Russia Unit Study: Week 2

This week we will deepen our knowledge of Russian culture by delving into the language spoken by the people, the art they create and the music they enjoy. We will learn about famous dances and classical compositions. Finally we will enjoy some exciting STEM activities and prepare a delicious meal called perepechi. Be sure to download and print your tracker for the week!

What you need:

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

Optional chapter book:

Optional additional book:

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

St. Basil’s Cathedral model:

Self portrait:

Bridge STEM challenge:

Don’t melt the ice STEM challenge:

  • 3-4 glass or plastic food containers
  • 3- 4 ice cubes
  • suggested materials to choose from: 
    • Styrofoam from packaging
    • hand towel
    • bubble wrap
    • fiberfill stuffing
    • packing peanuts
    • felt or other fabric
    • craft foam
    • pom pom balls or cotton balls
    • straw or hay
    • wood shavings

Food web poster:

Food chain craft:

Origami bookmark:

Aurora borealis craft:

Peter and the Wolf puppets:

Wooden peg dolls:

Balalaika drawing:

Mushroom spore print:

Perepechi recipe:

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’ll begin our week by learning about some of the famous landmarks in Russia. Read Honest History magazines pages 38-41 as we learn about each site in the next two activities.

Activity 1: Take a closer look at the Kremlin (page 39), Red Square, and St. Basil’s Cathedral (page 38). Look at this and (+) this, and this video to see these places virtually and learn more about them. 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. Alternative, you could use a pipe cleaner strung with beads to hold the dome together and create a decorative top. 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 simpler? Try drawing your own Russian building with the help of this tutorial

For some optional reading, start the chapter book Where is the Kremlin?

Activity 2: Peterhof Palace and The State Hermitage Museum are two historic buildings from the 1700s that now house some of the most beautiful art pieces from around the world. Take a look at the multiple buildings and rooms of the Heritage Museum. The halls of the museums are filled with artists you are probably familiar with like Matisse, Rembrandt, and Raphael. But there are also many Russian artists you may not be as familiar with. Meet Isaak Brodsky.

Isaac Brodsky was the son of Yisrael Brodsky, a Jewish merchant. He was born in the village of Sofiyivka near Berdyansk on January 6, 1884. He studied at Odessa Art Academy and the Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg. He was part of an artist movement called Socialist Realism. This type of art must depict some aspect of man’s struggle toward socialist progress for a better life. (source) This was an important and powerful movement in the 1930s in Russia. Below is a picture he drew of his wife, and then a self portrait with his son.

Many artists create self portraits. Create your own self portrait with the help of these tips and video demonstration or this video tutorial. It might help to have a picture of yourself or a mirror to look at yourself while drawing your own face.

As you continue to learn about the cities and places of Moscow, read the picture book Let’s Visit Saint Petersburg!: Adventures of Bella & Harry. Join the siblings as they travel to Saint Petersburg and visit the Hermitage Museum, Catherine Palace, Peterhof Palace, and other magnificent places. 

Activity 3: The Trans-Siberian Railway. Learn a few facts about the railway by reading Honest History magazine, page 28-29. Take this virtual tour on the Trans-Siberian railway and see some of the beautiful places it takes you.

One place you will see as you cross the country by railroad is the Amur River. The Amur River is the 10th-longest river in the world, measuring about 2,824 kilometers long and forming the border between Russian Far East and Northeastern China. The Khabarovsk Bridge is the first concrete bridge over the Amur. It has a total length of 2,590 meters (8,500 ft) and was completed in 1916, enabling the trains on the Trans-Siberian Railway to cross the river during the year without using ferries or railway tracks on the ice. (source)

Let’s learn how bridges work! There are six basic types of bridges: arch, suspension, cable-stayed, beam, cantilever, and truss. Watch this video to get started and learn about several kinds of bridges. Next, watch this video to learn about several kinds of bridges, including beam, truss, arch, cable-stayed, and suspension bridges. Then, watch this video to learn about cantilevers. Finally, watch this video to learn about critical load and failure points. With all this knowledge, it’s time to make some applications!

Let’s build a bridge of our own! (If working with a co-op, having children work in teams of two. ) For this challenge, the bridge should be at least 14 inches long. Use crafting sticks, masking tape, and/or glue to create the bridge. Place the bridge between two chairs so that it is suspended in the air about 1 foot above the floor. Encourage children to brainstorm ideas, experiment, troubleshoot issues, and redesign as needed. Remind students that engineers learn from failure, so they shouldn’t give up if the initial idea doesn’t work.

Notes: This activity works great with co-op groups and can be done outdoors as well.

Once the bridge is complete, test it by adding a predetermined weight to each bridge. (Such as a cup full of pennies or small rocks.) Add more weight until you find the bridge’s critical load. (source)

Lesson 2:

For today’s activities, we’ll take a closer look at the environment and animals of Russia.

Activity 1: Learn about Russian winters by reading Honest History magazine, pages 34-36. You can also read about some of these animals here. As you can see, all of these animals have to be able to withstand the harsh winter weather of Russia.

Let’s have a bit of winter fun with a fun STEM experiment! What is the best material to keep an ice cube from melting? Begin by reading the “background information” paragraph in this post before beginning the experiment. 

Using the suggested materials in the blog post, create 2-3 different food container environments and place your ice cube into them. We will be testing which environment prevents the most melting. Set up one control by simply placing an ice cube into an empty food container. Print out the recording sheet at the end of the post and track the melting. (This experiment will take at least 2 hours.)

Activity 2: Discover tundra. What is the tundra? The tundra biome is an ecosystem located near the North Pole in the Arctic Circle. It covers approximately 20% of the earth and includes cold and treeless plains. It is the coldest climate biome on the earth. The average temperature in the tundra is around -28°C, and winters are extremely cold with -34°C temperatures.

This dry ecosystem gets precipitation equal to an average desert, around 10 inches per year. Here, winters are long and summers are very short—sometimes they last for only 6-10 weeks. Tundra is separated into two types: arctic tundra and alpine tundra. (source)

Watch this video to see what a tundra looks like and learn some of the basic characteristics of this environment. Then read this article for more details. 

(-) Click on this DK webpage to learn about some of the animals that call the tundra home. 

Next, let’s read the fun “follow-that-food-chain adventure” book, A Tundra Food Chain: A Who-Eats-What Adventure in the Arctic.

Using the information learned in the book and this PDF from the London Zoo, create your own food web poster. Include the names and pictures of the plants and animals in your adventure. 

Alternative group activity: Have a few children draw pictures of an arctic animal and others draw a few arctic plants like grasses or Arctic wildflowers. Have a parent be the sun. Attach the picture of an arctic animal or plants on the chest of each student using a paperclip or closed pin. Using a very long rope or a ball of yarn, create a food web starting at the sun, to the plants, and then to the animals in the food chain ending with the largest predator.

Activity 3: Complete your food chain study with this art project. Choose four animals and one plant from the arctic that are connected in the food chain. Make your largest animal your largest paper and work your way down the food chain to the plant.

Activity 4: The food chain is just one detail in learning about the animals of the arctic. Let’s dig deeper and learn about reindeer, or caribou. Watch this and this and this video to learn all about them. For additional details about these massive mammals, read this website and this detailed animal wildlife website

Next, make a caribou origami bookmark with this video tutorial. If your child really enjoyed this project, be sure to check out other Red Ted Art’s tutorials. These bookmarks make wonderful gifts that your child can make for friends and family!

Lesson 3:

Activity 1: Discover Russian. Russian is (not surprisingly) the official language of Russia. The Russian alphabet consists of 33 letters: 10 vowels (а, е, ё, и, о, у, ы, э, ю, я), 21 consonants and 2 signs (hard and soft) that are not pronounced. The Russian alphabet uses the Cyrillic script. Some letters of the Russian alphabet look like and sound similar to the letters of the Latin alphabet.(source) This video will help you see the letters being formed so you can learn to write them.

Let’s write our names in Russian. Using Google translate, type in your name in English and then look at the translation. Next, write your name on a writing paper in Russian Cyrillic letters. Practice writing it several times to work on your handwriting. Finally, using Google translate write the sentence: My name is _______. If you would like to learn the entire Russian alphabet, purchase this workbook to learn to write all 33 letters of the Russian alphabet.

(Parents, you should try doing this with your kids too! Doing copywork in another language is a great way to see just how difficult this is for our own children when they are learning to write.) 

Learn how to say the names of each letter along with a few Russian words with the help of this video. Next, learn a few Russian phrases with the help of this video.
(+) This video will teach you how to say more basic introductory phrases.

Activity 2: Read + Discover Siberia. The Siberian wilderness is a place where Russia exiled prisoners during the 18th century. Exiles were people that the government wanted to rid themselves of, but they were also meant to populate newly held territory. During the 19th century, convicted criminals and people the government wanted to punish for various reasons were exiled to Siberia along with their families. They were given many restrictions as to where they could work and how they moved about the territory. (source)

Exiles included:

  • criminals (of all kinds)
  • until 1861, uppity serfs and prisoners of war
  • Polish, Lithuanian, and Latvian nationalists
  • intellectuals, or students who questioned the policies of the tsar (often about serfdom, later about getting rid of monarchy and creating legislature)
  • family members, friends, and acquaintances of exiles (guilt by association)

Read Honest History magazine pages 48-51 to learn more about Siberia. 

As we read in the article, Siberia is also home to some of Russia’s most beautiful animals. Let’s learn about one of them and make a lapbook! (Click here for tips on how to make a lapbook.) Choose from either the Siberian tiger, Siberian huskies, East Siberian Laika, Siberian lynx, Siberian weasel, or the Siberian chipmunk. Look for additional videos or library books about these animals as you do your research.

Optional family movie night: Watch this National Geographic documentary all about the animals of Siberia. 

Chapter book recommendation: The Night Journey by Kathryn Lasky has a slow start but tells the story of a young girl who learns her grandmother’s story of escape from the pogroms, Russia’s efforts to eliminate Jewish people from its realm. We recommend reading it as a read aloud before handing it over for independent reading. For more on the anti-Jewish propaganda that was spread during the late 19th century read this article together. 

Activity 3: Something else you would also see if you were to visit Siberia is the aurora borealis. Read the book The Lights that Dance in the Night, and then visit this website to see images of the northern lights from different locations in Russia. How are these lights formed? Watch this video to learn the science behind this amazing phenomenon. Finally, create an Aurora Borealis landscape with this tutorial.

Lesson 4:

Let’s learn a bit about some of the arts of Russia.

Activity 1: Peter and the Wolf is a symphonic folk tale written by the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev. In 1936, he was commissioned to write a musical story for children by Natalya Sats, the director of the Moscow Central Children’s Theatre. The intent was to introduce children to individual instruments in the orchestra. As a narrator tells the story, the orchestra highlights the characters with musical themes by using four specific instrument families: strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion.

The Fort Collins Symphony has a wonderful Peter and the Wolf lesson on their website. Start by reading the summary of the story. Next, learn about each of the four instruments that are used. Watch each video as you learn the musical parts.

Print out these pages on cardstock, cut out the characters, and attach them to craft sticks. Use your craft sticks to act out a part of the story while listening to Peter and the Wolf. When you hear the musical instruments representing each character, use your puppet to play out the parts.

Now let’s change things up! Add a new character to the story. Draw it on a piece of cardstock and attach it to a craft stick like your other puppets. Choose a musical instrument that would best represent it, and add the new character to the final scene to create a new story ending. Record your craft stick puppets’ telling of the new story using a phone. 

Activity 2: Russians have historically been very skilled wood carvers. Wood carvings can be seen in the construction of traditional Russian houses, art, and even in children’s toys. (source) Click here to see some elaborate windows carved out of wood in a Russian home. The carvings are so intricate that they sometimes look like lace. Next, click here to see some traditional children’s toys. 

Inspired by the artistic woodworking we just read about, create your own peg dolls in this DIY project

Activity 3: Now let’s learn about a Russian folk music instrument, the balalaika.

Although historians suggest the balalaika came to be centuries ago, its exact dates of origin are unknown. Some theories suggest it is descendant of the domra, another folk instrument. Others state that it was invented during the Mongol invasion of Russia in the 13th century. Additionally, Russian serfs likely used it to play cheerful and entertaining songs, but in the hands of slightly drunk jesters (known as skoromohi in Russian) the balalaika became a weapon used to mock the government. As a result, Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich (17th century) ordered that all folk instruments, including the balalaika, were to be gathered and burned! (source) (He sounds very angry and paranoid!)

Other sources claim that the Russian Orthodox church tried to exterminate Russian folk music and its “radical underpinnings” during the 1600s. The first written documentation of a balalaika is an arrest record from the year 1688. (source) Even after the ban ended, the balalaika remained unpopular until the 19th century, about 200 years later. The instrument might have disappeared completely if not for the conservation efforts of one musician, Vasily Andreev. He heard the instrument being played by a serf. Andreev was a musician and very keen on folk instruments. He learned to play the balalaika and soon perfected his craft. Little did he know that he would inspire a whole generation of musicians to take up folk instruments. (source

Listen to it being played in this video—by a 7-year-old! 

Finally, draw a balalaika with the help of this tutorial.

Lesson 5:

For our last day of lessons this week, we’ll explore some food history of a native Russian ingredient: mushrooms!

Activity 1: Forest mushrooms have always been part of the Russian diet for several reasons: There are hundreds of edible mushroom species in Russia’s forests, mushrooms are nutritious and tasty, and one can preserve them for winter either by drying or by marinating or salting. During lent, mushrooms replace meat in traditional dishes, and at all other times they are a tasty addition to any meal. (If you are not familiar with lent and you are curious about it, you can read about it here.)

At first, picking mushrooms was a necessity and a practical thing to do. (source) Just how important are mushrooms to the diet of Russians? Read this post to learn the secrets to picking mushrooms. You can also learn about ten popular mushrooms from Russia here. See more of the colorful mushroom varieties available in Russia here. Amazing, right?!

Besides being delicious, mushrooms are fascinating from a science perspective! Watch this video for an introduction to mushrooms or (+) watch this video to learn more! Learn about the parts of a mushroom and its life cycle in this video and with this printable.

Finally, do this STEM experiment to make mushroom spores prints! (Here’s a video demonstrating a similar experiment so you can see what it looks like.) 

(+) For more reading and details on mushrooms we suggest the book The Mushroom Fan Club.

Activity 2: Udmart is a region of Russia with a distinct culture, religion, and language. Click here to see it on a map. Learn about them in this video.

Perepechi is a traditional Russian pie originating from the region of Udmurtia. These open-faced Udmurt pie shells have pinched edges and are filled with various ingredients, beginning with an egg base like the French quiche. They are typically filled with ground beef, mushrooms, and onions. The shells are usually made with butter, eggs, rye flour or wheat flour, salt, and sugar.

The pies are baked in the oven, and, if properly prepared, the crust should be soft and slightly crispy while the filling should always be rich and tender. The name perepechi means “something baked behind the oven,” because they were initially baked in stoves over a low fire.

Originally, the dough was made with rye flour, but nowadays plain wheat flour is used more often than not. (source)

Activity 3: Combine all that we’ve learned about the Udmart people and mushrooms to prepare this traditional perepechi recipe.

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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.