Level 2+: Russia Unit

This week, we’ll be learning all about the world’s largest country, Russia! From the unique geography and alphabet to some of its most famous works of art and most delicious recipes, get ready to experience this fascinating culture like never before. Click here to download this week’s skills tracker.

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

What you need:

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

Optional additional reading:

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 phonogram CEI.

Lesson 1:

Russia is the largest country in the world, occupying one-tenth of all the land on Earth!  It spans 11 time zones across two continents (Europe and Asia) and has coasts on three oceans (the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic). Before we dive into our activities, read more about this massive country here, and be sure to locate it on a globe, world map, or in your atlas. Next, read I See the Sun in Russia.

Activity 1: Especially when exploring a big country like Russia, it’s important to be able to read a map. Let’s spend some time learning about the types of maps and identifying important parts so we can read one properly. First, watch this video that breaks it all down for kids.

Next, let’s discuss some of the most common types of maps: political maps, physical maps, thematic maps, topographical maps, nautical maps, and roadmaps. Print these different versions of maps of Russia to show your child the various types (or, if you’re conserving printer ink, pull them up on your computer or tablet to show them).

  • political map can show countries, country boundaries, cities, seas and oceans. They usually don’t show physical features.
  • Physical maps show the physical features of an area such as major rivers and lakes, relief (shape) of the land, deserts and landforms, such as volcanoes.
  • thematic map is a map that is designed to show information about a single topic e.g. climate zones or populations. It does not usually show political or physical features.
  • Topographical maps show the shape of the land. Contour lines show the height of land. Where the lines are close together, the relief of the land is very steep.
  • Nautical maps are sometimes called navigation maps and are used by ships to safely navigate through natural and man-made obstacles above and below the seas.
  • Road maps come in many different forms and show the layout of roads and motorways so that people can plan driving routes. Paper-based road maps are less popular now that many people use satellite navigation devices. (We have also included a road map of Moscow in our printable for a more detailed reference.) (source)

Discuss the pros and cons of these different types of maps. Which map would be most helpful if you were visiting Russia as a tourist?

Activity 2: Next, let’s learn a bit about the flag of Russia.

(source)

The National Flag of Russia features three equal horizontal bands of white (top), blue, and red. The blue color stands for the faithfulness and honesty of the people of Russia, the red color symbolizes the courage and the love of the Russian people, and the white color stands for the frankness and nobility of the Russian citizens. (source)

Let’s use this flag in our math activity for today! In our Level 2+: Peru Unit, we learned how to find the perimeter of a square or rectangle, or the distance around the shape. Today, we will learn how to find the area of a square or rectangle. First, watch this video to learn what area is and how to find it.

Next, let’s use the flag of Russia to practice. Print these sheets to use for the activity. (For our purposes, we made the white rectangle on the flag slightly gray so it will be easier to see.) First, show your child the flag on the grid. Point out that it is a rectangle. Explain that the area of a rectangle is the number of square units inside of it.

Activity 3: The capital of Russia is Moscow, and one of the most famous sites in Moscow is St. Basil’s Cathedral!

Saint Basil’s Cathedral was built between 1555 and 1561 by Ivan the Terrible in Moscow, Russia. Legend has it that the cathedral’s builder was blinded post-construction so that a structure of its beauty could never be built again. Part of its distinctive appearance can be attributed to the colorful domes and vivid redbrick towers. The domes belong to nine different chapels within the cathedral, and each dome is a symbol for the assault on the city of Kazan. The design of the cathedral draws from architectural designs found in Jerusalem, and holds strong religious meanings. When seen from the top, the eight domes surrounding the ninth dome in a circular fashion appear to form a star. (source)

Watch this video to see more of this beautiful structure. Now, let’s make our own model with this tutorial.

First, create the base of your structure by painting a small cardboard box brown (a tissue box or small shipping box will be perfect).

While the paint is drying, begin constructing colorful domes on the tops of the towers. First, cut strips of construction paper about 1″ wide. For the bigger domes, the strips should be 10-12″ long, and you can cut it down to 7-9″ for the smaller dome. To create the dome, select 2 strips of one color and 2 strips of a contrasting color. Use a hole punch to punch a hole through the center of each strip and one at each end. Layer the strips, alternating your colors, and put a brad through the middle strip.

Next, form a circle with the strips and put a brad through the interlocking ends.

Carefully pull the strips apart to form the dome.

Repeat these steps to create 3-5 domes. Use a hot glue gun to attach each dome to the top of a toilet paper roll or paper towel roll. (You can cut the rolls to form different height towers.)

To create the tallest center tower, use a large piece of brown or red construction paper and fold it to create a tall cone. Tape to hold in place. For the top, string some gold beads onto a pipe cleaner and attach to the top with hot glue.

Finally, glue all of your towers to the base.

(-) Want something a bit simpler? Watch this video to learn how to draw the Cathedral’s famous towers.

Activity 4: Because parts of Russia are in the arctic circle, one of its unique biomes is the tundra! The tundra is a large, barren region with no trees. In fact, the word tundra comes from the Finnish word tunturia, which means “treeless plain.” Tundra covers about 20 percent of Earth’s surface, and they are some of the coldest places on the planet. Tundra may be flat, hilly, or mountainous, and little plant life grows on the bare or rocky ground.

Because of it’s location, Russia’s tundra is considered arctic tundra. In those areas, the winter temperature may be as low as −25 °F (−32 °C). The summer temperature may rise to only 40 °F (4 °C). Because of these cold temperatures, the Arctic tundra has a permanent layer of frozen soil, called permafrost. Some permafrost reaches as deep as 1,500 feet (457 meters).

Only low-growing plants, such as mosses and shrubs, can survive in the tundra. Plantlike living things called lichens also grow there. Tundra animals must be able to survive long, cold winters. Many birds live there in the summer, but few stay through the winter. Some common tundra animals are reindeer, Arctic foxes, snowy owls, musk oxen, and polar bears. (source) You can also watch this brief video to see some real tundra footage.

Next, let’s work on this week’s phonogram while we explore a little DIY “tundra”! After reviewing the phonogram rule for the week, print this sheet and laminate (or put in a large zipper plastic bag). Put the sheet on the bottom of a sensory bin or deep baking tray. Next, cover it with some of this faux snow (or you could use cotton balls or white pom poms). Give your child a paint brush and have them dust aside the snow looking for the words on the sheet. When they find one, see if they can read it!

Lesson 2:

One of the most famous parts of Russian culture is actually a toy! Matryoshka dolls have become almost synonymous with Russia over the years, and they continue to delight children (and adults!) today. Let’s learn more about them in some of today’s activities. Begin by reading the book The Littlest Mastryoshka. If your child is interested, this article shares the history of these charming dolls and this video shows the process for how they are made.

Activity 1: Nesting dolls are a great opportunity to introduce your child to the concept of division! While the actual ratio of traditional matryoshka dolls is about 70-80%, we’ll use them to explore dividing by 2. First, print this sheet on cardstock and cut out the dolls. (If desired, you can let your child color them in!)

Have your child arrange the dolls in height order as they were first displayed on the sheet. Next, have them use a ruler to measure each doll and then write the height in inches in the box on the doll. (The first doll should measure 8 inches, the second set 4 inches, the third set 2 inches, the fourth set 1 inch, and the final set .5 inches.)

Play with the dolls to demonstrate how 8, when divided into 2, makes 4. Next, show how 4 divided by 2 equals 2, and so on. You can also reverse the equations, showing how when you double the measurements of each doll, you get the height of the doll the next size up, and so on. You can also explain how dividing by 2 is also called “halving,” which is a term we see often in recipes. Once your child has grasped the concept, you can either try dividing bigger numbers by 2 or move on to the next activity.

Activity 2: Another famous Russian art form is the Fabergé egg! Never heard of it? The history begins in the spring of 1885. Easter is a religious celebration of the Russian Orthodox Church celebrated in the spring. Traditionally, after church services, families would gather to exchange gifts of decorated eggs, which are intended to symbolize renewed life and hope.

The Easter of 1885 marked the twentieth anniversary of Czar Alexander III and Czarina Maria Fedorovna, and the czar needed an exceptional gift for his wife. He commissioned the royal goldsmith, Peter Carl Fabergé, to make this gift—the first Faberge Egg. Fabergé delivered to the palace what appeared to be a simple enameled egg. But to the delight of the Empress, inside was a golden yolk; within the yolk was a golden hen; and concealed within the hen was a diamond miniature of the royal crown and a tiny ruby egg—both now lost to history. (source) It was meant to be a one-time order, but the result was so pleasing that the czar immediately placed an order for the following year. Thus began an annual tradition that his son would adopt when he took the throne and that would continue until the end of the House of Romanovs’ reign at the outbreak of the Russian revolution in 1917. The requirements for each egg was that it must be unique and must contain a suitable surprise for the empress. 

This video explains more of the history of these opulent works of art.

The Fabergé Egg became a Romonav family tradition but also valued treasures to anyone who admires the artform. Do you and your family have treasures that are special to you? Using these interview questions, interview a family member about family treasures. It might be helpful to record the interview. After the interview is complete, write an article or draw a picture about your family’s treasures that can be shared in a family newsletter or at a family dinner. Treasures could include:

  • memories of a place (i.e. seashells from the beach)
  • memories of an event (i.e. photographs, party favors)
  • memories of a person (i.e. gifts from a grandmother, family album)
  • uniqueness or rarity (i.e. coins, stamps)
  • personal interests (i.e. items that represent a hobby or occupation)

(+) Fabergé eggs do not have secular origins, but if that isn’t a concern for your family, you can make your own with this craft tutorial.

Activity 3: Did you know that Russian has an entirely different alphabet from Latin-based languages? Watch this video to see and hear the Russian alphabet. If your child enjoys learning new languages, this workbook can also help them practice writing Russian letters. Next, watch this video to learn some simple Russian greetings.

Lesson 3:

Another art form that Russia has completely transformed is ballet. This article shares a brief history of Russia’s role in ballet and what makes Russian ballet unique. Next, let’s meet one of Russia’s most famous ballerinas in the book I Dreamed I Was a Ballerina (or read it here on OpenLibrary) OR Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova.

Activity 1: Ballet is a very precise dance form with a lot of special terms (many based in the French language). This video shares and explains some unique ballet vocabulary. After watching, is your child inspired to try some ballet of their own? Try this simple online lesson.

Activity 2: Anna Pavlova’s most famous dance was inspired by a poem! We’ll use that poem for Tea + Poetry today. First, bake these Russian tea cakes to enjoy with our tea.

Activity 3: Before we drink our tea, let’s use it to inspire a little science! Has your child ever wondered how tea is actually made? The answer is a combination of diffusion and osmosis. Osmosis is the movement of water through a special mixture of solutes like salt particles within the solvent. In osmosis, water moves from an area of higher concentration to lower concentration through a selectively permeable membrane. (source) Diffusion is a physical process where molecules of a material move from an area of high concentration (where there are many molecules) to an area of low concentration (where there are fewer molecules). Diffusion mostly happens to liquids and gasses. (source)

Essentially, tea is formed when water flows (osmosis) through the tea bag (the permeable membrane) and the tea leaves dissolve (diffuse) throughout the water, turning the water brown. The water also flows into the tea bag, seeking equal concentration. (source)

We will learn more about osmosis in our Level 2+: Bears Unit!

Bring these concepts to life by brewing a tea bag in a clear cup and letting your child observe the process. Ask them what they notice happening.
(+) Looking for more tea experimentation? Try this activity to learn how the shape of the tea bag affects the brewing process.

Activity 4: Now we’re ready to enjoy our Tea + Poetry! You can read The Dying Swan here while you enjoy your tea and treats. After reading, show your child this video of the real Anna Pavlova dancing The Swan. Do they think her dance accurately represents the mood and story of the poem? Why or why not?

Lesson 4:

Today is all about art and music! We’ll meet a famous Russian artist and learn about a condition that helps to inspire many of his works, and then we’ll listen to music by a Russian composer. Start by reading The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art. Next, watch this video to learn more about the real Wassily Kandinsky.

Activity 1: One thing that helped Wassily (also spelled Vasily) Kandinsky to view the world differently was the condition of synesthesia. Watch this video to learn more about what it is.

If you don’t experience synesthesia, it can be difficult to imagine. (Fun fact: Research suggests that about one in 2,000 people are synesthetes, and some experts suspect that as many as one in 300 people have some variation of the condition! (source)) Let’s try to experience the world like Kandinsky! Start by looking at some of his works at this famous museum. (You can also read more of his story on that page.)

As you look at each painting, ask your child to create the sound effects they think that painting would make. What flavor do they think it would have? Do the colors make them feel anything? (Note: If your child is a very literal thinker, this activity may be difficult for them. It can help to make it silly! Make some ridiculous sounds and ask them if any of those sounds fit any of the paintings they see. You can also do the activity in reverse by playing some of this Russian folk music and asking them to draw how they think the music would “look.”)

Activity 2: Kandinsky was famous for his use of color, lines, and shapes in his abstract art. Click here to view one of his most famous works, “Composition 8.” Kandinsky was especially fond of circles and is quotes as saying, “The circle is the synthesis of the greatest oppositions. It combines the concentric and the eccentric in a single form and in equilibrium. Of the three primary forms, it points most clearly to the fourth dimension.”

He also created the first works of abstract art! Abstract art is a piece of art without a particular subject or theme. It is more a series of different shapes and colors to convey emotions and in Kandinsky’s case, music.

Let’s take some inspiration from Kandinsky and create our own art made entirely of lines and circles. Follow the guidance in this post to get started.
(-) Need something simpler? Try this craft inspired by Kandinsky’s “Squares with Concentric Circles” painting.

Activity 3: Next, let’s examine some more Russian music! One of the most famous Russian composers is Sergei Prokofiev. You can read more about him here. Prokofiev was a master at using music to tell a story. One of his most famous musical stories is Peter and the Wolf, which was written for Russia’s Central Children’s Theatre. 

Peter and the Wolf is a symphonic fairy tale written by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev in 1936. What makes this composition so unique is that it is narrated by a storyteller. During the story the characters come alive by the use of a live orchestra that illustrates the story. Each instrument represents one of the characters in the story, and as you listen, you hear the character “moving” along to their part. It is also a great way to become familiar with some of the instruments in an orchestra! If your child has never seen the show, they can watch part of it here.

This show is still performed live all over the world. Check your local area to see if your family can see it near you!

Lesson 5:

For our final day of Russia, we’ll learn about some more aspects of the culture, including a popular fairy tale, a delicious recipe, and a traditional piece of clothing. Begin by reading the fairy tale The Sea King’s Daughter.

Activity 1: Odds are, your child loves fairy tales! This storytelling style has delighted readers for centuries. But what exactly is a fairy tale?

Like folklore, mythology, fables, tall tales, and other classic stories that have been handed down, fairy stories are part of the oral tradition of literature. What makes the fairy tale different from the others is its use of magic and fantasy. Contrary to popular belief, the supernatural characters in fairy stories are not always fairy godmothers or winged sprites like Tinker Bell in Peter Pan. They may be magicians, ogres, dragons, brownies, elfs, goblins, gnomes, or leprechauns.

More often fairy tales involve ordinary people who have experiences of a supernatural kind and are affected by charms, disguises, spells, or other fantastic occurrences. Although the stories were told centuries ago to entertain children, many were originally written for adults. (source)

Let’s create our own fairy tale! Your child can either write their story, tell it orally, or have you scribe it for them. If they choose to have it written, they can also illustrate their story. Create a paper book for the tale by folding sheets of paper together and stapling or lacing the binding with yarn.

Activity 2: Let’s make a famous Russian dish—blinis! Blinis are a thin pancake, similar to a crepe. Blinis are so popular in Russia, there is a whole week fully dedicated to them. Maslenitsa, or “Butter Week,” is the holiday that takes place right before a 40-day fast preceding Easter.

Fun fact: Blini in Russian is actually plural—the singular is blin!

Follow this recipe to make some of your own.

Activity 3: For our final activity, we’ll learn about a traditional piece of Russian clothing, the valenki. Valenki are traditional Russian winter footwear made of sheep’s wool. These warm felt boots have been worn by generations of Russians, and for centuries they shod the feet of peasants and tsars. Valenki literally means “made by felting.” You can read more about the history of these boots here.

While making valenki is a slightly complicated process, it uses a simple technique called felting. Learn how to do it here and try some needle felting for yourself!

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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.