Ancient + Medieval China Unit Study: Week 3

This week will be filled with adventure, inventions, and delicate art. We will learn about the true story of a famous pirate king—whose actually a woman—and we will discover who we have to thank for the paper we use today. Finally, we’ll learn the science behind why fried food is so delicious. Ready to get started? Print our tracking document here to keep tabs on what you read and learn this week.

What you need:

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

Optional Books:

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

Note: We break down our supply list by so you can choose what you need based on which lessons you plan to do with your child.

STEM floating ship:

Paper making activity:

Make a kite:

Chinese scroll making:

Chinese banana fritters:

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!

Lesson 1:

Ships have a storied history in China. Let’s learn more about it today!

Activity 1: Chinese history includes the stories of explorers, traders, and travelers. Learn about the life of Chinese explorer Zheng He in this video. You can also read the book Zheng He, The Great Chinese Explorer: A Bilingual Story of Adventure and Discovery.

As you heard in the video and read in the book, ships were an important part of Chinese history and exploration. Next, Read + Discuss the history of ships in China.

Activity 2: Read Honest History. Begin with page 40 and 41 to introduce pirates to your child. Then read the real life story of Cheng I Sao on pages 16-25. Discuss or have the child answer the questions on pages 26 and 27 together, and look at the picture on pages 28 and 29. (The rest of the issue has other articles and activities that match up with the theme of ships and pirates, so you can leave the magazine out for your child to read at their leisure.)

Creative Writing: Are you inspired by the stories we have heard today? Write your own story about exploration, ship life, or travel and discovery. Need help coming up with ideas? Here are a couple of writing prompts:

  • You are in charge of a group of sailors. How would you lead a group of people eager to explore but greedy for money and power? Tell the story of your daring adventures.
  • Imagine yourself a crewmember of an ancient junk ship that is damaged. Write a story about sailing in the sea while fixing a ship in danger of sinking.
  • Write a funny story about mutiny. Imagine a crew who decides they are going to take over the ship because they want to improve the ships food menu.

If creative writing isn’t your child’s thing, try creating a lapbook about junk ships instead. (Here’s a blog post to help you get started with lapbooking.)

Activity 3: Ready for a STEM challenge? Engineer + build a Chinese junk ship that will not sink. Help your child to use pictures of junk ships from Honest History magazine and the internet to design the plans for their own ship. Have them plan their design on paper before getting started. Assist them to create the base of their ship, especially if using the gauge foil. Discuss ways to create layers inside the ship such as using cut up toilet or paper towel rolls as columns or risers. Have them measure the columns with the ruler to make sure they are even. Use cardboard and crafting sticks to make floors and/or multiple levels. Add sails and flags and other accessories. (If you have more than one child, each child should build their own.) Once the ships are completely built, try to float the boats in a tub, sink, or plastic bin of water. If the ship does start to sink, modify the design and make adjustments to your ship and try again. The picture of the boat in this post can help provide inspiration, if needed.

Lesson 2:

Another everyday invention with roots in China? Paper!

Activity 1: We can thank the Chinese for inventing paper making. Research the invention of paper and Read + Discuss this article to learn its history.

Activity 2: Try your hand at paper making with this activity. Once it is complete keep it safe. We will use it again in week 4 when we practice calligraphy.

Activity 3: One thousand years after inventing paper, the Chinese were the first to make paper money. Read this article to learn about that. Learn about important features of modern paper money in this article. Next, ask your student to design their own paper money. Decide what the currency will be called, the amount, the symbols and portraits that it will include as well as the other features described in the article.

Activity 4: Two thousand years ago, the Chinese began a funeral custom that we can still see today at funerals and certain holidays that venerate ancestors: burning money! Today, you can still see Chinese people burning fake money (also called joss paper, spirit money, heaven money, and hell money) as a form of ancestor worship based on the belief that the spirits of the dead continue to dwell in the natural world and have the power to influence the fortune and fate of the living. The money is an offering to keep their ancestors happy in return for blessings. You can read more about this custom here.

Lesson 3:

Get ready to fly high with our next lesson! We’ll be taking a closer look at the kite, another Chinese invention.

Activity 1: Read the picture book The Story of Kites by Ying Chang Compestine. The author’s note in the back of the book has a brief history of kites in China. A portion of the note reads: “There is no exact record of how or why the kite was invented. A common theory suggests that it was inspired either by the sight of the wind blowing a straw hat or by flying birds.” Kites are common in Chinese celebrations and festivals.

Kites were invented by the ancient Chinese about 2,300 years ago! In Ancient Chinese, in very early times, kites were used by the military. They were used as messages and for measuring distances. Soldiers could see them flying and knew what they meant. Legend says: They also made kites make terrible sounds to scare the enemy. (source) For more details on the history of the kite, read this post.

Activity 2: Let’s build our own kite with this STEM tutorial.

Lesson 4:

It’s time for some Art + Music!

Activity 1: China has a rich and profound history in the arts. Read this overview of China’s art history. Then, let’s take a closer look at handscroll art. Did they display scroll art on the walls? Read the notes to learn an interesting difference between the way this particular art is enjoyed.

Activity 2: Let’s look at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection of Chinese scroll art. How would you open the scroll if you were a museum curator? Here’s how they do it:

“Scrolls are generally kept in individual wooden boxes that bear an identifying label. Removing the lid, the viewer may find the scroll wrapped in a piece of silk and, unwrapping the silk, encounters the handscroll tied with a silken cord that is held in place with a jade or ivory toggle. After undoing the cord, one begins the careful process of unrolling the scroll from right to left, pausing to admire and study it, rerolling a section before proceeding to the next one.”

Activity 3: Take a closer look at the first scroll art in this link. Just as Khan Academy explained in the link above, handscrolls are designed to be unrolled from right to left, revealing one scene at a time. As each new section is unrolled, the previous scene is rolled up, giving the viewer the feeling of a journey through the landscape. Can you see the story being told in this scroll? Start on the right.

Activity 4: Let’s create your own scroll style art like you see here

We clarified the directions a bit here:

  1. Cut long strips of drawing paper and attach the tops and bottom to wooden dowels. 
  2. Trace jar lids to make a circle representing the sun or the moon in the sky. 
  3. Each student should choose their own color for the background.
  4. Once dry, the branches of the plum tree are painted using two techniques: First, draw the trunk and a few branches using a brush and black paint. Then, add additional branches using a straw blowing technique—use a short straw and blow the wet black paint into spidery tree patterns. Each student’s results will be different. 
  5. Once the ink is dry, draw the plum blossoms with chalk pastel or colored paint of choice.

Activity 5: Read this overview of the music from ancient China. Click on the link at the end of the article to listen to music samples. Next, create your own Chinese rattle drum with the help of this video tutorial.

Lesson 5:

For our final lesson this week, we’ll get a taste of Chinese culture with a look at the cuisine.

Activity 1: Do you know the history of bananas in China? 🍌 According to this source, “By 200 A.D., bananas had spread to China. According to the Chinese historian Yang Fu, bananas only ever grew in the southern region of China. They were never really popular until the 20th century, as they were considered to be a strange and exotic alien fruit.” We will be preparing a recipe made of bananas today, but first…

Activity 2: In preparation for our meal making activity, let’s take a closer look at the chemistry of deep frying by watching this video. This video is filled with chemistry vocabulary that will get your kids familiar and comfortable with terms like molecules, convection, conduction, volatile compounds, proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids. 

Activity 3: Now, let’s prepare a modern Chinese dessert: Chinese banana fritters! (This recipe requires deep frying and will need adult participation.)

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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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