Wednesday, April 28, 2010

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?

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