Ancient + Medieval China: Week 4

As we wrap up our China Unit, no doubt you have a greater understanding and appreciation for this country’s great contribution to science, art and it’s delicious cuisine. This week will be filled with STEAM projects which include experiments, art projects, and engineering challenges. You will end it all with a delicious meal. Click here to download our final tracking document for the week.

What you need:

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

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.

Build a pagoda:

Make a seismograph:

  • medium-sized cardboard box
  • paper or plastic cup
  • string or yarn
  • marker
  • paper, or a very long printed receipt from a store
  • tape
  • coins, marbles, small rocks, or other small, heavy objects to use as weights

Bamboo planter:

Chow mein recipe:

Evaporation experiment:

  • honey or real maple syrup
  • small pot
  • ice cubes
  • tea kettle (optional)
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:

Activity 1: Read + Discuss. Read about the different forms of architecture that exist in China.

You can also read Honest History page 44-45 for a closer look at the Forbidden City. There is also a picture of the Forbidden City on page 352-353 of the Usborne Encyclopedia of World History book.

Activity 2: STEM project: Build a pagoda. 


  • 1 empty large-sized cereal box
  • scissors
  • straight edge ruler (at least 12 inches long)
  • protractor
  • pencil
  • clear tape
  • construction paper (you can also use printer paper)

How to build:

  1. Wrap an empty cereal box in neutral colored construction or printer paper.
  2. Using colored construction paper, build the tiers of the pagoda. Each tier can be created by cutting the construction paper into trapezoids (2 large ones for the front and back of the box, and two small ones for the sides of the box). 
  3. Join the trapezoids with tape to create one roof tier all around. Tape the roof tier to the box. Make as many tiers as you would like (2-3 fit best), depending on the size of your cereal box.
  4. For the top roof, keep the construction paper in one piece and make folds in the corners and along the center, using your protractor to find the right angles for the folds. Attach the roof to the top of your cereal box.
  5. Add designs or drawings to your pagoda.

Note: Measuring, drawing, and cutting the trapezoids will give your child an opportunity to practice many math skills. You might also be able to introduce measuring angles, which is why we suggest having a protractor.  

Activity 3: Pagodas can be seen all over Asia. If your child plays Minecraft, try this Minecraft tutorial to build a Japanese-inspired pagoda. 

Lesson 2:

Another amazing Chinese invention? The seismometer. Let’s learn about earthquakes and the instruments we use today to detect them.

Activity 1: Who invented the seismometer and what did it do? In 132 A.D., Chinese astronomer Zhang Heng created a seismometer, a device that detects the ground’s movement during an earthquake. It couldn’t predict quakes, but it did show what direction they were coming from—even when they were hundreds of miles away! Read this article to see a photo of what it looked like and how it worked.

So what is a seismograph and what does it do? Watch this video to learn about this modern-day tool (the seismometer) and more about its predecessor (the seismograph).

Activity 2: Want to learn more about earthquakes? Watch this video from the American Natural History Museum. Read the page and play the game. Next, research earthquakes on their page for more images and details about earthquakes, including more about plate tectonics. 

Activity 3: STEM – Make your own seismograph.

Lesson 3:

Today’s activities are dedicated to two of China’s most famous residents—pandas and bamboo!

Activity 1: What kind of plant is bamboo? It is a grass. It grows at a rate of 41 centimeters a day and can grow up to 36 meters tall! Read about bamboo here, or watch this video.

Next, let’s add a math application and convert centimeters and meters into inches and feet. Use a measuring tape to make these measurements come to life. (This will probably have to be done outside.) 

Now, measure 40 centimeters to see how impressive a daily growth of that amount really is.

Activity 2: Make a bamboo planter. Use these bamboos and make this craft. (Note: No need to have a saw. The bamboos we’ve linked to are 5 inches tall and will work perfectly.)

Activity 3: Let’s watch this video to learn about pandas and more about their favorite food source, bamboo.

Activity 4: Writing or cartooning activity. Let’s write a creative writing story about a panda. Not sure where to start? Here are a few prompts to inspire you:

  • If a panda were a secret agent, what would be his greatest challenge? Would he fall asleep in the middle of a mission? Tell us his story.
  • What if a storm separated a panda family? How would they reunite? Would the story have a happy ending?
  • Pretend the panda at the zoo woke up one day and could talk. What would he say to the visitors? To the zookeepers? To the other animals?
  • If a panda could have a job, what would it be? 
  • What if you were out for a walk one day and found a baby panda. What your day would be like?
Lesson 4:

Activity 1: Click here to research a bit about the history of Chinese calligraphy. Here are the highlights:

  • In China, there are more than 3,000 dialects of Chinese being spoken, however, Chinese writing symbols are all the same across the regions. So people from different provinces in China speak different dialects, but use the same written language.
  • Chinese writing characters go back more than 3,000 years. The symbols began as pictures drawn to resemble the items they represented.
  • In ancient China, students had to memorize many pictures or characters each week and used brushes and ink to paint the “words.”
  • Chinese character writing is done in columns, from top to bottom and from right to left, so you start writing in the upper right-hand corner of the page.

Activity 2: Now let’s practice writing in Mandarin. Use the writing samples on pages 38-39 of Honest History to learn and practice writing in Mandarin. If the paper you made in Week 3 dried well, you might want to use it as your paper. Look up words on Google translate for examples of Chinese characters. 

Lesson 5:

Activity 1: Discover. Did you know that the Chinese invented noodles? Archaeologists made this discovery over a decade ago. Read this article to learn more

Activity 2: Ready for lunch? Prepare this 16-minute Chow Mein recipe. Be sure to check the ingredients list, as you may need to get a few things you don’t normally keep in the pantry. 

Activity 3: Science application. Can good things come from mistakes? We think so! Case in point: The interesting history of oyster sauce (an ingredient in today’s recipe):

“Oyster sauce is a relatively modern seasoning, unlike many other traditional Chinese ingredients that have been around for centuries and sometimes millennia. Oyster sauce was invented by Lee Kum Sheung in 1888. He is said to have invented oyster sauce by accident when he left a pot of oyster soup on the stove for too long and wound up reducing it to a thick, caramelized concentrate that we know today as oyster sauce.” (source)

What does it mean he “reduced the sauce”? Reduction is the process of thickening a watery liquid using heat. The existing water evaporates and, as a result, the liquid becomes denser (thicker). Sometimes a liquid will get heated so much that it becomes a solid. (source

Let’s learn or review the three states of matter by watching this video. (If your child is younger, they may prefer this simpler video.)

Next, let’s use water to demonstrate the three states of matter. You will need a glass of water at room temperature, several ice cubes, and a steaming tea kettle or pot of water. Discuss the differences between liquids, solids, and gases with these items from your kitchen. (There’s a picture in this post you can use as well.)

Now, let’s reduce some honey and water to demonstrate the process of evaporation by boiling a liquid to get the water out of it. Measure ¼ cup of water and ¼ cup of honey. Mix together. (Note: If honey isn’t available, you can also use real maple syrup.) Add the mixture to a small pot and heat it up. As it heats, you will see bubbles and steam rising. Point out these gases to your child.

The liquid will soon heat up, and the water will begin to evaporate. Eventually, it will reach a boiling point and turn into gas. (source) You will see it as steam. As the water evaporates, what is left in the pot will get thicker and thicker. Eventually, all the water will completely evaporate and all you will be left with is the honey. 

Remove the honey from the pot and measure it. How much do you have left? 

(+) If your child is ready for a deeper explanation of molecules, you can share this with them: Evaporation is defined as a liquid that turns into a gas. Why does this happen? Water is a molecule made from two elements, hydrogen and oxygen. When the molecules in a liquid are heated, they move faster. As their energy increases, they collide and eventually move so far apart that they become a gas. Try to imagine what that would look like: All these molecules in groups of three bouncing around, crashing into each other, and breaking apart! Once they break up, the atoms separate and are no longer able to hold on to each other. That is evaporation!

Bonus gameschooling ideas:
  • Looking for some extra fun? Try this Escape Room for Ancient China. 
  • Did you purchase the Professor Noggin’s Ancient Civilization card game suggested in the Ancient Egypt Unit? Now that you have covered the last three months of units, (Egypt, Mesoamerica, and China) play the game again with the full deck. This will be a great way to reinforce and continue learning!

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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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