January 20, 2010

Ancient Africa Mini-Unit Study

I don't do unit studies like some people do.  I don't worry about adding math and science and art and everything under the sun to a topic, especially for history.  What I do is try to focus on a particular topic or time period or place and study it - other subjects naturally come in, but I don't seek them out.

When we studied the ancient world in first grade (3 years ago) I decided to do it chronologically by geographic location.  Huh?  For example, when we studied ancient Africa we tried to stay with Egypt and the rest of Africa for a few hundred/thousand years before moving to the Middle East or Far East or the Americas.  Yes, we'd have to back up each time we left a location, but it seemed easier for my younger children to handle.

So, without further ado....here is what we did for Ancient Africa.  I think you could definitely use these books and activities for any elementary age, perhaps lower middle school as well.

Children's Atlas of Civilizations pgs. 14-15, Usborne Encyclopedia of World History pgs. 114-117, 134-139, Usborne Time Traveler  pgs. 98-127

Ancient Egyptians and Their Neighbors - Marian Broida   Excellent book.  It contains great information with activities to go with them including very hard to find groups like the Hittites.  Sadly it does not have many pictures.  We will definitely use this book again.

Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile - Tomie de Paola  They absolutely loved this, I thought it rather dumb.  We later read a science book that talked about crocs and birds which was a neat connection.  We will probably use it again just because it appeals to kids so well.

Cat Mummies – Kelly Trumble  I didn't expect to read this already, but they begged me to and they LOVED it.  They acted out the battle of the Persians and Egyptians with their animals.  Use again.  It led to some great discussions about idol worship and our religious beliefs.

Children's Atlas of Civilizations - Anthony Mason  This is a lovely little book.  Well, not little, it's big.  Each section has a 2 page spread with a map, several paragraphs of info and lots of pictures.  Very good introduction for younger kids and not as busy as DK or Usborne.  Lots of civilizations covered.  Use again.

Cleopatra - Diane Stanley We enjoyed this book, but it had some things we needed to discuss (adultery, etc) which otherwise would have made it unacceptable.  It is a good introduction to her story.

Croco'nile - Roy Gerrard  They liked this.  Short, a little silly, but didn't much information.  Not sure if I'll use again.

Egyptian Diary:  The Journals of Nakht - Richard Platt (reign of Hatshepsut) They loved this book and couldn't wait to read it each day.  It follows the life of a young boy while you learn about Egyptian culture.  It had several things we needed to discuss, but overall a good book.  We will use again.

Egyptology: Search for the Tomb of Osiris - Emily Sands  We enjoyed looking at this, but the story was slow and they weren't really interested in it.  After a few days of trying to read it and being bored out of our minds, we just looked at all the stuff and read a few captions.  Use for looking at, but not for information.

Great Pyramid: The story of the farmers... - Elizabeth Mann  The text for this was way too long for this age and I felt like we'd covered the pyramids fairly well already.

Growing Up in Ancient Egypt - Rosalie David  We didn't even bother to read this.  We'd already covered a lot of the information in a much better way.

Mummies and Ancient Egypt - Anita Ganeri  Even though we own this, we just looked through it as most of the information was a repeat.  It had some good (and gross) pictures.

Mummies in the Morning - Mary Pope Osborne (Magic Tree House)  Of course they loved this. 
Mummies Made in Egypt – Aliki  We couldn't find the book, but did watch the Reading Rainbow version.  The kids really enjoyed it and it added more information than otherwise found in the book.  We will use it again.

Mummies, Pyramids, and Pharaohs: A Book About Ancient Egypt - Gail Gibbons  This was one of our most favorite books.  An excellent broad overview of Egypt.  After reading lots of other books, this being one of the last, I said "Finally, the book I wanted to use all along."  We'll definitely use this again.

Pyramid - David Macaulay  We just looked through this as we'd covered the pyramids already.  They may read it in a later year.

Tut’s Mummy Lost and Found – Judy Donnelly One of my boys really liked this; the other didn't as much.  I will use it again though.

Usborne Encyclopedia of World History  I love this book and so do my kids.  We read a page or so for each time period we're studying.  Lots of pictures.  There is a cave man type section at the beginning which we skipped.  This doesn't 'teach it all' but it does have an excellent selection.  Will use again and can use it for many, many things.

Usborne Time Traveler We follow 4 different kids through the time they lived in.  Very well done.  Interesting and has great pictures.  Use again.

Children's Atlas of Civilizations 86-87 , Usborne Encyclopedia of World History 172-173

Anansi Does The Impossible!: An Ashanti Tale - Verna Aardema  They liked this book.  Great colors.  For once Anansi gets something right!  Use again.

Anansi the Spider - Gerald McDermott  Loved, loved, loved this book.

Ancient Egyptians and Their Neighbors - Moria Broida (has a section on Nubia)  see review above

Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain - Verna Aardema  They watched the Reading Rainbow version of this and really enjoyed.  Use again.

Great African Kingdoms - Sean Sheehan The text was way too long (and too advanced for this age) and dry to use.  I didn't even want to read it!  Find another source.

How the Ostrich Got Its Long Neck: A Tale from the Akamba of Kenya - Verna Aardema - This was a really fun book.  The illustrations were not the best (not the African bright colors), but the story is well written and the kids really enjoyed.  Use again

Misoso: Once Upon a Time Tales from Africa - Verna Aardema  They liked this collection of 'creation' type stories.  Each is short enough to read one or two a day.  Good  selection of various countries with map showing where they come from.  Use again.

Who's in Rabbit's House - Verna Aardema, a Masai story Wonderful pictures.  The kids really love this story.  Use again.  They acted out this story for weeks and weeks afterwards.

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears - Verna Aardema  Not as great as Rabbit, but still enjoyable.  A baby owl gets killed so it wasn't as 'fun', but they wanted to read it again.

Zomo the Rabbit: A Trickster Tale from West Africa - Gerald McDermott  They liked this also.  They didn't quite get the meaning of it, but enjoyed the story and art.  Use again.

1.  Build a sandpaper pyramid.

2.  Salt dough map.  Trace outline of ancient Egypt onto cardboard.  Use colored salt dough to fill in the map.  Let dry and paint with rivers, etc. if desired.  Recipe for salt dough:
4 cups flour
1 cup salt
1-1/2 cups hot water (from tap)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil (optional)

Mix the salt and flour together, then gradually add the water until the dough becomes elastic. (Some recipes call for 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil at this point.) If your mixture turns out too sticky, simply add more flour. If it turns out too crumbly, simply add more water. Knead the dough until it’s a good consistency. If you want colored dough, mix food coloring, powdered drink mix, or paint into the water before adding it to the dry ingredients. Or you can paint your creations after baking them at 200 degrees. Baking times will vary depending on the size and thickness of the object, but make sure that all of it is hard. If the dough starts to darken before cooking is complete, cover with aluminum foil. Painted keepsakes will need to be sealed on all sides with clear varnish or polyurethane spray.
Alternate recipe: Take about 1 cup salt and dissolve it in about 1 1/4 cup water (or a little more). Then stir in about 3 cups flour ( one cup at a time), until it's a nice soft dough.

3.  Carve the Sphinx or pyramids in green floral foam.  Draw in pencil first, then use knives, toothpicks or spoons to carve out shape.  Use eye protection - trust me on this!

4.  Build a pyramid using sugar cubes.  25 cube base, 16 cubes second level, 9 cubes for third, 4 for fourth then 1 at peak.   Have enough that they can finish the pyramid if they snitch some (which they will).

5.  Paint a clay pot with Egyptian designs.  Break it with a hammer.  Give each child the other person's broken pot and have them reconstruct it with glue.  This re-creates what archeologists go through when they find artifacts.

6.  Make paper from papyrus or "fake papyrus".  You could also (and a lot easier) do this with strips of paper about 1/2 inch (1 cm) wide and 11 inches long or so. After you weave them, soak the mat in water before you pound it flat on both sides and let it dry.

7.  Mummify an orange or a chicken.  Find instructions online.

8.  Make a mummy case.  Blow up a long balloon.  Cover with strips of paper soaked in glue mixture, no more than 4 layers..  Let dry.  Paint gold and decorate like mummy.  Seal. 
Recipe for paper mache:
Use a simple mixture of flour and water. Mix one part flour with about 2 parts of water until you get a consistancy like thick glue. Add more water or flour as necessary. Mix well to get out all the bumps. Add a few tablespoons of salt to help prevent mold! OR 1 part flour to 5 parts water... boil about 3 minutes and let cool OR you can use regular glue mixed with a bit of water. Mix using about 1 part water with 2 parts glue.  OR use wallpaper paste. Follow the directions from the manufacturer to mix this paste.  OR liquid starch.

9.  Make pharoah crown and beard.

10.  Write in hieroglyphics. 

11.  Make a cartouche necklace.  On a piece of posterboard, trace a cartouche necklace.  Cut out and spray paint gold.  Have the kids write their names in hieroglyphics.

12.  Build a shaduf. A shaduf is a machine to move water from a lower place to a higher place. You will need two large basins (or a creek and a basin), something to make one basin higher than the other, some water, a bucket, a long pole like a broomstick, and a strong bar you can lean your broomstick over, like the top of a swingset or monkey bars.  Put an empty basin on the higher place, and the other basin near it, but lower down, and full of water. Hook your bucket over the end of your pole (or you may want to fasten it on). Put a weight on your end (the end without the bucket) so that your end is about as heavy as the bucket full of water. (You might use a rock tied on with rope, for instance). Balance the broomstick with the weight on one side and the bucket on the other side. Dip the bucket down into the basin full of water and get some water. Push down on your end of the broomstick, so that the bucket comes up in the air. Swing it over so it is on top of the empty basin, and pour the water into the new basin. Then swing your bucket back to the full basin and do it again.

13.  Make a hieroglyphic scroll.  Tape several sheets of paper together to make one long strip.  With a stiff brush use paint to paint hieroglyphs onto scroll.  Let dry.  Take each end of paper to a dowel or stick.  Roll it towards the center making sure both dowels meet in the middle.  Tie with ribbon.  Do experiment to see which lasts longer - clay cunieform tablet or scroll.  Leave them outside for a week or so.  Simulate a flood by putting them in sink for 5 minutes each.  Place in 200 degrees oven (hot, dry desert) for 30 minutes.  Turn off heat and let sit another 30 minutes.  Let cool.  Roll and unroll the scroll many times (show to different people).  Do the same with the clay tablet.  Compare.

14.  Weave a basket.  Buy reeds from store or use paper strips.

15.  Make golden bracelets using toilet paper rolls.

16.  Make a model to show the flooding of the Nile.  Cover a cookie sheet (with sides) with flour or sand.  Make a trench down the middle.  On either side scoop out round or square holes, leaving a "wall" between the middle trench and the holes.  Add water down the middle and notice that it doesn't get into the holes by the fields.  Now, break through the walls so that water can fill the holes and thus water the fields.  You can also rebuild the walls to show how they trapped water in the 'holes' to use for irrigation later.  You can do this over, and over, and over, and over, and .......

1.  Paper bead necklace.  See Ancient Egyptians and Their Neighbors for directions.

2.  Act out the stories using plastic animals.

3.  Make up your own tale using paintings or animals.

4.  Make instruments.  Paper plate tambourines.  Plastic cup shakers.

5.  Make golden bracelets.  Put toilet paper tubes in half then cut lengthwise.  Paint gold and let dry. 

6.  Watch Animals Are Beautiful People.  They loved this fun video about African animals and it shows some African tribes that live there.  Fascinating.

7.  Do a sand paper drawing like cave art.

8.  Make your own Kente or mud cloth design.  There is a cool website which takes you through the process of making mud cloth and lets you do it virtually. http://www.mnh.si.edu/africanvoices/mudcloth/index_flash.html.  
This site shows some different examples of mud cloth: http://www.adire.clara.net/bogolangallery.htm.  This site has African music and shows some men weaving kente cloth - http://www.andycarvin.com/archives/2005/08/kente_weavers_o.html. 
More samples of kente cloth - http://www.africawithin.com/tour/ghana/kente_cloth.htm.

To end each of our mini-unit studies, we have a party.  It is an evening where the kids can display the various things they've made and wear any costumes that have been created.  We eat foods that the people would have eaten at that time.  For the Ancient Africa/Egypt party we made a cake like a step pyramid then had things like dates, whole grain bread, and I can't remember what else.  As we read books we'd keep track of what they were eating so we could eat it too.  Sometimes we invite friends over, sometimes we don't.  But it's always fun!!!!


  1. Wow, that nice buddy. You have sorted out the interest of the children. Now it will be very easy for the mothers to give their children their best.

  2. Wow, great ideas! I will be starting ancients with my first grader this year. Thanks so much for sharing! I'm looking forward to enjoying the time period and cultures with her as you have done with yours. So neat!

  3. Yay! More book suggestions!! And super fun activities, I can't wait!