Level 2: China Unit

For this week’s lessons, we’ll explore a variety of topics related to China’s rich history and culture. From their many scientific and mathematical discoveries to the language and cuisine, your child will end the unit with a deeper understanding of this fascinating country. Ready to start exploring? Click here to download our weekly tracker to record the books you read and skills you work on.

Have you printed a Learn and Live passport? Don’t forget to add a stamp to your passport as you explore China!

Note: Occasionally we include project upgrades (for kids ready for more) and modifications (which can be useful for including younger siblings). We’ll mark those with the plus (+) or minus (-) symbols.

What you need:

Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):

Optional additional reading:

  • In the Park by Huy Voun Lee – This is a great book for introducing your child to more Chinese characters in a memorable way.
  • Zhang Heng and the Incredible Earthquake Detector by Randall McGee – This book won’t be out in time for the launch of our China Unit, but it will be available in January 4, 2022. We highly recommend checking it out if you repeat this lesson after that date!

Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):

What to do:

We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!

Phonics Guide:

New to our phonics guide? Start here. The Phonics Guide this week will highlight the /ch/ sound as we learn the TCH phonogram and review the CH phonogram.

Lesson 1: 

Let’s start our week by learning more about China as a country. Start by using a globe, world map, or atlas to find China. (To help your child make connections, ask them how they would get to China if they were to travel there. Could they take a motorcycle? Would they prefer a plane or a boat?) Next, let’s read I See the Sun in China or China: Travel for Kids. If you go with teh upgade, this book has a lot of information, so pick out the details that will be most interesting to your child.

Activity 1: Let’s work on a new shape while crafting the flag of China, officially known as the National Flag of the People’s Republic of China. China’s flag has a red background with five gold stars. You can show it to your child here. This website has more about the meaning behind the flag.

Now let’s make our own! First, print this document on a yellow piece of paper. Using the black dots, have your child begin practicing drawing stars. (The big star has numbers for them to follow, so start with that one.) Let them draw as many of the stars as they want to. When they’re done, have them cut out the big star and their four best little stars. Glue these onto a red piece of paper to make the flag of China.

Activity 2: What is probably the most recognizable part of China? The Great Wall! Click here to watch a video about this incredible wonder of the world. Next, let’s make our own 3-D map of China with the wall! Start by painting your map onto a large piece of cardboard. It’s okay if it isn’t exact—you can use this photo to get the general shape and location of the main rivers correct:


Review cardinal directions and let your child label the compass rose. You may also want to have them label the rivers or some of China’s bigger cities, such as Beijing (the capital), Shanghai, Chongqing, and Chengdu. Next, use sugar cubes and frosting (or glue) to create your own Great Wall. Here’s a photo to use for inspiration:

If you are working with multiple children, you may want to have them each build their own section that you can then join together, just like the dynasties that built the wall.

Activity 3: There are many different dialects spoken in China, but the most commonly spoken is Mandarin Chinese (it’s actually the most commonly spoken language in the world!). Let’s watch this video to learn how to say a few greetings in Mandarin Chinese.

Lesson 2:

So many incredible scientific and mathematical discoveries have come out of China, we could spend a whole year studying them all! But because we only have a week, we have selected a few fascinating ones to get us started. Let’s get a peek at a few of these inventions and discoveries in the book The Greatest Power.

Activity 1: One amazing Chinese invention? The seismograph! This incredibly sophisticated machine can help detect earthquakes over a vast area. Let’s learn what an earthquake is in this video. Next, let’s make our own model seismometer with this tutorial.

Activity 2: Did you see another colorful invention mentioned in our book? Fireworks! This video has a breakdown for kids about the chemical compounds that go into creating fireworks. Let’s create a few chemical reactions ourselves with this fizzing firework painting project. You will need dark construction paper, glue, baking soda, vinegar, food coloring, and a pipette or eye dropper.

Have your child paint a few “fireworks” on the dark construction paper with the glue. They can either draw the fireworks directly from the bottle or use a paintbrush to create their mini explosions. Sprinkle baking soda generously on the glue and shake off the excess.

Mix a few small bowls of vinegar with different shades of food coloring. Finally, use a dropper to drip drops of your colored vinegar onto the fireworks and watch them fizz in a colorful scientific reaction!

Activity 3: Finally, let’s do this firework density experiment. You will need a clear glass cup or jar, vegetable oil, water, and food coloring. You may also want a plastic mat, tray, or something else to put under your experiment to contain mess.

To set up, have your child pour about 1 inch of vegetable oil in the jar. (The exact amount isn’t too important.) Then fill the jar about 3/4 full with water.

Stop for a moment to observe what is happening. Why don’t the water and oil mix? The oil and the water will not mix because they have different chemical structures. Water molecules are polar; they have a positive charge on one end and a negative charge on the other. They are therefore attracted to other water molecules! Oil molecules are evenly balanced, so they do not bond to the water molecules.

When you combine two or more ingredients that retain their distinctive properties (like oil and water) you have a mixture. This is different from a solution, in which two or more ingredients combine to create something new. For example, if you dissolved salt in warm water, it would make saltwater! That would be a solution.  Explain to your child that you have just made your very own mixture!

Next, notice which ingredient is on top. (The oil.) Why is this? The answer is density! When a material or liquid has greater density, its molecules are packed more tightly together and it is heavier.  In this experiment, the water has greater density than the oil, which is why it sinks to the bottom while oil floats on top.

Finally, we will squeeze a few drops of food coloring into our mixture to create “fireworks.” Before you do so, ask your child to predict what they think will happen. Why do they think that? Ultimately, the food coloring will be too dense for the oil to hold it up, which is why we get to see our pretty fireworks in the water. Yay for science!

Lesson 3:

Silk has a long history in China. Let’s start today by reading a legend about how the rest of the world learned about China’s secret for making silk in Red Butterfly.

Activity 1: Let’s learn more about the silkworm. Watch this video to learn more about it, and then let’s make this silkworm life cycle mat.

Activity 2: Silk was also used often in Chinese art, especially Chinese brush painting. “Chinese brush painting is the traditional art of painting on rice paper or silk with a natural animal-hair brush and ink. Paintings can be monochrome or colored and typically depict animals, birds, flowers, or scenes from nature. The ‘trick’ to this style of painting is holding and directing the brush in the appropriate way to produce strokes that are delicate and refined. These paintings are similar in style and technique to traditional calligraphy.” (source) This post shares more about the history of this painting style and how to achieve it.

Now, let’s look at a detailed Chinese landscape painted in this style here.

Activity 3: Let’s practice our own Chinese calligraphy with this Chinese character print making activity. If you borrowed or purchased In the Park, you can find some great characters to use in that book. Otherwise, you can look at this chart to find some animal characters to copy for your pieces.

Lesson 4:

Let’s look at another area of science where China has had a major impact: physics! Physics is the study of matter and its interactions, including its motion and behavior though time and space. Sound complicated? Don’t worry—today’s lessons will break it down to the simplest level. Let’s start by reading Queen of Physics to learn about a Chinese woman who had a major impact in this area of scientific study.

Activity 1: Do you know what an atom is? Atoms are the smallest unit of ordinary matter. And they are everywhere and make up everything, including all solids, liquids, and gases! Let’s learn the basics with this label an atom playdough activity. First, print and laminate this playdough atom model mat. (If you don’t have a laminator, you can put the sheet in a large plastic bag.) You will also need three colors of playdough and some mini sticky notes.

Our simplified diagram shows a basic diagram of an atom, complete with three electrons moving around the nucleus. Inside the nucleus are two protons (designated with the positive sign) and two neutrons. Have your child create small balls of playdough to represent the protons, neutrons, and electrons and add them to the diagram. (Use a different color for each part.)

Finally, label each part with mini sticky notes. (You can either scribe these for your child or use them for copywork today.)

Activity 2: Ready to charge up some atoms? Try this simple supercharged atom experiment to play with some physics of your own. You will need a balloon, a hole punch, and a piece of paper.

First, use the hole punch to create a few small circles of paper. Next, blow up the balloon and rub it vigorously on a clean head of hair. (This can be a fun way to incorporate siblings!)

Finally, hold the balloon over the punched out circles, but do not actually touch them. They should fly up to the balloon like this:

What is happening?? When you rubbed the balloon on your hair, the balloon picked up electrons from the hair and the atoms of the balloon became negatively charged. The positively charged atoms in the paper were attracted to those negatively charged atoms of the balloon, and when they got close enough to each other—JUMP!

The attraction between the negatively and positively charged atoms was so great that it overcame the force of gravity and the paper circles jumped up to the balloon and were held there by the same attraction. The power of science!

Activity 3: Percussion instruments are a great example of physics in action! For our music lesson this week, let’s look closer at a percussion instrument that has been used in China for thousands of years—the gong. This article tells more about the history, but here are some main points you can share with your child:

  • Typically cast from bronze and shaped like plates, the use of these instruments can be traced back to the Northern Wei (6th century) period.
  • Gongs are extremely complex—more so than other Chinese percussion instruments—as they come in different shapes, makes, and names.
  • Two of the most important gong families are the jingdaluo gongs and the daluo gongs.
  • Click here for an introductory video about gongs, their various tones, and how to play them.

Now, let’s make our own gong with this simple craft.

Lesson 5:

For our final day of China lessons, we’ll start by reading Sparrow Girl. Use this charming folktale (based on a true story from Chinese history) as a springboard for conversations around thinking about the consequences of our actions, cause and effect, and how even a very small person can have a major impact.

Activity 1: Farming has a long history in China, and one of the biggest crops is rice. The Chinese have been growing domesticated rice since as early as 3500 BC (source), and they currently produce about 28% of the world’s rice! (source) Rice is traditionally grown in a paddy, or a flooded area of land. Click here to see some incredible photos of truly amazing Chinese rice paddies. Let’s use rice as our solid in this volume exploration activity.

Activity 2: Before we make our own rice dish, let’s work on our chopstick skills! First, watch this video to learn how to hold the chopsticks. Then, get out two bowls and fill one with large pompoms. Using your chopsticks, have your child practice transferring the pom poms to the empty bowl. As their skills improve, turn it into a race! Put the empty bowl across the room and see how quickly they can transfer all the poms.

Activity 3: End the week by making this simple fried rice recipe. It’s simple enough that your child can likely do many of the steps on their own, and to will give you a great opportunity to practice those new chopstick skills.

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Published by The Learn + Live Letter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-12.

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