Saturday, July 24, 2021

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying Iceland

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Happy 10-year anniversary to The Educational Summer Vacation! You can read about how it all started here, but every summer my kids and I take the only kind of vacation around the world we can afford: the one in our minds. 

This week we "traveled" to Iceland, and here's how it went. 


After finding Iceland on our big wall map, the kids colored the national flag of Iceland and put it on the wall next to the previous years' flags.

Using the map, they filled out these free printable passport pages, while I read to them from a book called, appropriately, Iceland. Some of their favorite facts:
  • A person's last name is their father's first name followed by -dottir or -son. First names for babies must be approved by the government.
  • Many rock formations in Iceland are said to be trolls that turned into stone.
  • Jolabokaflod  is Icelandic for "Christmas book flood." To my kids' delight, Iceland is a country of bookworms. You can read more about Jolabokaflod  here.
We then watched a DVD called Iceland: Countries Around the World. Whenever we "visit" a new country I always check if the library has one of the DVDs from this series. They're 15 minutes long and follow the day in the life of a child from that country. They're fantastic!

(I briefly considered showing the kids some Bjork videos, but ultimately decided that they thought the '90s were weird enough already. No need to prove it.)

That night we had Icelandic cocoa soup for dessert, which was basically hot chocolate but less sweet. I liked it, but the kids asked for marshmallows.


The Icelandic alphabet has 32 letters, many of which we don't have in English. I printed out this for the kids to color while we watched a very helpful Icelander pronouncing each one. (He starts at 50 seconds in.)

I loved the 9-year-old's creativity. She made the 'B' into an Icelandic flag and the 'O' into an arctic fox (the only native land mammal to Iceland.) I think she ran out of Iceland-themed ways to decorate the rest of the letters, though, because this was only our second day learning about the country.

The coloring occupied the kids long enough for us to practice counting from 1 to 10 in Icelandic and watch this video on how Iceland is attempting to fight language extinction.

I think it's pretty awesome that Iceland is so active in trying to preserve their language. In fact, it's so close to Old Norse that the 10-year-old girl in yesterday's video could roughly translate 1,000-year-old Icelandic sagas well enough to get the gist of what was going on.

(For comparison's sake, try that with Beowulf in Old English, which was written about the same time. I dare you.)

For more on the language, this article is a fun one. I had the kids guess at some of the compound words Iceland has invented to avoid incorporation foreign words, like sjónvarp  ("light" + "projection" = "television") and ísskápur  ("ice" + "closet" = "fridge.") 

Then just for fun, we watched this fun karaoke video. I actually got really excited to hear some words I recognized already.

Did you hear when he said Plokkfiskur at the end? Well, that's what we had for dinner tonight. (My 5-year-old kept calling it 'plock-fister.')

Plokkfiskur  is an Icelandic fish stew and served with rye bread. None of the kids were crazy about it, although it seemed pretty unoffensive to me. 

In any case, it seemed way more palatable than traditional Icelandic food like fermented shark. Maybe I should've started with that.


Iceland is called "The Land of Fire and Ice," and today we learned why: the country is famous for its volcanoes and its glaciers. 

The Vatnajökull is the biggest and most famous glacier in Iceland, as we learned in this video. Apparently 11% of Iceland is covered in glaciers.

There are also lots of volcanoes in Iceland, since it's sitting on the Mid-Atlantic ridge. There are actually 30 active volcanoes there now, and Iceland experiences a volcano eruption about every 5 years. We watched a little bit of this video and looked at the pictures in Life on Surtsey by Loree Griffin Burns to learn about a new island off Iceland that was created by an eruption in 1963.
Also, no visit to Iceland (real or imaginary) would be complete without the Northern Lights. This beautiful YouTube video about the folklore surrounding the Northern Lights and the science behind them was a must-watch:

Our world is so cool, you guys.

My 17-year-old was nice enough to let us use her art pastels for this project, and the finished products turned out to be so amazing. They're hanging in the dining room right now and I love having them up there.

When everything was finally cleaned up, I quietly left the book Northern Lights out on the table. I know my kids, and if it's there they will definitely read it.

For dinner, we had breaded lamb chop with spiced red cabbage and carmelized potatoes. Well, sort of. I could only find ground lamb at my grocery store so I made do with veal. They're both baby animals... that makes them the same, right?

Don't answer that.

Tonight's bedtime story was Stúfur and the Snowman. It was a silly story the little kids enjoyed, but my favorite part was the blurb at the beginning explaining Icelandic Christmas traditions. 

In Iceland they don't have Santa Claus, they have the Yule Lads: 13 Christmas men who visit one at a time on the 13 days before Christmas to leave gifts in children's shoes if they've been good. Naughty children get a potato, to which all six of my kids yelled, "I want a potato!" (Now at least I know what kind of behavior to expect for the next 5 months.)


This was the day we learned about Iceland's history, which my 13-year-old had been waiting for all week. 

When I was prepping last week, he watched this video on the Cod Wars with me and thought it was so hilarious he started programming a video game on Scratch featuring two dueling codfish. (There are no shortage of funny YouTube videos on the Cod Wars, incidentally. I guess I should expect this with a quirky war bearing a humorous-sounding name.)

Actually, he drew this first, which gave him the idea for the game.

Then we learned about the Viking explorer Leif Eriksson, watching part of a Globe Trekker DVD from the library and reading the book Who Was Leif Eriksson? 

To make the idea of being an explorer a little more hands-on, we talked about how it's important for explorers to be able to know which direction they're going. The older kids taught the younger ones how to use a compass, then conveniently disappeared when I announced we were going on a walk in the woods behind our house. 

We often walk on this trail, but this time I stopped periodically and asked the kids to consult the compass to find which direction we were facing. The rest of the time I spent yelling at them to keep out of the poison ivy on the sides of the trail.


Today was dedicated to learning about Iceland's animals.

We looked at pictures of Icelandic ponies in this book, and my horse-riding daughter told us what differences she noticed between them and the Quarter Horse she rides at her barn.

Then we read about arctic foxes, but mostly my 9-year-old wanted to tell us everything she knew about them from recently doing an arctic fox report in school.

We also looked up some short and sweet puffin facts for kids. Did you know that 60% of the world's puffins live in Iceland? (They're also eaten as a delicacy there, which we didn't dwell on too much.)

The older kids made some cute penguin/puffin bookmarks (especially appropriate since Icelanders love books so much) following this tutorial.:

The crossed eyes kill me every time.

Meanwhile, the 5- and 7-year-olds did this quick and easy science experiment about why puffins don't get wet. 

I wasn't sure how into it they'd be, but I think I underestimated the appeal of the spray bottle. They could have done this all day.

We also made ice cream. Icelanders love their ice cream, so we kind of had to. Because learning.

I've always been scared of ice cream recipes that call for eggs, but I found this peach ice cream recipe and decided that the whole purpose of The Educational Summer Vacation is to learn new things so it was time to try it.

Unfortunately, we thought the resulting ice cream was a little bland and definitely not worth the effort.


For our last day, we talked about two popular sports in Iceland: glima and handball. 

Glima is a type of Scandinavian wrestling said to be handed down from the Vikings. We watched this video to learn about it, but only the first 2 minutes before it goes into the glima wrestler's life story.

Handball is the national sport of Iceland. I didn't know anything about it, but this video explained it as sort of a mixture of basketball, soccer, and ice hockey. 

With plenty of modifications, we went to the yard and played a crude makeshift version of handball. (The kids asked if we could try glima instead and I was like haha no.)

Do you remember those pictures of Ridiculously Photogenic Guy running a marathon? Throwing this ball is my Ridiculously Photogenic Mom moment.

I'm sure it bore little resemblance to the actual game of handball, but we all had fun and no one quit and stomped in the house crying, so I think it was a huge success.

Our week "visiting" Iceland was a lot of fun: we got outside, made some wall art, and learned a lot of new things. We didn't get around to watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which was partially set and filmed in Iceland. I can see almost all of my kids finding it entertaining (even if they also find it a little weird,) so hopefully we can still squeeze it in next week.  
crafts, ideas, and activities for kids! #Iceland #educational

Building the perfect Iceland 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 Iceland activities, crafts, books, and free printables for teachers and educators! #Iceland #lessonplan

This Iceland unit study is packed with activities, crafts, book lists, and recipes for kids of all ages! Make learning about Iceland in your homeschool even more fun with these free ideas and resources. #Iceland #homeschool
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Unknown said...

When you were talking about volcanoes my mind went to that movie. Its on my top ten of all time movies. Hope you get to it. Mom

Unknown said...

P.S. Also loved Northern Light art work, compass walk and of course the Cod Wars

Ann-Marie said...

My Mom is actually going to Iceland in August. This is fantastic! I always enjoy reading what you guys are learning about :)

AnneMarie said...

Iceland is one of the countries we're planning to study this year for homeschooling, so this post is very handy! I will be referencing this for sure :) (one of the other moms at our church has a strong Icelandic heritage, so I already warned her that I'll also be asking her loads of questions too)