Collaborative Totem Poles

Cooperative building activities provide one of the most valuable learning experiences available for young children.


Play such as this stimulates learning in all domains of development, including intellectual, physical, and social-emotional and language.


In fact, current research shows that this type of instruction is fundamental for later cognitive success in mathematical and critical reasoning skills.


For this activity, we constructed totem poles out of boxes.


Students worked together in small groups, constructing elaborate totem poles that they enjoyed knocking down!



The Double-Hulled Canoe

Polynesia began with the voyaging canoe. More than three thousand years ago, the uninhabited islands of Samoa and Tonga were discovered by an ancient people called the Polynesians. With them were plants, animals, and a language with origins in Southeast Asia; and along the way they became a seafaring people.


Arriving in probably a few small groups, and living in isolation for centuries, they evolved distinctive physical and cultural traits. The islands of Samoa and Tonga became the cradle of Polynesia, and the center of what is now Western Polynesia.


Following their discovery of the West, Polynesians began exploring eastward (during times when winds shifted away from the prevailing easterlies) and discovered the Tahitian and Marquesas Islands.


From these centers of diffusion, explorers reached outward as far as Hawaii to the north, Easter Island to the east, and New Zealand to the southwest. The Polynesians’ primary voyaging craft was the double canoe made of two hulls connected by lashed crossbeams.


The two hulls gave this craft stability and the capacity to carry heavy loads of migrating families and all their supplies and equipment, while a central platform laid over the crossbeams provided the needed working, living, and storage space.


Sails made of matting drove this ancient forerunner of the modern catamaran swiftly through the seas, and long steering paddles enabled Polynesian mariners to keep it sailing on course. To help your little ones learn more about this, we created and played with our own double-hulled canoe!


Your little ones enjoyed stacking their Polynesian people (in our case, superheros and princesses) onto the “canoes” to see how many they would hold. After their vessels sunk, they would laugh and do it all over again!

Kona Coffee Play

The coffee industry of Hawaii is the only significant coffee industry in the United States of America (excluding territories).



While Hawaii is a relatively small producer of coffee, it is well known for its Kona varieties that can be harvested year-round.


To learn more about Kona coffee, we scooped and created our own (pretend) coffee drinks out of Hawaiian coffee grounds.


Sensory activities (such as these) facilitate exploration and naturally encourage young children to use scientific processes (such as measuring, observing and describing) while they play, create, investigate, and explore.


Sea Turtle Color Sort

Young children learn best by doing.



Because we are always talking about our colors, we practiced sorting sea turtles according to their color.



Using cardboard sea turtles and a Twister board, we placed sea turtles onto their matching color.


This activity fostered an array of pre-math skills, including sorting, classifying, and categorizing items by similar and contrasting characteristics.



Sand Castles

No Hawaiian theme would be complete without a sand castle building adventure!


Using kinetic sand, shovels and tiny buckets, we created several sculptures and adorned them with real shells!


We made several impressive architectural wonders such as Scooby Doo’s house, a choo choo train, and a fire truck.


There are many benefits to sand play, the first being the development of the sense of touch through the texture of the sand.


Sand play also develops the arm, wrist, and hand muscles, strengthening grasping and wrist control.


Lastly, while playing with sand, young children also experiment with concepts such as volume, weight, and measurement.


The Merwin Palm Tree Forest

Using cardboard tubes and green paper, we created a palm tree forest! Located in Maui, the Merwin Conservancy is a lush, tropical forest of palm trees.


We created our very own using our imaginations and a few simple objects.


For instance, each cardboard tube contained two slots (with which students were directed to fill with the “leaves” of the palm tree) that required your little one to think creatively and laterally. Following this, they were directed to place their palm trees onto a blue mat.


Lastly, we added birds and other animals to our forests to continue to fun!


This activity provided several developmental benefits as your little one sifted through the actions of cause and effect, hand to eye coordination, measurement (an important pre-math skill), and the opportunity to think practically about a specific task.


Exploding Coconuts

Your little ones love to explore with the many science activities that we do throughout the week.



These activities not only engage your child, but explain the physical properties of objects, teach cause and effect, and provide the necessary hands-on experience most conducive to learning.



Using baking soda and vinegar, we mixed them, and poured them into coconut halves.



Students then gazed with wonder, watching the fizzing bubbles as they oozed out of the coconut halves.





Monk Seal Habitats

The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the rarest marine mammals in the world. Part of the “true seal” family (Phocidae), they are one of only two remaining monk seal species.


Isolated from their closest relative 15 million years ago, Hawaiian monk seals are considered a “living fossil” because of their distinct evolutionary lineage.


Monk seals are primarily foragers, feeding on a variety of prey including fish, cephalopods, and crustaceans.


Monk seals live in the warm subtropical waters of Hawaii and spend two-thirds of their time at sea.


They use waters surrounding atolls, islands, and areas farther offshore on reefs and submerged banks. Monk seals are also found using deepwater coral beds as foraging habitat.


When on land, monk seals breed and haul-out on sand, corals, and volcanic rock. Sandy, protected beaches surrounded by shallow waters are preferred when pupping. Monk seals are often seen resting on beaches during the day.


For this activity, we created our very own monk seal habitats! Using toy seals, rocks, blue gel and sand, your little one created their very own sandy beach! This was the definite favorite for the week, as your little one applied their understanding of various vocabulary and newly acquired concepts.


Green Apple Coconut Trees

The coconut tree is considered one of the most useful trees in the world. The coconut fruit has water and milk which can be drunk and flesh that can be eaten. From the pulp coconut oil can be extracted.


The oil can be used in cooking, cosmetics and for lamp fuel. Coconut leaves can be used for weaving and thatching (for example, to make roofs). Coconut husks can be used for food bowls and the trunk to build all kinds of things.


To enable your budding coconut tree connoisseur to grasp a better understanding of these magnificent plants, we used pretzels and green apple slices to create our very own! When young children are given opportunities to prepare food, they are practicing a host of important life skills.


When they are given the ingredients to create their masterpiece, they are practicing listening skills. As they are instructed to add ingredients to create their treat, they are learning order of operations. Lastly, as they learn about new foods, they are acquiring new vocabulary, which promotes literacy.


Hatching Sea Turtles

No Hawaii unit would be complete without a study of sea turtles! Sea turtles spend most of their lives in the water, where not much information can be gathered on their behavior.

seaturtleMost of what is known about sea turtle behavior is obtained by observing hatchlings and females that leave the water to lay eggs. Sea turtles, like salmon, will return to the same nesting grounds at which they were born.


When females come to the shore they dig out a nest in the ground with their back flippers, bury their clutch of eggs and return to the ocean. After hatching, the young may take as long as a week to dig themselves out of the nest.


They emerge at night, move toward the ocean and remain there, solitary, until it is time to mate. To apply our understanding of this new information, we created a habitat for our sea turtle eggs, consisting of gravel for the water, rocks, shells, sea turtles, and clear jewels as our eggs.


Constructing a habitat can be a powerful educational tool. It not only provides a means to apply one’s understanding of new information, but conveys that information in an interesting and dynamic way that appeals to young learners.