Ancient China: The Geography of China and Xia Dynasty

Marco Polo and his route to Cathay
Marco Polo and his route to Cathay

Having now read all of book one of The Travels of Marco Polo, we find ourselves in Cathay, or China as it is now known.  Polo described the mountain ranges he trekked along with his experiences in the deserts.  We had already covered mountains and deserts in our previous studies of Turkey (mountains) and Egypt (desert).  I asked a few questions to see what, if anything, they remembered and their recall was brilliant.  They could reel off all the different ways mountains were formed, understood completely the terms erosion and desertification and how they applied to the formation of deserts.  We got out our notes on mountains and deserts which they read through.  We also did a quick revision lesson on the water cycle.  Again, there was no need, for they remembered it from our time in Mesopotamia when we had studied rivers in some depth.

I wanted them to learn a little about the particular terrain Marco Polo travelled over so had them view a couple of videos; one of the Pamir mountain Range and another of the Gobi desert.  My goal here was for the children to at least have an appreciation of the land Marco Polo had to traverse over in order to reach his destination.  We marked out this part of his journey on our map, sooo not to scale (!):

Gobi Desert and the caravan
Gobi Desert and the caravan

I also gave them a photocopy of some information on the Pamir mountains.  I asked them to high-light the key words they thought were important and then attempt to use this sheet as a new way to carry out prewriting planning.  So far the children have learnt about IEW’s key word method and the spider diagram method for organising their ideas before writing essays.  I want to expose them to as many methods as possible until each find the best fit.  T11 loves using spider diagrams and it really has made writing so much easier for him.  L10 enjoys the KWOs but C10 hasn’t found anything to suit her.  I’ll keep searching, we’ll find something eventually.  Here is the sheet they tried out:


Next, we explored the geography of China.  Although we have looked at Ancient China before, I knew we would be covering it in more depth with Marco Polo.  I used this site as an introduction.

China’s geography played a huge role in the unique civilisations it built.  There was such little contact with the outside world that they were able to develop at their own speed in their own way.  And develop they did.  They are thought to have been the most advanced of ancient civilisations, with many inventions credited to them.

Over the next few weeks the children and I will be learning more about China’s geographical features as well as a little bit about each of the dynasties and the associated innovations.

This week we have been concentrating on the Xia dynasty.  I gave the guys a sheet with all the information they would need to complete the tasks during their independent study time:

Assignment sheet
Assignment sheet

My goals were:

  • To read up about the Xia dynasty, here and here
  • Have the children write a short paragraph about the Xia dynasty:


  • For the children to familiarise themselves with the story of Loawnu, the wise woman, thought to originate from the Xia dynasty, and complete the task of rewriting it in cartoon form:


We are beginning to wind down for summer, with only seven full weeks left.  This year, Gary and I have decided to take two months summer break from full-time school.  We have never done this before, being all year round schoolers, but both feel we need it.  We haven’t figured out the details yet, but I will be ensuring that I am not working AT ALL during some of that time.  The next 7 weeks will be finishing off Ancient China and completing some bits and pieces I’ve not finished from my plans this year.  The littles will be rowing the last few books from B4FIAR.   I am very excited about the possibilities for this summer and am really enjoying discussing them with Gary and the children.
Linking up here


    1. It has nothing to do with the schools and everything to do with the amount of work I want to complete before we take a break. Oh, but for 8 weeks after that…..let’s just say I can’t wait!

  1. Chiese history is so vast and interesting, as is that of every country, really. I think the map is such a great visual tool, even if it isn’t to scale. I’m also looking forward to the summer.

    1. I have to be completely honest and say that I am so pleased we are now in China. I have loads of fun hands on things planned, and hands on suits our school very nicely indeed!

  2. I love that your children are 1-2 years ahead of mine. You have such great ideas for me to use! thanks 🙂

  3. Enjoy your summer! I really appreciate all of the work you put into schooling your children and that you share it! My children benefit from all of your hard work. I am not nearly as creative but, love history,
    and you help them to have fun while learning-Thank you-Tonyia

  4. This is so helpful Claire, thank you for sharing all your resources. We previewed the big Marco Polo book this week and C(9) is very excited already. I love how you bring in all that geography and science to your history studies – very inspiring!

  5. It’s great you are taking a break from school. When we take a break we do more projects than when we are in school. The kids are so busy with their own hobbies and ideas. I look forward to seeing how your kids amuse themselves.

  6. Hello,
    while i was searching for some ideas to teach my son about China, so i came across your web site, i really love all the ideas you posted, and i will love to learn some more ideas from you.
    we are currently in Thailand, so i figured it is a great opportunities to learn about Asia’s Ancients history.
    i’m thinking to start with continents, flags, capitals , food, money religions and then move on to every continent individually. my son is in seventh grade and this is our second year homeschooling 🙂

    looking forward to hearing from you,

    1. Hi Bass, I’m so pleased you found something useful. We’re doing China for another few weeks so hopefully they’ll be other ideas you can use too.
      Your plans sound great and how exciting to be learning it all when you are living among the culture already.
      Maybe you could give me some ideas??

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