Genghis Khan & Marco Polo

When Kublai Khan conquered China, some changes took place but the Mongol rule was short lived in respect to the long time span of China. During the reign of Kublai Khan’s grandson, Genghis Khan, Marco Polo, an Italian merchant became the Khan’s ambassador for nearly two decades. Let’s explore that time period of the 1200-1400s in Asia and discover a world of culture, civilization and expansion.


The Silk Road Chalk Drawing

Our Silk Road unit has been underway for a couple years now. Each time we dive into it, it grows. Now this history period, that began with the Middle Ages in Medieval Europe, has grown to include our Africa Main Lesson Block which focuses on the Empires of Ghana, Mali and Songhai (900s-1400s), North Africa main lesson block on Ibn Battuta, The Travels of Marco Polo and the Great Khans of Mongolia, Ancient and Middle Ages China, The Silk Road and the Islamic Empire (600s-1500s). No wonder what started out as a one year unit study grew into a multiple year endeavor. I like to start out our units with a haul video, a how we put this unit together video and a chalk drawing video. The chalk drawing sets the stage for the unit and is often the only drawing we’ll have up for the unit. For this chalk drawing, I’m using Sargent Art Square chalk pastels from Blick Art Material. Drawing inspiration comes from the book The Silk Road, and I’m drawing on my 4’x6′ chalkboard by Ghent. While I really dislike this chalk drawing, I didn’t have the desire to redraw it. I don’t like the colors, lack of detail and yellow accents. In the end, the books I put on display in front of the chalkboard covered most of the caravans. and the map was helpful, but not referred to as much as I hoped. The following year, however, I drew several smaller chalk drawings for our continued Silk Road unit as this large chalkboard held our math main lesson block drawing.

Genghis Khan | Mongolian Chalk Drawing

When I initially put together our Silk Road main lesson block, I scheduled it for several weeks even several months. That was three years ago and we are still slowly making our way through this unit which has grown extensively to include Europe, Africa, Arabia and Asia. In this unit which focused on Marco Polo, Genghis Khan and other figures found along the Silk Road, I decided to add another chalk drawing as I circle back to this unit and continue it with a focus on the 1200s in Mongolia.

This chalk drawing is inspired by the book Kubla Khan the Emperor of Everything by Kathleen Krull. I used my Sargent Art Square Chalk Pastels and my favorite chalkboard, a 2’x3′ blackboard available from Paper, Scissors Stone at Waldorf Supplies. This chalk drawing is of a Mongolian landscape with yurts in the foreground with camels and horses as they are significant to Mongol lifestyle and livelihood.

Biographies

It’s not a history unit if you don’t talk about the people. After all history is His Story right? Her story is mixed in there, but is rarely the focus. While I have not made an effort to explore female historical figures, I think we do ourselves, our education and our children a disservice when we don’t include their stories. One book series I recently found that does a fair job exposing what it’s like to be a girl and a boy in history is the “If You Were Me and Lived in…Ancient China” by Carole P. Roman. There are several in this series and what I like is seeing the difference in what kind of life you would have depending on whether you were a girl or a boy, or woman or man, or rich or poor. For our Ancient China and Silk Road unit, we did a mini explorative unit on Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan and Marco Polo. Other notable biographies specifically on Chinese figures would be ZhengHe, Xuanzang, and Confucius as well as emperors from the different dynasties.

The Great Khans of Mongolia: Kubla Khan and Genghis Khan

The Exploration of Marco Polo

When we first embarked on our Silk Road main lesson block, we thought we would simply add a few resources to complement our Middle Ages unit. Three years later and this little unit has grown into several deeply engaging main lesson blocks that span over 1000 years of history and half the world from North Africa to China. As we explored historical events and notable figures, we were whisked away into histories that deserved their own units rather than afterthoughts to a larger Middle Ages unit. As a result, we now have an African main lesson block which focuses on the empires of Mali, Ghana and Songhai, the king Mansa Musa and the time period of about the 900s to the 1400s. We also did a unit on Ibn Battuta, Marco Polo and the Great Khans of Mongolia. That led us to China, so a unit on Ancient China naturally emerged, which led us full circle to the Silk Road and the expansion and diversifying of ideas, culture and religion, which naturally brought us back to a unit on Islam and the Islamic Golden Age which ended up being an extensive unit in and of itself. So when looking into the Silk Road, what originally was going to be books that complement the Golden Age of Islam or Ancient China, became its own independent and focused unit. In this unit we explore what it was like for merchants and caravans on the silk road. We discover the historical figures who traversed the silk road for the sake of religion, trade and conquering. We learn how this highway changed the course of history in profound ways and how through trade, more than just products were exchanged.

https://youtu.be/YNjfUq19_Q8

The Silk Road

When we first embarked on our Silk Road main lesson block, we thought we would simply add a few resources to complement our Middle Ages unit. Three years later and this little unit has grown into several deeply engaging main lesson blocks that span over 1000 years of history and half the world from North Africa to China. As we explored historical events and notable figures, we were whisked away into histories that deserved their own units rather than afterthoughts to a larger Middle Ages unit. As a result, we now have an African main lesson block which focuses on the empires of Mali, Ghana and Songhai, the king Mansa Musa and the time period of about the 900s to the 1400s. We also did a unit on Ibn Battuta, Marco Polo and the Great Khans of Mongolia. That led us to China, so a unit on Ancient China naturally emerged, which led us full circle to the Silk Road and the expansion and diversifying of ideas, culture and religion, which naturally brought us back to a unit on Islam and the Islamic Golden Age which ended up being an extensive unit in and of itself. So when looking into the Silk Road, what originally was going to be books that complement the Golden Age of Islam or Ancient China, became its own independent and focused unit. In this unit we explore what it was like for merchants and caravans on the silk road. We discover the historical figures who traversed the silk road for the sake of religion, trade and conquering. We learn how this highway changed the course of history in profound ways and how through trade, more than just products were exchanged.

Projects & Hands On Activities

Diy Model of a Yurt

For our Silk Road and Marco Polo units, we did several hands on projects. One of them was to make a model yurt or ger. For the second time in seven years, we are doing this project. The first time we did it, we did a more simplified version that my then 8 and 12 year old sons did on their own with little help. This time around it’s my 14-year-old son (the one who was 8 the first time) and his 9-year-old sister who are doing this project with me. While they did the structure of the yurt, I did the roof and the door. We love making our projects group endeavors. This way, everyone can participate in whatever capacity they are able. This project comes from the book The Silk Road Explore the World’s Most Famous Trade Route by Kathy Ceceri. We love this book for the simple projects it provides and easy, yet informative text. For this project, we used 100% undyed wool for the exterior of the yurt. We needle felting it and placed it around the 76 3″ bamboo skewers. We also used 100% Holland felt in grey for details. You also need hot glue, tape and string for this project.


How To Make A Sand Mandala

https://youtu.be/S2D8FUV_8gU

We’ve made Mandalas before as part of our geometry unit, but this was our first time making them with sand…or in our case, salt. I have a bag of sand in the backyard we have for various projects and when I went to collect a beaker full I found it soaking wet. Indeed it rained recently and while we rarely get substantial rain in Southern California, this storm was a doozy. I laid out a bunch of sand to dry in the sun, but looked for an alternative in the meantime. I wanted to do this project with the materials I had on hand rather than buy special sand for it. I used my Sargent Art Chalk Pastels to color my sand by crushing the chalk with a small scrapbooking hammar. Once it was powdery soft I placed it in paint jars available from A Child’s Dream. Instead of using sand, I decided to try salt. It worked great!

This project is from the book Marco Polo for Kids His Marvelous Journey to China by Janis Herbert. This book is packed with information plus 21 activities. I love adding hands on projects to our lessons and this book delivers. It wasn’t always a book I liked though. When we first read it in 2014, I didn’t find it appealing. While talking about Marco Polo, it also talks about all the other history going on at that time or even before. It gives a lot of context for the information which at the time, I didn’t appreciate as much as I do now. It is one of our best resources for this unit.

The activity, Make a Mandala, can be found on page 69 and suggests using 4 different colors of colored sand. Instead, we used our left over chalk (the pieces or rather the colors we always have left over after our chalk drawings) and make 7 colors. Two of the colors were so similar, they could have been combined. We used our geometric designs as templates for these mandalas and traced our designs on tracing paper. I covered the page with glue so we could keep the designs, but ended up releasing two of them to the wind as is the tradition with madalas. Though we didn’t release the sand ceremoniously, I did find it curiously liberating and freeing. We did keep one design and after shaking off the excess salt, we laminated it.

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