The paua is a species of abalone. It is only found in the the seas around New Zealand. This marine snail eats seaweed and lives clinging to the rocks at depths of 1-10 meters, normally off the rocky shoreline. Many consider paua a delicacy, and the shell is traditionally used in carving and artwork. Its shell is the most colorful of all the abalone shells, and it changes when viewed at different angles. The iridescence color is formed by the light refracting within the crystal layers. (source) Read more about it here.

Using seashells in art and decoration is universal. Let’s create our own seashell art inspired by the colors of the paua with this tutorial.

Optional additional reading: Looking for a graphic novel to read? Try the Science Comics series. The book entitled Coral Reefs Cities of the Ocean offers a ton of information about this underwater ecosystem.

Gameschooling idea: Try playing this Ecosystem Coral Reef card game!

Activity 3: New Zealander William Atack became the first sports referee in the world to use a whistle to stop a rugby game in 1884. Previously referees would have to raise their voices to stop and control games, which was exhausting! The use of the whistle was such a success it was used around the country and eventually the rest of the world.

Let’s learn the science of the whistle: Air enters the whistle at one end. As the air reaches the other, closed end, all the air molecules “pile up” on top of each other and cause a high-pressure region. The air escapes out the little hole in the end, making the noise you hear. The frequency of the sound is dependent on the length of the whistle. (source)

Make your own whistle with these household items.

Lesson 4:

Next, let’s take our learning onward to the Islands of Tahiti!

Activity 1: The history of the Islands of Tahiti is a rich and fascinating one. Around 4000 BC, a great migration began in Southeast Asia with early settlers traveling across the vast, open ocean to explore the Pacific Islands. Tonga and Samoa were settled as a result of this migration around 1300 BC. Later on, Tahitians launched colonization voyages to the Marquesas Islands around 200 BC.

During the next several centuries, the Tahitian islands were colonized. The native Tahitians, Hawaiians, and the Maoris of New Zealand all originate from common ancestors and speak a similar language known as Ma’ohi.

Learn more of the history and cultural uniqueness of Tahiti here.

One famous product of Tahiti is vanilla. Tahitian vanilla is luxurious and intensely aromatic. The bees used to pollinate the vanilla orchid are not native to the Islands of Tahiti, and so each delicate vanilla flower is pollinated by hand. It is only during the months of July and September when the plants are flowering that the farmers rise early to hand pollinate each orchid bloom. In addition to the season being very short, each flower only blooms for about six hours, so the farmer must move quickly yet delicately to ensure each flower is pollinated before it closes and withers away. The flowers that are pollinated grow the Tahitian vanilla bean. The pod is harvested and dried in a lengthy process that takes almost a year before making its way into recipes. (source) And speaking of recipes, let’s make one of our favorites using vanilla: Vanilla bean ice cream!

Activity 2: Learn about famous artist Paul Gaugin the artist by reading this article. Next, watch this video.

Take a closer look at his famous painting “Road in Tahiti.” (Read the entire post to better understand the painting.) Use the activity book Paul Gauguin Activities for Kids to study the art pieces “Tahitian Woman and Boy” and “Road in Tahiti.”

Activity 3: Tahiti is home to one of the oceans most intelligent animals, the octopus. Begin by watching this video and this video to begin learning about them. We loved this video, too!

Next, let’s read the book The Octopus Scientists: Exploring the Mind of a Mollusk. We’ll give you a sneak peak of what’s in this detailed octopus book from page 11 with these octopus facts:

  • The plural of octopus is not octopi. Though many people still use this plural, octopus experts deem it incorrect because it mixes up two languages. Octopus is a Greek word meaning “eight-footed.” Adding i to the end of a singular noun is a Latin practice. The correct plural is octopuses or octopodes. 
  • An octopus has three hearts. In addition to a central heart, two others help pump blood at the base of each gill. The brain is unusual, too. It’s wrapped around the throat. The three-fifths of the nerve cells or neurons that we normally associate with the brain are not there but in the arms.
  • If a predator bites off an octopus’ arm, the octopus can regrow it. Meanwhile, if a severed arm escapes, it continues to thrash around, attracting predators away from the escaping animal.
  • An octopus can taste with its skin―including its eyelids―but the sense is most exquisitely developed in the hundreds of suckers on the underside of the arms. Each sucker can also act like a human’s thumb and forefinger to delicately pick up small objects. And if one of those items tastes good, the octopus can pass the food from sucker to sucker to the mouth, like a conveyor belt. 

For more fascinating octopus details, read the whole book! Here are a few places to topics your attention: How do people find an octopus in open water? Read chapter 1 to follow Jennifer Mather exploring the Tahitian waters for octopuses. How smart is an octopus? Read page 25. How do octopuses change colors? Read page 42. The pictures in the book are also amazing! We hope you enjoy exploring it.

The octopus’ ability to camouflage is fascinating! Let’s take a closer look at what is really going on. Read this page and do the activity at the bottom.

Lesson 5:

Polynesian cuisine offers a wide variety of specialties, mostly based on seafood and exotic fruit with French and Chinese influences. Dishes tend to use relatively few spices and often include coconut milk, ginger, lime, vanilla, or tamarind. Fish and shellfish are prepared in numerous ways: grilled, on skewers, wrapped and baked or deep fried, raw, etc. Among the ocean fish, the most popular species are tuna, mahi-mahi (coryphaena), opah (or moonfish), and swordfish. The lagoons also offer an incredible variety of fish that are used in traditional cuisine such as parrotfish, scad, and red mullet. Our activities today will highlight two dishes from Polynesia.

Activity 1: New Zealand is famous for its kiwi bird. The kiwi is a unique and curious bird: It cannot fly and it has loose, hair-like feathers, strong legs, and no tail. It is the national icon of New Zealand and the unofficial national emblem.

New Zealand’s indigenous Māori have always held the kiwi bird in high regard. They called it the hidden bird of Tāne, the God of the forest, or ‘te manu huna a Tāne’ in the native language. Cloaks made out of kiwi feathers, known as ‘kahu kiwi,’ were treasures reserved exclusively for tribal chiefs. These feathers are still believed to hold high heritage value in present times.

Today, New Zealand is not only famous for its bird, but also its kiwi fruit, which was brought from China and renamed in the mid 1900s. (source)

People from New Zealand are also sometimes affectionally called Kiwis as well.

In honor of all the kiwis of New Zealand, let’s prepare a kiwi burger.

Activity 2: Poʻe is a Tahitian fruit pudding that consists of a banana purée mixed with brown sugar and arrowroot or cornstarch. The mixture should be baked until the pudding is firm and bubbling. It is served chilled and cut into cubes, topped with a dollop of coconut cream.

Some of the banana can be substituted with papaya, mango, pineapple, or other tropical fruits. This dessert is very popular and often found at traditional Tahitian tamara’a barbecues. (source) Doesn’t it sound amazing? Prepare this recipe and enjoy!

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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.