Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Benefits of "Shy"

As usual, while at the store the other day, Alice made a "friend" - well, tried.  The little girl was a couple of years younger than Alice and very shy.  So, when Alice said, "hello, I'm Alice" and the little girl's response was to squish between her mom's legs and stare, Alice said, "Oh, she must be feeling shy"  The little girl's mom immediately started to apologize about her daughter's shyness and sort of make excuses for her little girl.  Alice said, "That's okay.  There is nothing wrong with shy moments."    I nodded in agreement.  Judging from the look on her face, the mom was a little shocked by this response.  While the little girl smiled at Alice, I smiled at the mom while she continued to defend herself from an attack that had never come.  She talked about all the things she had tried to force her little girl to be more outgoing, she talked about how she had the same problem with the older brother, she talked about how she was worried about the day when she would have to drop her daughter off at school with a teacher she didn't know and all the while I'm saying, "It is okay she shouldn't HAVE to talk to strangers if she isn't comfortable with it - Alice understands that too".  We finally were able to smile and wave at the little girl and her mom moved on and we went about our shopping again.    

I'm sure the mom thought I couldn't possibly understand about shy because my daughter is far from it - I mean really, when they teach kids opposites in preschool and they hold up a picture of Alice, that is when the kids would say, "the opposite is shy".  There is probably some truth to the idea that I don't understand the problems associated with shy.  Frankly, I am appalled at the number of articles from experts that speak about shyness as if it is a disability.  Some even seem to say that shyness and social anxiety disorder are one in the same.

Truly, it is DIFFERENT from social anxiety disorder, it is just about being an introvert (here is a link for resources about SAD).  An introvert might be some one who functions just fine out in the world, but has no need to go to parties, go bar hopping or go to events filled to the brim with people.  Introverts recharge their batteries with things like home-making, book-reading and the other more quiet types of activities.  One article I read actually suggested that shy kids shouldn't be allowed to do these things.  What if it was you and having some quiet calm time to yourself is your stress relief valve and mom said you couldn't have it?  Now, I don't suggest that kids should ever be allowed to only do one thing all the time, I merely suggest that healthy kids are kids that know who they are, what their needs are and how to adjust to accomodate their weaknesses.  For my daughter, (who is extremely outgoing) she gets some "forced" down time when I insist upon quiet time, but she is also given lots of time for social activity because it is what she thrives on and she needs it. 

While I don't associate myself as being shy, I do consider myself as an introvert.  Parties don't make me feel anxious and I enjoy them, but they certainly don't charge me up the way they do my husband and daughter.  They wear me out and I need down time to recover from them (and NO it isn't to recover from the hangover because I don't usually have one).  For me, meeting new people isn't scary, but if I'm doing a lot of it all at once, it is exhausting.  About 50% of adults identify themselves as having been shy children and 25% identify themselves as introverts.  If half of us were that way at any point and ALL of us have "shy moments" there is nothing abnormal or disabling about it.  Especially with kids under the age of five, it is EXPECTED developmentally for them to go through stages where they are nervous about getting too far from mom, meeting new people and exploring new social situations.  Even Alice had shy moments while very young.  Most people (even extroverts) get a little nervous before performing.  In fact, a lot of directors and coaches will start to worry a little if you lose those nerves because you are then very likely to get overly confident and botch a part.

I will admit that just as there are downfalls to being out-going (sometimes it can be pretty tough to get Alice to reign it in a little and OH the DRAMA!), there are also downfalls to being shy.  However, shy has its advantages too and part of loving a child is knowing, accepting and honoring who they are rather than pushing and forcing them to be something else.  So, lets talk about some of the strengths that are a part of being shy:

Shy kids may not be as apt at performance (although even Tom Hanks is identified as shy as are many other celebrities).  They may not have huge groups of friends (and the net-working that it leads to later in life).  They might not be great at making speeches and other things more gregarious people are great at (but then again, maybe they will be).  "Shy" kids are also probably NOT good at pulling a con, they are less likely to get into "stranger danger" and they tend to be a lot more observant than their non-shy counterparts.  A lot can be learned just from watching others.  Often, the best friends to have when you are really struggling with something are the "shy" quiet ones because they know how to listen to more than just the words (it is all the observing they've done).  They also tend to be very loyal because they truly invest in the friendships they do develop.  Shy people generally are not pushy people - making them a lot more pleasant to be around in that regard anyway.  Shy kids often still develop friendships too.  They might have fewer friends, but those friendships will probably be deeper and more meaningful than most of the friendships in the huge network of friends the outgoing might obtain.  For example, Alice probably has 50 people she would refer to as friends, but there really are only three or four kids she ever talks about  (her close friends).

Seven Strengths Shy People Have
30 Famous Introverts
Not All Successful CEO's are Extroverts

There is a lot out there for the shy to explore too - they'll just be exploring it a little differently than Alice would.  There is a need at some point for kids to overcome their shyness just enough to find friends, partners and work, but it isn't the "OMG my kid's shy whatever will I do - he'll never have any meaningful relationships or even work" emergency some parents seem to think it is.  Besides, even the most gregarious child will have shy moments here and there AND they all go through stages where they just want mom for a few months.  It really isn't worth the worry, or the defense, or the excuses.  In fact, I wish I could go back and reassure that mom at the grocery store (and a few others I've met over the years) that if I was to judge them harshly for their mothering skills because they happen to have a child that was BORN shy, the problem is not with them, it is with me. 
Five Great Careers for Shy People: Yahoo
A few more Careers from E.How

Helping your school-aged-child overcome shyness enough to develop a few close friendships and the social skills that are necessary to operate in the world is really a matter of first accepting your child for who they are (Social Anxiety Disorder, however, IS different and more support for that will be needed).  When your child knows you are a support to them, they will start from a place of confidence in their support network.  

If you are looking for a few tips about helping a school-aged child feel more comfortable during their school day or make a few friends at those clubs you'd like to find for him or her, here is a short article with one pretty effective idea.  Make a game out of it and even role play with your child as though you are the perspective friend (in addition to, or instead of using the mirror).  Be a little silly and make it fun.
I would also like to suggest this article as a good one for the "do's and don'ts of parenting your shy child" type of resource.  It seems fairly balanced in helping parents figure out ways to encourage and help their children interact without pushing too hard.  It stresses the importance of speaking about shyness as a feeling (the way Alice did with the little girl at the store) rather than as "who they are" AND how to honor who your kid is while still helping him gain the skills she needs to interact with the world.

I also suggest making sure he or she participates in a few extracurriculars that are in THE CHILD's interest area and comfort zone.  Does your child like crafts?  Find a craft club or a 4-H project that will fill the bill.  Chess? Find a chess club.  Tennis? Find some friends to go play with (and a great coach).  Reading?  How about a book club that meets once/month.  He or she might take longer to warm up but it will happen - your child is just more cautious - again, not necessarily a bad thing.  Don't expect your child to have oodles and oodles of friends - honestly, how many of your old schoolmates are you still in touch with (Excluding Facebook)!?  If your child seems fairly fulfilled with the relationships he or she has, let it be - it certainly doesn't make sense to insist your 3 or 4 year old "politely" speak to perfect strangers at the grocery store.  The point is, not every person needs hundreds of friends to be fulfilled and it really shouldn't be a contest anyway.  Here is a link to find out if your kid is an introvert (Some kids that love different types of performance might still be introverts).

Be proud of your shy child!  Scream it from the rooftops, "My kid is an INTROVEEEERRRRRTT! and I LOVE Her!"

Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday Field Fun: A Trip to the Pumpkin Patch

While it might be obvious that October is a great month for a field trip to the pumpkin patch, it doesn't make sense not to include the idea.  Not only will your kids get to pick out their pumpkins for carving, but at an actual pumpkin patch, they can also see a little about how the pumpkins actually grow.  Purchases are also often made based on weight or size so a little lesson in measurement of weights or volumes can occur while you are there briefly and then again upon your return home.

The big lesson can be in finances though.  Give your kids their budget for a pumpkin and let them have total say in the matter.  Many pumpkin patches will open this month with all kinds of extra fun too.  Some places have rides and all kinds of things to do and treats to eat.  If you give them just enough for a small pumpkin plus a few trips on the roller coaster and an ice cream, they just might learn a little something about figuring out what is important first, and then spending accordingly.  When I do this with Alice, I tell her I will cover basic food and water.  If she blows her entire budget on one thing and cant get the ice cream, I DO NOT SAVE HER.  She doesn't get the ice cream then or the lesson doesn't work.

The pumpkin patch is fraught with opportunities if you're watching for them, you find them.  At the same time, make sure to just have a lot of fun too.
When you get home and are carving your pumpkin, young children especially can benefit from the sensory experience involved with pulling out the seeds and "gunck" inside the pumpkin.  Try these activities as a follow up to your super-fun day at the pumpkin patch.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Art of Rome

Roman Art offers a lot from which kids can learn by checking out examples and then trying out the art themselves.  I recommend viewing examples of any of the types of art listed here first and discussing any of the associated vocabulary or techniques that would have been used while you look.  Alice and I saw a number of Roman sculptures in the antiquities collection when we visited the museum.  When we came home, Alice used play dough to sculpt a goddess.  We discussed how a sculpture made with the same technique she was using was still a sculpture, but the technique was different from what the Greek and Romans had done.  Since I happen to have a potter's tool kit, we also used a block of wood and cut away pieces to make another sculpture.  If you have access to the right tools (which can be purchased at your local craft store), they might think it is fun to use a "chip away" technique for sculpting instead of molding, folding and shaping.  Whatever technique for sculpting your child uses it might be fun to make sure they know other ways of sculpting exist too.  Here is a link to how modern bronze statues are made from "How its Made".

If you do have the chance to visit an antiquities collection, or if you will be discussing the differences between Roman and Greek Art, make sure to point out that the Romans loved how "real" the Greeks could make their sculptures look and emulated the way Greeks depicted the human form.  However, the Greeks didn't actually make most of their sculptures all that "real" after all.  Their sculpture tried to idealize the human (or God's) body and features.  The Romans included things like large noses, wrinkles and other features the Greeks would have tried to eliminate in their artful renderings. 

Here are a few things we tried:

Projects to Try:

Make your own relief:

Much of Roman art is in relief sculptures used in their architecture and on grave stones.  Use tag board, cardboard and craft foams to stack pieces up in such a way that they make the "sculpture" for which you are aiming.  This project takes a lot of vision and fore planning, so kids Alice's age (early elementary)  may have a pretty tough time with it.  The one I did with Alice was more like a craft where I had pre-designed and cut the pieces and allowed her to stack and glue them together.  She then made lots of her own leaves to add.  In some ways it means this was more of an art history project rather than her own art, but since my objective was for her to remember what a relief was, it worked well.

This is stacked bits of tagboard and craft foam and two pieces of felt.

 Make a Story Column like Trajan's:

Use a paper towel roll to tell your story or that of something else, maybe a favorite myth as you spiral around the roll.  We didn't make ours a relief, but You can see how the story develops as you follow the spiraling seam on the roll around the column.  On cardboard, I recommend sharpies OR crayons specifically made for construction paper or both as is the case with ours.


Complete a Mosaic:

First, look at some examples of mosaics so your child or children understand the range of what is possible and what a mosaic looks like.  Alice's mosaic was completed with a kit by the metropolitan Museum of Art.  It is actually a reproduction of a Byzantine Mosaic, but again, my objectives were more about learning the vocabulary word "mosaic" and less about developing her artistic skills for this one so it worked.  To order, visit the Met's website at  Our kit was "The Personification of Ktisis" from the "My Masterpiece" collection. 

If you'd rather do your own mosaic (or have your child do his or her own), you can use any number of things to complete a mosaic.  First, have your child draw a picture on graph paper and color it in.  Then choose which media you will allow your child to use for his/her mosaic.  Torn scraps of paper will work just as well as actually going out and buying the tiles, adhesive and grout to actually make the mosaic AND be a lot less expensive, but harder to preserve.  It just depends on your goals for the project.  Other items that can be used instead of tiles can include, buttons, broken bits of plastic from toys, food  containers and other items, art foam cut into small squares or rectangles, dyed nut shells (I am currently collecting pistachio shells for a mosaic project we will be doing), dyed egg shells . . . your imagination is really the only limit here.  Really, your imagination is the only limit.  Check out the combination relief/mosaic made from SCREWS to the right.  Incredible! 
Here is a video about the Lod Mosaic's discovery.

The Book Shown Here is: St. Valentine by Robert Sabuda.  We used the book as Inspiration.

Make a Signet Ring:

For little fingers, get an old plastic play ring that won't be terribly missed.  Older kids can make the ring part out of clay themselves.  Make a block of air-dry clay for your child (or have older child make one) that will fit the ring and child's finger in size.  Roll it or press it so it is somewhat flat on both sides and then using toothpicks, have your child carve out his or her "signature symbol" of choice.  Without destroying the carving, turn the clay over and gently press the ring into the signet charm.  Allow the ring to air dry and your child now has a signet ring.  If the carving is wide and deep enough, you can use play dough, silly puddy, or more clay to demonstrate to your child how it molds the other substance to its own shape.  Here is video of a collection of Roman Rings and signet stones.  If you have explained the function sufficiently, this should solidify the child's understanding of how a signet ring worked to communicate who letters and documents were from.  As an aside and FYI, authentic rings were sometimes actually made so the signet portion was worn against the skin.  The ring was removed and the signet turned outward on the ring for use!  Wow!  (For more about Roman Clothing and related projects, click on the link).

Complete a Fresco:

Here is a Youtube video by Blick Art supplies with how to do dry plaster fresco with your kids.  Frescoes were used for centuries so this activity can be a great reference later too.

Don't Forget the Architecture:

Architecture can also be art - especially the way the Romans did it (when it comes to their public spaces such as bath houses, theaters, circuses, government buidings and palaces for their emperors and upper crust anyway).  To really get a look at the buildings of this talented group of builders, check out this link to the Master Builder's Lesson Resources.

Sculpt a Bust or Statue:

Let your child mold clay into a bust of themselves or someone they love OR carve a block of clay or play dough into a sculpture of themselves or someone they love.



A Few More Videos:

Plebeian Roman Art

An Introduction to Roman Architecture - Lecture from Yale Professor Kleiner - If you enjoy it, more from the same professor will be listed by Youtube to the right of the movie.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ancient Romans: Greek Admirer's

Roman Art and literature is largely inspired by the Greeks that they profoundly admired.  The Romans admired the realism yet idealized sculpture the Greeks used when depicting the Gods, Goddesses, Heroes and Athletes of their time and emulated the style without the idealism.  The Romans loved Homer's Iliad and Odyssey and many of their Gods are copies of the Greek Gods with different names.  Although the Romans took architecture to the next level, and developed an amazing style using arches, barrel vaults and domes that cannot be compared, they also used a lot of Greek inspiration and admired Greek style so much, that if you look at the Pantheon from the right angle, you might even confuse the two buildings.


Well, maybe not, but your kids are likely to.  There is a lot one could cover in the realm of what the two societies had in common because of the admiration of the Romans for Ancient Greek Culture.  Entire museums are stuffed with art from antiquity that would allow us to compare the art and architecture of the two societies (click the link above for activities to teach about Roman Art).

Since Alice had an entire unit on Ancient Greece last spring, she was often able to recognize similarities all on her own, I found we really didn't need to spend a lot of time on these types of comparisons.   When we read the story of Ceres and Proserpina she responded, "Wait a minute, that's Demeter and Persephone" (for some reason, she doesn't remember Ishtar and Tammuz as well). As I've said in other blarticles, she ADORES history and took a special liking to the Greeks.  She remembers nearly every detail.   Of course the Romans also had their own unique twist to things, arches and domes, mosaics, Janus and others, but that is another lesson altogether.

The best way to take a look at the art from antiquity is to go visit a local museum, but if you aren't near a museum with an antiquities collection, there are tons of websites and video on depicting art from both societies.  We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to go with Alice's grandparent's to the Getty Villa in California spring.  It was a great day and well worth the trip if you have a chance to go.  If you can get to The Getty Villa or any other museum with an antiquities collection, make sure to look at Roman Sculpture and compare the existence of personal "imperfections" or character in Roman sculptures as opposed to the Greeks who liked to sculpt everyone in the most "perfect" dimensions, proportions and way possible.

For the bulk of our comparisons, Alice and I read quite a few of the Myths presented in the book, "Gifts from the Gods" by Lisa Lunge-Larson, which presents many of the myths the two societies had in common (and a few particular only to one), along with modern words we still use today that are based on aspects of the myths.  The book also contains quotes from modern children's fiction that use the words being defined.  The myths are well-told and the violence and sex is downplayed quite nicely so the book is useful even with elementary kids.  Don't be afraid to use the book with middle school students too though.  It is still great literature, and sophisticated enough for them to enjoy it too.  I used to have my middle school kids study children't books and then make their own children's book about certain topics.  It can often be harder to distill concepts down to something children can understand while still maintaining accuracy than writing a "sophisticated" report with all kinds of "big words".  Giving my middle school kids this understanding and context allowed me to read to them from children's books without anyone taking offense and by the end of the year, they were bringing picture books to me to use with future classes. 

Comparing the Roman and Greek versions of Myths or thier characters, is a great way to introduce Venn Diagrams to your elementary school student, by having him or her have one circle be for the Romans and one for the Greeks.  I focused this lesson on the mythology but you could do this with art or architecture as well.  The idea is that your kids then sort out which Gods (such as Tiberinus - Tiber River God - and Janus) belonged only to the Romans and which the two societies had in common.  With older kids, you could have them practice their research skills and have them analyze the similarities and differences in the two panthea and how each society revered each God.  For example, the Greek View of Fortuna and o Ares was much more negative than the way the Romans viewed either of these gods.  The Romans had additional gods as well.  The variations are slight, but see what your kids can discover.

The Activity that proved to be really fun for my first-grader though was a handout with ten memory cards to make from Alice's school.  Basically, one set of cards had Cronus, Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Athena, Aphrodite, Hermes, Demeter, and Ares.  The other set of cards had the same images but used the corresponding Roman names; Saturn, Jupiter, Neptune, Pluto, Juno, Minerva, Venus, Mercury, Ceres, and Mars.  Alice colored them in, we cut them out and then played memory with the cards.  You could make your own set and also add, Eros/Cupid, Heracles/Hercules or Odysseus/Ulysses and more.  We decided to expand our set.  All we did to do this was use an old deck of cards with a few cards missing and found images online to print off.  We pasted these images over the numbers side of the cards and had our own set.  We also added Janus in order to play an "Old-Maid" like version where if you pulled Janus you lost your turn and one of your pairs did not count as a point at the end of the game. 

For More Articles with Lessons, Resources Lists and Links about Ancient Rome click here.

This link will take you to an article with background info about classical art.

Art of the Western World - Greece
Art of the Western World - Rome

Romans: Master Builders

We did not specifically do a single lesson about the Romans as master builders.  Instead, Alice and I took a look at each building feat and then watched related clips from many of the movies linked below (or the movies in their entirety) to show building feats of the Ancient Romans.  In this way, Alice came to be familiar with important structures that still stand today as well as the technology behind their structures.  We mostly did this study chronologically as we came across the emperor behind the building of each structure.  However, many of the resources I used had multiple structures within one movie.  For this reason, we began with an understanding of how concrete and the arch were important in the ability of Rome to build the amazing things still standing for us to walk in, around or on.  For resources regarding other topics of Ancient Rome click here.


The Roman Arch: The resources for this are included in a couple of lessons we did about the arch, "Build a Roman Arch" and "Breaking Bridges".  A clip from Engineering the impossible about arches is included with "Breaking Bridges". 

Roman Concrete: Part of the Romans' success was because of their volcanic ash.  They could make concrete that set quickly AND underwater. Watch concrete be made from its raw ingredients the way the Romans would have.

Hamster Wheel Crane: Is this how the Ancient Romans lifted stone blocks?

Aqueducts: An introduction to what they were, why they were important and revolutionary and various views of aqueduct bridges.  Includes a model of an inverted siphon and an explanation of how it worked.  Kids must know the word "gradient" first.

Aqueducts: How were the ancient Romans precise enough to move water from the mountains into Rome.

The Groma: How the Romans surveyed before beginning a building project (this is specific to setting a tent line), but Groma were used for roads, aqueducts and the building of structures for public buildings, homes and temples as well.

Roman Structures

Roman Roads - BBC's What the Romans Did for Us Episode 4: The Romans make Roads that are perfectly straight and head in exactly the right direction.  Shows how roads were surveyed (includes the use of a Groma).  There are more full episodes of these.  A few of the technology clips above have come from episodes that were broken into clips on Youtube.

Hadrian's Wall - BBC's What the Romans Did for Us Episode 5: Hadrian's Wall.  This episodes "contemplates" life at the edge of the empire.  Instead of being about the building of the wall as one would expect, it is about life in a Roman military community.  It goes over everything from the making of weapons and communicating between forts to things like how the Roman soldiers would have baked their bread.

Coliseum Plumbing - A Short clip about the drainage system underneath the Coliseum.  Another video below has a portion that mentions the origins of the drainage systems from Nero's palace the Domus Aurea.

NatGeo's Birth of Rome - This movie begins with a mention of Romulus and Remus and quickly moves into a sweeping history of the growth of Rome from an early independent city and republic into an Empire and the trappings that came with it.

Roman City - This is a mixture of fictional animation to show daily life in the Rome of Augustus, and film showing David Macaulay walking through ancient ruins and describing the architectural feats of the Romans and their beliefs about the ideal city.

Engineering the Roman Empire - This movie has some fairly graphic scenes (it is about the Ancient Romans after - all and starts of with Julius Caesar's assassination).  It is educational, and not gratuitous.  However, as usual, you will want to preview it to be sure it is right for your objectives, age, and maturity of the kids you will be expecting to view the video.  This movie is a great resource for relating emperors with the most important buildings of ancient Rome as well as forming a sort of timeline for the building of everything from the original forum to Hadrian's Wall and finally the Bath house of Caracalla.

Activities Along the Way:

Of course you can build models of any number of Roman structures not already mentioned. Watch the first nine minutes of  Engineering the Roman Empire (link above).  This portion is about Julius Caesar crossing the Rhine.  Then build a model of the bridge.

Use the book, "Step Into The Roman Empire" along the way for instructions for building models of: a piece of an aqueduct bridge, a traditional Roman Villa (including a separate "Modern" Roman Kitchen), and the Pantheon.  With this book you will also have access to visuals depicting the underlying structures for baths and under-floor heating.  Of course there are also crafts about Roman Dress, games they played, creating your own Mosaic and more.

When completing a study about Trajan and his column, make one of your own.  Get a paper towel roll and use the seam that spirals around the roll as the "ground" in a series of pictures to tell a story much as Trajan's column (link takes you to video featuring sculpture reliefs from the column) tells the story of Trajan's conquests (this link takes you to education documentary clip about the conquest of the Dacians).


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Different Lines in Art

It is important that kids learn the vocabulary of line in Art and practice making different kinds of lines themselves.  Both National Math and Art Objectives also demonstrate the practice of learning how to make patterns of importance for your kids.

One really fun way to ask your kids to practice both skill sets is to give them the freedom to doodle decorate their names.  Older children should be able to figure out how to make hollow block letters for their names, younger kids might need to be handed their name pre-printed.  I used this exercise to introduce the vocabulary of the different kinds of lines in art and to review patterns.

For the very young student, you might give them only a large block letter Initial.  To teach the lines first, you may want to give them something like the picture here - this is my sample for Alice.  I asked her to begin by figuring out which kind of line was missing from my letter.  Once she'd practice finding all the types of lines in my letter (except vertical), I then asked her to find all the patterns that were there and describe those patterns. 

Lastly, I gave her a paper with her full name in block letters and let her have some fun with it.  She even included a self portrait of herself upside down hanging into the open space in the A from above.  She was able to use a range of colors as well, so some of her patterns were made with alternating colors, but she used thin and thick lines, wavy lines, curves, bends, zig-zags, horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines as well as spirals and she included a few of her favorite shapes such as diamonds and hearts which I pointed out to her use different lines meeting in order to form the shape. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Ancient Rome - The Story of Romulus and Remus

In order to introduce this story, there are a number of resources one can use.  We read a "cartoon" or "graphic novel" (well, - short story) version from the book, "Roman Myths" by David West and Ross Watton.  We also read the story version provided online to us by k12 (you must be enrolled with k12 to access this version), but there are other versions online.  A very short version is provided by Ancient Rome for Kids.  There is also a longer, more detailed version at Ready to Go Books with illustrations and of course a number of versions with a more medium length.  A few of these versions online are listed below.  Of course there are animated versions on Youtube.  We watched the one linked in this paragraph, but I have another, wordless version and a few others also linked below.  Whatever version you decide upon, take your time reading the story with young kids (for other topics and resources regarding Ancient Rome click here). 

Discuss as you go and ask them questions as well.  What do they think?  How should the boys decide what to call their city?  Can your kids think of any other stories where a child or children floated down a river because they were supposed to be killed, but survived?  Can they think of any other stories with which they are familiar where a character was raised by wild creatures?  What inspired each character to make their decisions as they did?  Should Faustulus have taken the children from the she wolf?  Should Romulus have been rewarded with the title of king and later made a god? . . .  If you need to be more formal in assessing understanding than a simple discussion, there are any number of options to assess your child's comprehension of the story. 

For Alice, we used her felt board and she retold the story moving her felt board pieces around.  She simply reused some of the Greek outfits I had made during our unit on Ancient Greece, the big bad wolf character for the she wolf, and various other items for her retelling.  You could have your child do basically the same thing with puppets or dolls,  him or herself and a few friends acting out the parts, or have your child simply retell the story in words, writing or pictures.

Multi-tasking your history and language arts objectives can be a great way to keep it a little more real for the kids.  Why not use this story to teach them the difference between real and unreal (Kindergarten), Legend and Myth (various grades), or even different classic archetypes of literature (Middle and High school).  Perhaps you'd like to use it to teach character, setting and/or plot.  Teach the kids the basics and then use the story as an assessment of their understanding.  Can they identify or pick apart the story in the appropriate way for your objectives and their age?


Written Versions:

Animated Versions:

NatGeo's Take on How Rome Began:

This movie mentions Romulus and Remus, but discusses the realities of what we know about how Rome really grew.  It is part of the "When Rome Ruled" Series and is a nice contrast to the myth if you are really doing a comprehensive study of Ancient Rome.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Different Ways to do Self - Portraits

The curriculum we get through our online school (k12) includes a lesson that asks Alice to do a self portrait at least once/year (so far, it has been more like a few times each year).  They suggest right upfront the idea of keeping the self portraits so the child is not only making a record of their advancing artistic skills but also of how they perceive themselves and how they change every year.  I LOVE the idea, but Alice has begun to feel it is a bit tedious to do a self portrait every six months, so I've come up with a list of different media that can be used as well as a couple of "fun" or at least "different" ways to do the self-portraiture and change things up for her a little and thought I'd share those ideas with you. 


Just changing what you are using to make the art can dramatically change how the art turns out.  Of course there are all the usuals like crayon, pencil and the different paints (water color, tempura and oil), but oil pastels, mixed media, torn paper collage (collages in general) and even mosaics can all be pretty cool too.  Some of these require a lot more advanced planning than others, but that's just it, you are introducing your kids to many different ways to see and experience art if you give them all the options over time. 

Sand painting is a nice way to give the kids a little difference in texture as can giving kids a sheet of sand paper and chalk to do their portraits.

Here is an idea I haven't done yet, but plan to do when Alice is eight or nine and a little more able to plan ahead successfully:  Take a hole bunch of seeds, veggies or fruits, stones of a variety of colors or even leaves and have your kids construct their portrait by placing these items as if a mosaic is being made that is a self-portrait.  When completed, take a photo as Andy Goldsworthy would do and then let nature run its course with the original. 

For kids that love working with their Lego's, you could even have them construct a portrait out of Lego's.  This also takes a lot of planning and careful vision.  Alice had a lot of help with "ideas" here.

It is amazing what it can do to give kids a real canvas on which to work.  Although plenty of artwork is done on other materials, kids begin to see paper as nothing special when it is what they always do their work on.  Along those same lines, having different weights of paper with different levels of roughness and/or glossiness can change things up a little too.

Another one that can be fun and switch things up is to give your kids paper that is a different color.  Starting with white all the time means that younger kids with lighter skin tones, don't even think about their skin color in their artwork.  Kids with darker skin are stuck using "chocolate" or some other equally inappropriate color that doesn't really reflect their skin color all the time.  Sometimes, give them paper that does in fact, echo their own skin color along with coloring tools that are designed to give a range of skin color options (Crayola has these in both crayons and markers.  They call it the "multicultural" line).  It can also be really fun to make them think about it and figure out how to represent their skin tones by mixing colors.  Give your kids a green, dark red, blue or other color that would never be the actual color of skin to illustrate themselves on and oil pastels or paints, then see what they do with it. 

Different Views:

Different Views can work really well.  Start simply with front views and then profiles, but as your kids advance there are a variety of ways to "add" to the mix.  Use the work of famous artists as inspiration.  Introduce them to the masters, a little art history and appreciation AND a new way of thinking about their self-portraits all at once.

It can be fun to do a profile painting in the style of "I and the Village" by Chagall.  Have your kids draw their own profile and then add a memory into the background.  Encourage them to use color to depict the mood of the memory.  Bright colors might represent a happy memory, while dark colors with lots of blues might represent a sad memory.

A self-portrait in the style of Picasso where kids mix a front view with a profile can be a great way to introduce one of the greats AND a few giggles while encouraging a new look at themselves and art altogether.

Kids might think it is really fun to do a "Where's Waldo" style self portrait.  They draw themselves small on the page a million times, but always with slight changes and different views.  One of themselves is wearing a scarf, another is not.  One of themselves is holding shopping bags while another one is practicing the fiddle.  Perhaps one is sliding down the back of a dinosaur while another version of oneself flies an airplane overhead.  Maybe the child wants to include some imaginary versions.  What would she look like as a fairy, mermaid and witch?  The child chooses ten versions of themselves to draw again (identically) along one of the margins of the picture.  Then a family member has to find that version of him/herself in the vast and busy selection of a whole bunch of self portraits (This one can get tedious.  You might want to break the paper surface up into six or more smaller squares and then just have them fill in one square each day over the course of a week or two).

Then there is the self portrait that requires thought about perspective Alice did for the article, "A Lesson in Perspective" during the summer months.  In this self portrait, the kids start with a tracing of their hands and feet (which are closest to the viewer).  The kids then, have to figure out how to show their faces and then bodies behind the hans and feet as well as further away.  The picture below was Alice's first attempt at this challenge.

Different Ways to "Compose" the Portrait:

Of course there are different styles of art to try out too.  Pointillism stands out as one that may feel very similar to mosaic for your kids.  I also haven't mentioned any sort of sculpture (except perhaps the Lego's, depending on how one interprets it).  Kids can try to do a very real looking painting and alter that with a much more abstract version of themselves the next time they try. 

Portraits and Self-portraits were also used at times to say something about the person in the portrait.  Take a look at Judith Leyster's self-portrait, 1630.  Ask them to talk about how she shows her love of painting.  Huge tennis player?  Ask your child to use tennis paraphernalia in their art about themselves.  Dancer" Make it Dance paraphernalia instead.

Angelica Kauffman did a self portrait that told the story about how she felt about having to choose between a career in music and a career as an artist.  Show your kids a copy of "Self Portrait, Hesitating Between The Arts of Music and Painting".  Tell them the story behind it and ask them to use their portraits to tell the viewer something important about themselves as Kauffman did.

Caricature can be a great exercise for the teenager - and eye opening for you.  Have your kids decide which features should be the "stand outs".  Encourage your teen to choose two of his or her best features to exaggerate in the caricature

Of course a self - portrait using photography can be a lot of fun too.  Ask them to experiment with lighting, props, colors, poses and even choice of clothing to give you a collage of photos that tell something about who they are at this moment in time.

Friday, September 21, 2012

September's Nature Journal

Since fall is the time of the harvest, what better way to do a nature journal entry than to do a search for different "fruits" in the wild. 

Botanically speaking, fruits are the swollen ovary that provides an additional covering over the seeds. This would include things like, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, seed pods, rose hips AND the things we typically think of as fruits such as apples and pears. 

After you've gone on your hunt and found seed containers of all kinds (pine cones aren't officially a fruit but they sure do contain seeds), have fun drawing their outsides, pulling them apart and drawing the seeds and comparing all the different ways seeds can be protected as well as the different colors and shapes of the seeds.

Art and Observation:

The really cool thing about this one is that for older kids they can practice their drawing skills by sketching the seed container from different angles BEFORE opening it up and the also sketching the seeds and interior of the fruit.
This Poster botanical print is from
Alice's are not nearly this sophisticated (nor mine),
but I have known highschoolers capable of this kind of work.

For your beginners they can practice their shapes by sorting their fruits into fruits with circles, rounded triangles, rectangles and ovals (and whatever other shapes you might find).  Then, they draw the shapes and color in the shapes to match the color of the fruit or seed container they are trying to depict.

Science and Math:

Try to hypothesize about how the seeds travel.  Are they the kind that catches on fur and clothing?  Are they the kind that travel great distances on the wind?  Do birds eat it and then "plant it" the fertilizer they provide when the seed comes back out?  Kids should describe what evidence they see in the seed that makes them believe their hypothesis is correct.  Make a table in which they can actually tape samples of seeds (and/or fruits) when small enough, or draw what they are seeing.  Maybe later you can even do a little research and confirm or rule out the accuracy of their hypotheses.


The key to really great fictional writing also often lies in the descriptive passages in the writing.  Emotion is often demonstrated through describing the things that characters keep around them, where they live and in expression rather than stating emotions and feelings of characters directly.  Nature journaling is a GREAT place to practice descriptive writing.  Have your kids choose one "seed container" they'd like to describe.  For your preschoolers, ask for a verbal description of smell, sound, feel (texture), and visual characteristics.  Simply take a dictation.  Your Kindergartners should be able to write 2-3 sentences and older kids can write even more. 

Bonus Follow-Up Possibility:

Collect a few samples of each type of seed you find and bring them in to compare to the seeds of fruits you cut open to eat over the next month.  Kids can practice comparing  and contrasting their "wild seeds" with the more familiar domestic seeds.  You can also take a look at, "A Seed is Sleepy" by Dianna Hutts Aston.  The book is full of beautiful examples of the huge variety of seeds there are in the world and how they spread. 


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Months of the Year with Maurice Sendak

"Chicken Soup with Rice" is a wonderful little book from "The Nutshell Library" I grew up reading and am now reading with my own daughter.  We all know Maurice Sendak from his classic "Where the Wild Things Are", his illustrations for "Little Bear" and numerous others, but I wanted to focus this article on "Chicken Soup with Rice" because of a fun lesson I've done with Alice, you can do with yours. 


Pages of card-stock weight paper, pencils, crayons, tag board, skinny punch, string and tape. 

The skinny punch is a hole punch with a small diameter.  It is more of a specialty item that can be found at craft supply stores if you don't already have one.  Just as will staplers and other hole punches there are inexpensive ones ranging all the way up to extremely costly.  If the pages you make are small enough one you hold in a single hand much like you would with a larger-diameter punch will work, but you have more options and versatility if you can get a palm punch like the one shown here.  Obtain the smallest diameter you can find that is big enough for the diameter of your string.

A copy of "Chicken Soup With Rice - A Book of Months" from the "Nutshell Library" by Maurice Sendak and published by Harper Collins Publishers.


  • Describe or list and depict elements of each of the seasons including relevant holidays within the appropriate months of the year.
  • Practice writing and spelling each of the names of the months of the year correctly.
  • Make a record of some of the family's traditions.
  • Use one writer's masterful work to inspire student's own creative expression and picture book.
  • Introduce or Increase Familiarity of students with the work of Maurice Sendak.


You'll need to prep the book some what ahead of time.  There will be 12 pages in the book, plus a front cover so that is a lot of work to illustrate fully for anyone, let alone a preschool or kindergarten student.  You'll want to make your pages pretty small to avoid frustration and tedium, but big enough your child can write the name of the month.  Consider the larger handwriting of new writers in your size choice.  For Alice, I chose to cut 3 standard pages into 7, 4 inch strips (one is for the front and back covers of the book and to create an extra page for a dedication if she wishes). 

Punch holes as shown.  If you have a hand held punch you'll need to cut your strips in half and the cut the holes evenly along the edge of the left margin of the booklet.  You can finish binding now and give to the kids later (but then the spacing of your holes needs to be precise so even if they turn pages over, they can still work), OR you can finish binding the books now (but then they are harder to store in filing cabinets which is often best in classroom situations if you will be extending the project throughout the year).

Add lines on each of the pages ahead of time where they can write the title for each month.

Binding the Books:

If you have a needle your string will fit into, this will work great.  If not use a small piece of tape to tightly wrap around the end of the string.  This will keep the string from fraying the way and help either you or your kids to thread your string through the holes you punched in the paper. 


Stitch as you would normally for a simple stitch and then double back to fill in the gaps between stitches.

If you would like to use thin ribbon and leave a bow, you'll want to start and end in the middle of your stitching area rather than at one end or another.

Lesson Activities Introduction:

Read "Chicken Soup With Rice". Take your time and savour the rhythm and rhyme of the book.

Afterward, Talk about it. Ask your child/students why does Sendak choose to have the boy "slipping on the sliding ice" in January? Why is he swimming in the "cool and fishy deep" in July? Brainstorm holidays and some of the important things that people think of when they think of that different months and seasons.  Ask kids if they have any special traditions during any of the specific months - like. . . Chocolate Shake Day or Pie Day or maybe there is an annual trip that is taken at a specific time.

Additional Writing Objectives:

It can be a lot of fun for slightly older kids to (advanced K writers and up) to write a sentence for each month, or write a poem for each month. Again, this will require smaller printing so I would only do this where they do the physical writing themselves with more practiced writers. You might have them write "My favorite thing about. . ." or a Haiku or word cloud. You name it, just so long as it is fairly short. More advanced writers might like to make their own book-long poem following the same rhythm and rhyming patterns Sendak used himself. "Every season of the year is great when you live in Washington State. . ." Make the writing part of the book fit the objectives and age of your kids.

Bonus Math Extension:

As an extension you can even incorporate a graph and survey a class full of kids or the family members (including extended family and friends) and decide how many people agree that "all seasons of the year are nice for sipping Chicken Soup with Rice!", how many would prefer chicken soup only when it is cooler weather and how many just don't like chicken soup at all. Create small graph grids that will fit on the back page of the book for the kids to fill in with their information and just bind in this extra page.

Monthly Activity:

Follow the introduction by re-reading the page for the month your are currently in. Then brainstorm specific things that are important for that particular month.

For example, as I write this, it is September. It is a month when for many kids, school begins (although for us many schools begin in August these days).  leaves start to change color and the weather becomes cooler. It also happens to be the month of Alice's grandfather's birthday and the month of the Autumnal equinox. Accept anything from your kids that are reasonable for your circumstances. Are there any special holidays? Traditions? Outdoor chores or harvest from you home garden that have to happen this month that don't often happen the rest of the year? Write these things down for your kids.

Now, write down the name of the month correctly where your kids can clearly see it in order to copy it into their books. Then, have the kids illustrate the page for that month with small pictures representing different things from their brainstorm session.

Repeat for the rest of the months. You can do one page/month, or speed things up. For ideas about how to make sure not to miss the summer months see: Notes and Variations Below.

Notes and Variations:

In a preschool classroom setting, I might choose to do the previous month in another few days, and then revisit the book and lesson each month until summer. In a month like February or March, have them do the one more of the summer months and then again in May do the lesson twice so you are finishing off both May and the final missing summer month. Bind the book and enclose it as a parting gift to the parents (they'll LOVE it! because it will show how their child's handwriting and artistic abilities have advanced over the year).

In an older classroom (such as Kindergarten or first grade), you may need to spend less time on it so they just get their months learned, but you could still complete the book by season. Complete September, October and November early in October. Do December, January, February as soon as you return from Winter Break, the spring months in February and the summer months in April. You can then package it as a special project to be displayed at open house. If you do the book in 3 month seasonal blocks like this, at the point the kids brainstorm, you COULD split them into three smaller groups and give each group the job of doing the brainstorming for the class on that groups particular month. Each group then shares their list with the rest of the class just before they start their illustration time.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ancient Rome (Unit Resources)

Things to Cover:

Wow! There is a lot to cover when doing a unit about Ancient Rome, but it is all pretty interesting too.  You'll want to discuss the important historical highlights like the existence of the republic and the rise and fall of the empire.  Geographical aspects like important landmarks such as the Colosseum, Pantheon, and Forum in Rome.  You also won't want to forget the far-flung landmarks such as Roman Aqueducts and amphitheaters throughout the empire as well as Hadrian's Wall.  The remains these masters left behind can all be a part of impressing upon your kids the incredible building skills and technology at Roman disposal (not to mention the reach of their influence).  Along those same lines, study of bath house construction can make the comforts of the Roman lifestyle seem pretty amazing and tell kids a little bit about the day to day life of some Romans at the height of the Empire's dominance.  Any student of any age can be introduced to the food and clothing the Romans typically ate and wore, along with many of the cultural regularities.  For example, how did education work?  What did they eat?  How did the spend their time?  Did they play games?  Every kid that speaks English, Spanish, Italian or French will find a lesson in Latin root words useful as they build a vocabulary in their Latin - Based language.  Many historical figures can be introduced, but especially Julius Caesar can't be forgotten.  Asking your more mature kids to do a study of characters like Julius Caesar, Brutus, Octavius and Mark Antony can lead to some very thought-provoking questions and discussion.  On the more somber side, what of the conquered people?  What happened to the people and cultures of the brutally conquered such as the Dacians?  How did the cultures of the Celts, Egyptians, Greeks and other neighbors influence Roman culture?  Of course, religious or not, one can't forget the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire and the impact on World History both the Roman Empire and Christianity has had.  And that is the SHORT LIST!

Here are just SOME of the wonderful resources we accessed in our studies (or that I previewed and may not have used with Alice because of her age and my objectives, but that might be useful to use based on your objectives and the age of the child/children you are teaching.

Lessons and Activities From PinchxEverything:

Although I have listed many of the online resources we have used throughout the unit below, my blarticles sometimes have additional resources related only to the specific subject matter of the individual lesson.  For example, if you are looking for resources about Roman Food and Feasting, you'll want to check out the lesson blarticle "Have a Roman Feast" OR if you want to compare beam and arch construction (and access the video that was incorporated in that lesson) you'll want to check out "Breaking Bridges".

Have a Roman Feast - Some of the things (including recipes) you need to know to host an authentic (and sugar free) Roman Feast - including how to make cheesecake without sugar!

What the Romans Wore - Incorporate this BEFORE your feast and dress the part while you celebrate the Empire's Bounty.
What's a Keystone? Sponge Craft - Help your kids grasp what an arch is and it's most important piece of anatomy, the keystone.  Great way to make the vocabulary words, arch and keystone a bit more "concrete" for them (I know its a cheesy joke - I used to tell my students it was my job to teach them what cheesy jokes are - by telling them).

Build a Roman Arch - This is just a model of a Roman arch but will give your kids an idea of what an arch is and why they needed a "form" to build them.  This lesson is a great one to do alongside, "What's a Keystone?".  We built the arches first and Alice had a really hard time grasping the position to place her stones in.  If we had done the keystone arch first, her stone arch may have held up better and the construction may have gone more smoothly.

Closely related is the lesson, "Breaking Bridges" - Beam vs. Arch Construction to demonstrate why the arch is so important in architecture and why it helped make the Roman's such great builders.

10 ideas for Historical Writing - Not all of these ideas are applicable to Rome, but most can be used with this unit to encourage your child to write.  A couple might be GREAT for your highschool kids, "Heroes and Martyrs" for example.

How the Romans Counted - a brief lesson about Roman Numerals (and resource links for those that need or want to spend more time with this number system.

The Story of Remus and Romulus - Links to the story online including an animated version, as well as a brief description of how to use the story and overlap with Language Arts objectives for a variety of age groups.

Myths - Why the Romans Told these Stories
This activity teaches kids to use a Venn Diagram while the compare a Roman Myth to an ancient Babylonian Myth.  There is also a Greek version of the tale.  All the Myths explain the occurrence of the seasons.  Use this activity to jump into reading more Myths once they've been introduced.

Ancient Romans: Master Builders -  Links to videos and activities about various structures of Ancient Rome, why they were built and video about how they were built and Roman building technoloy.

Ancient Romans: Greek Admirers - This lesson is mostly about the Myths of Ancient Rome and how many of those Myths and the art of the Romans reflected Greek sensibilities.  After this lesson, it can be a lot of fun to have kids write their own myths as a follow up.  They might write an explanation as to why children's teeth fall out, or where hiccups come from, or some other such topic that is really close to their hearts as children.  Whatever they right, it will probably be a lot of fun.

Ancient Romans: Artists - 5 different art projects inspired by the Romans.

Roman Neighbors - a listing of resources about the various enemies of Rome.

A Visit to an Antiquities Collection - Photographic Scavenger Hunt for items from Ancient Greece, Rome, Etrusca and Byzantium.

A Final Lesson Idea Suggestion:

Listen to "The Story of Rome and Julius Caesar" a track or two at a time - Complete lessons along the way.  The album is narrated by Jim Weiss and is a great way to introduce this pivotal part of World History.  After each track, have the kids respond to that part of the story with discussion, artwork and writing prompts that pertain to the story of the events leading up to Caesar's assassination and the rise of Caesar Augustus.  Make sure to talk about the story as one perspective and compare it to how someone on Caesar's enemies side might have told the story - for older kids that can provide a good writing activity idea.  Fold the album in amongst other lessons - especially if you have younger kids - and take it one piece of the story at a time.

Great Books and Print Resources:

DK publishing's Eyewitness Series
has books about Ancient China, Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome that are all wonderfully dense with visual information accompanied by concise bits of text.  They are clearly designed to speak to the more visual generation.  These visual encyclopedias also come with a CD for your computer packed with clip art, photos and more.

Understanding Roman Myths - Robin Johnson
This is a standard non-fiction book with insets, images and text beautifully balanced to tell the story of Rome through its myths.  The way history is interspersed with myth and "Links to Today" is a nice touch that adds interest and ties all the information together in a modern way and adds an engaging touch.

A Visitor's Guide to the Ancient World - Dr. Anne Millard
This book is a humorous take on a travel guide as though the modern boy or girl might actually travel back to ancient Egypt, Greece or Rome.  With tourist tips and information about everything from what clothes to buy as soon as you can find the first market so you'll fit in, to party etiquette and what to eat and what to avoid this book really will give kids a pretty good picture of what it might be like if they were to travel back in time and visit any of these ancient cultures.  The book as a whole is probably best used with 4th grade kids and up (humor really is aimed at upper elementary), but one could pick and choose amongst the pages to offer a few highlights up for a younger child as well.

A Pocket Dictionary of Roman Emperors - Paul Roberts
This pocket dictionary (that isn't quite small enough for MOST pockets, but is quite small) really does provide a quick look and easy reference about the highlights (and low lights) of each of the Roman Emperors.  The book is organized chronologically but has a quick guide if you need to do an alphabetical search as well make it super easy to use.  Descriptions are brief, but cover the basics.  I warn you, this book is quite blunt and the author didn't seem to hold back at all when it comes to some of the horrors inflicted on the people by emperors like Caligula, Nero and Commodus.

National Geographic Investigates: Ancient Rome - Zilah Dekker 
Alice and I read this whole book in one day (which is pretty amazing in terms of a six-year-old's attention span - I usually break up non-fiction books that are written for an older audience into chapters or sections).  She liked it and found if very interesting.  I guess the sub-topics changed often enough and the pictures were engaging enough that it maintained her interest all on its own (she DOES LOVE history).

The Roman World from Iron Age Europe to the Fall of the Roman Empire - Tony Allan
This book is a great one to use as a reference for a time-line for the Italian Peninsula  BEFORE Rome became more than a city state AND to learn a little something about how Rome's expansion changed the Roman citizen and how they changed the conquered.

Step Into. . . The Roman Empire - Philip Steele
This is a book full of more wonderful craft ideas to use in your study of Rome (like building an aqueduct model or a model of a Roman Villa).  We got our recipe for the honeyed dates for our feast from this book.

The Roman Mysteries:
Alice was hooked right away!  The language in this Historical Fiction series is simple enough for a child with an 8+ vocabulary to understand what is happening and enjoy reading the books.  The main characters include four children that offer up a variety of viewpoints from differing cultures that would have existed in Ancient Rome.  One is an upper-middle class girl (daughter of a ship's captain), one is Son of a Jewish Doctor, one is a slave from Afric and the fourth a mute beggar.  The four kids have adventures together while solving mysteries that take place in ancient Roman cities such as Rome, Ostia, and Pompeii.  We've only read the first book so far, but I'm told all the books do a great job depicting the Ancient Roman lifestyle and events in Roman History along the way. 

Gifts from the Gods - Ancient Words & Wisdom From Greek and Roman Mythology
This book, written by Lise Lunge-Larsen and Illustrated by Gareth Hinds is a great read and a wonderful way to expand your child's vocabulary while introducing them to a little etimology.  It acted as a wonderful review of Greek Mythology while introducing Alice to the idea of "borrowed ideas" and the concept that "imitation is the finest form of flattery".  I'm so glad I checked it out!
Roman Myths - David West and Ross Watton
This Graphic Mythology Book is a great way to present the information to a young reader lacking the confidence to read more sophisticated versions of these stories.  The three myths included in this book are a few that are NOT also Greek Myths, so even if you did a study of the Ancient Greeks, you won't find duplication here (not that duplication is always a bad thing).  The three myths covered are "The Wanderings of Aeneas", "Romulus and Remus" and "Horatius and the Bridge".

Mythology Fandex 

I LOVE these things.  They are so visual and jammed with great tidbits of information while presenting the information in such a way that is unique enough to grab a kid's interest.  Neither book, nor flashcard, I think you'll like them too.  This particular one is about the myths and legends of the Greeks and Romans.  It is not all-inclusive, but works as a GREAT introduction and review later.

Other Useful Media:

Movies And Audio:

Because I try to include information about resources for older children as well, I often include movies I viewed that might be good for an older child that I DID NOT view with Alice for different reasons.  Please make sure always to review any material BEFORE viewing or listening with your own kids to be sure it is appropriate for your objectives and children.  Thanks.

Roman City - PBS movie hosted by David Macauly

Treasure Seekers - In the Shadow of Ancient Rome

History Channel - History of the Roman Colosseum and Rome: Rise and Fall of an Empire (series)

The Story of Rome and Julius Caesar - Jim Weiss gives a re-telling of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar but adds quite a bit of well-told background information before hand (The Story of Rome) to help kids understand what it is that is going on at the beginning of Julius Caesar. 

Secrets of the Dead - Lost Ships of Rome

National Geographic's: When Rome Ruled

Colloseum: A Gladiator's Story - This was a fabulous story or dramatization of the the life of one particular gladiator.  The movie mixed the story-telling drama and visualization of cinema with documentary seamlessly.  Although it has violence (it is about Ancient Rome and a gladiator after-all) there was a lot less violence than I might have predicted and I am quite impressed with the whole picture - including the acting (part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4).  While this does use historical fiction, the tale of the fight itself is a true one making it all that more interesting.

Pompeii: The Last Day - This movie was actually packaged WITH A Gladiator's Story and the DVD gave Pompeii: The Last Day title billing.  However, although it was good, I found the acting within it and the story used to create the dramatic portion of this documentary far less engaging than that of the Gladiator.  Having said that, it was still well done and a wonderful source of information if you choose NOT to use any of the many books available out there about the subject.  Unless you are specifically studying Pompeii, I'd skip it in favor of other, better and more child-appropriate resources (also listed here).

Online Information, Links Pages, Games and Animated Resources:

PBS Rome Lesson Plans and Videos

Rome Exposed


SPQR Online

Arabic Numerals to Roman Numerals:
Roman Numerals to Arabic Numerals:

Animated Map of Ancient Civilizations and their Changing Boundaries  Watch on Biggest Screen Possible and be prepared to point to things you'd like to highlight and make sure your kids see.

Animated Map of the Rise and Fall of empires through history Appropriately set to "Eye of the Tiger"

History Channel "Interactive"

I'm still learning how to use it, but do the download at and enjoy the AMAZING features that come with google's latest innovation.  The views of Ancient Rome and unbelievably detailed.

This slightly quirky and give-you-a-chuckle-host, Hart Davis, takes you through a whole bunch of lessons (episodes) about the amazing things the Romans did as they particularly pertain to Great Britain.  Although it doesn't neccessarily focus on Rome itself much, it does really give an impression about the accomplishements of the Romans as well as their daily living.  I didn't view every episode, but had no qualms about showing any of the episodes I did see to Alice.  What a GREAT SERIES!  Thanks again BBC.

BBC's WONDERFUL Game for the primary grades about Ancient Rome

Online Free Unit Study (for classrooms but adaptable)

Here is a video that might an interesting "food for thought" kind of discussion inspiration for you and your teenagers.  It is fast, includes sarcasm and a quick, cartoon animation of legs and arms at the edges of bedcovers representing Cleopatra and Caesar so it really is going to beyond your elementary student's ability to grasp.  Check it out and see what you think.

If you enjoy using a Felt Board with your Students here is a way to make "Greek and Roman" Warriors

Byzantine Empire - Rome Divided - Constantine

Things the Romans Left Behind Video 

Worst Jobs in History Roman

Please Enjoy!

Kids at the Movies

My husband and I finally went to see  'The Amazing Spider Man" at the second run theater last night.  We were running a little late so I ran and grabbed seats and sat through a few previews while he made a pit stop and followed a couple of minutes later.  When he joined me he mentioned that a family had come in with him that included a boy that looked about five.  So I looked a little more closely at the dark theater and was a little surprised to see a few more kids there that seemed to be about Alice's age or younger. 

I figured since it was a second run many of the parents may have already seen the movie and thought their kids could handle it, however, it did remind me of a few other experiences with movies not intended for kids. 

When "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" came out, a friend and I went and the family behind us made it clear they felt we shouldn't be there because we didn't have any kids in tow.  She said, "people who come to cartoons without kids, just make it harder for the kids to see".  Rolling our eyes, but being polite, my friend and I invited the family (that was annoyed about our height but had sat down after us) to trade seats so the kids could see.  but didn't let it get to us - the movie was rated PG after all (that memory made me chuckle.  The family left grumbling halfway through about a cartoon not needing to be so serious). 

I was also reminded of the mother at the Elementary/Middle School I worked at first that felt I should help the kids put on a school musical (I don't know why she thought the science teacher was the person for that particular job, maybe it was the dance background).  It wasn't a bad idea, what WAS crazy, was that the musical she recommended was "South Park, The Musical".  It was a cartoon ans without ever watching it, she allowed her son and his friends to watch it regularly from fourth grade on.  When I asked her about it, she started to realize she didn't really know what the show was about.  Her son was annoyed a year later when she was "on him for watching too many cartoons". 

The memory that left me annoyed in particular, I was that of the time when Alice was allowed to watch the OTHER "Spiderman" at a gym child care center (she was three as were many of the other children there - I was livid by the way).  She still asks why the green guy was so mad at Spiderman from time to time. 

Back in the present, the previews that were playing let me know I wouldn't think the movie was alright for Alice - there was a moment or two that were a little too intense for her in "Brave"- but you know, every kid is different.  Just as there are parents that would disagree with my stance on certain reading material for teenagers, there are also parents out there that are more lax about the movies their children see than my husband and I (and some that are stricter).  I also argued with another mother at our theater about showing puss 'n' boots multiple times back stage (I thought the movie was fine, but had themes and events (sucicide, sexual jokes, etc) that were too old for the younger kids that were playing the munchkins (four and older) including Alice.  Once was bad enough, but I thought showing it 3 nights in a row was a bit much.  Just because it was her seven-year-old daughter's favorite didn't mean it was appropriate for everyone else.  Maybe I'm too cautious or maybe mine is just extra sensitive - in fact I know mine can be at times, but I'd rather be too careful than not careful enough. 

It didn't take very long after the movie started before I could hear kids asking their parents questions and then the minute the villian showed up a few kids started crying.  The thing that was amazing to me? none of these children were taken from the theater!  Not that I think they deserved punishment, but I did think they deserved a respite from the scary and confusing visuals they were being given before they were ready for them.  The kids did calm down and the noise was minimal (and the movie loud enough) that my husband and I still enjoyed the movie and our date, but I really did feel for the kids.
Based on conversations I've had (and observations I've made), a lot of parents aren't putting a lot of thought into what their kids see these days.  I am referring here to the theater, rentals, DVD's AND Television.  If it isn't "R", at least where I live and in some of our circles, kids are allowed to see it.  Even at a market research meeting I was a part of about a movie meant to go straight to DVD, half the mothers reported they don't really pay attention to what their kids are watching.  If a DVD is marked as being for kid's within two years of their kids' age, the kids watch it regardless of what might be on the film.  Most of the mom's responded that sounded about accurate.

Now, lest you think I'm just being judgemental about allowing kids to see movies with certain ratings, my child has also seen some "R" films, but never before I've seen them.  I think parents know their kids and generally what they are ready for and can handle.  It is the parents that let their kids cry and whimper from fear during a movie in a theater rather than excusing themselves knowing a mistake was made that make me question whether those parents were thinking about their kids. 

It did make me think that I might share with my readers the resources we use for choosing movies for Alice to see and how we think that through.  That way, for those of you that would like to be careful, you have just a few more resources at your disposal (if you hadn't found these already) 

Here is a website all about the MPRatings System and what each rating means as well as the things considered when a rating is determined.  Based on these definitions, even in my Middle School Classrooms (which had a few kids under 13, PG and anything higher was off-limits unless kids had a signed document saying their parents knew about the movie we would be watching and were okay with it.  The rules are the same in my house for Alice's friends - Only G unless the parent has okayed other options prior to a child's stay.  I figure this is considerate toward other parents, not because I think the kids can't handle it.

This site gives you an idea about the content and message of each movie rated:  Kids in Mind.    The site distinguishes between the existence of high amounts of violence, profanity and sexual content for the parent so that if, say, you don't care about letting your kid see violence, but think she/he isn't ready for the sexual content, you can make your decision accordingly.

You can also subscribe to a newsletter at  We don't see movies often enough for me to wish to subscribe, so you'll have to tell us about the quality in the comments if you subscribe already or choose to do so.

Of course also offers up the MPAA ratings AND if you look hard enough, there are descriptions about why movies have a certain rating.  My husband pulls it up on his phone if we are out and about and trying to choose something to go see (he has the more high-tech and up-to-date cel).  It seems accessing this on the phone is easy enough, but I admit I haven't pulled it up myself.

Now, if only there was such an easy way to get an idea of what is in a book you are considering letting your child read.