Marco Polo and the Mongolians

Picture Credit

This week we have taken an unplanned detour.  We neglected to cover the Mongolians during our ancient history studies and I wondered where it might naturally fit in.  Here, is the answer!  As we are reading Polo’s memoirs the ‘Tartars’ are the one people we have no knowledge of, and given they played such an enormous part in the political state of the lands the Polos travelled through and Kublai Khan was a huge reason for their travels, I thought it pertinent that we learn all we could about them.  Unfortunately, I felt we could only give a week, so we went at it bull at a gate (so to speak!).

As I had not bought in any resources I went hunting online.  We obtained most of our information from this site, clicking on the links if we felt we needed more information.  I first wanted the children to understand who the Mongolians were before they became a great ruling nation.  I had them research online.  Over the week they wrote a simple five paragraph essay about the tribes of Mongolia prior to Genghis Khan which they stuck onto card with pictures as a sort of report on the Mongolians (one of my goals for next year):

L10's essay on the Mongolians
L10’s essay on the Mongolians

The children, having learnt about the gers, decided to turn our table into one:

They lent all the chairs against the table at an angle and draped every cloth we had in the house over it.  They made a door using a contrasting woollen tartan
They lent all the chairs against the table at an angle and draped every cloth we had in the house over it. They made a door using a contrasting woollen tartan

The girls spent many a happy hour playing at being Mongols.  They arranged the inside just as it would have been arranged all those years ago, complete with fire:

I just love their imagination used to recreate the interior!
I just love their imagination used to recreate the interior!

They mixed herbs and water and made a Mongolian ‘soup’ over their fire.  And C10, having learnt that the Mongolians used dried dung as the fuel for their fires, went outside and collected a bowl full of rabbit droppings to fuel our own burner.  She even persuaded Gary to put them in:

Ha!  Another of his 'home-schooling experiences I'd rather not be having' expressions!!
Ha! Another of his ‘home-schooling experiences I’d rather not be having’ expressions!!
There they are in all their full glory!
There they are in all their full glory!

We’re not sure they aided the fire in any way but we were all pleased we had an enclosed stove and we hadn’t used cow poop-just sayin’!

As the Mongolians were known as the ‘Felt People’ on account of their colourful felt clothes and felt tents, I felt some felting was in order!  The children read this website and it’s accompanying video on the ancient art of felting.  Now I didn’t fancy that long drawn out process.  It looked a little too much like hard work and anyway I only had a small amount of wool to work with.  So I cheated!  Shhh, don’t tell anyone!  When I was at school I took textiles as one of my GCSEs and I distinctly remember learning about felting wool using soap (alkaline), warmth (from the hot water) and agitation kindly provided by the washing machine with no physical effort required from yours truly.  Chuck wool garment in the washer with detergent, wash, dry in tumble dryer and the result is felt (or something very much like it):

It didn't felt as well as I'd hoped, but really it needed to be 100% wool and was only 80%.  Best we could do!
It didn’t felt as well as I’d hoped, but really it needed to be 100% wool and was only 80%. Best we could do!

As the Mongolians invented applique and it happens to be one of my most favourite sewing techniques, we decided to give it a go.  The Mongolians liked to applique simple designs such as cockerels or horses.  We chose something easier- a heart:


One of the main reasons I wanted to cover the Mongolians was to introduce the children to Genghis Khan and his grandson Kublai Khan and the Mongolian Empire.  Again we used the above web site for our information and found a few YouTube videos.  I find it so surprising that an essentially nomadic tribal people became so powerful throughout the East and had control of so much of the known world.  We had long discussions about the type of person and therefore leader Genghis Khan was and compared him to a few of the other leaders we’ve studied throughout our history work.  I would have concentrated far more on that particular study if we had had more time.  It is definitely something we will return to during one of our revisiting weeks.  Studying well known leaders is a great tool for encouraging good, strong leadership skills in T11, essential in his potential role as a husband and father.

I photocopied a map which showed the land controlled by the Mongols:


As I read Marco Polo’s memoirs I  was struck by how pleased I was that we had finally covered the Mongols given how frequently they are mentioned throughout the fifteen chapters I’ve read so far.  I think this very quick study will help give us a greater appreciation of the world in which Marco travelled.

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  1. I’m glad you’ve done this study and have shared how you’ve approached it. Genghis Khan is a fascinating character. I like how the ger is decorated. It looks very cozy and inviting. I’m not sure about going as far as using real animal poo to simulate the Mongolian experience, although you’re lucky the children didn’t bring in cow pad or horse manure to put in your stove! 🙂

    1. I’m hoping you will check back, Hwee! Did you find Marco Polo’s travels hard going to read? Some of the punctuations I don’t have the foggiest clue about!
      Gary completely agrees with you re poo. I just sort of encourage any learning, so I go with the flow!!

      1. Yes, the reading didn’t flow very well for me. The place names were very difficult to pronounce, and we had to keep referring back to the first few pages to check them against contemporary names to know where they are located today. The reading became more of a discussion than a storytelling time. 🙂

  2. I will be checking out the links you have provided as we are also studying this period. We have watched several You tube video about Marco Polo and the making of silk. Friends gave us some silk worm cocoon to look at. rabbit poo in the fire is homeschooling to the extreme:)

  3. I am so utterly impressed with the Rabbit Poop that I didn’t actually pay too much attention to the rest of the blog post. I shall have to read it again carefully… Well done you guys!! I am thrilled we don’t have a rabbit… just saying… 😉 heeheehee

  4. I”m trying to remember now if the books I’ve read indicate much with the smell of fires made that way. I know it was also common on the American frontier because of lack of trees as well.
    I have this vague feeling my kids will be making tents as well when we reach the Mongols, they’re always looking for an excuse to make a blanket fort.

  5. Have you heard of the Scythians? There were nomadic horsemen who lived on the plains of central Asia. The more I learn about history the more I realize that they were related to many other groups of people. In many cases I think the Scythians were the original horsemen who became groups of people known by other names. It was difficult finding information on the Scythinas when we studied them, and the three activities you did on the mongols could have been done in our Scythian unit.

    1. It is really interesting seeing how everything fits together. Reading Marco Polo’s Travels I am so grateful for our previous study as many countries and cultures are mentioned that if we knew nothing about would render the book even harder than it already is to plough through!

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