- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 7, 2004

Sometimes you may find yourself trying to study something for which there is no particular text or course material. In this case, you may find that you have to create your own course, from diverse sources.

We have two students who are preparing to go to Micronesia, a small chain of islands in the South Pacific. Of course, they want to study about their future home, so we traipsed off to the library to find all the books we could on this archipelago.

For once, the library system disappointed me. There were no books in the entire county on this country. However, there were several that had smaller chapters or sections on it in other library branches.

We reserved those books and in the meanwhile checked the periodical index. Here, there were several articles available; however, to print them out at the library was costly: 15 cents a page.

In the meantime, we expanded our scope. We found two movies dealing with Oceania: “Whale Rider,” a recent movie about a small Maori tribe in New Zealand struggling to combine the ancient traditions with the modern world, and “The Other Side of Heaven,” also recent, telling the story of John Groberg, who went to Tonga as a missionary in the mid-1950s.

We watched the movies and also checked the special features, which told the background of each story and explained a lot of the cultural issues. The movies also dealt with a lot of the same climatic and geographic issues of the region: food traditions, housing needs, weather patterns, etc.

Meanwhile, I went on the Internet and found some additional books our library did not have.

I also found a Web site all about Micronesia, which detailed many of the practical aspects of the country: the population, area, industries, food sources and government system.

By printing out the appropriate pages, we could create a map, fact sheet and summary of the history of the country.

This led us to theories on the origins of the population. An interesting fact we learned is that a large portion of the population is colorblind, so perhaps this was a trait from one of the original settlers of the islands.

I ordered the book “Kon-Tiki” (Simon & Schuster) to introduce the students to the theory of Thor Heyerdahl that some of the settlers may have come from the East, from the Americas. Another theory is that some of the original settlers came from Southeast Asia.

We also found a book on the legends and ancient stories of the Pacific cultures, “Journeys through Dreamtime: Oceanian Myth,” published by Duncan Baird Publishers, London, part of a Time-Life series.

Besides the fascinating fables of the various peoples, it is filled with beautiful color photos of the people, arts and natural wonders of the island nations.

We also have been studying the formation of many of the Pacific island chains, including volcanic activity and sea life such as coral reefs. Fishing and agriculture are also a natural area of study for us, so we are looking into the crops and the domesticated food animals of the country.

Eventually, the students will be visiting the nation and will be able to do firsthand learning. The goal of our current work is to provide them with a learning framework upon which they can build when they get there.

Information comes in many packages, and we don’t need to throw up our hands in despair when faced with a unique learning challenge.

Instead, try several approaches, and consider how each can help advance the overall goal. Enjoy the journey.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer living in Maryland.

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