Friday, September 30, 2016

Introducing Ancient China

 If you follow our blog, you know we love making our history unit as enjoyable as possible.  We aren't big on "Interactive Notebooks" because we are creating activities for primary aged children, but introduce each new culture in a respectful and engaging manner so that kids can fall into the beauty of each and admire them for what they gave us.

(For our Homeschooling Curriculum, we are using Story of the World, in which China is introduced in chapter 10, but these ideas could certainly be applied in whatever curriculum you might be using.) 

Since I was introducing Ancient China, I created a map for us that showed the civilizations we have already covered from Egypt, the Fertile Crescent, The Indus Valley and all the way to the Yellow River Valley of this new land we were discovering:  China.  This map was our starting point. 

Then, we used the map to show a rough idea of the length of the "Silk Road", made up of many small trade routes stretching across China, India, Persia and the Middle East. 

We also decided to go out to eat at a Chinese restaurant. 

Although I attempted an Egyptian feast when we studied Egypt, (here) I figured my Chinese cuisine ability would not be on par with the little Chinese restaurant down the street.  Besides, they had place-mats covered with the Chinese zodiac.  They had Chinese styled artwork on the walls, with dragons and peacocks.   And of course, there was the delightful opportunity to try eating with chopsticks.

My kids were game to give those chopsticks a try, but we agreed it was a skill that would take some practice.   Although it was (likely) not as authentic as you might experience in the real land of China, this was a lovely way to introduce my children to some of the delights of a culture not their own.  After all, who doesn't like Chinese food?

The next thing I wish to share with you is this amazing book called "Long is a Dragon" by Peggy Goldstein.  

This book details the progression of many Chinese pictograms from ancient times to the Chinese characters we see today.

For instance, in this page from the book, you can see how the ancient pictogram (in black) developed into the Chinese character (in red) for the same word.

The book also explains how Chinese calligraphy might be used as art in Chinese homes, with benedictions of health and happiness written on them.

This information was amazing.  We decided to make some Chinese scrolls, too.

First, the kids colored sheets of cardstock in the watercolor of their choice.  Then, they chose the benediction they wanted for their scroll and drew their characters in black marker.

 My daughter's scroll reads, "May your happiness be as wide as the Eastern Sea."

 My son's simply says, "Respectful Happiness & Congratulations".

If this post has been helpful, check out one of our posts covering

the Ancient Indus Valley, Hammurabi's CodeAncient Egypt, or head over to our online store and check out our many history activities.

And if YOU create a banner using Chinese characters, please post a picture in the comments!  We would love to see your creativity on display!

Friday, September 16, 2016

A Game of Ancient India : Pachisi

Anyone else grow up playing Parcheesi?  Or Ludo?  Possibly the popular game Sorry!?

Turns out, every one of those games (and possibly a few more) are based on an ancient game played in India.  The original game was called Pachisi, a Sanskrit word for "Twenty-Five" which is the highest amount of points possibly to throw.

Game boards in India today are most often made from embroidered fabric, and the pawns are shaped like little beehives and colored red, yellow, black and green.

Word has it, an ancient Indian Emperor enjoyed playing the game so much, he converted a room in his palace into a large game board and used slave girls as pawns.  And the popularity hasn't stopped.  In researching, I discovered pictures of modern Indian folks playing the game with a board simply drawn on the ground with chalk.

My son is just 6 years old, and has a penchant for games.  Because of the interest there, I decided to research ancient board games.  Anytime you pull a child's interest into a time period, of course you succeed in making that time period all the more interesting and inviting.  So, I figured I should make a Pachisi Game Board so we could learn the game and share it with others who might want to learn, too.  So, I did and here it is:

This is an earlier version:  I had to modify the castle squares slightly in the downloadable game).

I created the sides of the cross, and the center square (called the Charkoni), using the traditional colors that can be printed out on three separate sheets of paper, then laminate, and then affixed together.

 For the Charkoni (above), I added some pretty pictures of an elephant, a lotus flower, a peacock feather and a tiger.  These weren't necessary, but those are images I think of when I think of the beautiful land of India, and I wanted to make the game board pretty.

To make our pawns, I used little glass balls from Dollar Tree, with a bead glued onto the top.  I painted the base of the glass ball with the green color for this pawn (and used red, yellow and black for the others)  Then, we tipped that bead off with a bead separator.  They turned out so neat.  Make sure you use a good glue that can secure glass to glass.

Next, we needed dice.  In ancient times, apparently they used 6 cowrie shells.  When they tossed the shells, some would fall open side up, and the "open-side-up" shells were counted to discover how many places you could move.  At first, we simply used white and colored lego pieces.  You can see our make-shift dice off on the left in this photo above.  That worked (as long as the pieces were exactly the same size and shape, like the flat 4 x 1's we used), but we decided to try something more organic like the cowrie shells would have been. 

Here's what we settled on:  Dried Lima beans, with one side painted with finger nail polish.  This worked great.

There are multiple versions of rules out there for Pachisi.  You could certainly research it on your own.  To be honest, when I first had the idea of playing Pachisi for our history, I just wanted to buy the board game "Parcheesi", which is the version I grew up with.  But then I got curious, and just wanted to know if it was all that different from the real thing.  (Not too much, for those who also are wondering, but different enough that I'm glad I made our own).

I believe there was some sort of spiritual meaning at one point in the Charkoni, which is basically the entry point and ending spot for the pawns.  But, you don't really need all that information if you're just wanting to have fun playing an Ancient Game.

And boy, did my kid have fun.  First we played with only two colors of the game.  And then, we tried it out using all four (he had black and yellow and I played with red and green) for this is the suggested game play with two players.

Then, he begged my husband and I for another game, and that time he beat both of us (Something to do with us being so busy capturing each other's pawns, that we let our six year old steal the game).

Since we have discovered that it is an easy enough game for a six year old to play, I've made a black and white version for an easier copy so that classroom teachers can have a game board to introduce their students to, as well.

Our variant of the Pachisi rules and the explanation for how to score the dice are included in this packet.  I also include a material list and explanation for how we made our pawns and dice, though you could probably figure that out on your own and you certainly don't need to be so fancy.

We're keeping our product inexpensive, because the whole point is to  have fun, just like those ancient Indians did.   Here it is newly released in our store:

If you have additional ideas for how to make pawns or dice, it would be awesome if you would share those in the comments!   

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Artwork of India : Making Mandalas

There are many interpretations of Mandalas.  They have roots in both the Hindu and Buddhist religions.  But when I teach about Mandalas, I find no need to delve into those roots to enjoy the beauty of this radial art form.

I see the Mandala as an art form using patterns.  Because they utilize patterns, even small children can enjoy creating them.  Indian patterns often use nature in their artwork.  You can see the peacock feather and the lotus blossom repeated over and over in many of their designs.  Ancient Indian art seem to value an almost Mondrian style of mathematical balance, proportion and perfection in their work.

Children can appreciate using balance in art, even at young ages.    So when we made our mandala art project, it wasn't just my son and I:  we roped in his 4 year old sister to join the fun.

We gathered up items from our pantry:  quinoa, chia seeds, rice, pasta...and then we burrowed into our craft drawer and brought out small gems, beads, anything small enough to work in our designs.

We began by talking about the nature inspired patterns of Indian art.  We looked at mandala images and found the repeating patterns, and noted how they seem to be radial images that began from the heart, and moved outward.

Then, we began from the center of our paper plates, with glue and our various materials.  To start, I manipulated the glue at their direction, and they set down their materials.  

The designs became more complex as they moved outward from the center.

Soon, my son was handling the glue himself as he began to grasp the understanding that patterns produce complexity as they go.

In fact, he was enjoying the design he was creating so much, he wanted to just keep on going.

The real fun of this kind of art was that there was no real need to begin with a picture of something in your head.  Rather, you kept building upon the pattern you started with and were mesmerized at what you created as you went along.

Such an easy craft and yet the finished products seem complex and beautiful.

It's no wonder that creating mandalas is now a useful tool in therapy.  Don't miss out on including this delightful craft in your Ancient Indian History Unit.

The end results are incredibly rewarding!

If you enjoyed this post, don't forget to download our free "Indus River Valley" packet from our store:

And check out our other posts about Ancient India:

1.  FREE activity for "The Hunter and The Quail", an ancient Indian fable:

2.  The Indus River Valley Introduction