Thursday, May 24, 2012

Prehistoric Man

There is a lot to learn about Ancient Man, but it is easier to learn it once it becomes relatable.  Try these activities to learn about what we know about the men and women that came before civilization and make a memory that will connect your child more deeply to the information he or she is learning.

Do Some Cave Painting:
  • Materials you will need include chalk in a dark red, browns and black, large paper, a table or desk, blankets and tape.  If you will be completing this project in a room that is already fairly dark you may also need (or maybe you want this anyway for ambiance) a tap light, electric lantern, electric candles, or other low-light lighting option.
  • Check out Eyewitness Books: Early Humans
  1. First, introduce your kids to pictures of the cave paintings that were found in Lascaux, France and Altamira, Spain.  This website is in French but provides wonderful images.  This website will be a rich resource for "ancient man" and his art.  The text is full of information but it is written on an adult level, for kid level, info refer to the resources at the end of this blarticle.  For Cave Art, simply choose from among the options under France Rock Art Archive.  Make sure to stress the content that is drawn.  These artists depicted animals they saw, not rainbows, princesses, cars or other common favorites among young children (Avoid Venus images).
  2. Tape a large sheet of paper (packaging paper's brown color and large size work particularly well for this project) to the flat underside of a table or desk.
  3. Cover the desk or table's openings to the side with blankets to turn it into a cave.  Leave one area open as the "mouth" of the cave.  Make sure the cave is lit, but only dimly.  Hand over the chalk to your child and let them go for it.
Cook Some Stone Age Food:

  • Materials will be listed in the recipe you choose from a site link given in the body of the activity instructions.
  • Make sure to have Eyewitness Books: Early Humans on hand (or other similar, visual reference).
  1. Open to page 8 of your book and take a look at this page together.  If you are not using the eyewitness book, find the page that depicts foods prehistoric main may have eaten.
  2. Check out this History Cook Book and make sure to watch some of the videos about what kinds of materials the ancient nomads had with which to work, how they cooked those materials, and how they ate.  The meal video does show "offering to the gods" by offering the first and best bites of food to a skull of "granny"  there is nothing gory about it, but you might want to be sure to have introduced your child to paleolithic and neolithic beliefs about death and "the gods" before viewing.
  3. Go back to the Prehistoric Cook Book menu page and scroll down to below the movies.  Go ahead and try any of the recipes that look interesting (and for which ingredients are available) to you.  Follow the recipe instructions together allowing your child to complete the steps he or she is able to do safely.  We tried the wild fruit pudding and made kebabs.

Try Some Stone Aged Music:

  • Materials you will need for this activity include:  toilet paper and paper towel tubes, oatmeal canisters (or other containers made of cardboard of the same or similar shapes).  Glue, Ribbons and String, wooden sticks if you have some smooth ones lying around, fabric scraps (particularly if they have the feel and/or look of leather or fur) and a few stones.  Things with which to decorate the instruments such as paint.  The people of the stone age did not have exactly these things, but a child simply can't carve out bone or wood safely - If your child is 5-6 or older, do not supply your child with glue though, this is a good engineering, or problem solving task if the have to figure out how to "tie" or "join" pieces of their instruments together as stone-aged people would have had to do.
  • Books to check out from the library ahead of time: Kali's Song by Jeanette Winter, and the Children's Book of Music: An Introduction to the world's most amazing music and its creators.  If you are home schooling, teach history or music history, or care deeply about supplementing your child's education with music history and music appreciation, I recommend considering purchasing the Children's Book of Music so you have it as an easy reference.

  1. Read Kali's Song by Jeanette Winter if you would like to and the book is available.  It is a fictional tale about how young Kali discovers music.
  2. Watch this video together and if you have the tools and supplies, make a mouth bow like Kali's. Obviously, this is not the method for making a mouth bow that the prehistoric man would have used.
  3. AND/OR you can open to page 12 of the Children's Book of Music and look at the instruments shown there.  We don't really know what stone age music sounded like because it was never written down, but we can guess because of the nomadic tribes that do still have a heritage or "tribal memory" can set an example of possible style.  When we combine that example with the knowledge of what stone aged musicians would have had as instruments from archaeological sites, we can get an idea of the possibilities.  
  4. After the kids have read about these ancient instruments and taken a look at the pictures hand them some of the items from around the house you collected earlier and just see where they take it.  You may need to help if they want a hole cut in something.  
Try a Day in a Shelter Like Prehistoric Man's
If you have the resources and live near a "wild place" such as the woods or a beach with an area that stays dry at night, you could actually build a "fort" or wigwam of sorts.  Start by gathering large rocks and place them in a circle big enough to fit the sleepers that will be using the shelter.  Then find branches (willow branches are especially wonderful for this) and twigs and place one end of each twig into the corner made between the rock and the earth at one side of the circle, bend the pole and place the other end in the same way on the opposite side of the circle.  If the branches are not bendy enough, you can build your shelter in a more tee pee like way too.  Continue doing this until you have a framework on through which you weave vines and thinner branches to create even more structure.

Once there is enough of a shape there to hold the protective covering, you can spread your covering over the structure.  Depending on where they were from and the weather they experienced, prehistoric man would have used "tulle mats (or mats made from other, similar reed plants), or skins" layered over with other materials like mud that was then allowed to dry, bones or branches to keep the mats and skins tight even in the wind.  You can use pine branches (still thick with needles) or flakes of hay from hay bales or even tarps for this if you don't want to actually make your own tulle mats.  If you do decide to make a tulle mat, you might also want to use it for a sitting mat, rather than a roof - reeds and grasses were used in many applications such as this.

Now, do your cooking over a campfire, and spend the day in and around your shelter making flower necklaces, beading, etc.  Prehistoric man would have needed a lot of this time for gathering food, but you'll spend much of the day building your shelter anyway.  These kinds of shelters may not be trustworthy enough for actually sleeping.  Prehistoric man would have had a lot of experience choosing exactly the right supplies and exactly the right angles for things.  Make sure to consider the stability of your shelter before actually going inside and especially before choosing to sleep in the structure. 

OR, have a camp out in a tent and do some bigger pretending, but try making the tulle mats.  Instructions for this are given if you click on the link about tulle mats above.

Please leave a comment if you build a shelter of your own, I did this a lot as a kid, but don't live in a place where this is feasible on a regular basis for my own little Alice.  I'd love to hear how it goes.

If you have older children that have enjoyed reading Hunger Games, you might read it too (if you haven't already) and relate some of these things to the survival skills Katniss had to gain for her family to survive.  Compare the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of her fictional and futuristic family to the lifestyle of the very earliest "settled" humans who would have had goats or sheep or a small plot to farm, but still had to do a lot of hunting and gathering as well.

Resources without direct links within the body of the blarticle.

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