India Unit Study: Week 1

Long before the country of India existed as we know it today, there was the Indus Valley. This week, we’ll explore the brilliant inventions, delicious flavors, and ingenious business practices of this ancient culture—and see how these customs still influence our lives today. Want to track your progress along the way? Download our skills and books tracker for your records.

What you need:

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

Optional chapter books for the month – choose from this list:

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.

Make a map activity:

Water filtration STEM activity:

  • dirty water
  • plastic water bottle or 2-liter soda bottle
  • 2 coffee filters
  • sand 
  • gravel/pebbles
  • rocks

(+) Water testing upgrade:

Build an Indus Valley home:

  • Minecraft, LEGO, or scrap cardboard

Make a toy activity:

Indian chicken curry recipe:

Cilantro taste test:

  • fresh cilantro

Microbe experiment:

Purchase the below materials to make your own, OR you can buy these prepared petri dishes instead.

Bartering game:

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:

We suggest several chapter books in our books list for this unit. Review the list with your child and choose a book for a read aloud. ***For tips on make read alouds successful, read this blog post.

For today’s lessons, we’ll be taking a closer look at the Indus Valley.

Activity 1: Map work. Find India on this map of Asia. Take note of the surrounding countries. Review the difference between continents and countries. The boundaries of India today weren’t always the boundaries of this ancient civilization. Next, compare a map of the ancient Indus Valley and a map of India today.

Activity 2: Read + Discuss. Read the Usborne Encyclopedia of World History pages 118-119 to learn about the cities of the Indus Valley.  It’s a very consolidated history, but don’t worry, we’ll be digging deeper all week long. Take a look at Usborne’s Quicklinks here, and find a map of the Indus Valley. This place is also sometimes referred to as the Harappa or Harappan Civilization of the Indus Valley. (source)

Activity 3: Let’s learn about the two main cities of the Indus Valley: Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. Archaeologists discovered these two cities in the 1920s. These two ancient cities were part of what made up the Indus Valley Civilization. They are located in what is now Pakistan, a neighboring country to modern-day India. (source)

Next, let’s create an “ancient” map of the Indus Valley. Print the map on page 7 and create an “ancient” map following the directions on page 4 of the pdf.

Activity 4: Dig Deeper. Let’s learn more about the people of the Indus Valley by reading this webpage. (If you are living in the UK, you will also be able to watch the videos embedded in the website.) Alternatively read pages 12 and 13 in the book Building History: Indus Valley City. (Here’s a link to OpenLibrary.) Practice narration skills as you consider this material.

***Want to learn more about narration? Read this post before you start.

Lesson 2:

Activity 1: Compare + contrast. Review pages 16-21 in the book Building History: Indus Valley City. (Here’s a link to OpenLibrary.) Let’s compare the town planning of today with that of the Indus Valley. Watch this video to get started. Next, consider these questions together with your child:

  • What considerations did ancient civilizations make when planning for a village, a town and a city?
  • What do people think about today?
  • What is similar?
  • What is different?

As we read in our book, the Indus Valley civilization made it a point to separate their sewage from their drinking water. Discuss your local drinking water. Do you have city water or well water? This type of city required a large, strong government that organized these building projects.  Aren’t you impressed with all of the advances in this ancient world!

Activity 2: Safe drinking water was something the Indus people were concerned about. It’s also something we are concerned about. Do this water lab STEM activity to see how we can filter dirty water. 

(+) Activity 3: Take the previous activity a step further and use this water testing kit to test for lead and PH balance in your water. Use water from different sources to make comparisons, such as tap water, filtered water, rain water, or water from a pond, lake, ocean, puddle, or a pool. Create a report to document your findings. 

Activity 4: Get a closer look at the homes of Indus people. Read the book Building History: Indus Valley City pages 22 and 23 (or here on OpenLibrary). Now take a look at the real artifacts and archeological digs that were used to create that model. Next, try to build your own version using Minecraft, LEGO pieces, or cardboard. 

(+) Activity 5: Watch this Crash Course video for a summary of everything we have learned so far as well as three possible reasons why this civilization declined and eventually disappeared. Note: Crash Course videos are made for middle schoolers, so watch this video first to be sure you feel it’s appropriate for your child.

Lesson 3:

What was it like to be a kid in the Indus Valley? Let’s find out today.

Activity 1: Read + Discuss. Read Building History: Indus Valley City pages 24 and 25 to learn about the ancient Indus culture.

Activity 2: Look at this website to learn about the toys of the Indus Valley. Toys play an important part in learning! Just like kids today, kids in ancient times used toys to have fun but also to learn about their environment. Read more about the history of toys in this brief description. Try creating your own toy with terracotta modeling clay. It might be helpful to draw out the idea on paper before modeling it. Remember that the toys the children had modeled things in their environment, often depicting people, animals, tools, and weapons.

Lesson 4:

Ready for some delicious activities? Let’s take a look at the Indus Valley food history and some related science.

Activity 1: What kinds of food did the Indus people eat? 

The Harappans grew lentils and other legumes like peas and chickpeas. Their main staples were wheat and barley, which were probably made into bread. They fed local wild rice to their animals and probably began to cultivate it. The Harappans must have eaten a range of fruit, vegetables and spices : these included a variety of brassica, brown mustard greens, coriander, dates, jujube, walnuts, grapes, figs; many others, such as mango, okra, caper, sugarcane, garlic, turmeric, ginger, cumin and cinnamon. Sesame was grown for oil.(source)

We can probably thank the people of the Indus Valley for what we call curry today. Villagers living at the height of the Indus civilization used three key curry ingredients—ginger, garlic, and turmeric—in their cooking. (source)

Let’s make some Indian Chicken Curry! Here’s a simple recipe to try. Modify the spice level by using less cayenne pepper to reduce the heat.

Activity 2: Discover some fun facts about coriander and cilantro. Some people don’t enjoy these flavors because they say they taste like soap, while others find them delicious. How can this be? This article sheds some light on the subject. Scientists have discovered that some people are genetically predisposed to actually taste this food differently than the rest! Some people have receptors on their chromosomes that detect a smell that usually goes ignored by others.

Try a taste test for yourself. Does cilantro taste like an herb or soap?

Activity 3: Science application. Food borne illnesses can sometimes happen when meat is not cooked long enough. A common bacteria that can be found in chicken is salmonella. (Note: it can also live on fruits and vegetables.) We prevent infection by cooking chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 165ºF or 74ºC. Use a cooking thermometer to test the internal temperature of your chicken while cooking your meal. 

Interestingly, salmonella doesn’t hurt all living things—it lives quite happily on turtles. In fact, humans can get salmonella from pets! Read this printout to learn more about it. 

Activity 4: Learning about microbes can be disgustingly fun! Prepare your own microbe zoo with this at-home petri dish recipe and experiment. Alternatively you can buy these prepared petri dishes and move right into the experiment. Although we can’t see microbes without a microscope, we can see them once they colonize and grow. Prepare to be grossed out! If you do have a microscope, take a closer look at your colony.

Note: Once microbes have colonized, do not open the dishes. Dispose of them carefully.

If your kids love kitchen labs, we recommend the blogger’s book, Kitchen Science Lab for Kids by Liz Lee Heinecke.

Want to learn more about microbes or working with younger students? Try Level 2+ Germs, Viruses + Fungi Unit.

Lesson 5:

For our final day this week, we’ll learn more about the agriculture and trade of the Indus Valley.

Activity 1: The people of the Indus Valley worried about having enough food. Re-read “The Great Granary” on page 119 in the Usborne World History book. How did they address that concern? (They stored food.) Do you notice the cart in the photo? What was it used for? (Transport and trade of food.) Read this blog post to learn more about agriculture and trade. 

Activity 2: Play this printable bartering game. The purpose of this game is to learn about trade and bartering. 

If you are playing with two players, print one page of each printable. If you are playing with 3-4 players, print two copies of each sheet. If you are playing with 4-6 players, print three copies of each sheet. Either print on cardstock or laminate to make the cards easier to play with, and then cut them out.

The object of the game is to collect 1 of each items listed:

  • wheat
  • barley
  • figs
  • cilantro
  • cow
  • sheep
  • goats
  • pottery
  • weaving
  • gold
  • silver
  • copper
  • wood
  • cotton
  • clothing

How to play:

  1. Deal out 5 cards to each player. Players should hold their cards so the other players cannot see them. 
  2. Players will take turns asking one another to barter with them to get the items they need. 
  3. The next player’s turn begins once the first player’s trade is accepted or officially denied. 
  4. The game continues until one player gets all 15 items on the list of basic needs. 
  5. The first player to collect all 15 items wins the game. 

How to barter: 

In order to win, you need to barter to get all of the items you need to meet your basic needs. To barter, you offer someone one item that you don’t need in exchange for another item that you do need. Some of the items are available in abundance. Other items are not. If you are trading a valuable item, you may require more than one item for that trade.

In this game, the bartering process works as follows:  Player one chooses a player and suggests a trade. For example, player one may offer player two a cow in exchange for cotton. If the player who was offered the trade does not have the requested item in his hand, player one’s turn ends and the game continues with the next player. 

If the player who was offered the trade has the requested item in his hand, he may accept the trade or offer a counter trade. For example, he may request that player one give him a goat and wood in exchange for a cow. Player one can accept the counter trade or present another counter trade. For example, player one may say “I don’t have any wood, but I will give you a goat and cotton in exchange for a cow.” The player who was offered the trade can accept the counter trade or stick to his original offer. If he sticks to his original offer, player one can accept that offer or deny it and allow play to move on to the next player. 

The next player chooses a player and suggests a trade. 

If trade can no longer take place because desired items are not available, a player can draw from the deck and discard one of their items. Only one card can be drawn and discarded on one turn. A player can either barter with another player or draw from the pile; he cannot do both on one turn.

Bartering or drawing from the deck continues in the same way until one player has all 15 basic needs in his hand.

Activity 3: Let’s put a modern twist on trade with another game. If you have a homeschool co-op or a big group that you learn with, this trade game meant for a large group would be a great way to learn about restricted and free trade. 

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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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