Monday, May 18, 2015

Solving maths problems can be fun!

I'm a big believer that there is fun to be found in any task, and as a teacher and a parent - I'm always looking for fun ways to teach and get my girls to practice things.

Just now, we're doing practice with maths problems written in words. To improve a skill, it is important to practice that skill regularly - just like exercising a muscle. 

Practice makes perfect.

Just doing written maths problems isn't that much fun - but I decided to add in a purpose to solving the problems to make my kids want to practice.

I remembered we had a spare combination padlock, which has sat unused in a drawer for a couple of years!
This is one of those padlocks that you can change the combination to whatever number you want, as many times as you want.

So I decided to use this padlock and change the combination to be the answer to maths problems.

As I love sewing and creating new things, I decided to make a little fabric box with loops at the top, that I can loop the padlock through to 'lock' it.

 You could use any kind of container that you can add a lock to. Even an old cereal box with holes punched in could be adapted!

Each day, I plan to put some kind of reward inside the box, perhaps a treat, or a 'voucher' with a reward on like 'get out of stacking the dishwasher today'.

 Then I'll lock it up with the padlock (having set the code for the day) - and leave a word number puzzle for the girls to solve to find the code to unlock the padlock.
The only way they will be able to unlock the box is if they get the maths puzzle answer correct!

I think sometimes I'll give them a puzzle to work out together, and sometimes individual ones. Using this 'unlock the prize' I can give them problems to solve each day - maybe even one in the mornings and the evenings, giving them regular 'exercise' for those problem solving muscles.

Here's what I left for them today when they came home from school. I baked some gingernut cookies - so their reward when they solved the problem was one of those each!
Success! They both did the puzzle and managed to unlock their prize!

What do you think of this idea?

What ways have you found to make maths fun for your kids?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Sweet sushi

In the recent school holidays our girls made some fun sweet sushi to share with their friends when they came to visit.

It was a very messy and sticky process to make, and our second batch made with the aircon on turned out much better. The heat and humidity made things melt a little and so construction was a bit tricky!

Basically, the 'rice' is rice crispie cereal mixed together with melted butter and marshmallows. The 'seaweed' to wrap around the rice is fruit roll ups (we could only find multicoloured, no plain green), and the fillings are various jelly sweets.

The result did look pretty good - after it had been refrigerated and presented on a nice dish.

Our guests were super impressed and the kids certainly enjoyed eating the sweet sushi treats!
 (they were a little too sweet for the adults!)

This was another fun activity to do, and was part of a challenge we set ourselves in the holidays to do a little something Japanese each day!

Have you ever tried sweet sushi?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Jianzi - Featherball or Chinese Hacky Sack

On our recent trip to Asia we found these 'shuttlecocks' in Vietnam, where they are used to play a version of Hacky Sack. We saw people using them playing in the streets, but also discovered that there is an official game played with them. The game is called "da cau" and means "kick shuttlecock". The game is similar to Badminton, played on a rectangular court divided by a net, and is in fact the national sport of Vietnam!

The game is believed to have originated in Vietnam in the 5th century BC, when it was used as a military training exercise. 

We saw many people playing this game in the streets in Hanoi - like this:

We have been trying to play it with the featherball we bought in Vietnam, but we aren't quite this skilled yet.

It's a great way to practice and improve hand-eye and foot-eye co-ordination. It's good for your eye-muscles, agility, body control and balance.  Practising this is a great fun way to improve all sorts of physical skills that can be transferred to other sports. 
Our girls both play hockey - so any practice watching and reacting to a ball of any kind should help them in that.
Euan and I both do a lot of trail running where agility is really important as you run over plenty of roots and rocks, so it should prove beneficial to us too.

Looks like we've found a new family game to play in the garden!

Have you ever played any kind of 'hacky sack'? or even the Vietnamese version?

Monday, April 27, 2015

How to practice Japanese numbers in a fun way

Our girls learn Japanese at school. They started in prep (aged 4) and have had 2 lessons each week throughout junior school. 
Both girls enjoy learning a new language.

Our eldest moved up to high school this year and for the first half of the year she doesn't have any Japanese lessons - instead she is studying French. Although she enjoys the challenge of learning a third language, she doesn't want to forget the Japanese she has learnt so far.

In the recent school holidays we found some time to practice Japanese together. One game we played to do this was Bingo!

It was a nice simple game to play and a great way to practice both listening to and speaking the numbers in Japanese. 

We played mostly with 3 of us, sometimes 4, and all helped each other with the numbers.  It was definitely a great way to practice the numbers - it was more about playing a fun game than 'studying'.  Perhaps we might use it for French too in the future!

Have you ever played bingo in another language?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Global Food Education - Jamie Oliver's crusade

Last weekend we took our elder daughter on a bush walk. It was an 11 km walk and was quite challenging. We spent 3 and a half hours walking, admiring the beautiful views, looking at the interesting plants and enjoying some family time spent out in the fresh air.  On our drive home afterwards, we used some free vouchers we had to get McDonalds burgers, chips and coke.

Did we just spoil all that good exercise we just did? Are we sending the wrong message to our kids - rewarding them for exercise with fast food?  I don't believe so - I think balance is the key, if you have that, then kids can have treats and fast food so long as it's the exception rather than the rule. 

I've had conversations with other mums who won't let their kids drink coke, or have thing like chocolate cereal. Our kids do get sweet treats,  drink coke and eat fast food, but they have an overall healthy balanced diet and plenty of exercise and fresh air.

However it's not just about what we do and don't let our kids eat, it's about an understanding of what our bodies need, and educating our kids to make the right choices in terms of their health.

The obesity epidemic

1 in 4 Australian children are overweight or obese.

Shocking statistic isn't it?
We really need to take care of our children and educate them to ensure the best possible future for all of us.

Overfed and Undernourished

I recently read about a documentary film - Overfed and Undernourished, which follows an 11 year boy from Brisbane who was battling obesity. He moved in with his aunt and uncle who helped him to change his diet and lifestyle. In 3 months he lost 20 kg and became more active and and confident.  It's not so much a story of weight loss and diet, but of showing a lifestyle change that it is possible for others to make to fight, in particular, childhood obesity. Learning about the food we eat, taking control by learning how to cook it ourselves, and in addition becoming active. In short, how to lead a healthy active lifestyle.

Jamie Oliver's crusade

Jamie Oliver is well known for trying to educate people on healthy eating having made many TV shows helping people learn how to cook, and also trying to change school meals to become healthier.

Now, Jamie Oliver has just launched a global petition to fight for better food education in schools. This petition is starting in Australia, and yes I have signed it, but is, as its title suggests, it is a worldwide petition. His aim is to create a large enough movement to make G20 governments take action to combat the obesity epidemic the western world is facing.

Education is the key to better, healthier lifestyles for our kids. And Jamie Oliver is providing a great platform for this to start and continue to grow.

Food Revolution Day 2015

On May 15th this year, Food Revolution Day will take place around the world. This event started in 2012 and is growing each year. Last year's Food Revolution Day saw over 9000 events held in over 121 countries! People get together to hold cooking classes, events and dinners aiming to encourage good and healthy eating for all.

If you still need convincing of the need for this food revolution - please watch Jaime Oliver's TED talk from 2010. It's just 20 minutes long, but very powerful and clearly explains the problem and what needs to be done, can be done and is already being done!
I'm certainly going to get our girls aware of and involved in Food Revolution Day this year. Perhaps we can get their school involved, but at the very least they will be cooking and learning more about healthy food with me at home.

Visit Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Site to see how you can get involved in this great movement - by signing the petition, educating your own kids, or something bigger!

What will you do?

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Top 10 Riddles for kids

Riddles are questions posed so you have to actually think, perhaps use deduction and certainly think logically and laterally to find a solution.
As a kid, I could never remember riddles or jokes but loved the idea of them and whenever someone had memorised a bunch of them, I used to love guessing.  There are two main kinds of riddles, the more serious kind, using logic and intelligence and the other that force you to be ‘street smart.’

This is one of my favourites from the latter category.

If a plane is flying from Venezuela to Columbia and disaster befalls it. There is a terrible crash and the plane lands exactly on the border between the two countries. In which country do they bury the survivors?

(Answers to all riddles are found at the bottom of this post.)

The rest of my Top 10 for kids would be:

You are a bus driver.  At the first stop on your bus route, 4 people get on, at the second stop 8 people get on, at the third stop 2 people get off and at the fourth stop everyone got off.  The question is, what colour are the bus driver’s eyes?

One day, a father went to his three sons and told them that he would die soon and he needed to decide which one of them to give his property to. He decided to give them all a test. He said, 
"Go to the market my sons, and purchase something that is large enough to fill my bedroom, but small enough to fit in your pocket. From this I will decide which of you is the wisest and worthy enough to inherit my land." 
So they all went to the market and bought something that they thought would fill the room, yet was still small enough that they could fit into their pockets. Each son came back with a different item. The father told his sons to come into his bedroom one at a time and try to fill up his bedroom with whatever they had purchased. 
The first son came in and put some pieces of cloth that he had bought and laid them end to end across the room, but it barely covered any of the floor. 
Then the second son came in and laid some hay, that he had purchased, on the floor but there was only enough to cover half of the floor. 
The third son came in and showed his father what he had purchased and how it could fill the entire room yet still fit into his pocket. The father replied, 
"You are truly the wisest of all and you shall receive my property." What was it that the son had showed to his father?

If there are three oranges and you take away two, how many will you have?

What gets wetter the more it dries?

If you drop a yellow hat in the Red sea, what does it become?

A box without hinges, key, or lid, Yet golden treasure inside is hid.

What can run but never walks,
Has a mouth but never talks,
Has a bed but never sleeps
And has a head but never weeps?

Each morning I appear
To lie at your feet
All day I will follow you
No matter how fast you run
Yet I nearly perish in the mid day sun.
What am I?

Three guesses, What have I got in my pocket?

Do you have any favourite riddles? Feel free to leave them in the comments and see if anyone can guess the answers!


10.  Silly- they don’t bury the survivors.
9. You are the bus driver- the same colour as yours!
8. The son had showed his father a match. Whenever he lit the match, it filled the entire room with light, yet it was still small enough to fit into his pocket.
7. Two (you took two)
6. A towel
5. Wet
4. An egg
3.  A river
2. Your shadow
1. Good question- a magic ring? - from The Hobbit

Monday, March 30, 2015

Elephant Nature Park - Chiang Mai, Thailand

In January, as part of our trip Backpacking in Asia with our kids, we visited the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand for a day.

On past trips to Thailand we have had elephant rides, but this was totally different and opened our eyes to elephants in Thailand.

Elephant Nature Park is an elephant rescue and rehabilitation centre where you can visit and volunteer to help the plight of the animals - elephants, dogs, cats and even buffaloes and other animals.

Lel Chailert founded the park in 1996 as a sanctuary for rescued elephants. Visitors come to the park to see the elephants in their natural environment rather than in a show or for rides.  You can feed the elephants, 

help bathe them in the river 
and observe and learn about them.

We learned about how elephants are a part of Thailand's culture, economy and history. Elephants were used heavily in the logging industry until 1989 when logging was banned in Thailand. Many families who owned elephants to help with their logging work, suddenly found themselves with a huge burden of an elephant to take care of and feed, but no income to do so with. Many people sold their elephants into tourism as a result or the elephants were neglected and suffered accordingly.
Lek has dedicated her life to helping elephants and this sanctuary is an amazing ongoing achievement and a shining example of what one person can achieve.

During our visit to the park, we also watched a video that showed what elephants in Thailand go through to become trained for rides and tourist shows. We saw a video of "the training crush" where elephants are forced into a cage a tied there so they cannot even sit down. They remain there for days, sometimes being beaten or stabbed to 'break' them and make them more obedient.  It was horrific and heartbreaking to see the way these animals are treated, and made us re-think our views on elephant rides, no matter how well the animals appear to be treated.

We also heard and saw the stories of the elephants at the sanctuary and why they are there. Stories of elephants being forced to work when heavily pregnant and losing their babies as a result, also terrible cases of abuse and beatings.

But being at the sanctuary for the day and seeing the great work that is being done to care for these amazing animals, seeing all the volunteers who are helping to feed and care for them and the tourists who are happy to pay their money just to be close to the elephants, and feed and bathe them; gave us hope for the future of elephant 'tourism' in Thailand.
 Lek is leading the way in a change in elephant tourism in Thailand.  Other elephant parks are beginning to follow suit and change their practices after seeing the success of the Elephant Nature Park as a tourism venture.  
When we went, it was booked out a week in advance and we were just lucky to get in thanks to a last minute cancellation.

Our girls loved being around all the animals - not just the elephants but also the many dogs and cats around the park.

It was a great experience for them to be so close to the animals, but to also learn about the reality of animal tourism.  
We spent the day getting close to the elephants but at the same time learning to respect them and be safe around them. The steel hook that many mahout use to control the elephants when tourists ride them or have photos taken with them are not used at the Elephant Nature Park. Instead the elephants are treated with respect and love and there is no need to stab or prod them into submission.

I would highly recommend a visit to the Elephant Nature Park if you ever head to Chiang Mai in Thailand. A great place for the elephants and such a rich experience for the tourists. There is also an option to go and stay there for a week as a volunteer to help take care of the animals. Our girls have their eye on this possibility when they're older and it is certainly something we could encourage.

Have you ever had any experience of animal tourism? 
We'd love to hear of any similar places in other parts of the world.

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