I have two girly girls. Girls who have each dreamed of being a ballerina, danced in tutus around the house, and sat through every minute of “Barbie’s Swan Lake” more times than we can count.
We’ve never actually been to the ballet, though we would like to go. And we’ve heard excerpts at various symphony performances, but we’ve never listened to the entire Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky. Of course, there’s a big difference between BARBIE’S Swan Lake and THE Swan Lake. (We didn’t know how it really ends!) Reviewing the Swan Lake CD by Maestro Classics has turned out to be not only very enjoyable (as I expected) but also very educational and FUN!
Come with me and see how we turned our Maestro Classics Swan Lake CD into a little unit study with the help of the online curriculum guide and some other resources that we found! (P.S. For information about this review and the compensation I received, please check out the disclosure at the end – thanks!)
Music Study with Swan Lake and Maestro Classics
Appreciate the Music
The first thing we do when we get our Maestro Classics cds is just enjoy the music. No study, no lessons, no directions. We might dance, we might draw, we might just sit and listen. We will listen to the music several times before we actually do anything else. The Maestro Classics version of Swan Lake is a shortened, narrated version of the ballet which still tells the complete story. You can listen to a sample here.
After we’ve enjoyed it several times, we’ll start using the online curriculum guide on the Maestro Classics website to start digging in. There are so many suggestions online that we would never get to them all, so I choose a handful of areas to focus on and we go from there. For this unit study we enjoyed learning more about Tchaikovsky, Degas, DaVinci, flight, crossbows, dry brushing, Russia and monarchies!
History from Swan Lake
Since Swan Lake is set in a fictional monarchy, we used the suggestion from the online curriculum guide to learn more about different forms of government and monarchies. There are several good links on there and you can pick and choose according to your kids’ age levels and interests.
We actually own a similar but different book about Kings and Queens (10 Kings and Queens Who Changed the World) which even includes a section on Louis XIV – convenient because we also briefly looked at the history of ballet with King Louis XIV. I did not know he was a dancer! Or that he created the first ballet school. As I’m fond of saying, “I learn new things every day!”
The Science of Swan Lake
Did you know that crossbows were invented by the Chinese? Because the prince received a crossbow as a gift (and because I knew my son would enjoy it,) we researched more about crossbows and had fun making one of our own!
The video about crossbows (in the curriculum guide) referenced a lot of things we had just studied in our history lessons! We had actually just studied the Song Dynasty in our history book, and how they developed a kind of “machine gun” crossbow, and then arrows with rockets (along with a non-exploding gun powder to propel it) and more. I love watching the kids’ eyes light up as they say, “We just studied this!”
After watching several videos we followed the link in the curriculum guide to make our own with common household items — YES, my son loved that part! And because Leonardo Divinci was not only a famous inventor but also had designed and sketched a large, oversized version of a crossbow, we spent a few minutes reading up on him as well (links in the curriculum guide.)
How do birds fly? Another science element we studied was flight, specifically the Bernoulli principle. I have never understood lift before – my brain doesn’t “get” stuff like that easily. This video on youtube is kind of dry at first, but the ping pong ball experiment at the end was pretty cool! We also looked up more information about birds and their feathers in our DK The Big Idea Science Book and how they fly in Tell Me About the World, while the girls colored pictures of swans and my son drew his own picture of a bird.
Geography from Swan Lake
Swan Lake wasn’t set in any specific time and place, but since Tchaikovsky is from Russia we pulled out our Children’s World Atlas and located Russia — in the sections for both Europe and Asia! We did not realize that half of Russia is considered a part of Europe and half is Asia. (I should have, but I never really thought about it.)
Since we recently studied how Vikings settled in Russia, we noted how part of Russia sits right up against Scandinavia. And since we recently studied the finding of woolly mammoth fossils in Siberia, we made sure we located that on the map as well. Our atlas also includes an overview of each continent as well as topographical information and we took a few minutes to consider the landscape and climate of Russia.
Swan Lake Inspired Art
Edgar Degas is best known for painting, drawing and sculpting ballerinas. Apparently he loved the movement of the dancers and wanted to catch that in his art. After reading more about Degas and looking at some of his paintings in our Usborne books, Book of Famous Paintings and Book of Famous Artists, the girls got to try their hands at dry brushing with watercolor (using the tutorial found and printed from the curriculum guide.) Dry brushing is not as easy as it looks!
The Music of Tchaikovsky
We did read more about Tchaikovsky in our Encyclopedia of Music, but then we spent more time listening to more of his music. If he wasn’t before, certainly now he is one of my favorite composers. The kids and I found a full version of the Swan Lake ballet on YouTube and enjoyed watching the whole thing.
We also listened to the 1812 Overture — which our encyclopedia told us Tchaikovsky called “loud and noisy…and probably artistically worthless.” How funny! I would venture to say that even though many people may not know the title, many many people are familiar with the main melodies, and perhaps Tchaikovsky would be surprised if he could see how popular and well known it is now.
Last but not least, and since it is nearing Christmas time already, we capped off our music study watching another of Tchaikovsky’s three famous ballets – The Nutcracker. This version available on Netflix, is older and and slightly odd in parts, but I think they did a really good job of turning the ballet into a movie and the sets and costumes are imaginative and clever. We have seen this before and the we somewhat affectionately call it “the weird Nutcracker movie,” but you get to enjoy music of the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra.
Now Win One Of Your Own
Maestro Classics is giving away a copy of the Swan Lake to CD to one of my readers! You can use the online curriculum guide and some of my experiences here to create your very own Swan Lake inspired unit study.
You’ll enjoy Maestro Classics because they are well done, combine fun with learning, include a booklet with extra pages, are geared for multiple ages and are easy to use.
With Christmas coming, this cd would make a great stocking stuffer for your little ballerina! Or your classical music lover. (Or your son who’d like to make a crossbow while listening to Tchaikovsky.) Enter to win one with the app below:
The giveaway is open to U.S. residents age 18+, and will be open through midnight, Monday, December 2nd. Winner will be notified via email and must respond within 48 hours to claim their prize.
In full disclosure: I received a free copy of the Swan Lake CD as well as compensation for my time in using and reviewing the product. We have been enjoying using and reviewing the Maestro Classics cds and I hope our genuine appreciation of their products comes through in my posts. All opinions are my own, and if you have any questions – please ask!