Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying Indonesia

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Every week of summer vacation, my kids and I take an imaginary trip around the world. We learn everything we can about the geography, language, and culture of a place, which keeps the kids' brains active and gives them something to do other than fight over popsicles.

This week, my kids wanted to "travel" to Indonesia. I know basically nothing about Indonesia, so I learned a lot in preparation!

Knowing how my kids will read anything if it's in their line of sight, I left out the nonfiction book Indonesia from the Enchantment of the World series and a semi-educational graphic novel called Carmen SanDiego: The Sticky Rice Caper. I'm sneaky like that.


Indonesia is called "the Emerald of the Equator." Depending on who you're talking to, the country consists of between 13,000 to 18,000 islands. It's the 4th most populated country in the world.

We listened to a traditional Indonesian gamelan orchestra (which my daughter said reminded her a little of Minecraft music) while the kids found Indonesia on our giant wall map and filled out a passport page while I read parts of Indonesia from the Country Explorers series.

Download the Passport Pages

My 6-year-old felt that "Indonesia" contained too many letters to write and did not enjoy this exercise.

Next, the kids drew the Indonesian flag. It's the reverse of Poland's flag, which we did last summer, so the kids have been calling Indonesia "upside-down Poland" all week. I'm worried the younger ones might actually think it's called that now.

National flag of upside-down Poland.

After watching an animated video about Indonesia for the little kids, we watched a longer video that goes over the major islands of Indonesia one by one.

I gave each kid a blank map of Indonesia and had them label the different islands as the video named them. (My 12-year-old turned his into a paper airplane and the 4-year-old poked holes in it with a pencil, but everyone else seemed happy to comply.)

Then it was time to talk about a few parts of Indonesian culture I found interesting. We learned about hombo batu, an ancient ritual in Sumatra where young men jump over 6-foot walls. It was possibly less exciting to those of us who've spent a lot of time binge watching parkour videos on YouTube, but still impressive.

Then we dove into the world of Balinese dance with this video. We watched pendet, a dance done by girls to purify a temple. Then we watched baris, done by men about to go into battle:

Both dances were unlike anything my kids had ever seen before, and just watching the dancers' complicated hand motions gave me carpal tunnel.

For dinner we had tumpeng (Indonesian rice cones) with beef rendang. It wasn't as hard to make as the recipe led me to believe. It was a little bit of a time investment, but well worth it.

Definitely the most interesting-looking thing I've eaten all week.

My husband claims the beef rendang was the most flavorful thing he's ever eaten, which is really saying something because he's a total food snob.


Indonesia's official language, Bahasa Indonesia, is what kids learn in school and what official publications are printed in, but not many people use it as their first language. Most Indonesians prefer their regional dialects or languages instead.

We learned how to say "please" and "thank you" in Bahasa Indonesia and also how to count to 10. We reviewed it with this online Indonesian numbers game. After a few minutes, it really did help us commit the numbers to memory!

(The most widely-spoken language is Javanese, and we took a minute to do a Google images search for the Old Javanese alphabet. Today Javanese speakers use the Latin alphabet, but it really is a beautiful old style of calligraphy.)

We also learned about wayang kulit, an elaborate shadow puppet show accompanied by the gamelan orchestra. (Again with the gamelan orchestra. It's everywhere. I'm hearing it in my dreams.)

We watched a 2-minute documentary on wayang kulit. I intended to only show my kids a snippet of this 10-minute wayang kulit show but they wanted to watch the whole thing so that's what we did.

Then I gave them this list and told them to pick an Indonesian folk tale, and make their own wayang kulit to tell the story. Three of the kids took me up on it and I was truly impressed with the results.

What a mess.

Sheet taped across the doorway equals puppet theater.

I showed them this article to help them figure out how to make the puppets with hinged joints, which the younger kids played with for a ridiculous amount of time afterward.


Indonesia is a "megadiverse" country, meaning that it has not only a majority of Earth's species of plants and animals but also has species that aren't found anywhere else in the world.

Today, we wanted to learn more about some of those endemic species.

We looked up rafflesia, the world's biggest flower. As my daughter typed "world's biggest f-" into the YouTube search bar, the auto-complete feature suggested "world's biggest fart" and the kids had a field day. (We did NOT watch it, by the way, and instead chose to watch this one and this one.)

Then we looked up titan arum, better known as the corpse flower. This is the second Indonesian flower that looks freaky and smells like rotting meat.

We watched another video on the corpse flower, and then it was time to learn about something that would freak out my kids a little less. Or so I thought.

Turns out I didn't know very much about the komodo dragon, which is only found on a handful of Indonesian islands, because it's pretty weird, too.

I read Komodo Dragon: On Location to the younger kids while the older kids went online to research komodo dragons. Then they were supposed to either (1) write a "save the komodo dragons" informational brochure, or (2) write a story about a day in the life of a komodo dragon.

My 8-year-old's "day in the life" story was very thorough.

The 4- and 6-year-old colored pictures of komodo dragons I found online.

I also gave my kids the book How to Babysit an Orangutan by Tara and Kathy Darling, about raising orphaned baby orangutans at Camp Leakey in Borneo (Indonesia.) They loved the baby orangutans drinking out of bottles and acting like toddlers.

For dinner tonight, we had nasi goreng: Indonesian fried rice! I can't take credit for this one, as my husband did the cooking tonight.

Thumbs up from me.


There are 139 volcanoes in Indonesia. It's part of the Ring of Fire, so we read Ring of Fire by Leonard Hort to explain to the younger kids what that was.

My 14-year-old said one of her teachers made the class listen to Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" in its entirety when they learned about it in science, so I spared them that this time.

They did, however, insist that we watch Mr. DeMaio, who is as ridiculous as he is informative. Maybe more.

Then we covered three volcanic eruptions of historical importance that happened in Indonesia: Toba, Tambora, and Krakatoa.

In 70,000 BC, Mount Toba erupted in Indonesia and set off a global volcanic winter. The world's temperature dipped as many as 50 degrees for the next 3-10 years!

In 1815, Mount Tambora erupted and turned the next year into "the year without a summer." The kids perked up and said "Hey, that sounds familiar..." And they were right. A book about our church's history, actually starts with the Tambora eruption in 1815. The "year without a summer" is why our church's founder's family moved to New York, where our church was later organized in 1830. Guess we have more connections to Indonesia than we thought!

In 1883, the eruption of Mount Krakatoa is sometimes called the loudest sound in history. We watched a short video on it here and read The Krakatau Eruption.

As a hands-on activity, I thought it would be fun to make a volcano. But we'd already tried that a few summers ago and it was an abysmal failure. So I thought the Mentos and Diet Coke explosion might be a fun alternative.

Someone is taking a shower after this.


As a mom, my superpower is being wrong about what I think is going to be fun. The kids fought the whole time, got frustrated because the Mentos weren't sliding in right, complained because of the humidity and the bugs, and then it started raining at the end.

I'd been marinating some chicken satay since that morning, and once we were finished with the Mentos explosion Phillip fired up the grill.

While he was doing that, I grabbed a few kids to help me put together gado-gado, which literally means "mix mix" and is a platter of vegetables with peanut sauce.

Clockwise from top right: prawn chips, chicken satay, gado-gado, and peanut sauce.

It tasted divine and we basically smothered everything in leftover peanut sauce for the next two days until it was gone.


Even though Indonesia is mostly Muslim and has the world's biggest Muslim population, it isn't an Islamic state. So things are a bit different there than in many parts of the Middle East.

We reviewed what we knew about Islam with the book Islam from the Eyewitness Books series, and then decided to get more familiar with the five pillars of Islam.

There are five main tenets (called pillars) of Islam: shahada (profession of faith,) salat (prayer,) zakat (almsgiving,) sawm (fasting,) and hajj (pilgrimage.) You can read more about them here.

We decided to make literal 3D pillars representing each one. I printed out five Islamic patterns in black and white that I found with a Google image search, and the kids colored them while we talked about the five pillars.

When they were done, they each labeled their pillar and the sixth kid put 'ISLAM' on top of the pillars.

I had the perfect number of children for this activity.

Not a bad visual representation if I do say so myself.


This morning we played badminton, which is sometimes called the national sport of Indonesia. I'd been wondering if we should get a set so we could have something new to do around home this summer, and then when I learned this I went ahead and bought this net and these rackets.

(The rackets were more expensive than I'd like, but I knew my frustration-prone 4-year-old would have  instantly destroyed the cheap ones by throwing them on the ground.)

After attempting to play badminton, we tried our hand at batik dyeing.

Batik is an ancient method of fabric decoration in Java, Indonesia. It comes from the Javanese word tik, which means "dot."

It's a wax resist method, and if you've ever drawn with crayons on Easter eggs before dipping them in the dye then you already get the idea.

We've actually been doing batik egg dying at Easter for years, ever since we learned about it when "visiting" Ukraine for our Educational Summer Vacation in 2012. So we already had beeswax lying around and more or less understood the principle.

I didn't want to buy batik dye which can be expensive, so I got the cheap Rit all-purpose fabric dye. Or at least I tried to. At JoAnn, the shelves with the fabric dye looked like this:

Nothing but tumbleweeds in the fabric aisle.

I grabbed the few colors they had and decided we'd make do. At least it made for easy decision-making.

Using these instructions as our guide, we laid out our fabric squares, melted wax, painted the wax onto the squares with dollar store paintbrushes (they were a beast to clean off afterward and I probably should've just thrown them away.)

Melting the wax in a makeshift double boiler.

Wax designs on our fabric before the dye. We used black wax and white wax, but they both look the same when they're done.

Dipping the fabric into the dye.

The finished products.

The wax adhered better to some than others and turned out lighter on some of them.

After they dry, we're going to make them into face masks, since we'll need more when/if school starts again in the fall. (I anticipate my children losing their masks left and right, if they're anything like mittens and gloves.)

For dinner, I made soto ayam. That's fancy for Indonesian chicken noodle soup.

I've eaten more hard-boiled eggs this week than I usually do in a month.

It was okay. The spices added a new dimension to regular chicken noodle soup, but this recipe didn't really have any vegetables so it felt like something was missing.

Overall, we had a great time visiting Indonesia. We learned a lot, had some really good food, and did some fun activities. And no one enjoyed it more than my 6-year-old, who pelts unsuspecting people we meet with komodo dragon facts until they are literally searching for an escape route.
Learning about Indonesia and Bali is fun and hands-on with these free crafts, ideas, and activities for kids! #indonesia #bali #educational
Building the perfect Indonesia 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 Indonesia and bali activities, crafts, books, and free printables for teachers and educators! #indonesia #bali #lessonplan
This Indonesia unit study is packed with activities, crafts, book lists, and recipes for kids of all ages! Make learning about Indonesia in your homeschool even more fun with these free ideas and resources. #indonesia #bali #homeschool

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AnneMarie said...

I know next to nothing about Indonesia, so it is fun to read your post all about it! You always come up with such cool activities for learning about these countries. I'm going to have to check out those recipes-they look so cool, and it sounds like they tasted good too!

Katie said...

Thank you so much for sharing these ideas! I was just beginning to look for resources to do a unit study on Indonesia and this is perfect. :-) You saved me so much work!

Jenny Evans said...

Katie: Glad I could help. Good luck!