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.

Friday, March 27, 2015

News programmes for kids - Behind the News

Do your kids watch the news or read the newspapers?  How do they start out? Diving straight into adult news reports can be difficult, intimidating or just downright boring for kids. So how do you get them interested and learning about what is happening in the world around them?

The News when I was a kid

Growing up in the UK in the 1980s I used to watch John Craven's Newsround. This was the world's first TV news programme aimed specifically at children. It was shown at the end of the children's programmes each weekday afternoon. This programme still runs today, although John Craven himself has retired from the show which is now just called "Newsround". I used to look forward to watching this show. It was interesting and I learned a lot that then enabled me to watch the news with my mum and dad and understand more about what was going on.

Australian TV News for kids

Here in Australia, the ABC has a children's news programme on each day, "3 News" which is aimed at younger children. There is then a weekly news programme aimed at upper primary and secondary children, called BTN (Behind the News).

I first came across BTN when I was teaching English as a foreign language and used it for listening exercises with my students. Our girls then began to watch it sometimes at their primary school, and recently we've rediscovered it via their website where you can watch all the stories, take quizzes and polls, and even learn how to become a reporter yourself.
There are also teacher resources available - with new ones being produced weekly based on two current news stories.

BTN is the perfect fit for our two girls, currently aged 9 and 11. They do have an interest in the news, but watching adult news programmes is a little too much for them - too detailed and long, and their background general knowledge isn't sufficient for them to understand many of the stories.

BTN simplifies the stories and provides the background information necessary to understand them. There are also a lot of fun stories to help hold their interest.

This is one website our girls will be returning to a lot and gaining plenty of information and knowledge from as well as having fun with it. I would definitely recommend it as a fun introduction to news stories for children.

Do your kids like to watch the news? Do they watch children's news programmes or the regular news reports with you?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Lemonade Stall - encouraging entrepreneurship in kids

Last year we had a garage sale at our house, and our girls decided to make and sell some lemonade and cookies too. They had great fun making the lemonade, cookies and the sign; and planning the whole thing. They worked out the cost of the ingredients and made a little bit of money, but saw how much effort and time went into the whole thing and the relatively small profit that resulted. 

However, they are both still keen to make and sell something. As a start, they have their own on-line Junior Madeit shop 
(Little Lightbulbs) selling upcycled jeans inspirational bag tags. 

They've sold a few, but as yet haven't really pushed and put a lot of time into their small 'business'. 
We're trying to find ways to help and encourage them in their endeavours, and the following story was a good place to start.

Make a Stand Lemon Aid
Last year I heard about the organisation, 'Make a Stand' when I saw a trailer for a documentary movie about the little girl who decided to sell lemonade to end slavery.  At the age of 8, she saw a picture (initially seen by her parents in a gallery) of 2 little boys with slabs of rock tied to their backs.  
(to see the picture go here).

The picture upset this little girl - Vivienne who wanted to stop child slavery.  Her idea to make money to stop child slavery was to set up a lemonade stall.

With her parents help she did this, and in less than a year reached her goal of $100,000 raised.  How did she raise this huge amount of money just by selling lemonade?  Well, she got noticed by the right people, had the support and help of her parents, and she was dedicated to her cause and set up her stall every single day.  
To read more of the whole story and see how far this little girl has come since then, you can visit her website - here.

One thing that really interested me about this story, was what it was that motivated this little girl to take this cause on and be so focussed and determined to help others?

When, as a parent, you are telling your kids to stop fighting over things and hearing the cries of "It's not fair!  That's mine!  She took my...  They got more than me.",  how does an 8 year old see things so differently, and want to devote all of her time and energy into helping others? 
Is this something instilled in her by her parents? 
Had she ever done anything like this before?  
Is she just a particularly caring and giving child? 
What tipped the scales for her?  
Was it the image itself, or perhaps the way her parents told her about it?

I think it's truly amazing what this little girl has done and is still doing and I'm looking forward to seeing the documentary movie.

A different kind of motivation

When our girls heard this story, it did inspire them to want to raise money to help a cause too.  
For them, they both love animals, and like the idea of raising funds to sponsor an endangered animal through the WWF. This is something I myself do through sales of my own e-book, so the girls can see an example of it working too.
I think they find this a better incentive than just selling things to simply make money for themselves. There is more of a why - a clear focus and reason for selling things and making money.

The girls are currently working on more things to make and sell in their Madeit shop 
and ways to promote their shop and make some regular sales to be able to support their own cause, and sponsor an endangered animal.
I think having a cause will give them more motivation and more of a reason to put some more time and thought into their little 'business' . 

Making and selling things is such a great thing for kids to do and learn through and we shall encourage and help wherever we can.

Have your kids ever taken a stand against anything? Or set up their own shop or stall selling their creations? Any stories, tips or ideas would be very much appreciated!  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Angkor Wat with kids

When I think of the most wonderful man-made places in the world, I certainly do not automatically think the kids would be interested in them.
I think of the Pyramids and Sphinx in Egypt, Easter Island monuments, the Coliseum, Machu Pichu, other South American or Mayan ruins and Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Do kids even know about them or even care about them?
Certainly, until they reach a degree of self awareness and study the topic, probably in early teens, kids are not even aware of other cities and certainly not countries or historical buildings.  This is a generalisation, but dinosaurs brought to life in action movies probably trump most kids list of things to see and do.  Do they care about ancient things in general? Probably not.

Before our trip backpacking in Asia with our girls, the things we were looking forward to and those that the girls were looking forward to were certainly different. They were most excited about Universal Studios in Singapore, Legoland in Malasia and seeing Elephants in Thailand. Angkor Wat barely registered as an exciting prospect.

Going to Cambodia, I was so excited about seeing the ancient city of Angkor Wat and its surrounding temples.  I wasn’t so sure that the kids would be enamoured with the idea or reality.  For me, seeing how people used to live, imagining their daily life, the pomp, the circumstance and the grandiosity of the ruling classes is what it is all about.  Imagining the organisation and the vision of getting hundreds or thousands of workers to plan, physically lift and create a vision of a temple, pyramid or even city is a wonder to me.  The time it took, often in years to complete is amazing, the ability to build a lasting monument or creation for eternity was the driving force among many of the great kings and rulers.

Arriving in Siem Reap
When we arrived in Siem Reap, the whole experience rather than just the temples was what stood out for all of us.  Finding ‘Radar’ our Tuk Tuk driver was a great help. Him allowing the girls to take photos on the motorbike was a highlight for them as was his happy face as he dropped and picked us up after our adventures. He was very good value!

After buying our tickets at the gate (the 3 day pass) we rushed to the elephant station to take a trip up the hill for the sunset over Angkor.  In retrospect this was a mistake.  The sun does not set over Angkor but in another direction entirely and the crowds were truly unbelievable. 
Whilst I would go back to Angkor, I would certainly never do this sunset hill experience again!  

An Elephant Ride
The elephant trip too was probably a bad idea. At the time, it was a reward for the girls for having done so well in the 8 hour bus journey back from seeing the Irrawaddy dolphins inKratie.  The elephants seemed well cared for and were being looked after as working elephants rather than living in town, which is a good thing. 

 Contrasting this with our later trip to Elephant Heaven, or Lek’s Elephant Sanctuary near Chang Mai in Thailand put this experience in perspective.  We enjoyed it at the time but, I don’t think I would take a commercial elephant ride again after knowing what most have gone through in the ‘crusher’.

At the top of the hill, we joined the queue to get to the temple at the top of the hill- a bad idea.  There were hundreds of people and also hundreds of Chinese tourists who were not so keen to stand in a queue and pushed past us, over walls and directly contradicted every rule of politeness that has been written, and not written, in the western world.  Jill politely walked to the front of the ‘queue’ to see what was going on and managed to get a mouthful from a guard who obviously found someone that would actually listen to him for her troubles.  We gave up after watching people push past us for 25 minutes and walked back down the hill and had a lovely sunset at the bottom of the hill with less people and Angkor Wat just next to us.

The next day we were up super early and got to Angkor Wat for sunrise.  
This was definitely worth it. I think we took a thousand photos that day. Although there were still large crowds of people, the sheer scale of Angkor Wat meant there were plenty of quieter places to watch the sunrise from and explore - you just had to leave the reflective lake pictures until the crowds had cleared later!

But it was worth the wait!

 The girls played at being tour guides and we looked at guidebooks, listened in on tours and generally climbed through the under restoration ruins.  

Every different temple had it’s own character.  The bass reliefs were cool, the worn down steps that you could clamber up and down and the endless ‘jigsaw puzzle’ blocks scattered around awaiting a puzzle master to assemble were awesome.  

Each temple was unique, matching the vision of the ruler who was adding his vision towards his perpetuality. A standing vision through the passing of time.

Tomb Raider
We finally reached Ta Promh, the place famous for the setting of Tomb Raider and Angelina Jolie coming out from below the famous tree which is growing out and from the stones is a great spot and as we had managed to be going in the opposite direction to the tour groups, it wasn’t even busy. 

 We had lots of time to take pictures and marvel at the size, age and complexity of the root systems and the enormity of the trees and time that lead to this wonder.  The next step will be for us to get the girls to watch the movie Tomb Raider- a definite gap in their pop culture knowledge!!

Finishing the day with tired legs from all the walking also made us feel we had got our money’s worth.  It was truly a great day and experience, and although the girls perhaps did not appreciate the historical significance, they thoroughly enjoyed the active and physical hands on nature of the site which is both enormous and accessible.  Seeing the monkeys around the site was also a bonus for the girls - especially the cheeky ones who knew where to pinch their breakfast from!

On return to Australia, our eldest daughter also appreciated the experience as she had to make a project, brochure and speech on an ancient civilisation- this trip certainly made the task easier for her!

This was definitely a highlight of our trip and a memory for a lifetime for all of us.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How to make a fabric bracelet - upcycled from a jeans waistband

I sew and upcycle a lot, especially from old jeans and I wanted to find something that our girls could upcycle and sew for themselves and get a bit creative.

These bracelets are super simple and allow for plenty of decoration and creativity!

Here's how to make a fabric bracelet from a jeans waistband:

First of all cut the waistband from an old pair of jeans.

Unpick the belt loops and remove.

Fasten the button on the waistband and wrap it around your wrist for size. Remember to overlap the two pieces!

Cut the waistband the size you would like and lay if flat.

Then unfasten the button and overlap the two raw edges where you just cut and pin together.

Stitch using a zig zig stitch for strength in a box shape where the two pieces overlap. Use a denim or larger needle on your machine for this as the layers are quite thick. You could also hand stitch this if you don't have a sewing machine!

And that is your basic fabric bracelet finished!

Now comes the fun part - adding the embellishments.
For this one I added a fabric flower - just simple circles of varying sizes cut from denim and other scrap fabric. 

Place the circles on top of each other and stitch through the centre with a button to hold in place. Then snip around each circle to make the 'petals'.

Then scrunch the flower up and roll between your hands to make it look more like a flower!

And stitch it to the bracelet - hiding your previous stitching!

One finished flower fabric bracelet!

You can embellish these bracelets with anything you choose.
My girls chose beads, an old kids plastic necklace and some ribbon. They are all just hand stitched into place in designs they chose.

I want our girls to learn to create with upcycled materials, and these bracelets are simple enough for them to make by themselves, and flexible enough to make them with endless different designs!

What have you or your kids created with upcycled materials? Maybe you have an old pair of jeans you could try one of these bracelets with?

I shall be linking this post to many of the fabulous linky parties whose pretty buttons can be found on the bottom of this page.

Monday, March 23, 2015

KenKen - fun puzzle arithmetic practice

Ken means Wisdom in Japanese, but the original name for this puzzle was, 

"The Kashikoku Naru Puzzle" 

which means 

"The It Makes you Smarter Puzzle"

I first heard of these puzzles when my dad brought these KenKen books out from the UK for our girls. KenKen are a kind of sudoku type puzzle that works on arithmetic and logic. They were invented by a Japanese maths teacher as a way to train young brains in arithmetic in a fun puzzle type manner. In the foreword to each book, the creator, Tetsuya Miyamoto says,

 "It's important that the learning process is enjoyable. KenKen is ideal for making the learning process enjoyable and is perfect for all ages."

How to play

The logic part
Each puzzle has a grid, and like in sudoku and each square in the grid contains a number. If the grid has 3 squares across then those numbers will be 1,2 and 3. If it has 4 squares the numbers will be 1,2,3 and 4; and so on. No number can be repeated in any column or any row.  

Now for the arithmetic part
The small numbers found at the top left corner of a square is the answer to the particular maths function of the numbers in that block. The top of the puzzle will tell you if you are adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing.

Here's an example of a small multiplication puzzle. In the top right of the page you see a 'x' sign telling you this is a multiplication puzzle.
If you look at the top left corner of each block - this tells you the answer of the numbers in that block multiplied together. So in the top left block there is a 2 which tells us the two numbers in that block must be 1 and 2,  the order of those numbers must then be determined.
If we look at the block on the left below, the number 3 tells us the two numbers in that block must be 1 and 3, so the number in the top left must then be 2, so that the left column has all three numbers present. In the centre of the square that block has a 2, so that one is simple - place a 2 in that box!

The puzzle is worked out using each block in turn.

Here's an example of another puzzle:
You can see at the top right of this page there is a '+'  and a"-" symbol, telling us it's an addition and subtraction puzzle. There are 5 squares across so each row and column must contain the numbers 1,2,3,4 and 5.
The top left block has 2 numbers that added together make 9. Of the numbers we can use, these must be 4 and 5.  Then again the order must be determined. 
Each block must be worked through to work out the numbers and positions,

Fun and educational
These puzzles really are fun to do. They help practice basic arithmetic skills, develop concentration, perseverance and logical thinking, and there are varying levels for all abilities.

You can find KenKen in newspapers, magazines, books and also online and in downloadable apps.
The official KenKen website has daily puzzles, customizable puzzles and free weekly printable email puzzles for teachers to use in classrooms.

Mr Miyamoto developed these puzzles based on his philosophy of 'Teaching without teaching".

Kids will far prefer doing puzzles and games to maths problems and worksheets - but if you find the right puzzles and games they teach the same things!

Have you or your kids ever tried KenKen?

I would definitely recommend giving them a try!

Friday, March 20, 2015

A taste of Vietnam with kids

 (Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum, Hanoi)

Some more highlights from our trip Backpacking in Asia with our kids.

Vietnam is a socialist oriented market economy, a country with 90 million people and growing prosperity.
In saying this, the inequality is really stark when you arrive and it certainly feels you are in a poorer country.

Our arrival in Vietnam was really a step into the unknown.  With two young blonde haired girls (9 and 11) we were both apprehensive and a little worried.  As soon as we arrived our minds were set at ease, the people were helpful and friendly.  Even in the capital city, Hanoi is scrupulously clean (thank you socialism) and easy to get around.  We heard Ho Chi Min city in the south was busier and had some big city problems such as bag grabbing but we certainly had no experiences like this.

The traffic in Hanoi was interesting.  There appeared to be no road rules other than don't crash. Everyone seemed to drive, ride and walk where they wanted to. Nobody went very fast, and it all seemed to somehow work!

The girls found it interesting to see really old people working in the streets- cleaning the pavement near their business, sorting newspapers, preparing fruit and carrying it (heavy!!!) to little restaurants on foot or bicycle.  It was a real contrast from everyday life in Australia.


Hanoi was very much a culinary experience, with the option to add your own garlic or chilli (rather than have the dish really hot).

 The girls found themselves experimenting with food.  
Pho- a noodle soup with pork was a favourite... was Bun cha,
which we experienced a climb through the five level, tiny building to find the last available seats. And saw our food being cooked out on the tiny balcony! 
 Still it was worth it- Yum!

Coffee was another revelation for the girls.  By adding condensed milk to coffee the girls discovered a new pleasure that has followed us back to Australia. 

 I had no idea how the French influence on Vietnam has allowed baguettes and coffee to become so readily available on every street corner.  With a small glass coffee cup, a large teaspoonful of condensed milk at the bottom, you were always ready to enjoy the strong bitter black coffee on top.  We never mixed it, enjoying the contrast and sweet reward at the bottom of the cup- something like a coffee caramel rather than crème caramel in flavour!  Some people mixed the sweetness through but we did not succumb.  

We also tried a unique north Vietnamese delicacy- egg coffee.  Whilst the idea is odd, trying to request it and order one in a café where nobody had any English was a hilarious challenge.  Miming chickens- with full noises to accompany and drawing eggs (fried!?) finally lead to me being taken to the kitchen and asked to show what I hoped to order.  This worked and within a few minutes my egg coffee appeared.  It looks kind of like a black espresso with a cappuccino style head.  The head is not milk though, it is beaten egg that stays in a sweet liquidy state and is really nice.  The effort to order it was worth every moment and the laughter in the girls eyes was priceless!

We visited Hanoi,

 Halong Bay

 and Hoi An.

A taste of a big city, beautiful World Heritage Listed bays, and a small town surrounded by rice paddy fields. In just 10 days, we had a fabulous taste of Vietnam.

Given the safety, ease of travel and transport and the delicious food available around northern Vietnam, I would strongly recommend a visit for any family. Vietnam got a big thumbs up from the girls and us as parents.

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