Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying New Zealand

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Every summer, my kids and I do an educational trip around the world, learning about different countries. Is it because can't afford to take a real around-the-world vacation? Yes.

But it also adds us some structure to our summer vacation (which could otherwise quickly devolve into a Lord of the Flies-type situation,) and my kids have grown to and really look forward to it. For this week, the 5-year-old chose New Zealand!


We always start a new country by finding it on the giant laminated wall map I bought here. It's held up well since I bought it 8 years ago and that's saying something because my kids are NOT gentle with it.

Yes, I know he's holding a fork here. My kids do their best paying attention when they're also eating.

After locating New Zealand, they each got a "passport" (which in this case means a stapled-together booklet of these free printable pages I made, which you're welcome to download and use however you like:)

Download the Passport Pages

They filled out the first page of their passports and then looked up and colored New Zealand's flag. As is my children's tradition, they were extremely equitable and divided it up into equally-sized sections for everyone to color. They like to fight over whether everything is equal, actually.

While they were doing that, I read interesting facts out loud from the Country Explorers book series: New Zealand and then we watched a 25-minute World Odysseys DVD from from the library.

Even though it's not the capital anymore, Auckland is the biggest city in New Zealand so we went to YouTube to watch this 4k drone video of Auckland. The 11-year-old liked learning about the construction of the Sky Tower (kind of like the Sky Needle of the southern hemisphere) and the 5-year-old liked this video of people bungee jumping off it.

Since my 15-year-old loves languages and accents, we also watched a few fun YouTube videos here and here about the differences between a Kiwi accent and an Aussie accent (we learned about Australia a few summers ago.)

For dessert we made a pavlova, which is a cake we'd also made when "visiting" Australia but this time we topped it with kiwis, because New Zealand.

Feeling on top of things because I have a theme, but just wait for it.

As I remember it, our pavlova from Australia turned out pretty well, but I must have done something wrong this time because it came out of the oven resembling a pancake more than an actual cake.

Not at all what it's supposed to look like, not even a little bit.

So we did what Evanses do: shrugged, topped it with whipped cream, and ate it, anyway.

Tasted better than it looks.


The idigenous people of New Zealand are called the Maori. The rest of the world says "may-ORE-ee," but if you talk to anyone from New Zealand they'll tell you it's pronounced like "Mao" in "Chairman Mao." (I kept attempting to correct my pronunciation and half of the time ended up pronouncing it "Maury" like the 90's talk show host. At least I tried.)

We learned about the Maori people and culture with a book called The Maori of New Zealand and this NPR video of a Maori dance called the haka:

Facial tattoos were once a really important part of Maori culture, so after learning about who got tattooed and why, we looked at examples of what the tattoos looked like and designed some of our own.

(The more I look at this guy, the more sure I am he models for Abercrombie & Fitch.)


I gave the older kids a face without features so they could draw them in:


This one from my 11-year-old even captured the bug eyes and the snarl from the haka:

11-year-old (this one is definitely my favorite.)


After that, we watched Whale Rider, a movie set in modern-day New Zealand about a group of Maori struggling to keep their culture alive. (I was actually shocked to find out this was rated PG-13, I watched it with all the kids and it was totally fine.)

It was a gray day outside, and learning so much about Maori culture and thinking about colonization and assimilation all day made me a little gloomy, as you can see when Phillip texted me from work:

I wanted to try a traditional Maori meal for dinner, but since I didn't feel like digging up a 3' by 6' pit in our backyard for a hangi, I made pork and puha (sweet potato) and a loaf of Maori bread called rewena paraoa instead.

The bread is made from a fermented potato starter, which my daughter informed me smelled "like weird barf" as she was kneading it to get it ready for the oven.

I was proud that I even remembered to get the starter going a few days beforehand. Barely. I didn't remember until about 10:30 P.M. and I only had one potato instead of the three the recipe recommends, which I accidentally burnt while boiling because I was on Pinterest being extremely productive, but it turned out okay in the end.

A little helper of mine may or may not have dumped WAY too much salt in the pork and puha, so maybe we'll try it again sometime with the correct salt-to-broth ratio.

In a book called Land of the Long White Cloud: Maroi Myths, Tale and Legends, my 13-year-old reports finding a story that sounds like it was the basis of Moana.

I also gave my 15-year-old the novel I've been reading called Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All by Christina Thompson. It's half history lesson and half memoir, and it was really well done.

Fun to read in public so strangers ask what your book is called, then awkwardly move away slowly and avoid eye contact.


We started out by reading New Zealand ABCs by Holly Schroeder. According to the book, 'O' is for 'ocean,' so that's what we decided to focus on today.

We did the experiment detailed here to show the kids that saltwater is denser than freshwater.

The younger kids were too little to understand what density is, but they liked dropping the jewels in so at least they were occupied and happy for 10 minutes.

Then we watched this YouTube animation on just how deep the ocean goes, which was pretty cool.

Lastly, I wanted the younger kids to practice naming the oceans. The 3- and 5-year-olds played this free online game with the help of their older siblings to learn the names of the oceans and continents, while the the 7-year-old set herself up in front of the wall map and played this game.

I didn't know she'd want to keep playing it for so long, but it really held her attention.


One unusual thing about New Zealand is its wildlife. Most of it isn't found anywhere else in the world, and up until a few hundred years ago it was all just birds (many of them flightless) and the only mammals were two species of bats.

The kids liked this video about birds of New Zealand. Not only was it was narrated by a little boy, but they enjoyed his New Zealand accent:

The kiwi is the national bird of New Zealand, and it's one crazy animal. The nocturnal bird runs instead of flies, and its eggs are humongous in comparison with its body size. (Just Google "kiwi egg x-ray" and you'll see what I mean. I will never, EVER complain about being pregnant again.)

We watched a few mini-documentaries about the kiwi here and here, then watched another short video on Tiritiri Matangi, a predator-free island off the coast of New Zealand to protect endangered species.

After reading a picture book called Charlie and Kiwi: An Evolutionary Adventure that explained how kiwis evolved into what they are today, the kids were assigned age-appropriate kiwi activities.

The older three worked together to make a brochure about the kiwi for tourists:

The back of the pamphlet.

The 3- and 5- year old each made paper kiwis with the help of this template from Activity Village and some Googly eyes:

I can't handle the cuteness.

My 7-year-old is about at the age where I should teach her to sew, so we followed these instructions and she made her own stuffed kiwi with felt and buttons.

Again: stinking cute.

She was so proud of the finished product, it almost made me want to become a mom who regularly does crafts with her children. Almost.

Then I remembered what the table looked like after we were done.

Spoiler alert: no one wanted to help clean up afterward.

I also gave the kids the book Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot by Sy Montergomery. I'm not sure if any of them read it, but I think I get points for leaving it out for them, anyway.


New Zealand is covered with volcanoes, some of them still active. We checked out this map of NZ volcanoes and then headed out to the sandbox to make a volcano of our own.

We followed this tutorial, and had only slightly more success than we did last time.

The kids had fun, but our eruption just sort of bubbled over the top in slow-motion and was kind of... boring.

For some reason, pulling off a baking soda volcano is, in my mind, the benchmark of parenting success. It just seems like a classic thing to do with your kids.

But I've tried and failed enough times now to realize: I have many talents as a mother, but this isn't one of them. Embrace and accept.


When I woke up this morning, my head was throbbing and I was losing my voice. I'd planned to play some sports today (the most popular in New Zealand are rugby and cricket) but I could barely breathe through my nose, letalone run around tackling people.

Luckily Phillip stood in for me and read A Kiwi Year: Twelve Months in the Life of New Zealand's Kids. Then he showed the kids this video on the rules of rugby and this one on cricket and took them out to the backyard to play them.

Sort of. We modified the rules and played with whatever materials we had on hand, so what we did in no way resembled actual cricket or rugby.

Are we the first people ever to play two-hand touch rugby? Because that's what we did.

But the kids had fun and it turns out that Phillip was better suited for sports day than I would've been, anyway.

That night we put on a movie for the little kids and watched Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring with the big kids, because it was filmed in New Zealand. If you visit New Zealand you can actually take a tour of the Hobbiton set, FYI.

Our library copy of Lord of the Rings wasn't working, and by the time we finished monkeying with it, giving up on it, and renting the streamed version from YouTube, it was 45 minutes later than we wanted to start.
Please note the March date on this note I found inside the cover. Thanks for fixing it, guys. NOT.

So this article on the 23 New Zealand locations used in filming Lord of the Rings (and The Hobbit) and this map of where in the country they are will have to wait for another day.

All in all "visiting" New Zealand for the first week of our educational summer vacation was a success. With a lot of little fails rolled up in the middle. But that's life.

And if you're looking for an interactive short story for kids, I recommend checking out Kiwi Cannot Reach! by Jason Tharp. It's a fun book for beginning readers and makes a nice bedtime story, too.

Learning about New Zealand is fun and hands-on with these free crafts, ideas, and activities for kids! #newzealand #kiwi #maori #kids #educational
Putting together the perfect New Zealand lesson plan for your students? Are you doing an around-the-world unit in your K-12 social studies classroom? Try these free and fun New Zealand activities, crafts, books, and free printables for teachers and educators! #newzealand #kiwi #maori #lessonplan
This New Zealand unit study is packed with activities, crafts, book lists, and recipes for kids of all ages! Make learning about New Zealand in your homeschool even more fun with these free ideas and resources. #newzealand #maori #kiwi #kids #homeschool
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Unknown said...

Sounds like a great week. We decided after visiting that New Zealand was the most beautiful country in the world. It has every beautiful kind of natural feature that you can think of, some completely unique ones and was small enough to see much of it in 10 days. Plus a lot of sheep!

Heather said...

Great post! We are traveling to NZ next month and you gave some great ideas how to education my kids before we go. Thanks!

sufistiblog said...

The video about birds is actually definitely NOT narrated by a Kiwi boy. He sounds American to me! He also mispronounces the words "stoat" (as stout) and "kea" (should be keea) but that responsibility should have been the producers to ensure he got it right.