How to Teach about The Nutcracker Ballet: Fun Hands-on Activities is a post from contributing writer Christy of Eclectic Momma
For some people, Christmas is not the same without at least listening to The Nutcracker Ballet by Tchaikovsky. In my opinion, it’s one of those pieces of classical music that every child should be able to identify.
There are a lot of ways to incorporate learning about this piece that go beyond just listening. Whether you are musically inclined or not, here are some easy ideas and hands-on activities to teach kids about The Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky.
Resources for How to Teach Kids about The Nutcracker Ballet
Resources for Teaching Kids about Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky:
In English, we sometimes call him Peter Tchaikovsky, instead of Pyotr or Piotr.
A composer study on Tchaikovsky – Lots of resources for studying Tchaikovsky and his music
Piotr Illyich Tchaikovsky on Classics for Kids – This is one resource form a great program that introduces students to composers and their music. On their site, you can listen and learn all about Tchaikovsky and his music (plus lots of other composers throughout history).
Making Music Fun has composer bios as well as printable solo piano music for various movements in the Nutcracker Ballet.
Make a Biography Page about Tchaikovsky – At the site Practical Pages, there are free downloadable Composer Biography Notebooking Pages.
Nutcracker Art and Writing Projects
Rob from Arts for Kids Hub has several great video drawing lessons that would be a perfect addition to a Nutcracker Unit Study:
- How to Draw a Christmas Nutcracker
- How to Draw a Cartoon Mouse – You can easily skip the cheese, but add a crown and maybe a sinister look to turn this into the Mouse King
- How to Draw a Cartoon Ballerina
Nutcracker Drawing Lessons – Art Projects for Kids has several great drawing and pastel nutcracker projects.
Make a ballerina snowflake with the directions and templates from the Crafty Tipster.
The Blog, a faithful attempt, shares these cool Symmetrical Nutcrackers to make as an art project
Picture Books: A Great Way to Introduce the Nutcracker Ballet
Here are just a few of the many versions available:
The Nutcracker by Stephanie Spinner – This book includes a CD
The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers
The Nutcracker by John Cech – This version is longer with modern illustrations. Quite a different approach than most traditional Nutcracker books.
The Magic Nutcracker by Margaret Hillert – A beginning reader version.
Learning Activities for Specific Parts (Movements) of the Ballet:
- Define overture.
- Ask the students what mood they think this piece of music will have (happy, sad, excited, etc.). Listen to the piece and then discuss. This is a great activity to do with any of the pieces from the Nutcracker Suite.
March of the Toys:
- Have students dance pretending to be their favorite toy.
- Use toy candy canes as horses to move during the piece. (Maybe these inflatable candy canes.)
- I love this idea from a first grade class performance of using colored paper plates to create a routine for classrooms or co-ops to use in Christmas programs to the March of the Toys. (Really – I can’t even describe it, but it’s simple and darling, so you’ll need to check out the video.)
Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy:
- Talk about the celesta, the keyboard instrument that gives this dance a unique sound. Click here for a great deal of information on the celesta as well as a video with great audio examples of the instrument.
- Watch this cool video of the dance performed on the glass harmonica
Russian Dance (Trepak):
This is my version of a listening map to the Trepak. All it took was some poster board, markers (or crayons), and time.
There are several activities you can do with this map:
- Talk about form- AABA and the instruments they are hearing in each section. The A section is primarily violins whereas the B section is violas, cellos and reeds.
- Have students divided into 2 groups. Use rhythm sticks or drums for the stars on the map and shakers or jingle bells for the circles. Then switch.
- Talk about dynamics as the song increases in volume toward the end.
- Assign students A or B section, then have them move on their particular section with scarves or ribbons. I’ve made ribbon sticks easily and inexpensively by tying various lengths of ribbon to dowel rods or even rhythm sticks.
- Dance the Trepak while listening. This is a great workout for teachers as well.
Arabian Dance (coffee) and Chinese Dance (tea):
- Listen then compare and contrast between the two pieces.
- Have student fold a piece of paper in half. On one side, while listening to the Arabian Dance, draw what they feel. Then do the same while listening to the Chinese Dance. Compare and contrast the drawings.
Waltz of the Flowers:
- Do a conducting exercise. Demonstrate how this song has a 1-2-3 timing by counting it as they listen. Show students the pattern for conducting in a 3/4 time. Have students conduct with the standard 3/4 time. (Conducting patterns explanation and printable)
- Dance with scarves pretending to be flowers. If you don’t have access to scarves, you can have the kids do a pat-clap-clap rhythm pattern during the song.
I hope you enjoy this piece of music as much as we do!
Other Posts You May Love:
- Favorite Songs of Christmas Unit Study
- Free Resources for Teaching Music to Your Children
- Resources for Studying Verdi and His Music
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