This unit study is designed to lead up to a viewing of a live performance of the Nutcracker with a dance company and an orchestra. (My husband the musician insists there is no point in going if there is not a live orchestra.) As the Nutcracker should be an annual tradition, we can begin with a basic introduction and add more complex concepts later.
- Tickets to the Nutcracker
- Printer Ink if needed
- Printer Paper
- Construction Paper
- Craft Sticks/Popsicle sticks
- Nutcracker Kit or materials to make one, if desired.
- Sugarplum Ingredients - dried fruit: dates, apricots, prunes. walnuts. sugar. salt. orange zest. cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, coriander.
Story timeline cards available at http://www.currclick.com/product/21502/Pockets-of-Time-for-The-Nutcracker
Instructions to make a Nutcracker lapbook can be found at http://www.cyncesplace.com/Journal/nutcracker-lapbook/
The tale of the Nutcracker was written in 1816 by E.T.A. Hoffman as The Nutcracker and the Mouse King and adapted Alexander Dumas as The Nutcracker of Nuremberg in 1930. It is this second version that was finally adapted by Tchaikovsky.
The original tale is available in several versions. One of the most highly acclaimed is The Nutcracker Illustrated by Maurice Sendak. Those with young children will want to be aware that this version, like so many German fairy tales when we discover their origins, is quite dark. It is also very heavy on the Christianity. You can find a free online translation of the story here
The Dumas version is a little more difficult to come by. Try The Nutcracker of Nuremberg illustrated by Else Hasselriis on Amazon.
A simplified and modernized (language wise) version of the tale is presented in The Nutcracker by Janet Schulman blends some aspects of the Tchaikovsky's version with the original Hoffman tale.
The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers follows Tchaikovsky's version quite well and the illustrations are all ballet-related.
Read the Susan Jeffers version to young children before viewing the ballet for the first time to help them understand what is going on in the story. Older children should read two or all three versions and compare them critically.
Print N is for Nutcracker themed printables to use throughout the week from http://preschoolmom.com/Themes/ChristmasNutcracker.html
For older children, see the journal prompts below.
In the story The Nutcracker, Marie (Clara) dreams that she goes on a magical adventure with her favorite toy, the Nutcracker doll. Write a story about adventures you might have if your favorite toy magically came to life one night. Be sure to illustrate your story!
Read and watch several versions of the nutcracker. Which is more satisfying to experience? Which do you like the best? Tchaikovsky didn't think the Nutcracker was his best work? View and listen to some other pieces by Tchaikovsky. Which do you like best? Why?
Retell the story in your own words.
Experimentation and Observation
Obtain some nuts and several types of nutcrackers. Experiment with different types of nuts and different nutcrackers. Which nutcracker works best? Which nuts are easiest to open? Do some nuts crack better with a certain type of nutcracker? Can you build a better nutcracker?
What makes a good nutcracker? Quick cracking of nuts? Keeping the nutmeats whole after cracking? What criteria do you think is most important?
Create a chart to record your observations.
Nutcrackers are simple machines. What types of simple machines can be used to crack nuts? Which work best?
You can build a German nutcracker doll, just like the one in the story at this website: http://entertainmentguide.local.com/diy-german-nutcracker-4427.html or follow the directions at http://www.ehow.com/how_5013165_build-nutcracker.html
Or you can buy a Nutcracker Kit.
Use it in your experiments.
Is this an efficient nutcracker? Or is it better used as a decoration? What sort of machine does this nutcracker use?
For young children, buy a variety of nuts and mix them up. Have young kids sort them by type, order them by size and count the different types of nuts. Then crack them and eat them. Which ones are best?
Try the nutcracker number match game at
Make Sugar Plums to practice measuring and following a recipe. Try doubling or halving the recipe.
Art and Crafts
Use the nutcracker cut and paste worksheet at http://www.makinglearningfun.com/themepages/NutcrackerCutandPaste.htm
Some Nutcracker coloring pages
Nutcracker Symmetry Project
Create Nutcracker Suite Popsicle stick puppets and puppet theater to act out the story. You can find printables at http://printables4kids.com/printable-nutcracker-puppets/
Some more complicated puppets can be found at http://sarahjanestudios.com/blog/2011/12/the-nutcracker-puppet-theater/
You can see the entire play on Youtube (though I recommend going to see it live). This video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clWKDT4TQIk is a lovely, old fashioned production which clearly shows the orchestra and the conductor as well as the dancers. This one is also quite good: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZSzOKExX9Xw .
It is hard to find a video that shows both the orchestra and the dancers and this is important because it allows your child to learn the sounds of the various instruments and how they fit into the orchestra and the relationship between the musicians and the dancers.
Once your child has this firmly in hand, you can begin exploring different versions showing just the musicians or just the dancers, whichever your child finds most interesting, and compare and contrast the different types.
You should watch the video with your child and identify the different instruments. You can find coloring pages for the different instruments at http://www.bamusic.org/Bay_Area_Little_Symphony/Coloring_Book/coloring_book.html
And there is an online game at http://www.carnegiehall.org/Article.aspx?id=4294972032
If your child is learning an instrument, you can find sheet music for a variety of instruments at http://www.8notes.com/tchaikovsky.asp
History, Geography and Culture
The Nutcracker fits beautifully with a study of the history of Eastern Europe.
The Nutcracker and the Mouse King was written in 1816 by E.T.A. Hoffman who lived in Prussia and Poland. Find Prussia, Poland and Germany on a map. (Prussia doesn't actually exist anymore, what is it called now?) and find out what was going on in the area at the time. (Hint: Napoleon was there)
Hoffman was an interesting fellow and The Nutcracker and the Mouse King wasn't his only work. Find some biographical information on him and maybe read some of his other works.
The Nutcracker ballet premiered in 1892 in St. Petersburg Russia. The score was written by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and it was choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. Find St. Petersburg on a map. This period is a very interesting time in Russia. It is seeking friendships with France and shunned by its neighbor Germany, industry is growing causing the class differences to become starker. The end is drawing nigh for the Royal Family; the revolution is less than a generation away.