India Unit Study: Week 2

This week, we will examine how the India we know today was largely influenced by the people who inhabited the land over 2,000 years ago. We will examine their beliefs and their food, and, throughout the week, we will make connections to science and math. This week we encourage you to read some of the classic stories from India in the book Classic Tales from India: How Ganesh Got His Elephant Head and Other Stories. Continue reading these stories throughout the week. 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):

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.

DIY rock scratch test:

Soluble vs. insoluble experiment:

  • sugar, salt, coffee, flour, pepper, and sand (you can also use baking powder)
  • 6 clear jars or beakers
  • hot water
  • stirrers, spoons, or straw for mixing
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:

The Indus people we learned about last week ended around 1800 B.C. The area was invaded by a people known as the Aryans, who brought with them a new way of life. We will pick up this week learning about the Aryans.

Activity 1: Research. Start by reading Usborne World History page 174 to learn about the arrival of the Aryans into the Indus Valley. tells us: The Aryans came from Central Asia (modern-day Russia). The Aryans were nomads and came to the Indus Valley with their horses. They raised livestock, rode chariots, and loved to gamble. They had no sophisticated government. They grouped in clans, and were ruled by warrior chiefs called rajas. Click this link to read more about them. 

Activity 2: Read + Discuss. The early Aryans divided people into classes. It was called the Caste System. Read pages 56 and 57 of Honest History to learn more about the caste system.

Next, read this link for more details about each caste. Then, draw a pyramid. Divide the pyramid into four parts. Have your child write out the names of each class starting at the top of the pyramid with the Brahman class, followed by Kshatriya, then Vaishya, and finally the Shudra. On the bottom of the pyramid, write Dalits or Untouchables. Looking at the pyramid, discuss what you see. Who had the most people? Who had the least? Ask open ended questions to discuss this topic. Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • What kinds of things did the caste system determine for a person?
  • If you were born into the Brahman class, would you have changed the system? Why or why not? What changes would you make?
  • Why do you think they called the lowest class “untouchable”? What effect would that have on those people? How would it make them feel?
Lesson 2:

The next powerful empire was the Mauryan Empire. Let’s learn more about them today.

Activity 1: Read + Discuss. Start by reading Usborne World History page 175 to learn about the Mauryan Empire and Asoka. Next, watch this video

Activity 2: Let’s learn more about Buddhism. Review the details of the Buddhist religion’s beginnings on page 174 of Usborne World History. Review the beliefs of Buddhist by reading this website. If you are Buddhist, use this lesson to discuss some of your family’s own traditions. If you are not, compare + contrast the beliefs listed with your own and create a Venn diagram with your findings.

Activity 3: Take a look at this site to see one of the famous Pillars of Ashoka. Ashoka was the third emperor of Mauryan. When he converted to Buddhism, he erected this pillar as a symbol. The pillars have written messages intertwined with messages of Buddhist compassion. Ashoka adopted the teachings of the Buddha known as the Four Noble Truths.

The pillars are cut from two different types of stone—one for the shaft and another for the capital. (Click here for a labeled column so that you can easily identify them for your child.) The shaft was almost always cut from a single piece of sandstone that was cut and dragged from quarries, which is pretty impressive since they are about 15 meters (or 45 feet) tall and weigh 50 tons!(source

What also makes these pillars very impressive was the polishing technique used by the Mauryan. The method made them very shiny and smooth. It’s still not quite understood how they were able to get the stone as polished as they did, but some theorize that they used diamonds to polish the sandstone. Why would that work? Because rocks have different hardnesses. 

Activity 4: Science application. The sandstone used to make the pillars of Ashoka might lead your homeschool into an interesting rocks discussion. Start by reading more about the three different types of rocks (igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic) here. You can also learn about different ways to identify rocks here.

Next, let’s do some rock testing to learn about the hardness of rocks. This rock and mineral kit will be a great hands-on way to learn about the hardness scale. (Tip: Some libraries also have these kits available for borrowing.) If you have rocks at home, conduct this scratch test with a nail and black construction paper. 

(+) Do you have a kid at home who loves rocks and wants to take a deeper dive? Read this post to learn more ways to test rocks. 

Bonus Activity: For the kid who just can’t get enough of these rocks, let’s do a little stone smoothing of our own with this rock smoothing kit. (This is a little pricey, but super fun for a child with a passion for rocks.)

Lesson 3:

Get ready for the Guptas! This website provides a great overview of the Gupta Era. Also check this detailed website for more details. (Feel free to read it all if your child is interested.)

Activity 1: Read + Discover. The Gupta Empire was famous for beautiful art, music, poetry, science, and mathematics. Let’s examine some of these. Read the section on this website about Gupta art. Look at the picture of the Iron Pillar. Take a video tour of the area and “see” the Iron Pillar as it looks today.

Activity 2: The king, Chuptagupta II, gave great support to the arts, and artists were highly valued in Gupta society. In fact, artists were paid, which is very rare in ancient times. This is likely why there were such advances in literature and science. 

This period of time in India is referred to as the Golden Age. The empire’s prosperity and peace allowed its people the time, money, and security to spend on spiritual, artistic, and cultural pursuits. It was a time of prosperity and enlightenment. There was also an expansion of science and math.

In fact, Aryabhata (see image of him here) was an astronomer and mathematician who gets credit for being the first to use algebra in written form. But we remember him most for his use of the “0” digit. According to some people, he invented it! With that discovery, he created a base-ten numeral system that we still use today. He is also famous because he theorized that the earth and the other planets revolved around the sun, were spheres, and reflected the light from the sun. (source)

Math application: Watch this animated video from The Royal Institution, narrated by mathematician Hannah Fry, to see the importance of the number zero. It tells the story of its winding history, from its role in ancient civilizations to our current world of computer technology, and explains how zero became a mathematical hero.

Activity 3: The Gupta era also left its mark on human history with the invention of games and sports. The games chess, polo, and chutes and ladders had their start in India during the Gupta Empire. Read page 24-25 in Honest History to learn about the history of chess. (source

Want to play a game inspired by the ancient Indians? Try this free online game of chutes and ladders. (Or play the real board game if you have it at home.) 

Want to learn chess at home? Try this online chess program for kids. Would you rather have board game? Try this story-based chess learning game! 

Lesson 4:

Let’s take a closer look into the language Sanskrit, which was the primary language of this ancient society.

Activity 1: Read + Discover. Start by reading “The History of Sanskrit” in Honest History on pages 36-39. This video has a small section of people speaking and singing in Sanskrit. Begin watching the introductory remarks and then fast forward to 5:54 to listen in. (If you personally want to take a deep dive into the history and grammar of Sanskrit, the interior video is very interesting, but too long and detailed for young kids.) Next, listen to this Sanskrit alphabet song. 

Activity 2: You may actually know more Sanskrit than you think! Here’s a list of English words that come from the Sanskrit language:

  • Avatar – from Sanskrit अवतार avatāra, which means “descent”.
  • Candy – from an Indic source akin to Pali kaṇḍa-, from Sanskrit khaṇḍakaḥ meaning piece, fragment, perhaps of Munda origin.
  • Cheetah – which is from Sanskrit चित्रस chitra-s “uniquely marked”.
  • Cot – from Hindi खाट khaat “a couch”, which is from Sanskrit खट्वा khatva.
  • Jungle – from Sanskrit जङ्गल jangala, which means “arid”.
  • Orange – Sanskrit नारङ्ग naranga-s meaning “an orange tree”
  • Shampoo – via Anglo-Indian shampoo and Hindi चाँपो champo from Sanskrit चपयति capayati, which means “kneads”.
  • Yoga – through Sanskrit योग yoga-s, which means “yoke, union”.
Lesson 5:

For our final day this week, we’ll take a bite out of some food history.

Activity 1: Food History. Cardamom is a spice that comes from the seeds of a various plants in the ginger family. It is native to Southern India and also grown in Guatemala.  It has a strong aroma similar to cloves.  The taste is also strong, some say it tastes like a combination of ginger and cinnamon. Read about the history of cardamom here

Let’s make a traditional Indian dessert, Rice Kheer.

Tips: We used cardamom powder and 4 tbsp of sugar, and it was perfectly sweet. We also added a pinch of salt to the milk.

Activity 2: Science application. Let’s learn about solubility with this dissolving solids experiment. While you prepare the pudding, conduct this simple experiment to learn the chemistry behind a common cooking technique, dissolving sugar into liquids. Soluble substances dissolve in liquid. Insoluble substances will either float, sink or create a layer above the water. Click here to download a printable chart you can use to document your findings. If desired, you can also watch this video to see this experiment done.

Activity 3: Math application. Start by watching this Math Antics video about exponents. Next, read the book One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale to learn about exponential growth. While you read the book, you can pause to write out the numbers.

More math concepts in this book can be discussed at the end. Since the quantity continues to double, we can write it out like this: 2×2, 4×2, 8×2, 16×2, etc. You can also introduce exponents like 2 to the second power (2×2), 2 to the third power (2x2x2), 2 to the fourth power (2x2x2x2), etc.

Ready for math, watch this video about square roots.

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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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