The Firebird Suite was written by Igor Stravinsky for the Ballet Russes and the collaborations between those artists were historically valuable and inspired to folklore. Children find Firebird entrancing and I presume they have for a very long time. Your dancer might remember that the young farmer, Ivan, from The Little Humpbacked Horse, found a Firebird feather. This is a continuation of lore among stories. I describe it to the children using movies: If you see R2D2 in a Star Wars movie and then see a totally different Star Wars TV show or cartoon with a character that’s just like R2D2, this is because the movies and shows about Star Wars all happen in the same universe. (They understand this somewhat despite it being rather conceptual.)
As we’re only enjoying the story of Firebird for two weeks, I’m doing an abridged STEAM entry on the ballet: we’ll touch on apples (because golden apples are lure of Katschei, the story’s villain) and the many versions of the Firebird’s costume.
Science: The Oxidation of Apples
The apples in Katschei’s Garden are magical and golden (special!), but the apples in season in the fall are available everywhere (not special). It’s a lower elementary tradition to talk about oxidation in apples. Your preschooler or kindergartener can also participate in this simple science, as they can observe the cause and effect of an apple browning after it’s cut, whether or not they absorb the words “oxidation” or “molecule.” A simply described experiment for observing oxidation follows.
I’m also fond of this “next step” video in which the science teacher observed the browning of the cut apple and looked for different ways to prevent that.
Art: The Firebird
She’s a character from folklore, so we’ve had a long time to imagine how she looks. She is always a girl, cruelly changed into a magical bird by a mean magician (Katschei) and she always sacrifices herself so that her captor is stopped from wrongdoing. She’s dynamic and highly honorable, but only occasionally feminine.
The original costume drawing for The Firebird is not what you’d call pretty. There’s a great video on this from the NYMoMA the parents will like more than the children. But I’m providing a little feast for the eyes below. See how many ways we have imagined the Firebird? How many colors make the fire? Perhaps use these for inspiration when you color the coloring sheet below the slideshow.
Watch The Ballet Online
As always, here is a link to see the ballet in its entirety online. Firebird usually takes less than an hour and it’s full of captivating imagery so it’s got a fighting chance of keeping any child’s attention. The link below is to a production with super star Diana Vishneva.
This month, we go to Ancient Egypt with the ballet, The Pharaohs Daughter! It’s a rarely performed, but highly revered, ballet with music by Cesare Pugni. The story resembles The Nutcracker Suite, in that it revolves around a dream. But here, the dream belongs to a man: English Lord John Bull. He goes to Egypt to study the pyramids and when a sand storm traps him inside one, he falls asleep by the mummy of a Pharaoh’s Daughter and dreams of loving her when she was alive.
Our STEAM homeschool activities are especially fun this month, and I hope you enjoy sharing these with your high-achieving, dancers!
As this may be your child’s first exposure to Ancient Egypt, a primer can be helpful. Note: I avoid the topic of mummification as it’s not developmentally appropriate. This said, children’s videos on the topic do exist: example here. Below, see a primer.
Sandstorms are a common weather events in Egypt. This lovely old documentary video shows soldiers braving the storm. We tend to call them Dust Storms in America (we have them in the dry states). Watch this wonderful meteorologist explain to a new first grader how sandstorms form.
Technology: The Nile River’s Boats
The Nile River is at the heart of all life in modern and Ancient Egypt: the River sources water for drinking, washing, watering crops and TRANSPORTATION. This wonderful video not only shows why the Nile was important, but also mentions NUBIANS, who are part of The Pharaoh’s Daughter, the ballet we study this month!
For good reason, Egypt is incredibly proud of their boats and the technologies they developed to work with the Nile in its seasons. This NatGeoKids adventure revolves around a Felucca boat and dips into different ports to sample the pleasures, including paddle boats! I highly recommend subscribing to NatGeo on Youtube!
What spectacular cartoons we have online about how the pyramids were made. It’s a fascinating system of problems with remarkable answers. The following videos features some big words, but the visual demonstrations are just great! And so many projects can come from these lessons.
People have been fascinated with pyramids for centuries and some of us (kinesthetic learners) need to make things to understand things. This example of a kinesthetic learner figuring out pyramids is just wonderful: his medium is wood.
Art: Draw an Egyptian Boat of Pharoah
Math: Pyramid Block Project
Ancient Egyptians famously created many forms of measurement math which we use today–they came up with the 24 hour day and 365 Day Year. (The National Geographic primer on Ancient Egypt is FANTASTIC, but for older students.)
The pyramid crafts I direct you to (below) will work with children from Toddler to Pre-Teen because pyramids are magically efficient and vary from simple to elaborate; you choose what to do based on your abilities/interest. Below, find a collection of links to pyramids you can build with your child–or, set your child up with THE RIGHT NUMBER OF BUILDING TOOLS (math) and let them figure it out. All pyramids are made of single materials for simple counting.
Craft sticks (aka popsicle sticks) pyramids often require crafters to cut the sticks (this isn’t safe or developmentally appropriate), but I found two videos that DO NOT require wood cutting, but still demonstrate 3-D values: 3-D simple Tetrahedron and Stacked Center “Temple” (video made by kids, adorable bloopers).
Watch the Ballet Online
You can see a lovely but older production of The Pharoah’s Daughter here. Please note: the video has a glitch (1:15-1:26) that causes it to repeat a little more than 10 minutes of content.
This classical ballet was recently revived by the Bolshoi with Svetlana Zakharova (my personal favorite dancer). Available on DVD (click the image).
This month’s ballet is Graduation Ball! Set in Vienna in the mid 1800’s (for heightened nostalgia), it’s the story of a finishing school dance to which a class of cadets has been invited. This will be our dancers’ first exposure to Johann Strauss!
Our STEAM activity suggestions are playful and associative and I hope you enjoy!!!
Science: Physics of Fouetté!
The step we call the hardest in ballet is the fouetté, and towards the end of Graduation Ball, there is a contest where two tutu-ed dancers do 12 and then 24 fouetté in a row. The step is a pirouette (a spin on one foot) that ends with the dancer putting one leg out and using it to build momentum and pirouette again.
My dancers are not ready to fouetté on their own–they won’t even learn the preliminary step (pirouette) for a while, but when you see a ballet in its entirety you’re likely to see fouettés, which really does inspire awe and wonder! I found this darling TED video on the PHYSICS of fouettés!
Technology: Chandeliers & Gas Lighting
Part of the magic of Graduation Ball is the warm glow and the golden walls of the Ballroom. In this scene, we have both Chandeliers and Candelabra. Chandeliers are glass or crystal hanging lamps that contain flame and usually have dangling glass or crystal to refract the flame and light more space. In the image below you can also see candelabra (candleholder with arms for many candles) because a chandelier lights from above and a candelabra lights so people could better faces.
Children are familiar with candles–the wick catches flame and the wax fuels it. Lanterns also have a wick but instead of wax they use oil or gas as fuel. If your family celebrates Diwali, your child may already know oil lamps. They come in so many sizes and shapes! I’ll bet your child didn’t know Alladin’s lamp was missing a wick:-)
In the 1800s gas lines were built into the walls of houses. The gas (kerosene, etc) travelled from the wall through small pipes and into lanterns like these.
Chandeliers could use both gas technology and candles. The kind of lamp, lantern or chandelier you had depended upon the make of your home (if it had gas lines in the walls) and how much light you needed (a ball room needs a lot!).
There are plenty of online tutorials on making your own oil lamp. I find the ones about survival to be the most compelling, but this Mason Jar DIY is the simplest.
Engineering: The Drummer
In Graduation Ball, a drummer has a very springy solo. His jumps look like the drumstick as it bounces off the tight surface of a drum. Drums are simple instruments and there are many ways to make them. There are Drums made from wood, from scratch, from plastic cups, or even out of packing tape! But, for my druthers, the best to make at home is the TIN CAN drum. Have fun with it!
Art: Color the Parts of Temps Lie
This month we learn balancé. This step is commonly paired with waltz music as it has a 1, 2, 3, or down-up-up rhythm. For balancé, we shift weight from one foot to the other. In order to best support your child learning the most basic (and hardest) element of our beloved waltz step, I offer a coloring sheet. Coloring can provide a meditation on the position of the body which is very instructive and often soothing.
Math: The Waltz
Johann Strauss is the name associated with most famous waltzes, and while he wrote many, his most famous is The Blue Danube Waltz, which occasionally appears in this ballet but not in the version I’m suggesting to watch. I know it’s silly, but when I was young, I heard someone sing the Blue Danube with these lyrics.
“The Blue Danube Waltz by Strauss, the Louse.
He lives in a house, with Mickey Mouse.”
I realize this isn’t the apex of refinement, but the principle of waltz timing stuck to me so well after I heard that. Each line is 9 counts and completes a whole phrase (I hope I used that term correctly) so you have a sense of a 3 beat bar.
To count a waltz beat, you only have to say 1, 2, 3, with each number lasting the same amount of time, but to dance it, we tend to say “down, up, up” with more time given to the first (and preparatory) down beat. This wonderful balance video shows step timing and, therefore, waltz beat.
This magic fable gives us a chance to look at the build of a ballet production, the harvest of a farm, how to make our toys fly and how to paint a puppet!!!
Science: Plowing Earth
The Little Humpbacked Horse begins at Ivan’s family farm, where we see farm equipment, typically a scythe or a plow. A PLOW is a basic farming tool that pokes into the dirt to loosen it and make it easier for air, water and sun to fall on anything we plant there. This lovely little video shows a plow breaking up the earth and a farmer dropping seeds into holes he makes for them. Simple and easy to follow.
Technology: The Scythe
The SCYTHE is a basic cutting tool that helps the farmer cut wheat, grass or any tall crops so s/he doesn’t have to bend over and hurt his/her back in the process. The Gentleman Farmer calls it FarmFit and shows how to do it properly below.
If you’ve ever seen someone “fly” onstage, you know they’re not really flying, they’re lifted by ropes. The people get into the air with the help of a PULLEY. I made this simple, silly video to show how a “Firebird Feather” can help Ivan Fly.
Art: Puppet Painting
For a while I’ve had requests for puppet painting workshops–I’m open to the idea, but I thought I’d commit the act to video first. Below find videos for painting both Ballerinas and Cavaliers. In my demonstration I use a bamboo rice paddle, but when I’ve done workshops in preschools I’ve given everyone plastic spoons and sharpies.
Math: Rows, Columns & Corps de Ballet
Corps (pronounced “core”) de ballet are groups of dancers who usually dance in unison. The word “Corps” means “body” and perhaps “Corps de Ballet” refers to the majority or heart of the company. For the dancers to move in unison means they are doing the same things at the same time, and to show that off, dance teachers put them into ROWS and COLUMNS. Costumes help as well. Can you see the unison?
When you have a class of 12 or 15 (common sizes) a dance teacher has to organize the dancers into rows. Here is a small video showing this principle using glass gems. Dancers think of it as choreography, but math teachers call it Array Division.
In La Fille Mal Gardee, the silly boy Alain carries his umbrella with him even when it doesn’t look cloudy. It looks like he’s afraid of the rain, but at the end of the first act, the wind sweeps him up into the sky and carries him away! Of course, this is impossible, but that’s why it’s silly! Or, Alain knew something we didn’t?
Most of the time, when wind hits an umbrella, it looks like this.
ACTIVITY: If you have a cocktail umbrella (of if you want to make one) and you put it in front of a fan, it float away! You can’t make it float unless the umbrella is open and the wind is approaching from under the bell. You can even make it float by blowing.
Technology: Wheat to Flour
Wheat is where flour comes from, and we need flour to make bread. And it takes A LOT of work to turn wheat in to flour!!
Wheat is bundled to be THRESHED more easily. In threshing, wheat berries come out their stalks. This farm in Morgan Hill does it with a pillow case!
Wheat is a long, tall plant and at the top of each stalk are a bunch of wheat berries.
Threshing breaks the stalk and chaff and the berry has to be separated in a process called WINNOWING. This animation calls it “Methods of Separation” and this is where children can get really involved looking at the berries as they vary in shape, size and wight from the chaff or the bits of wheat shaft that always stay in the mix.
People are incredibly creative with threshing. This family made their own thresher out of a bucket. After the berries are cleaned and separate, the wheat can be ground into flour. In this video, you see Mill Stones grind the wheat twice to get flour!
Do you remember when Auntie locked Lise into the house? Did you notice that key was different than the keys your family might use to get into your house?
That key is old! And in England, where buildings are quite old, it’s still fairly common for people to use old locks like that. This is why most of the videos you’ll find about old LEVER LOCK works come from the United Kingdom. This short video shows you how the lever works. Notice the locksmith’s accent:-)
This lovely animation addresses the inner workings of a modern lock with clarity!
Locks and keys are wonderful simple machines. Locks/Keys are both practical end intellectual tools so early education features a lot of activities with them . The blog No Time for Flashcards shows wonderful matching games to do at home with padlocks and luggage locks, and Voila Montessori argues locks can build resilience!
Art: Spinning & Weaving
Lise and Colas show they like each other early in La Fille Mal Gardee, when he hands her the end of a big ribbon and they twirl the ribbon into a big CATS CRADLE.
Cats cradles are a kind of weaving, but it’s also an old game. This video shows how to set up and play Cat’s Cradle. All you need is string you can tie into a loop. Mom’s Minivan has trickier examples, but once your child figures out one Cat’s Cradle variant, it’s quiet fun for a long time!
Weaving is really important on a farm and so is SPINNING! Spinning is what you do to weave wool or cotton into yarn. From yarn you can make sweaters and scarves. Lise and her Aunt weave together.
Did you noice the lovely MAYPOLE everyone dances around at the end of the first act? You can make your own Maypole at home!This adorable Waldorf teacher shares both a song and a model you could copy for a miniature indoor maypole. I especially like this tutorial which the Highland Plains Historical Society (#PPHMAtHome) uploaded just this May. This has a long tradition, and it’s also useful for teaching braiding, so you don’t need to instruct about it exclusive to May or May Day. You can see how this could get really elaborate, but how wonderful to see one that’s simple and easy! And this coloring book has some wonderful offerings, one which is available to print.
Math: (Music) Meter & Time Signatures
La Fille Male Gardee has lots fun songs that play with tempo. Consider the Clog dance in the first act. This might be an easy example to use with your child because the clogs are a percussion instrument and part of the dancing at the same time. You’ll hear the music go fast four times and slow on the fifth. The music signature is 12/8, which explains the speed but the point of my example is that you can count the tempo by counting the sound of the clogs and that’s an apt introduction to
Most of my dancers are 3-6, however, I do have a community of lower elementary children from 6-10 and those children could approach the topic of music and math with an approach using pizza (fractions). I had a hard time learning my notes as a child, but I bet if someone explained it to me with a pizza, I’d have learned faster!
Steps: Asymmetrical jumps
Coloring the following coloring pages will help the dancer see the difference between symmetry and asymmetry as well as the position of the feet as they’re expected to be IN MID AIR. Since the children don’t really get to observe their feet in the air, these study tools (ahem, coloring pages) are the next best thing.
THIS SHOULD BE FUN! We’re beginning with sauté, to remind the children when you jump you MUST point your toes and stretch your knees. In fairness, Sauté (aka temps levé) is a symmetrical jump (both legs do the same thing) and while it demonstrates fundamentals, it’s won’t prepare them for asymmetrical jumps.
After sauté, the children will practice dégagé for stronger feet and to build into glissade, petit jete and assemblé. In other months, we learn sissonne and if the children are ready to zoom through these jumps, I’ll definitely test their abilities!
Hello, Moms & Dads! Below find easy EXPERIMENTS, tiny LESSONS and STEAM inspired ACTIVITIES for your dancers at home! PEER GYNT is born in NORWAY, takes a SHIP through FYORDS, and makes MONEY abroad. So, using something like a STEAM format, I’ve laid out these activities to support our learning in ballet!
I hope the extras are fun! I loved finding them for you:-) Thanks to all the homeschool families for their great work and resources! Sharing really is caring!
It’s good to re-address BIG and SMALL. Whenever we have a map we’re seeing something very big in a way to make it look small. A child can’t imagine the actual distance a map covers. Using household objects can help drive ideas home. Don’t have glaciers to show your child? I bet you have ice cubes, and the difference between the two (BIG and SMALL) is part of the learning opportunity.
Norway is part of Europe, and has a very rich culture and history. The map/coloring sheet below shows a wonderful jagged landscape on the water-facing side of the nation and coloring this can help your child make a connection between the land and the FJORDS described below! Look at all the “U-Shaped” cuts GLACIERS made!
Fjords (img below) are long, narrow bodies of water running between mountains. Watch a beautiful short video of Fjords here.
Do you see the curves in this fjord? These curves in the fjord are often shallow so boats and people can make their ways into the water. They’re made when glaciers rolls down the land and slowly change the land’s shape. Glaciers roll because the surface of the ice melts and moves the heavy ice above.
EXPERIMENT: When you hold an ice cube, the ice feels wet. This is because the place where the ice is touching your warm hand is melting. That makes the ice cube really slippery. The same thing is happening to a glacier. When a glacier touches the land, the surface of ice touching the ground melts and helps the ice slide down. This is how the fjords were made! Watch a great animation describing the process HERE.
Technology: Viking Boats
Remember when Peer runs away and gets on a boat? He sails all the way to Africa. Norway has a long boating tradition. Below you’ll see two versions of the “VIKING LONG BOAT.” The first has OARS. An Oar is a flat stick a person has to put into the water and row to push the boat through the water. This boat has six oars, so it will sail well in the fyords, but it is missing one thing.
Engineering: Viking Long Boats
Can you imagine the long fjords with a long boat in them? These boats have oars and SAILS. The oars help the boat when there isn’t much wind, but a sail catches the wind to help the boat travel at sea. Below, find a wonderful activity that shows you how to make a Viking Longboat with a sail!
Art: Cartoons, Music and Sculptures
Every time we learn a new ballet story, we learn a story people loved so much they repeated it again and again. Peer Gynt is a story like that. It was a legend, then a poem and then–most famously–a play by Henrik Ibsen. Ibsen asked Edvard Grieg to write music for it and that music has been used in symphonies, operas and ballet.
Peer Gynt makes selfish mistakes, which means his story features bad examples (lying, cheating, stealing, etc). There are plenty of animations about Peer Gynt that are more explicit than you’d expect for a cartoon, so if you find one I don’t mention here, you might want to preview it before you show your child. The warning even applies to music history/appreciation videos like this one: which is very charming and witty, but does includes some stuff you may have to explain.
Our ballet step progression includes arabesque with arms. Below is a coloring sheet. Coloring in the dancers, much like coloring in the curves of the map, helps reinforce the child’s visual understanding of the principles we’re trying to instill.
Most countries have different kinds of money and each kind of money has a different value. America has Dollars, India has Rupees, Japan has Yen, and Norway has Kroner.
The word Krone means “crown,” and one Krone is worth about ten cents, which means the 100 Kroner you see in the picture below is worth about $10 US dollars.
Maybe you’ve used this work at school? Each row is 10, each square is 100 and each cube is 1,000. This is counting like Krone!
Thank you for reading and I hope you found something here that could be fun to do while it helps support our learning with Peer Gynt!
A week ago, I sent a note to my graduated families offering them online ballet classes for their children who are now 6-10. Kira was a student of mine from a year ago and her mom told Momo’s mom and Kira & Momo enrolled together. The photo above is what happened when they saw each other in our first Zoom class!
I realized when we’re at home, we’re missing our friends, but we aren’t so disconnected. Taking a ballet class online with your friend lets you see them, gives you a shared experience and then gives you something to bond over after. It’s not the same as being together but boy is it a healing option!
It’s been great fun adjusting my classes for older children: The older children get floor barre and focus on body awareness for muscle groups so we can learn more complicated steps with safe technique. We’re also learning different ballet stories online than we did in person.
To see a descriptive video of my classes, go here.
If you’d like to enroll your child (and a friend:) in my classes for children 6-10, we have a Tuesday class from 3:30-4pm. Cost is $25 and includes fun/optional class resources for homeschool. Enrollment in the class can be done here.
The story of the ballet is inspired by a 12th Century poem–that’s more than 800 years old! The Poet who wrote this romantic poem was Nizami Ganjavi and he came from Persia. Persia is what we used to call Iran. Can you see on the map how close Iran is to Azerbaijan? How might a person get from one country to the other?
Do you also see Turkey on the map? The songwriter who turned the poem into a ballet story was from Turkey. His name was Nâzım Hikmet and he was quite important, but we don’t have a lot of his work in America because it hasn’t all been translated into English from Turkish. Just like Maria Montessori, Hikmet is famous for speaking out for peace!
Do you know what interests me? The water. In the ballet story, there’s a spring that gets clogged or stopped up by a rock. I’ll bet it would be be an interesting science experiment to work that out with rocks and water. I might see about that.
The Ballet and the Music are Modern
The Music was written by Arif Melikov; this is the name we practice after the puppet story. When you hear the music, you can tell it’s not melodious or gentle: it’s got a lot of hard sounds and it goes from loud to quiet and back quickly. You can also see, when you watch the ballet online, that the dancers are using their arms and legs in a way that looks like the loud and quiet changes in the music. See how they make their hands stick out? And see how they bend their knees where we’d usually stretch them straight?
This Month’s Step in Pieces: Pique Turn
This is the time of year when we try new things, because all of my students are older and bolder, so I thought we could try to learn Pique Turns! We’ll learn this in four parts. We start with 1. passe, then we 2. change weight from two feet to one, then 3. change feet and 4. pivot on demi-pointe.
The aspect of the step we’ll spend the most on is doing pique without the turn. It looks like this:
Adding a turn (pivot) is a big step. This is the first traveling turn we learn in ballet!
Here is a tutorial on the step in action. Notice how she travels across the floor.
Below is a simple coloring sheet. The arms are different on this dancer.
I mentioned this is a traveling turn, which means we do the step to get from one end of the room to the other. Often, when we do many pique turns across the floor, we change arms for our last turn. Here, the arms seem to say “tada.”
Below is another coloring sheet–you can see this dancer is shifting weights from one foot to the other. Notice she is on demi-pointe.
Making this resource page has been so much fun, I want to make them for all the ballets I’m sharing (only with my students) via youtube. I’ll make one for Coppelia and update you as it’s done.
Do not miss the Royal Ballet School’s Peter & the Wolf! All the dancers (save Grandpa, played by a ballet Master) are students and what great work they do! During the Pandemic, The Royal Ballet put up a special video of their school performing this ballet anew–each time the company does a production, the dancers swap roles, so it’s special to see how the dancing changes.
Please note: links for this ballet often change. YouTubers and Content Owners frequently take down links and add new ones so if you find this is out of date, a simple youtube search for “Peter and the Wolf Ballet” will find you another option.
This Australian Ballet Production of Sleeping Beauty begins with an odd intro: ignore that. The choreographic flourishes in this are darling! The fairies float! Carabosse enters on a trolley like Rihanna. And Aurora is so spunky! I especially hope you like Wolf & Riding Hood. Adorable!
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