Ancient + Medieval China: Week 2

This week, we’ll focus on several Chinese inventions including the compass, the wheelbarrow, and fireworks. We’ll dive into the history of silk and its famous roots in China, including sharing the legend of how this ancient secret made it to the rest of the world. There will also be several science activities that will have your child building an atom and testing for starches. Click here to download this week’s tracking document!

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):

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 compass activity:

Weaving activity option 1:

Weaving activity option 2:

Optional game:

DIY wheelbarrow:

Mini wheelbarrow:

Build an atom:

Fried rice recipe:

Starch experiment:

  • iodine
  • rice (Minute Rice works best)
  • apple slices
  • potato slices
  • slice of bread
  • leaf of lettuce
  • eye dropper
  • plate
  • paper towels
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:

To start our week, we’ll be taking a closer look at some Chinese inventions, including the compass and the discovery of magnets.

Activity 1: Let’s learn about the history of the compass. Click this link for more details to share with your child. 

Activity 2: Now let’s make a compass at home using this STEM tutorial
(+)Have a local map of your home available so that you can practice using a map and a compass together. (Download a compass app on your smartphone.)

Activity 3: Try one of these outdoor compass activities. They would be great with a group or a co-op. Suggestion #3 would work indoors and can be modified for a homeschool setting.

Lesson 2:

Another famous Chinese invention is silk—and it’s a creation with a rich history. Today, we’ll explore some of it, including learning about the Silk Road.

Activity 1: How was silk discovered? Read + Discuss the story, The Silk Princess, a historical fictional story about the Chinese legend of the discovery of silk.

***Click here for more tips on how to do Read + Discuss.

Additional reading: The picture book, Red Butterfly: How a Princess smuggled the Secret of Silk Out of China is a legend about how the rest of the world learned about silk. This story tells how one brave woman revealed to the world a secret the Chinese had guarded for two thousand years. 

Activity 2: We can’t make our own silk, but we can practice looming with one of these two activities: this one or this one. Here’s an instructional video for a similar idea.

Activity 3: Read + Discuss the book The Silk Route: 7,000 Miles of History or this video to learn about Silk Road and international trade.

Optional gameschooling activity: Make the silk road come to life with this game. It will reinforce math skills as kids travel the road buying and selling items. (Note: This activity is not free. It is a game created by Rebecca Reid, another homeschool mom with a small shop. Her game Marco Polo and the Silk Road is $10. It will take about an hour to set up (there are a lot of pieces to print and cut) and an hour to play.)

Lesson 3:

 Another Chinese invention? The wheelbarrow!

Activity 1: Read + Discuss. Read about the history of the wheelbarrow here.

Activity 2: That was a lot of history…so let’s get moving with this fun wheelbarrow gross motor skill activity!

Activity 3: The wheelbarrow is a second class lever. Here’s a video that explains all three types of levers and how they work.

Activity 4: Ready for a little engineering? Make this DIY wheelbarrow. Or you can try this mini version. You can use this template to help you build it. We used a Lego wheel instead of a bottle cap. (TKTKTK template link not working)

Lesson 4:

Now for some activities that really pack a bang…let’s learn about fireworks! They were invented in China, and they’ll provide a connection to talk about the periodic table.

Activity 1: Read + Discuss the history of fireworks: 

The earliest fireworks can be traced to around 2,000 years ago in China. People then are said to have roasted bamboo stalks, and the stalks turned black and sizzled. Then, the air inside the hollow stalks would explode. Baozhu is a Mandarin Chinese word for firecracker. It means “exploding bamboo.” Years later, Chinese chemists took fireworks a step further. Sometime between 600 and 900 A.D., people filled bamboo shoots with gunpowder and threw them into a fire pit. Steel dust or iron shavings were added to make them sparkle. In China, these firecrackers were often used in celebrations. (source)

Activity 2: Let’s learn about the science of fireworks. Watch this video to see how fireworks are made.

“When you watch fireworks burst with color, you’re seeing examples of how stars and galaxies work: Blues from copper, yellows from sodium, bright whites from aluminumbarium greens, and reds made from strontium… The electrons within fireworks react to heat, producing colors in the form of light.” (source) These metals when heated produce these colors:

Copper produces blue. Sodium produces yellow. Aluminum produces white. Barium makes green. And strontium makes red.

(+) Ready to take a deeper dive? This website goes into even greater detail.

Activity 3: In that last video, we learned that the colors we see in fireworks change depending on which metal elements are used. But what are elements and molecules? And what is an atom? Read this post to get an understanding of these chemistry basics. Next, watch this video. (Pause the video at 2:30.)

Print out this sheet that describes the recipe for fireworks – what elements are used, what acts as fuel and what oxidizes and bonds those elements.

(+)Watch the rest of the video you started above to be introduced to the periodic table and atomic numbers. (You can stop the video at about 4:45.) Here’s a brief description on how to read the periodic table. Next, use this interactive link about the periodic table to find the elements that we just learned about. Click the “interactive table” tab. Next, find Copper, Sodium, Aluminum, Barium, Strontium. When you look at each element, do you see the number above it? That number is called the atomic number. Click here for a definition.

Activity 4: Build. Let’s build an atom. You will need this printable and manipulatives in three different colors. You can use three colored manipulatives like pom poms or any edible manipulatives like jumbo chocolate chips, mini marshmallows, and red gummy candy. Print pages 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 and 20. (These are the basic elements. They represent the elements on the first two rows of the periodic table.)
Notes: Protons and neutrons are in the nucleus of the atom, so clump those two colors together in the middle. The electrons circle the nucleus. The number of electrons is equal to the number of protons. Use this interactive periodic table to help learn the make up of each atom.

Lesson 5:

Rice is a staple in most Chinese diets—and there’s so much we can learn from it!

Activity 1: Let’s start by researching the history of rice in China. Begin by reading this brief summary about Chinese farming. Dig a little deeper and read this post and watch the video on the page to see how rice is planted in modern-day China.

Activity 2: Watch this video to see how rice is processed today.

Activity 3: Let’s get cooking with this classic chicken and fried rice recipe. Want to know more about the Chinese family creating these delicious recipes? Read about them here

Activity 4: Science application. Let’s learn more about the chemistry of rice and starches. Starch is a carbohydrate naturally found in many grains and vegetables, such as wheat, maize, potatoes, and rice. (source) Carbohydrates are one type of polymer. Read this post to learn about polymer bonds.

Finally, conduct this experiment to prove that rice has starch. You can watch a similar experiment here if you can’t get the supplies to do it at home.

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Published by learnandliveletter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-11.

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