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Polynesian Wayfinding Virtual Field Trip

This virtual field trip for kids about Polynesian wayfinding combines social studies, geography, and science. It is a fun global education activity for kids and a good addition to a homeschool unit.

a collage graphic with 2 pictures and a text graphic in the center
top photo: a close up view of a double hulled canoe, bottom photo: a painting of a double hulled canoe on the ocean with a bird flying in front of it, text reads virtual field trip for kids Polynesian wayfinding for homeschool or global education

For my children, I find it easier to spark their excitement about studying a topic when it’s connected to a show or movie they have watched or enjoy.

So I thought that it would be fun to create a virtual field trip around wayfinding in the movie Moana. It’s a great basis for incorporating geography, social studies, and STEM into one fun unit. This is also a great extension to the Hawaiian Culture Virtual Field Trip that takes a deeper dive into one aspect of Polynesian culture.

Want ideas on how to teach your children to be respectful when learning about the cultures of the world? See my guide on how to teach your children to become world explorers for tips and tricks!

After you watch Moana, watch the video below. Then you can dive in to discuss wayfaring techniques like navigation via constellations and more.

Wayfinding

The Disney movie Moana is a mashup of many different Polynesian cultures. One common trait that the movie highlighted was that the people of Polynesia were master wayfinders. There is even evidence that Polynesians had contact with the indigenous people of the Americas thousands of nautical miles away.

They built ships and navigated long distances using no instruments, making them possibly the best wayfinders in history. Instead of instruments they used the sun, stars, and cues from animals, the ocean and the wind to determine where they were and where they were going.

How did Polynesian wayfinders navigate the Pacific Ocean? https://youtu.be/m8bDCaPhOek

Keeping traditional Polynesian navigation alive aboard the Haunui: https://youtu.be/_8F0sPIjSfU

This is a great in depth article for older kids: https://manoa.hawaii.edu/exploringourfluidearth/physical/navigation-and-transportation/wayfinding-and-navigation

Activities

Find the islands

Make a list of the Pacific Islands and see how many you can find on a map.  Some are so small you’ll only be able to find them when zoomed in on Google Maps.

Measure out the distances between islands and see how far Pacific Islanders would have needed to travel to visit other islands.

Make your own maps charting the different islands.

Shipbuilding

Polynesians traveled in double hulled canoes for long distance travel.

Learn about the history of double hulled canoes from anciently to modern: https://www.airtahitinui.com/au-en/fromcthe-large-double-hulled-polynesian-voyaging-canoes-ultramodern-multihulls

Here are a couple STEM activities around boat building

https://www.feelgoodteaching.com/2017/05/stem-challenge-boat-building.html

https://scienceandsteamteam.com/2020/08/31/easy-stem-challenge-build-a-boat/

Building traditional voyaging canoes: https://youtu.be/Tmpw5czJ7OE

Additional reading for high schoolers: https://library.wcc.hawaii.edu/migration/canoe

Navigational techniques

Polynesian wayfinders used the sun, stars, winds, animals, and more to navigate across the oceans without instruments.

For older kids, more in depth look at traditional wayfinding techniques: http://archive.hokulea.com/navigate/navigate.html

How to make a navigational chart: https://thekidshouldseethis.com/post/how-to-make-a-navigational-chart

Constellations

Constellations played a big part in being able to navigate by night. Here are two constellation activities for kids to learn more about the stars.

https://www.giftofcuriosity.com/constellation-craft-for-kids/

https://littlebinsforlittlehands.com/constellation-activities/

For older kids, about the Hawaiian constellations: http://archive.hokulea.com/ike/hookele/hawaiian_star_lines.html

Wind direction

Wind direction lesson: https://sites.google.com/site/laurenmac2000/wind-direction-lesson

Making weather vanes: https://www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/cub_earth_lesson04_activity1

Which was does the wind blow? https://uni.edu/storm/downloads/Level1/Which%20Way%20Does%20the%20Wind%20Blow-8.pdf

The Sun

The sun, earth, and cardinal directions: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/activity/sun-earth-and-cardinal-directions/

Learn how to navigate with the sun: https://www.naturalnavigator.com/find-your-way-using/sun/

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