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Marco Polo 1254 to 1324 – A unit study and lapbook about the life of Marco Polo and Genghis Khan, as well as how the Silk Road came under the control of the Mongol rule.
Marco Polo was born on September 15, 1254, in the Italian Republic of Venice. As a child, young Marco would listen to fascinating tales of faraway places.
His father was Niccolo Polo and his uncle was Maffeo Polo. They were both merchants and spent their time away from Marco traveling through lands such as Persia.
When Marco was young, his mother died. After that, his uncle and aunt raised him.
Marco Polo Unit Study
It seems like some history books focus so much on the conquests of Alexander the Great that they don’t cover the fact that Genghis Khan created an empire that stretched from China to the Adriatic Sea in Europe. Massive and impressive!
Hands-On History: Mythological Map – Marco Polo Unit Study
Creating a mythological map for our Marco Polo unit study was the perfect start to exploring this empire. I really don’t teach mythology when we cover history, but I do introduce it to the boys.
This was a perfect time to talk about the myths that existed in the time of Marco Polo because, at the time, the world was largely unexplored. Some parts, such as Africa, had been charted and Marco Polo was familiar with the Mediterranean Sea because he lived in Venice, but the rest of the world was mostly unknown.
Some of the mapmakers put warning signs on maps and filled them with drawings of mythological creatures because the land was uncharted territory and they thought the rest of the world was filled with dragons and such.
Of course, Tiny thought this was way beyond cool and I found the activity to create a mythological map in the book Marco Polo for Kids: His Marvelous Journey to China, 21 Activities (For Kids series), which sparked our creativity.
Look at the short list of materials needed to create this fun and aged map:
- Paper size of your choice. We had regular old paper.
- Permanent Marker
- Coffee and coffee grounds
- Atlas. If you don’t have any, check out our fixation on them here.
Have those things in your house?
Another reason why this is such a fun project is that there was very little known of the world in Marco Polo’s time, so most of the map can be made up from your child’s imagination.
A short geography project is a win-win! There’s no moaning when kids are mapping out mythological and unexplored areas.
Tiny just drew Africa, labeled the Mediterranean Sea, filled in the rest with creatures and monsters, and added in his own warning message.
I grabbed some leftover coffee and a soft rag.
Next, he crumpled up the page and wadded it up real good (he loved that part) and laid it back out again. This helps the map to look worn.
The coffee grounds were a must too.
He added a few of those over some holes he made on the map and it started to take shape. We both wished he had added a bit more coffee grounds over it to mimic aged spots.
Then he took his soft rag and used the old coffee to soak the map.
Be careful to not tear the page, though you do want some of the edges torn. Add a few torn edges.
Then I stuck it in the oven on the lowest heat and dried it for about 5 minutes. Take it out and be careful because now you have an old and brittle map.
Here are a couple of other books, we have for this unit study too.
Persian Mosaic Craft
Covering the culture and geography of Asia takes time and it is best studied through the eyes of somebody that traveled during that time like Marco Polo.
One of the many things he would have seen along the Silk Road were the beautiful mosaics made by ancient Persian artists.
While they would have used beads, glass, shells, and just about anything they had to create their masterpiece, you also can use just about anything you have around your house for this hands-on activity.
A few ideas are:
- pieces of aluminum foil
- macaroni, beans, etc.
- And grab some glue too!
The Mr. had bought a few craft things for us when he was at the store and I picked up a few pieces of leather (pretty inexpensive here in Ecuador) and we used the leather pieces to make our mosaic.
So Tiny began to lay out his design.
After cutting out his pieces, he had to study his design for a while.
This was actually a good art lesson for him because like his mother (poor thing) he is not particularly comfortable with crafting and creating. But because he just laps up a hands-on activity anytime we do one, I always make time for quite a few for him.
Unlike Mr. Awesome, who seizes the moment to craft and create, Tiny expects perfection every time, which is exactly why I like for him to do them. I want him to not be so hard on himself when it comes to creating and crafting and to lighten up some.
You have to love the many personalities you teach while homeschooling. One kid I have to rein in from hands-on to do some seatwork and the other kid I have to unglue from the seat for some hands-on work.
Anyway, after Tiny studied his design for a while, he was satisfied and glued on all the pieces.
It makes it easy to read about Persian art and modern-day Iran when your kid can do an engaging and simple activity.
Extend-a-Timeline Book – Hands-On History
I have a free extend-a-timeline book, which is the next interactive minibook we did on our Marco Polo Unit Study.
Look at the steps below on how to do this free extend-a-timeline book.
First, it’s easier to have your child write on a full size page instead of the smaller strip. So fill in the timeline on the full size page first before you cut the strips.
I have some information on the downloadable to help you fill out the timeline and then, as I go along, I will add a more comprehensive timeline on this unit study.
Here in Ecuador I haven’t been able to find cardstock yet, but I had photo paper and since it’s more stiff, I used that for the cover page or 3 masted ship. That’s the kind of ship Marco Polo would have traveled in.
You want to print out the cover page on stiffer paper or cardstock and print out the timeline on regular paper so the strip is easier to fold.
Fold the cover sheet in half and cut down the middle.
Then cut out the timeline strips after they are filled in and fold back the part on the strip (gray part) where the two strips glue together.
After you download the printables, you will see that there are two strips that need to be glued together to form one long strip or timeline that will extend across both halves of the cover page.
I have instructions on the printables or tabs to show you where you are suppose to glue it in case this sounds all like gibberish.
Here is the picture below after gluing the two strips together.
Fold the crease and let it dry for a while. Then crease both ends of the strip at the point where they will attach to the cover page.
Next, work on folding it accordion style. You can see the front of the timeline faintly when you turn the strip on the back to start folding. We just folded it naturally dividing the time periods with the faint lines showing through from the front.
The picture below on the left shows us folding it accordion style and the picture on the right shows how it looked before we glued it on but after we messed with folding it.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. As long as it’s accordion-like, it will work.
Then, flatten out the end pieces of the strip before you glue them onto the cover.
Glue the strips onto the bottom of the cover page, not in the middle or above, so that the book will stand somewhat on its own.
Taa-daa! Look at our interactive extend-a-timeline book!
Here is how the printables look below.
Marco Polo Notebooking Pages
Here is the first set of Marco Polo notebooking pages.
The first notebooking page is a place to write about Marco Polo’s childhood as he grew up in Venice and contemplated visiting far off places that were not discovered.
On the second notebooking page, your child can add a bit of geography about the Persian desert. There is also space for your child to either describe the travels of Marco Polo across the Persian desert or to tell about animal or plant life on the desert.
Lastly, I have a page that can be used to give an overview of the Mongol Empire.
The Mongolian Empire was such a huge empire at that time that it has taken us awhile during reading to wrap our minds around the large amount of land that was conquered by Genghis Khan.
The printables on the Marco Polo Unit Study are special ones because I love to hold back printables to share especially with my loyal email readers.
Terracotta Warriors Craft
Taking a bunny trail in our Marco Polo Unit Study to talk about the Terracotta Warriors was a fun way to spend the morning as we debated whether or not Marco Polo really visited all the places he claimed.
Also, though we have been adding to our homeschooling supplies ever since we moved here, we still haven’t found any clay yet.
That is okay because salt dough is pretty cheap and, outside of salt dough maps, you can make just about anything out of it.
Tiny researched a few of the free websites online to see how the Terracotta Warriors were made and then he made his version of a warrior.
This is an activity he can do by himself too, which I loved.
Afterwards, he used some tempera paints we found here and gave his warrior a color he thought it would have been when discovered.
Pretty fun and a pretty easy activity for this unit study!
Marco Polo Unit Study – Free Resources
I also have some free resources that will help to round out your unit study.
Online resources have become really important to us since we couldn’t bring all of our books when we moved here to Ecuador.
So, I have taken some time in putting together some of the more helpful links. I hope you find them helpful too!
Helpful Lesson Plans and Background Information
Learning through History Silk Road Mini Unit
Check out the activities Highhill Homeschool did for their co-op on China.
Wonderful article with a visual that shows how the Terracotta Warriors were made
Pretty cool infographic timeline about Marco Polo. Be sure to zoom in if the image is small.
Free Teacher’s Guides
Teacher’s Guide on Medieval China: 47 pages. Even though this free guide is based on a DVD, the ideas in it are still great for background information and to spark another topic you may want to learn about.
Teacher’s Guide on Life in Medieval Europe: 30 pages. This is a very helpful guide along with a timeline and activities to do. It also has information about what was going on in Marco Polo’s life during the medieval times in Europe.
Kids Discover Teacher’s Guide and Power Vocabulary Download: Though this is very helpful, the guide is based off of your purchasing their book. But you do not have to do that in order to brainstorm some of the great ideas in this free download.
Though I am hesitant at times to recommend resources that make you give up your email (free means free and folks should have a choice to drop their email or not), this is an excellent resource.
You will need to sign up with your email to get it, so use an email address that you reserve for things like that.
Teacher’s Guide about the Terracotta Warriors: 47 pages. Wonderful information from the British Museum about how the Terracotta Warriors were made.
Other Free Printables
Over at the Homeschool Den, Liesl has some great free notebooking pages about Marco Polo and Genghis Khan notebooking pages.
Over at 123 Homeschool 4 Me, Beth has an Early Explorers Unit and a free Marco Polo lapbook.
The Mongol Empire “Kublai Khan” History Channel – For a middle school to high school student because it’s not cartoonish, but more factual type of presentation. Appreciated by an older student.
Wait for It! Crash Course on the Mongol – Fun! From younger to older will enjoy this lively presentation.
Free Coloring Pages
I listed a few coloring pages here too for those of any age, K to Gray, that like to color. That includes me. Am I the only one who prints off a page and color with my kids? It’s so relaxing in a way.
Grab these coloring pages on Printable Colouring Pages.
Grab these coloring pages on Printable Colouring Pages.
Free Country Report
Grab my free country report on the country of Mongolia from my geography page to add to your notebook or study.
This is a fun and quick report for a middle or high school student to do.
It’s also an easy way to add notebooking and geography to your unit study!
Salt Dough Map
Tiny never tires of salt dough maps. It is one of his favorite go-to geography projects.
Our Marco Polo unit study is not only an awesome unit study for a salt dough map, but the map is a project he can mostly do by himself now.
We gathered our supplies and we are finally starting to add to our school supplies here in Ecuador. Thank goodness they have Pizza Hut delivery here so we had a box for our project.
Also, when we left the states, I made sure our suitcases had plenty of room for our much-loved atlases.
We made it here to South America with our atlases in great shape and, since books in English are almost non-existent here, we take care real good care of what we do have.
No running to drool over books at Barnes & Noble here!
Back to our project. After mixing the dough, we just drew freehand on the box with a pencil and then traced back over with a permanent marker.
Not only did we add some of the places visited by Marco Polo, but Tiny wanted to label some of the areas around it, so we did.
Free Printable Map Flags
I also made some printable flags to put on the salt dough map.
For a few places, I added the name that would have been used back in the time of Marco Polo and then put the name of the modern day city to help Tiny make a connection.
Names are boring to learn about, unless they make sense today.
Remember, before the salt dough dries, stick a toothpick in the dough. That way, when it dries, the hole is already there for the flag pennant.
It’s much more engaging for Tiny to add the pennants on some of the places Marco Polo traveled instead of labeling a printed out map, which would have been a lot more easier for me. Also, he remembers geography a lot better this way.
At the last minute, he decided he wanted to paint the trail of Marco Polo’s travels white, because it would be easier for him to remember.
Marco Polo Lapbook
Here’s the finished Marco Polo Lapbook! And it’s all yours as a loyal subscriber! Get a look at the individual lapbook minibooks below!