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The Nutcracker Free Unit Study

The Nutcracker


Note from Candace: *There are a lot of versions to this story. You can choose any variation you wish. There are just a few specific lessons built around these 2 versions I found. The majority of the unit study can be done with any version. You may check out a few to look over, as some of them are quite lengthy! My favorite two versions that I have found are illustrated by
Francesca Crespi (story retold by Jean Richardson) and Vladimir Vagin

Unit prepared by Candace Crabtree


1. When Tchaikovsky wrote this ballet, in 1891-1892, he felt dissatisfied with it and did not think it was one of his better writings at all. Discuss with your child how many times when we are finishing a project or anything in life, we often feel that it isn’t “good enough.” But, despite our human weakness and fears, God can take something very little we have done or something we don’t think is wonderful and still use it for His glory! He can use even little people like us!

2. Special gifts. Ask your child if they have ever received a special gift. What was it? Who was it from? Ask your child if they know that salvation is a gift from God. Discuss John 3:16 with them and any other verses that are special to you concerning God’s gift to us in Jesus.

Social Studies

History of Ballet
You may choose to delve into the history of ballet with this story.  The beginnings of ballet can be traced to Italy during the 1400's at the time of the Renaissance. Check out a few books from the library on this and read with your child. 

Library List
Not Just Tutus by Rachel Isadora
This is a cute primary book. The text is rhyming and the illustrations are adorable...this book will show you more about ballet from a little girl's viewpoint.

Time for Ballet by Adele Geras
This is a cute story as well, that takes you through a ballet class and also the names of some of the beginning moves.

Ballet by Lisa Dillman
This is a "Get Going! Hobbies" book. This book talks about how ballet began, how to get started, what to wear, pictures of beginning moves, and more.

Composer Study: Tchaikovsky
You may wish to read about the history of the musician Tchaikovsky. You can get a biography from the library to tell more about his life, as well as trying to find his music on CD to listen to.

 The following information is taken from the worksheet mentioned below (

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky " was born in Votinsk, a town in Russia’s Ural Mountains... Although Tchaikovsky was a good musician as a child, this wasn’t considered an
“acceptable profession; so his parents made him study law instead. Even in law school, however, the young composer continued to pursue music. Eventually he
gave up his legal job to attend the St. Petersburg Conservatory.  After graduation, Tchaikovsky moved to Moscow to teach at the new music conservatory there. It
is now named after him. Although he composed music in many different styles, Tchaikovsky is most famous for his ballets"...including Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, and The Nutcracker.   

Brief biography and picture of Tchaikovsky

This website is GREAT for learning more about Tchaikovsky; it includes audio files for the following
About Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
The Nutcracker
Activity Sheet to go with the above audio files

Timeline Work
If your child is a fan of history and dates/times, you may be interested to know that the Nutcracker was first performed on December 18, 1892. If you are doing a timeline with your child, find other happenings around this year. You can also mention to your child that it did not come to America until 1940, performed by a Russian ballet group.

Geography: Russia
The story of the Nutcracker originally came from Russia. If you are using story disks, draw a simple ballet slipper on one and place on Russia. If you wish, you may check out a book on Russia to go along with this week’s studies.

Going on a journey – in the Nutcracker there is a journey (in a dream) to the Land of the Sweets. Have you ever been on a journey to a new place? Where did you go? How did you get there? Can you describe this place? Was it different from where live now? Did they speak another language? This is a good opportunity to explain to your younger child that most countries have different customs, different ways of life. When we travel, that is one thing that is so neat – to see how other people live their lives in other countries.

Language Arts

Story Discussion
Do you have disagreements with your brothers and sisters? Other members of your family? What do you argue about?
How do you resolve these conflicts? How can you prevent them from happening in the future? If you wish, you can ask your child what they think the Bible says about arguing.

Author Study
The original Nutcracker story was written by a man named E.T.A. Hoffmann. This man was a lawyer who turned to music and writing after the invasion of his homeland, Prussia, in 1806. In 1815, Hoffmann encountered his first nutcracker in a local market and then in 1816 he wrote a tale called The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.


1) From the Crespi version:

            1. brandishing

            2. dozen

            3. plump

            4. whiskery – referring to the grandfather’s beard

            5. pastry

            6. gossiping

            7. scuffles – this is what the mice were doing

            8. cloak

            9. mended

2) From the Vagin version:

            1. fragrant – the Christmas tree was fragrant

            2. boughs

            3. inventor – Herr Drosselmeier was an inventor

            4. careless

            5. collar

            6. scampering – the mice scampered

            7. leering – the Mouse King was a leering and frightful creature

            8. brocade – possibly find a sample of brocaded fabric to show your child

            9. beckon


Telling Time
Something magical happens in this story when the clock strikes midnight. You may wish to have a lesson on telling time with your child. Discuss the meaning of “midnight” and “noon” and other time-telling phrases. If you have a small clock, let your child make the clock say midnight.

There are lots of opportunities for counting with your younger children. You can count the children at the party, or the mice in the battle, or the number of times you see the Nutcracker throughout the story.


Learning more about Tchaikovsky (and his music)
Obtain CD’s of Tchaikovsky’s music from the Nutcracker. Listen to this throughout the week. Discuss with your child which pieces they enjoy the best and why. If you want to do a more in-depth study of Tchaikovsky, check out the Classical Kids audio CD  with the story of his life and music, Tchaikovsky Discovers America.
Also, make sure you visit the website listed in the social studies lesson. 

Waltz (and waltzing!)
If you have a copy of the music on CD, listen to The Waltz of the Flowers from the Nutcracker Suite. Have your child close his/her eyes and listen. After a few minutes, ask if your child can move their hands to the music. A waltz has 3 beats to the measure, which are generally very easy to hear, this would be good practice in listening skills for your child.  If you are very brave – after listening to the waltz, attempt to teach your child a simple 3-step waltz. This is sure to be lots of fun and will surely be a wonderful memory for your child!

Here is a video of The Waltz of the Flowers (the waltz starts at 1:19)


Comparing Illustrations
Try and find as many different versions of the Nutcracker story as you can, each with a different illustrator. Discuss the differences and similarities with your child. Ask what they notice is different, what is similar. Ask which illustrator’s pictures they like best and why.

Have them choose a scene from the Nutcracker to illustrate themselves, based upon the illustrator they like best.


Just for Fun!


Make a nutcracker (from a toilet paper roll)

Make a nutcracker from a Pringles can 

Field Trip Ideas

**Prior to going to see any ballet – whether you can go see the Nutcracker or just a simple children’s recital, take this opportunity to discuss proper behavior at a live performance with your child. Here are some questions to consider:

1) How many of you have been to a theater?
2 )How many of you have been to a ballet performance?
3 )What was the performance and where was it?
4 )How did people behave during the performance?
5) Is going to the theater like going to a football game? Is it like going to a symphony performance? Why or why not?
6) How do people express themselves at a ballet? (Do people talk loudly, eat, move around, or jump up and down during a dance concert? Do people pay close attention? Are they quiet? When do they applaud?)
7) Why do we behave differently at a ballet performance than at a baseball game?
8) Ask your child how they think they should be have at the ballet.

1. If you are doing this unit in December, try and find a local company putting on the ballet of the Nutcracker!

2. If you cannot find the Nutcracker being performed, try and find a local dance company and attend their December performance/recital. Your child might also have friends who take ballet, you could go to their recital and I’m sure that would be special for your child as well as the performer.


Watch the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy!

Pictures from the Nutcracker Ballet (if you are unable to see a live performance, you can at least show these to your students)