We began with the Neandertals and spent the morning foraging (in our vegetable garden) with no language. There's an awesome Dig magazine issue about this: The Truth about Cavemen, which is what made me decide to do Primitive People instead of jumping straight into Egypt. I think it is the September 2007 issue -- you can look it up online. Scientists are divided about how much language these primitive people have but we decided to do without completely. It was amazing how much the children loved it! Natalie is constantly asking me if we can go out on the playground without talking again. We tore apart summer squash with our hands and ate huge chunks of it raw -- surprisingly delicious. Before going outside we set up the classroom aquarium/terrarium (it is made up of two joined together) with tadpoles and I made the analogy between the metamorphosis of frogs and the advances of humankind. As we went through the classroom door to the outside we entered the Stone Age and it was freaky. I was almost hesitant to go through the door, so seriously were we taking it. Back inside we set up our timeline of the past 1.8 million years. One inch for every 10,000 years. Language came about in the time of the Upper Paleolithic Creative Explosion -- suddenly humans had art, language, music, clothing, homes, even religion. It was amazing how quickly after the advent of language we ended up with agriculture, and more technological advances following one after the other, compared to the Dark Ages beforehand.
The children all informed me that they were hungry. Our foraging wasn't an adequate snack. And so we discussed how eating small meals of whatever you could find meant you had to eat more frequently. In fact, you spent the entire day just trying to survive -- to eat and to keep from being eaten. Next we divided the children up into two teams (they named themselves the Fantastic Six Explorers and the Go Blue Explorers, one team of 5 and one of 6) and they each hid three common household items to be artifacts in an archaeological dig for the other team to find. It was a fantastic morning.
In the afternoon we dug up the artifacts, imagined what they might tell us about those mysterious (invented) cultures, and then ventured into Ancient Egypt. Egypt is a good one for explaining how we learn about the past a little at a time; namely, the discovery and subsequent translation of the Rosetta Stone. And Egypt was a wonderfully rich and fascinating culture. The annual flooding of the Nile, providing the people with enriched soil in which things grew easily; that and the naturally warm weather made it conducive to settling, which happened as long ago as 5500 BC. We talked about the Ancient Egyptian civilization a bit and ended the day with covering a tray of sliced cucumbers with salt as a mummification experiment. The salt is supposed to draw out all the water -- at least, this is what it does to dead bodies...
"A Day in Ancient Egypt"
The tray of cucumbers was full of standing water! (As I knew would happen, having done this experiment at home.) I was absent this day but the children went ahead with the planned activities. One was to do a watercolor resist map of Ancient Egypt (this map is from the front of one of my volumes of Myths and Legends, the same series as the Norse Myths book I recommended before -- I will find the link) with the Nile and its "fingers", the Red Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea in blue beeswax crayon. Then, the children mixed up desert colors in watercolors and painted the remainder of the page desert. We have referred to this map for several days and it's been most handy. They also used two stamp sets of hieroglyphs to learn to stamp their names and so on (and we sent a sheet home detailing the alphabet) and then went outside to one of the blank walls of the school and wrote all over that with charcoal and clay. In hieroglyphic writing, of course. I was so impressed when I drove in and saw it. It was wonderful! Had it been raining I was prepared with large rolls of butcher paper and colored chalks, which are also supposed to make a wonderful mural.
We finished Ancient Egypt in the AM and moved on to Babylon and Palestine. In the morning I read Tutankhamen's Gift by Robert Sabuda. Then we did wet on wet watercolor paintings with salt (to continue the idea that salt absorbs water). BTW, the children added more salt to the pool of water yesterday on the cucumber tray and it soaked right up. Now it has a hard crust on it. While one team was doing this the other was playing senet (an Ancient Egyptian game about passing through the underworld after death) and then we switched. The newspaper sent a reporter to cover our camps so she interviewed the children briefly and she took some pictures. We will see what comes of that. At lunch time I read to the children about the Babylonians and the wandering Jews (from Ur to Canaan, from Canaan to Egypt, from Egypt back to Canaan). After lunch we sliced tomatoes and set them out to dry in the sun. I am trying to do a food project each day. The first day we were talking about ancient ancient time so it was foraging for raw food. Day 2 was honey, a favorite of the Ancient Egyptians and also a naturally-occuring food. Today we began to discuss the problem of food preservation and the children came up with salt, smoke, and sun -- all of which are correct! We laid out trays of sliced tomatoes. Then we learned our Zodiac signs (many of these were originally Mesopotamian-named constellations with corresponding mythologies and were later renamed and re-storied by the Greeks and Romans) and looked at the drawings of our constellations. I have the books at school and am writing these notes at home, but the entire booklist with links will get added to the WC site. The Zodiac book we used I do remember off the top of my head -- it is by Jacqueline Mitton. Tomorrow we will do more with the Zodiac. Today we ended by talking about sand and water clocks, invented by the Babylonians! And the children each made a sand clock. This was accomplished by placing two empty baby food jars on top of each other, open mouth to open mouth. Then in between the two was placed a small circle of paper with a hole cut in the center. Sand is placed in the bottom jar, then the paper, then the top jar. Watch the clock until the second hand reaches 12, then holding the entire thing together with your hands, flip it and watch the sand run through. Time how long it takes the sand to run through, then either add or subtract sand or change the size of the hole in your paper until you have created a clock with measures a specific length of time. Then run a bead of glue around the rim of the bottom jar (with the sand in it), lay the paper on top and press it down firmly, and run a bead of glue around the rim of the second jar and flip it over and press into position. Let dry, then label your clock with the amount of time it measures. This was a spur of the moment project I invented, seeing that we had 20 minutes left in the day and it was too hot to go outside. Luckily we had a ton of baby food jars in the classroom, which is what made me think of it. The children used art sand which had been dyed many beautiful colors and this project kept them utterly and completely absorbed. In fact, they were working totally silently. And when parents came to pick them up they didn't want to go!
All in all, a very successful camp so far.