Want to build a model of the Great Wall of China…
- as a hands-on history project,
- as a middle-school architecture unit, or
- as part of studying Chinese history, culture, and geography in your homeschool?
My daughter has been attending Saturday Chinese school for years, so in conjunction with her ongoing Chinese language learning, I try to integrate cultural studies into our regular homeschool routine whenever I can.
Building a Great Wall of China model fits right into our studies, and is the perfect hands-on history project.
[Disclosure of Material Connections: I received a complimentary Mini Bricks: Great Wall of China set from Timberdoodle in exchange for writing and publishing this review. All opinions — and photographs! ;) — are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.]
This kit allows you to build a miniature version of the Great Wall of China — complete with a beacon tower — out of real bricks and tiny ceramic tiles.
Timberdoodle carries three different Mini Bricks sets:
- The [United States] White House
- The Temple in Jerusalem (currently bundled into this curriculum kit, but available soon), and
- The Great Wall of China.
The Great Wall of China set, of course, was our choice — and it was a great chance to pull out Leonard Everett Fisher’s book by the same name, too, for a deeper dive into the history surrounding the wall’s construction.
Did you know…
- …Qín Shǐ Huáng, (unified) China’s first emperor, is generally credited with the wall’s initial construction — about two hundred years before Christ!
- …it’s not actually visible from space. (I know, I was disappointed, too.)
- …about sixty years ago, thousands of bricks were removed from the Great Wall, and used to build residential homes.
- …in China, it’s not called the Great Wall of China, but is often simply referred to as cháng chéng, the Long Wall.
At its peak, all the segments the Great Wall stretched out end-to-end would have been long enough to wrap halfway around the world. It’s truly a marvel.
And you can build a miniature replica of a portion of it with the Mini Bricks: Great Wall of China set from Timberdoodle.
What’s included in the Mini Bricks: Great Wall of China set from Timberdoodle?
Hundreds upon hundreds of gypsum bricks. Seriously, there are so many bricks, most of them much smaller than a 25c coin. Some are an elongated Z shape, some are smooth, others are textured like cobblestone. There are even teeny tiny ceramic roof tiles, which I especially loved.
There’s also a fun green base-paper printed with tree and leaf patterns, so as you build up the wall on the base-paper, you can imagine it nestled into the foliage of Northern China. To support the weight of the roof tiles across the open sections of brick wall, the kit provides you with rectangular cardboard pieces, marked in a grid pattern for easy tile placement.
And yes, there are directions. The full-color instruction booklet contains 3D images of the Great Wall project at sequential stages of construction, but beyond the photos, the booklet doesn’t contain any text — or even any numbers. Think of it as a problem-solving guide, nudging you along as you challenge yourself in
- spatial reasoning,
- three-dimensional thinking, and
(This makes the project wonderfully challenging, which is a plus!)
Are the Mini Bricks like LEGO bricks?
Nope! Despite the name “Mini Bricks”, the pieces are not in any way similar to plastic building bricks. They do not have any sort of interlocking design or tongue-and-groove indentations. Instead, what you’ll find inside the box is same material you’d find in the landscaping section of a garden center, albeit in miniature. Pretty neat, right? The bricks are heavy, too; my nine-year-old was surprised to discover she could not pick up the box.
If they’re not interlocked, how do the bricks in the Great Wall of China model stay together?
School glue! The set comes with a container of glue. Mini Bricks kits are made in Ukraine; don’t you just love the Cyrillic on the label? Once that runs out, you can use any water-soluble glue. (Fun fact: some of the original mortar on the Great Wall of China was made form rice paste and builders’ lime, and it still holds strong today!)
Is this a single-use project, or can my kids play with it over and over?
Unlike mortar, the school glue in this set washes away with water. Soak the Great Wall in water when you’re done displaying it, and you can repurpose the bricks for a completely different construction project. As long as you keep supplying school glue, you can use these bricks over and over again, endlessly.
Or, dry everything off, repack, and save for a younger sibling down the road.
What do I need to add to the Mini Bricks: Great Wall of China kit to start building?
Nothing; the kit comes with all the materials (bricks, tiles cardboard, base-paper, glue) you need to start construction. But you will want a dedicated space, like a puzzle table or a workbench, so you can continue to work on the Great Wall over time. It’s a complex project, and despite the diminutive size of the individual pieces, the overall heft of the materials — and the fragility of the pieces until the glue dries — means it’s not a set you can easily move around.
How large is the completed Great Wall model?
Nearly 2 feet long/wide, and 5 inches high at the lowest part of the wall. The dramatic sloped tower peak measures 11 inches above the base.
For which ages is the Mini Bricks: Great Wall of China kit best suited?
Anywhere from middle-school kids to adult hobbyists. It’s definitely a complex project. And the bricks are indeed miniature. Timberdoodle includes the White House set in the 6th Grade Curriculum kit, and the Temple in Jerusalem set in the 7th Grade Curriculum Kit. I’d say a minimum of middle-school age placement is accurate for the Great Wall of China set, too. (Amusingly, I was also in middle school when I built a miniature replica of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and I just chatted with a friend who made a model of the Panama Canal in high school. It’s the perfect age to begin model-building.) Adults who have enjoyed 3D puzzles and dioramas in the past will find this activity captivating as well.
Could elementary school students build this set?
Since the bricks don’t interlock, and the provided directions require a keen level of abstract spacial-reasoning, anyone younger than middle school is likely to need significant help from either an older sibling or an adult. My husband, who makes a living as a 3D modeler / digital artist, supported nine-year-old Aveline a great deal as the two of them worked on this project together. I doubt she would have been able to complete the project without his help. After working through the set, he suggested this would make an ideal collaborative project for
- middle- or high-school siblings,
- younger children with especially-patient older siblings, or
- adult artists.
Want to build with miniature bricks, too? It’s really the perfect quarantine activity!
You can head over to Timberdoodle to learn more about
- Mini Bricks: Great Wall of China, or
- Mini Bricks: Temple in Jerusalem, or
- Mini Bricks: the White House.
Don’t miss my other recent hands-on homeschool reviews:
And before you go, I’d love to have you join me in my online group, The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community. We’re always chatting about how to best optimize learning for out-of-the-box kids!