Saturday, February 11, 2012

"But What About School?"

...said the nice lady seated next to me at the luau. She was a retired teacher, and very curious about how our kids could be on a two-week vacation in late January.

"Oh, we take school wherever we go," I said.

That's my stock answer for anyone who asks. It usually satisfies the asker, because they are likely to imagine anything they want. They can envision whatever "school" means to them, whether it's reading, writing research papers, or maybe even doing workbooks back in the hotel room.

But the truth is, we didn't spend one second on "school" during our trip. We didn't even research Hawaii before the trip, something that we usually do before we travel.

I just didn't have time to put together a Hawaii unit, and to be honest, I didn't feel like turning what was supposed to be our vacation into a "unit" anyway.

So, what about school? Well...

I'll admit that the cheesy hotel luau was a rather inauthentic introduction to Hawaiian culture.

It was also loads of fun! We enjoyed the music, dancing and food, and after it was over, my family was singing Going to a Hukilau for days! (You'd be surprised how much Hawaiian vocabulary you can learn from that silly song!)

But the lau laus with pork and omo were way better at the roadside plate lunch shack! The meats are steamed in the taro leaves, which resemble cooked spinach or collard greens. Trust me, this picture doesn't do it justice--it was absolutely ono, or delicious!

Rice and macaroni-potato salad are traditional, as is a giant shave ice for dessert!


Dude tried mango and lychee nut, and loved both. Dad fell in love with liliko'i (passion fruit) and Super had her favorites, strawberry and lime. I went for pineapple with coconut cream on top! Pure happiness!

Shave ice machine

Here is a shave ice machine, by the way. We got to watch one in action and it was fascinating.

One of our stops was the Punalu'u Bake Shop in Na'alehu (the southernmost bakery in the United States!) We tried their malasadas, taro rolls, and traditional Hawaiian sweet bread. We also toured their small botanic garden, and I finally met one of my favorite celebrities in person:

Coffea arabica, I am your biggest fan! :-)

Later we were able to visit a coffee plantation and co-op where we learned much more about coffee, how it changes from ripe, red coffee cherries to a cup of hot coffee, and how this plant has influenced Hawaii's history.

Other highly influential plants: sugar cane and pineapples!

Here is a cute little baby pineapple. Doesn't look like it could change history, does it? We discussed exactly how Hawaii became an American territory and then state, learning about Queen Lili'ukalani along the way. (If you're interested, here is a great book on the subject.)

Here is King Kamehameha, who is credited with uniting the Hawaiian islands into one kingdom.

The Punalu'u Bake Shop also had some fun and informative murals. This one shows the traditional luau foods and gives their Hawaiian names.

We actually got to try most of these at the hotel luau, including poi. (My kids' verdict: not terrible, but they're not going to miss it, either.)

We saw hala, or screwpine trees all over the island, and we learned how the Polynesians used this versatile tree.

When these hala seed pods ripen fully, they will open, revealing a fuzzy, bristly end. The Hawaiians used them for paintbrushes long ago. The long leaves of the hala tree were used to make baskets, mats and clothing, and to thatch roofs.

Not surprisingly, Hawaiian culture is very influenced by Asian countries. Super and Dude were both excited to see Ganesha, one of their favorite Hindu deities in this lush garden.

We also saw various statues of Buddha on the island. This one was my favorite. He looks very serene, listening to the ocean and the wind in the palm trees.

We saw tons of interesting wildlife. I promise, I won't bore you with a million photos, but indulge me a few! I was quite proud of catching this quick little gecko! Isn't he spectacular?

Go ahead, ask my kids anything about the nene. They were absolutely fascinated by the rarest goose in the world, who also happens to be the state bird of Hawaii. We learned that nenes are descended from Canada geese, who probably were blown off course during migration and ended up in Hawaii. The nene has adapted to the Hawaiian environment; it spends very little time in the water and has feet better suited for walking on lava rocks!

This crab did not appreciate me taking a picture while he was trying to enjoy his fish. We saw several different types of crabs, all of them very camera-shy!

The sea turtles were more mellow, though.

Sea turtle facts, courtesy of the kids:

They are named green sea turtles not because of the color of their shell, but because their diet turns their insides green. They eat sea plants and jellyfish. The sea turtles in Finding Nemo aren't realistic because adult sea turtles don't actually take care of their young. It's against the law to bother a sea turtle and you should never touch one! People have bacteria on their skin that can make a turtle sick.

Green sea turtles are endangered for a lot of reasons, but one important reason is that plastic bags floating on the water look like jellyfish. Once a sea turtle has ingested a plastic bag, it will die. If you care about saving sea turtles, try not to use plastic bags. If you have to throw away a plastic bag, tie it in knots so it won't float on the water like a jellyfish.

Plastic bags aren't the only problem, either. Tons of trash wash up on Hawaiian beaches every year! The lovely sand in this jar was scooped up from a Hawaiian beach--wouldn't you love to walk barefoot in that?

We learned a lot about ocean ecology at the small-but-interesting Mokupapapa Discovery Center in Hilo. And we were very excited to hear more about the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

There were lots of cool exhibits at the discovery center. Dude enjoyed using the robotic arm to pick up small objects. This simulates what it would be like to operate a submersible.

Super was saddened by this exhibit: it shows the trash found in one albatross chick's stomach. She left the center with new resolve to fight pollution and clean up our beaches!

Speaking of ocean ecology...this is a humpback whale turning over in the water--can you see the pectoral fins sticking up? This was our third time to go whale watching, and definitely the most spectacular! This frisky whale put on quite a show, turning and breaching for us.

Humpback facts, courtesy of Super:

The humpback whale is the official marine mammal of the state of Hawaii. They are baleen whales, so they have two blowholes. They feed in the cold northern water, and they breed and give birth in the warm waters of the equator. No one has ever recorded a humpback giving birth, but two humpback placenta have been studied by scientists.

They live in groups called pods and the pods usually migrate together. After the female gives birth, sometimes a male will follow and and protect her; he is called an escort. He does this so he can have a chance to mate with her after she raises her baby.

Humpbacks have the longest flippers of any cetacean. They can't stick their tongues out so when a baby nurses from its mother, it doesn't suck the milk but pushes it into its mouth. Grown humpbacks eat small schooling fish and krill.

There are approximately 70,000 humpbacks today and most of them migrate to the Hawaiian islands during the winter.

The Hawaiian islands were created by a hot spot right smack in the middle of the Pacific plate. In fact, the islands are still being created! Lava stopped flowing into the ocean late last year, but it is probably building up pressure under the ground, and will start to flow again in a few months. All the new land created by lava belongs to the state of Hawaii, by the way.

Hawaii Island topographic map-en-loihi

About 20 miles off the coast of Hawaii, the newest island in the archipelago is under construction. Lo'ihi still has about 3,000 feet to grow before it reaches the water's surface. The kids wondered if tourists might be visiting Lo'ihi in 30,000 to 50,000 years!

It was very exciting (and a teensy bit unnerving) to see the steam and smoke coming out of the still-active Kilauea crater.

And here it is at night. It lit the whole sky with an eerie, orange-pink glow.

Glad we didn't experience anything more exciting than smoke and steam during our visit! But we did see evidence of what the Hawaiian goddess Pele can do...

Uh, yeah, ya think?

This used to be a community called Kalapana Gardens. We didn't visit the other side of this lava flow, but apparently you can still see some abandoned structures, and the houses that were spared by Pele!

More evidence of Pele: when lava bursts into the air and cools as it falls, it creates Pele's tears. These are smooth, glassy bits of obsidian.

The Hawaiians have words for the different types of lava. This is smooth pahoehoe lava. It was thick and flowed slowly, making odd, rounded shapes. It was iridescent in the sunlight and felt a little like walking on glass.

Another type of lava, a'a, is sharp and craggy. It was thrust into the air as it cooled, creating tall, angular shapes. Poor Dad--he demonstrated how unpleasant it is to fall down on a'a lava! Ouch!

This is what it looks like when lava actually flows up a tree trunk and solidifies...

And this is what happens when the lava is so hot, it evaporates the tree, leaving a hole where the roots were!

Pele's hair is another fascinating form of lava.

We learned about seismology and watched as the seismographs collected data.

We also learned about "vog" and the harmful gases that Kilauea and the surrounding steam vents produce. Every day the rangers at Volcanoes National Park post an air quality report and a seismic activity report.

When the native Hawaiians weren't avoiding lava and noxious gases, they were trying not to break the kapu, or very strict religious taboos. Breaking kapu was punishable by death, unless...

You could make your way to a place of refuge! We visited Pu'uhonua o Honaunau historical park and learned about the perilous journey that one might have to make to escape execution. After the kahunas performed sacred rites, a person would be allowed to return to his or her family.

The yellow hibiscus is Hawaii's state flower, but...

...we saw more o'hi'a trees, sometimes filled with the songs of honeycreepers!

Super really enjoyed putting a disposable underwater camera into the tide pools. We haven't developed the photos yet, so it will be interesting to see what she caught.

Here are Dude and Dad looking down on the enormous volcanic crater.

And here is the idea map we made about Hawaii when we got home. We could have added lots more but we ran out of posterboard!

So...what about school?


Susan said...

Travel and experiences like this, shared as a family, are the best kind of "school" there is!! Looks like a fantastic time!!

Freedom Five said...

wow!what a great time! And seems like a great learning experience as well. Better than any school. Looks like great food too! Always my fav part.

Jessica said...

I love to travel with my family for this very reason....."school" is everywhere YOU are. Not the other way around! This looks like an amazing trip. I hope to take it one day!

Karen said...

Agree with Susan 100%. What a great experience. I learned so much just reading it and you all actually experienced it. I love the Buddha by the ocean and the sea turtles and the food. I just love all of it. Can't wait to see Super's underwater pictures. Kei has been wanting to buy one of those and try it out.

Sara said...

The world is your classroom! It looks like a great family trip and a great way to do "school".

MamaTea said...

"So...what about school?" was the PERFECT ending to this post. I don't know about you, but I'm thinking if you would have spent the time coming up with a "unit" about Hawaii...would it have been nearly as awesome as all the fabulous super cool things you just happened to see there? Amazing. I think I learned more about Hawaii in this post than I probably have (or will) from any unit. So, about school? ;)

Sparklee said...

Thanks, everyone! It was fun, but we are very happy to be home! (And do a bit of "schoolish" stuff after a nice break!)

liese4 said...

Pineapple have fibonacci numbers in their spirals and we see that statue every Monday on Hawaii five-0!
Grace says cool about the whales though.

Kirsty @ Bowerbird Blue said...

ooooooh that looks like one amazing trip, and one amazing idea map.