Tag Archives: Art

Hands-On Russian History

hands on russian history

We took a couple of fun rabbit trails – one artistic, one linguistic – when we learned about early Russian history.


How Russia got its name

Russia (the land of the Rus) derives its name from Rurik, a Viking explorer.  Rurik and his warrior tribe settled to rule over the native Slavs in an area north of the Black Sea which became known as the Kievan Rus.

Ivan the Great

The various Rus tribes were ruled separately by different warrior princes – and latterly, the Mongols – for about six hundred years, until they were brought together by a prince named Ivan.

This prince – a descendant of Rurik –  also freed Russia from Mongol rule. Ivan ruled Russia for many years, and is remembered as Ivan the Great.

Ivan the Terrible

By the time Ivan the Great’s grandson – remembered as Ivan the Terrible – came to power, the Russians had begun referring to their city “the Third Rome” (after Constantinople).

Ivan the Terrible called himself “Tsar”/”Czar”, meaning “Caesar”. After the death of his wife, Ivan the Terrible suffered bouts of paranoid madness, terrorising his people with a vast and vicious network of secret police. Ivan the Terrible even killed his own son – terrible, indeed!

The death of Ivan the Terrible in 1584 marked the end of Rurik’s dynasty.


Ivan the Great ruled the newly unified Russia from Moscow. There he built beautiful cathedrals inside the ancient fortress known as the Kremlin.

St Basils’s Cathedral, with its colourful onion-shaped domes, is so much fun to draw. We worked from one of the many beautiful photographs of St Basil’s.

hands on russian history
We coloured in our pictures of St Basil’s Cathedral with watercolour crayons

Russian Writing

How the Cyrillic alphabet was created

Back in the 9th century, the Byzantine Emperor commissioned two monks to bring Christianity to Eastern Europe. To do this, the monks had to transcribe the Bible into Slavic – a daunting task since the Slavs had no written language, and their spoken tongue contained many sounds not found in other languages.

One of the monks, Cyril, came up with the idea of creating a Slavic alphabet from a hotchpotch of Hebrew, Greek and Latin. In this clever way, St Cyril’s alphabet – the “Cyrillic alphabet” – was able to represent every Russian sound.

The Cyrillic script is now used by more than 70 languages.

Writing in Russian

We used this fabulous free booklet You Already Know a Little Russian to familiarise ourselves with Cyrillic letters.

hands on russian history

I also printed out the Greek alphabet (which we’ve looked at before) so we could compare the Greek and Russian letters. If you have older kids, you might also look at the Hebrew alphabet.

hands on russian history

We used an online transliteration tool to convert our names into Russian, then wrote them out.

And I transliterated a short “secret message” to each of the kids which they enjoyed decoding. (I can’t remember what I used to convert the script, but you can use the transliteration tool then cut and paste into a document.)

hands on russian history

I know I have at least one lovely Russian reader so I apologise for any inaccuracies I’ve made in my attempts to summarise. {Please feel free to correct any glaring mistakes!}

In my next history and geography post I’ll share the fun project we did when we studied medieval Turkey. It even overlapped with maths!


The Story of the World Volume 2: The Middle Ages

Russia, the Kievan Rus, and the Mongols: Crash Course World History #20

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1. Entertaining and Educational

2. Collage Friday

3. Weekly Wrap-Up

4. Hip Homeschool Hop

5. Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop

6. History and Geography Meme #97

7. Adventures in Mommydom

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