Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ancient India, Hinduism, and Buddhism (Meet the Ancient World 10)

Our homeschool study of Ancient India was a revelation and a delight for all of us. I knew relatively little about the material and enjoyed my first encounter with The Ramayana and the legends of Ganesh every bit as much as my kids. Well, maybe not as much as much animal-loving daughter, who fell hard for the elephant-headed god and the magical monkey Hanuman, among many other figures from Hindu mythology. (That's her recreating the monkey bridge to Lanka; plesiosaurs, however, do not figure into the original tale.)

There are lots of wonderful books to introduce your children to the culture and history of Ancient India. Living in New York City, we were able to combine our study with multiple outings to Little India in Jackson Heights, Queens, including during the festival of Diwali, as well as with trip to the South Asia galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Rubin Museum of Art.

The vivid characters of Hindu mythology lend themselves well to children's exploration through play. My daughter found a lovely little Ganesh figurine in Little India, and played extensively with a set of drop-dead-gorgeous pop-up Hindu prayer altars available in book form. The whimsical folks of the Unemployed Philosophers Guild sell Ganesh, Shiva, and Buddha puppets. We talked quite a bit about how revered these figures are to those who believe in them, to underscore a message of cultural respect; but then, I've never considered it disrespectful for my kids to play gently with their grandmother's nativity scene at Christmastime.


Ganesh, the steadfast child of Shiva and Parvati who was fated swap his human head for one of an elephant, is widely beloved by children, and stories of his life are a great way to begin your study of Hindu mythology. Elephant Prince: The Story of Ganesh, is a stunningly beautiful introduction and highly recommended. Belgin K. Wedman's illustrations are breath-taking, and Amy Novesky tells the tale charmingly. Uma Krishnaswami's The Broken Tusk: Stories of the Hindu God Ganesha has simple line drawings for illustrations, but it covers so many episodes from the elephant-headed god's life that it too is highly recommended for any child who becomes captivated by this Hindu deity. How Ganesh Got His Elephant Head by Hanish Johari and Vatsala Sperling, part of a series of classic Indian stories for children (discussed further below), is another fine choice.

Anna Milbourne's Stories from India, published by Usborne, covers a lot of ground in one compact volume. You'll find folktales, stories of Hindu deities, and short sections from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Don't expect a lot of depth here, but the tales are told clearly and illustrated pleasingly. The Elephant-Headed God and Other Hindu Tales by Debjani Chatterjee is another solid collection.

A great series published by Vermont's Bear Cub Books will enable you to explore individual Hindu deities in greater depth. Titles include The Magical Adventures of Krishna: How a Mischief Maker Saved the World, How Parvati Won the Heart of Shiva, and Ganga: The River That Flows from Heaven to Earth.

Another volume in this series, Hanuman's Journey to the Medicine Mountain, portrays one of the episodes in the great Indian epic The Ramayana. Most children will be entranced by this epic tale, although young children who are extra sensitive to violence may find parts of it frightening. Excellent versions for children include Jessica Souhami, Rama and the Demon King: An Ancient Tale from India and Verma Jatinder and Nilesh Mistry's lovely and magical The Story of Divaali.

While you're studying the Ramayana, you'll want to see Nini Paley's extraordinary animated film, Sita Sings the Blues, an inspired feminist interweaving of the tale of the Hindu epic with episodes from Paley's own life. I can't recommend it strongly enough, but do advise that there is some cartoony violence in the film and a curse word or two, which will likely sail over your young children's heads.


Several well-crafted children's books will introduce your kids to the life story of Gautama Siddhartha, the prince who left behind a life of luxury (and a wife and newborn child) to find and share spiritual enlightenment.

Our favorite of these is out of print at this writing, but a new edition is slated to appear on April 1, 2011. Jonathan Landlaw's Prince Siddhartha: The Story of Buddha features graceful illustrations by Janet Brooke and a lyrical presentation of the Buddha's life tale.

Other good choices include Jeanne M. Lee, I Once Was a Monkey: Stories Buddha Told, Buddha by the prolific Demi, and an out-of-print but reasonably available volume entitled The Golden Deer by Margaret Hodges.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Ancient Rome (Meet the Ancient World 8)

Ancient Rome: Oh, dear.

I could blame Miss Klemp, my 7th grade Latin teacher. I could blame Rome itself, with its fondness for blood and order and its dreary history of military conquest and bureaucracy-building. I've never been able to find much to engage me in a culture that found sport in gruesome gladiatorial spectacles and achievement in efficient tax administration.

So sorry, I've got nothing for you. Back when we did this unit, in the summer of 2009, we learned about roads and built model bridges. I found some general children's books on Ancient Rome but (no doubt thanks to my lack of enthusiasm), they bored the children to death; I tried a few books on Pompeii but realized quickly they had lurid descriptions of volcano-charred corpses.

We'll be returning to Ancient Rome, of course, when we cycle around for our second trip through this history, beginning next fall. So if you can dispel my prejudice and/or offer some great resources, please post in the comments section.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ancient Greece (Meet the Ancient World 7)

Introducing my kids to Ancient Greece was one of the highlights of our whole study of the ancient world. To sit, snuggled together with eager children, reading about Theseus and the Minotaur, or Odysseus and the Cyclops? This is the sort of thing one dreams of when one begins homeschooling. And rightly so.

This material captivated them. My kids spent a great many hours playing Greek gods and goddesses -- some of them in the gorgeous galleries of the Metropolitan Museum (that's my daughter, as Demeter), some of them at a big rock (Mount Olympus!) in our neighborhood park. I was never ever to track down interesting store-bought toys to accompany our study of Ancient Greece -- hello? has no one ever thought to make Greek mythology figurines? -- but my guys readily transformed their vintage 1970s Fisher-Price Little People into the major figures of the Pantheon.


There is such a wealth of fantastic material for children about Ancient Greece that you can linger for weeks and weeks on this unit, getting in many marvelous hours of reading together on the couch.

If for some mysterious reason you read only one book, let it be the elegantly written and beautifully illustrated D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths. First published in 1962 by Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire, it is an excellent overview of Greek mythology, covering all of the major gods and goddesses and many key minor figures as well. It's on my short list of Books to Be Sure to Read Aloud Many Times throughout Nini and Desmond's childhood, along with other classics like Alice in Wonderland and The Wind in the Willows.

The drawings have a childlike quality that appeals to the very young; Hermes, for instance, is introduced beside a full-page illustration, posterior view, of Apollo's cows. The text is dense, but consistently engaging.

Because D'Aulaire's is so weighty in addition to being so engaging, you might want to start with something lighter to pique your child's interest in the Greeks. We greatly enjoyed Usborne Greek Myths for Young Children, a compact miniature volume with appealing, whimsical illustrations. Your kids won't meet the full complement of Olympian gods here, but will encounter Icarus, Pegasus, Pandora, Theseus and the Minotaur, and other legendary figures, as well as a brief recounting of the Odyssey. Aliki's The Gods and Goddesses of Olympus is another good introductory option.

Warwick Hutton's picture-book versions of Greek tales are also quite accessible to young kids, though they seem to be out of print (we found them at the library). In addition to Perseus, Theseus and the Minotaur, and Persephone, he has created a nice version of The Trojan Horse, the one episode from the Iliad that you may want to cover at this age.

Out of the many versions of the Odyssey available for reading to the younger set, we preferred Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden's The Adventures of Odysseus. While not avoiding the story's more gruesome episodes, this version doesn't linger on them the way Mary Pope Osborne does in her multi-volume Tales from the Odyssey. Dorling Kindersley has also produced a nice children's version: Adrian Mitchell's The Odyssey, which intersperses maps and other background information with condensed versions of the tales.

Playing Catch-Up

My kids are now well into the second half of first grade, and the study of ancient history we began in the spring of their pre-k year and finished during their kindergarten fall is, well, pretty old stuff to them now.

It's been long enough ago now that I can't pretend to finish writing up my curriculum with anything like the thoroughness I brought to the first installments (especially since the computer on which I kept many of my notes has since crashed and died). But I'm going to try at least to post lists of the books we found most useful in our studies of Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Ancient India, and Ancient China.

More than a year later, my twins don't remember many of the details of what we learned. But they have held onto two crucial things: a basic feel for each of these civilizations, and a sense that learning about them is interesting and fun. Next fall, when they begin second grade, I plan to begin our study of world history again; I'm looking forward to seeing how their new knowledge builds on the foundation we laid with this undertaking.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The New Testament (Meet the Ancient World 9)

I'll say it, so you don't have to: Our study of the New Testament was lame. Lame, lame, lame.

Actually, it was worse than lame, for it left my kids profoundly upset.

It was a lovely summer afternoon, and the hammock beckoned. I figured I'd read Nini and Desmond about the birth of Jesus from one of our children's Bibles, and soon give some more thought about how to proceed.

But once we'd read the story of Jesus' birth, the kids wanted to hear more. And more. He gathered His disciples, performed His miracles, and the kids got more and more engrossed. "Keep reading, Mommy!" they declared, each time I proposed to put the book down for the day.

I warned them that something really bad was going to happen to Jesus, and they might not want to hear it all in one sitting. "Keep reading!" So, stupidly, I did, all the way through Jesus's arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection.

Stunned silence ensued. Here the kids had discovered this remarkably appealing protagonist, full of love and magic and good deeds, and he died gruesomely. I talked about how Christians understand it as a hopeful tale, with the resurrection as not just as a happy ending but as the centerpiece of their faith. Desmond acted like this made him feel better, but I could tell otherwise.

From that point forward, the kids refused to discuss Jesus or the New Testament at all; they just shut down.

Obviously, I screwed up. I tried to remember way back to the Methodist Sunday School of my childhood: What, if anything, were we taught about the crucifixion? Was it all just baby Jesus in the manger and adult Jesus performing miracles and preaching love? Can't recall.

So all I can say is, Don't follow my example. And if you have thoughts about approaches or resources for teaching the New Testament to the very young in a non-proselytizing, important-slice-of-world-culture way, please please share.

The Old Testament (Meet the Ancient World 6)

Teaching the Bible was a real challenge for this agnostic homeschooler. I knew the overall approach I wanted to take: This is one of the most influential books in world history, I told the kids. Millions of people believe it contains the words of their God, and that every word in it is true; millions more have been affected by its teachings; its stories and themes will show up over and over again in the things you read and see in your life. And as you grow up, you'll make your own decisions about whether to view it as a great work of literature or a divinely-inspired text.

But there is so much religiously oriented material out there, it was difficult for me to know how to wade through it and find some books or other resources that seemed right. I came up with a few things, but this unit ended up being pretty brief for us (though not as brief or disastrous as our New Testament unit, about which I will write later).


Obviously, The Book was the main book. There are lots of Bibles for kids out there; we mainly used The Usborne Children's Bible and The DK Children's Illustrated Bible, both of which come in cute small editions. We focused on the stories of creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, Joseph, and Moses.

Good picture books are available for many of the Old Testament tales. We especially liked Arthur Geisert's marvelously and whimsically illustrated The Ark. In detailed black and white etchings, Geisert portrays how the Ark itself might have been constructed and imagines the nitty gritty of life during those fabled 40 days and 40 nights, including the important matter of excrement disposal. We spent hours pouring over these illustrations, giggling as we tracked the damage to the ship's timbers by voracious beavers. The story of the Flood can be traumatic to sensitive children -- after all, God massacres virtually every living thing on earth -- but this book helped my kids focus on the survivors. (Nini noted, in any case, that the creatures of the sea were necessarily spared from God's punishment.)

An even bigger favorite in our household was The Moses Basket, by Jenny Koralek and Pauline Baynes. It sweetly captures the dramatic tale of Moses' infancy, with illustrations that vividly portray the day-to-day world of Ancient Egypt. Our drively quickly became the Nile, and Nini's baby doll must have floated down it a hundred times.

The illustrations in Brian Wildsmith's well-crafted Joseph and Exodusalso provided welcome continuity with our study of Ancient Egypt.


Yep, we did it: We were crazy enough to watch the entire Ten Commandments (in three installments, mind you). It was great campy fun for me, and they -- like the movie audiences of 50 years ago -- were dazzled by the dated special effects.

But that was it for us. Surely there are other things we missed -- please post any other recommendations.


We fashioned our own Noah's Ark and populated it with little plastic animals we already had lying about; there are, of course, a great many custom-made Ark playsets out there, some of them quite lovely. But beyond that, and the Moses basket play mentioned above, the Old Testament just didn't make its way into my kids' play life the way Egypt or even Mesopotamia had. Ideas or suggestions, dear readers?

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Whole New World

A seismic shift has occurred.

This past weekend, Andrew and I were working to get our garden prepped for the new season: turning compost, spreading mulch, that sort of thing. Nini and Desmond were inside.

Before we knew it, a couple of hours had passed -- yikes. No sound was coming from the house -- normally a sign of great mischief in progress. With great trepidation, we went to check how they were doing, expecting to find mess, disaster, or both.

They were in different rooms, sitting quietly, reading to themselves.

Need I say that we were blown away? Andrew said he felt a little wistful, because this new independence means, necessarily, that they're beginning to grow away from us. Me, I thought my heart would burst with pride and love. In any case, it's a watershed moment, and life won't be quite the same from this point forward. Bravo, kids!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Highlights of the Days

Let's face it: Homeschooling can be hard. It's exhilirating at times and deeply satisfying overall, but there are days that just suck. When you feel crappy but can't take a sick day. When the kids are squawking or in a fussy funk. When you secretly fantasize about sending them to a rigid uniform school with bars on the windows and police checkpoints at the doors (hey! that's our neighborhood school!).

Now, I need to preface this post by confessing that I have become fairly compulsive about homeschool record-keeping. Every night before I go to sleep, I jot down brief notes about what we did that day. Maybe the kids did some handwriting and played a math game in the morning, ran around in the park after lunch, met up with friends late in the afternoon, and read books after dinner: I'll write it down.

I keep track, too, of how often in the week Nini and Desmond do certain things: play outside, get together with friends, do math or play music, that sort of thing. I don't yet have to file any reports to the Board of Ed, so it's not for that purpose. It's a way for me to see quickly if we're covering the bases: if we're getting outside enough in the middle of winter, say, or getting out the art supplies to draw and paint.

At some point this winter, I hit a particularly bad patch with the kids. We had one conflict-filled day after another, I was feeling blue, and the whole enterprise was seeming misguided. So I added a new category to keep track of: the highlights of the day.

Some days are no-brainers. Maybe we snuggled together reading books underneath the cherry blossoms at the Botanical Garden. Maybe Nini proudly made a huge breakthrough in her reading, or Desmond enthusiastically produced a stack of wonderful drawings. Or maybe they both got all excited about adding and subtracting while playing Pet Store with their stuffed animals.

But there are days when it's not at all obvious what would count as a high point. The loud tantrum in the library? Nope. The huge screaming fight over a pencil? Don't think so. The two hours spent watching cartoons while Mommy tried to sleep off her migraine? No, not that either.

There's always something, though. On one particularly horrible day, all I could come up with to write was the happy skippity way the kids walked to the subway. And you know what? That's now what I remember about that day. I couldn't tell you what the bad stuff was -- I've utterly forgotten. But the marvelous image of them bouncing down the sidewalk in front of me is fixed in my mind.

I've found, too, that this habit has helped me work harder and better to make the bumpy days have highlights. I'll stop grumpily checking my email and ask the kids if they want to cuddle on the sofa with a stack of books. I'll find the energy to get us out of the house and to the park. I'll make up a silly game and pretend to be a knee-eating monster (Nini knees are especially yummy, after all).

I'm not going to pretend that everything is now sweetness and light. Some days are still a huge struggle. But most of the time, focusing on what's good and sweet and exciting in our life makes it all a little bit easier.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Spring Break

Spring hit NYC big time this week. So with the outdoors calling and the time change making us a bunch of laggards, it seemed like a good idea to take the week off from our kindergarten routine. Isn't part of homeschooling's appeal, after all, that it allows you the flexibility to make -- and change -- your schedule at will?

We'd just had ten incredible consecutive weeks. Something shifted over the winter holidays and with the advent of the New Year, it was clear that Nini and Desmond were eager to tackle new challenges. Having learned how to write the upper-case alphabet properly over the course of the fall, they wanted to master the lower-case alphabet in much less time. They were curious about math in a new way, more interested in drawing, and just generally itchy to learn.

The amount of time we spent on formal kindergarten didn't change much -- it was still only about an hour -- but they were much more focused than they had been in the fall. It blew me away to watch them enthusiastically puzzling out how to spell a list of three-letter words, the gears in their little brains turning almost visibly. Their foreheads would wrinkle as they worked out new problems, and you could see their sense of pride when they suddenly understood something that had stumped them before. They'd get all excited when I pulled out a new game to play -- say, using cards to make silly sentences once they knew what nouns, verbs, and adjectives were -- and having learned something one week, would happily pronounce it easy the next. We covered an enormous amount of ground in a very short time.

Then, this Monday, it was as if a switch had been tripped. Our schedule was thrown off by the time shift and they were all foot-draggy and bleary, so we skipped kindergarten on Monday for the first time in months. A spell of gorgeous weather began on Tuesday, and they began spending their mornings in the back yard, making "bunny cakes" for our pet rabbits and digging in the dirt. We tried doing outdoor kindergarten on Tuesday, but I could tell their hearts weren't really in it.

I'd like to report that we went on to have a blissful week playing in the sunshine, reveling in the lazy and structureless days. But I can't. There were some lovely moments in the week: making milk carton boats and sailing them in an enormous puddle, encountering crocuses and basking pond turtles and other harbingers of spring, meeting up with friends to explore and play.

But this week was also awfully bumpy, with more conflict than we've had in a while. It wasn't at all like a proper vacation, when Andrew is with us and either the four of us are adventuring together or I'm getting some actual time off. It was just a kind of kicking-around week -- not terrible, but not really satisfying either.

I'm not entirely sure what went wrong this week, but I suspect the sudden lack of routine had a fair amount to do with it. The time the kids and I spend together around the kindergarten table each weekday morning anchors our day; it's highly focused togetherness that seems to fill up their tanks emotionally, often making them more resilient and independent throughout the later parts of the day. So maybe this week should have been Game Week, where we spent that daily hour playing games together, or Do Art Projects in the Sunshine Week, or some other something that respected their need for a break but retained enough of our routine to keep us all from feeling off-kilter.

It's supposed to be gloomy and rainy on Monday, and I've told the kids that the puppets miss them and we'll resume kindergarten then. I don't know if they'll be as gung-ho as they were in the dead of winter, and if not, I'm prepared to shift our kindergarten activities accordingly. And the next time we take a spontaneous break, I'll just need to, well, plan it better.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ode to Coloursoft

With kids' art supplies, as with tools of all sorts, I've often heard the mantra, "Get the best you can afford." I always assumed that meant you should, say, buy the name-brand crayons instead of the dollar-store ones, the latter being so crappy that they're not even worth the buck you spend on them.

I'd been noticing all last fall that Nini and Desmond didn't have the hand strength to make firm marks with regular colored pencils. We used crayons for a while, but they make such wide lines that they weren't that useful for the kids' developing interest in drawing.

Then I wandered into an art story one day and discovered the miracle of Derwent Coloursoft pencils. Not having had any art training to speak of, I had no idea that pencils could be so extraordinary. The silky lines! The vivid colors! The rich tones!

The pencil set at the art store was jaw-droppingly expensive, but after hunting around on eBay I eventually found one for less than $20 and gave it to the kids for Christmas. The effect was almost instantaneous: Nini and Desmond drew more and better pictures, had more stamina for drawing, and seemed to be getting far more pleasure out of the whole experience.

Three months later, they draw on their own nearly every day. Their hands are much stronger; when they pick up a regular pencil, be it a #2 writing pencil or a regular drawing pencil, they make nice strong impressions on the paper. They've loved the pencils so much that many of them are already worn way down. Funny how simple things can make you happy: When I look at that well-used tin of pencils, I break into a smile.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Big News in Finland!

Well, not really big news. But I'm tickled to report that Finland's largest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, has just published a piece on homeschooling featuring me, Nini, and Desmond, by journalist Anu Partanen.

Apparently, homeschooling is almost unheard of in Finland, so readers were intrigued to hear about this growing practice in the United States. I tried running the piece through Google Translator but, alas, it was a bit much for their algorithm to handle.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Puppet Pantheon

I wrote earlier about how hand puppets were helping my kids, especially Nini, tackle handwriting.

As we've worked our way first through the upper-case and then the lower-case alphabet, the cast of the daily puppet show has steadily increased, to the point where I'd need to be an octopus to handle them all.

First there was the Magic C Bunny, inspired by the Handwriting Without Tears curriculum. She helps kids not just with the letter c, but with any letter involving a c stroke, like lower-case s or d.

Then there was Hop Frog, who assists with all those letters where you make an initial pencil stroke and then hop up to complete the letter, like capital P and R.

Next came Line Lion, a general purpose sort of puppet, who helps with everything from holding the pencil correctly to making simple letters like L or t. He was joined first by Pointy V, a loud sort of a monster guy with a sharp beak, who assists with v and w and k and so forth, letters where you have to stop your pencil completely and then start again in order to get a nice sharp point. After that came Sneaky J, another monster fellow, who tries his best to trick children with the letters j and q, and the numbers 6 and 9. Finally, there's Diving Dolphin, who helps with lower-case n and m and r -- although he really hates r, because it leaves him hanging in mid-air.

So, to have the kids write something like, say, "Our pet rabbits are named Patches and Snufkin," I have to juggle all six puppets in rapid succession. Nini barks out orders like a cranky stage manager -- "Oh Mommy, we need Hop Frog ..." -- but we usually end up all giggling, with Magic C and Pointy V squabbling over whether round or sharp is more lovable, while Sneaky J comes and tries to eat all the pencils.

It's often raucous and sometimes draining, but it's been really effective. And while we've just finished learning all the letters, I've promised Nini and Desmond that the puppets will stick around our home school for as long as they like.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Counting by 10s

We've started skip counting recently, and I found that our bin of battered, miscellaneous Hot Wheels made the perfect teaching tool.

The technique was easy as pie: Put stickers on the cars, and give them to the kids to play with. In this case, I labeled the cars by 10s. I gave the kids a jumbled pile and asked them to sort them out in order. Then I'd take a car or two out of the line-up and ask them what was missing. Finally, I'd pull out a car or two and ask them what car would come before or after if they were counting by 10s.

They caught on very quickly, and not surprisingly, were soon playing these simple games on their own. When they're ready, I'm planning to do the same for counting by 5s, this time using the plastic counting bears.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Egypt (Meet the Ancient World 5)

Ah, Ancient Egypt ... what a delight! Pyramids, mummies, stunning art and captivating mythology: The material is so rich that you may want to linger on this unit for a good long time -- and return to the topic often.

There are also tons and tons of great resources for introducing Ancient Egypt to young kids. I've only listed our favorites.


Both Story of the World and the Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia (discussed in previous units) contain useful introductions to this topic. You could fill whole shelves with children's books about Ancient Egypt -- just find the appropriate section at your local library and you're sure to turn up something good. This short list highlights those that worked best for us.

Henry Barker, Egyptian Gods and Goddesses
This early reader provides a clear, well-illustrated introduction to Ancient Egyptian mythology, with a lovely account of the soul's journey to the afterlife. It was a huge hit with my kids, who must have acted out the Weighing of the Heart a dozen times. Highly recommended.

Twelve Egyptian dieties are introduced in this volume, which is sadly out of print but not super difficult to find. The bright, bold illustrations are eye-catching and appealing.

Jacqueline Morley, Egyptian Myths
Wonderful compilation of Egyptian myths, also out of print, alas. The haunting, ancient tales of Osiris, Isis, Set, Horus, and more are presented through compelling text. Some of these stories are violent and may disturb particularly sensitive children, but the stories are so marvelous and make such a wonderful introduction to ancient mythology that I strongly recommend tracking it down.

Shirley Climo and Ruth Heller, The Egyptian Cinderella
This picture book retells the original Cinderella tale, first written down in first century B.C. Greece by the historian Strabo. In it, a young Greek girl named Rhodopis is kidnapped and made a slave in Egypt; because of her talent as a dancer, her master gives her a beautiful pair of dainty slippers, and the story proceeds from there.

Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen, Ms. Frizzle's Adventures: Ancient Egypt
Ms. Frizzle of Magic School Bus fame joins a tour group on a trip to modern-day Egypt, and with the help of her magic time machine, leads the group back to ancient times. The goofy premise and cartoon-style illustrations have great kid appeal.

Miles Harvey, Look What Came from Egypt
Colorful guide for children to the many inventions and innovations of the ancient Egyptians.


Ancient Civilizations for Children: Ancient Egypt
Another video from the Schlessinger ancient history for kids series I discussed in the Mesopotamia unit, featuring faux-archeologist Arizona Smith. The film is short and the VHS format antiquated, but this series works well for young kids, so it's worth trying inter-library loan if you can't find it locally.

Reading Rainbow: Mummies Made in Egypt
Sorry -- it's another tricky-to-track-down VHS, this time from the beloved 1980s/1990s kids' TV series Reading Rainbow.

National Geographic's Mysteries of Egypt
Yep -- yet another one on VHS. But it's Omar Sharif! Sitting at the base of a pyramid and opining majestically about Ancient Egypt to an ersatz granddaughter! The camp value for grown-ups is reason enough to seek this one out; the story-told-to-a-sweet-moppet framing appeals to young kids. (Please, dear readers, if you know of good films for kids about Ancient Egypt that are actually available on DVD, post a comment below.)


As with any of these ancient history studies, you can encourage Egypt-themed play at little or no cost. We mummified a little man cut from a potato, wrapped the kids' baby dolls in toilet paper, built a pyramid from a cardboard box, and made a scale of justice using a coat hanger and two small plastic cups. (Yes, that's Desmond as the goddess Maat, holding the Feather of Truth.) There are a couple of different books of Egypt activities for kids that can give you more ideas and detailed instructions.

But if you're going to make one purchase for this unit, I strongly encourage you to get a set of little Egyptian play figures. The easiest-to-find is the Ancient Egypt Toob from Safari, which includes Anubis, Thoth, Isis, and a Bastet cat -- many toy stores carry it.

If your budget allows, there are all sorts of other wonderful Egypt-themed playthings, including a wide array of excavation kits and a full line of fabulous toys from Playmobil, like the really cool pharaoh's temple my sister gave the kids last Christmas. There are card games and flash cards and puzzles and even a modern-day version of the ancient game of Senet that's easy enough for five-year-olds to play. Our oh-so-worth-it splurge was the awesome wooden pyramid-building set from Haba, which functions both as a construction puzzle and as a backdrop for play.

With all the great Egypt material available, I'm sure I've missed something I shouldn't have. Please share your favorite resources and activities in the comments section below.