Thursday, 24 April 2014

Time Travelling Through History - The Burial of a King

Preparation for our latest trip to ancient Sumer went on for nearly two weeks. The boys needed to be aware of some of the sights that would confront them at the burial of a great King in Sumer before visiting so that they would not feel too uncomfortable. Theo and I wondered whether the trip might prove too harrowing for little Tristan but after much research and discussion we all decided that he would be able to attend. 

The time machine had a little incident on this occasion. Rather than taking us directly to the city of Ur it stopped off in Ancient Greece which was a surprise. Theo tinkered with various wires and circuit boards and soon had us back on course - we are looking forward to returning to ancient Greece soon.

We arrived in 'Ur' to witness the burial of a great King. The boys refer to him as the 'nameless King' because no one in our time period knows his name and unfortunately the rituals of the burial made it impossible for us to ask anyone directly - they were too busy. 

In the heat of the cemetery we were able to watch as the deceased King was taken down into his burial chamber. He was escorted down a ramp into the chamber by his entourage of finely dressed soldiers, servants wearing their finest red cloth with ornaments of lapis lazuli and gold upon their heads, musicians playing lyres and two wagons pulled by six large oxen. Theo had discovered that the servants, guards, animals and musicians were buried with the King so that they could serve him in the underworld. So it was with understanding and great sadness that we watched the entourage sip poison from goblets in unison to speed up their entry to the underworld. It may have been that the musical instruments were played as 'harps of mourning' prior to the death of the entourage and were symbolic of the people's readiness to die. If this happened I'm afraid that we missed it this time so we can't confirm if that theory is accurate.   

We could understand that the idea of serving the King in the underworld would have been a great honour yet we couldn't help think that if they had been given a choice they would probably have chosen to live. 

The King was buried with musical instruments one of which was an elaborately decorated lyre. Before the tomb was sealed we managed to take a quick look at the lyre and the boys were very interested by the panel depicting various scenes on the front of the instrument. There were four scenes. The first depicts a man wrestling two large animals probably demonstrating the kings strength and power over nature. The second shows a lion holding a jar and another animal standing over a table of butchered meat. The third depicts animals playing music and shows an image of the lyre itself. The final scene shows the scorpion man - the guardian of the entrance to the underword. The panels tells of the funeral ritual culminating in the kings entry to the underword. The big golden bull who looks down over the panel represents 'Sharmash' the devine judge who can enter the underworld but return at sunrise to the land of the living. 

The lyre is made from wood with the shell inlays set in bitumen. Sharmesh is golden with highly precious lapis lazuli eyes and beard - this particular artifact is truly fit for a King. Tristan wondered why a King would need musical intruments, people and wagons when he was dead - surely he would not require these things when he was dead? The Sumerians had a bleak outlook on death. They had no concept of heaven only of the underworld which is sometimes refered to as a mountainous place reached across water with the aid of a boatman or situated deep, deep underground. In the underworld the spirits of the dead would roam in a state of hunger and thirst so the living relatives had to visit the burial site to leave offerings for the deceased. The King would be accompanied in his time in the underworld by his servants and musicians who would see to his needs. The underworld was a pretty dire place to spend eternity. 

Sumerians believed that man was doomed to a mortal existence because one of the gods tricked man out of choosing a drink which offered immortality. Instead he took a robe and oil only to discover he had been tricked into choosing a burial shroud and the anointing oil of death - from then on mankind was fated to lead a mortal existence. Theo came across this story whilst researching for the trip and commented that it was almost identical to the story of Adam and Eve. We have decided to look at some of the parallels drawn from Sumerian myths and biblical stories on another post soon. 

As we sneaked about inside the soon to be sealed burial chamber, Tristan noticed a beautiful mosaic resting behind the shoulder of the King. The boys asked me what it was and what the pictures upon it were all about. They had stumbled upon the 'Standard of Ur' - two wooden panels decorated intricately with lapis lazuli, ivory and jasper set into bitumen.  One side shows images of war, of soldiers presenting prisoners to a king-like figure, of spear men and great war carts ladened with spears. The other panel depicts a great banquet. There are people drinking, herders moving animals and the leader drinking beer with his soldiers. It has been suggested that this was a banner made to be carried but perhaps it was purely decorative. Either way the boys and I concluded that it was an extraordinary piece of art. 

Our visit on this occasion had been rather an emotional one. We left with heavy hearts not at the burial of the great King but at the burial of all the other people and animals whose lives were cut short in the service of their leader. Sumerians had rather short life expectancies anyway with a person considered 'old' at forty which made the death of the servants even more horrific. 

Back at home we discussed the historical significance of the place we had visited. The Royal tombs at Ur are as important as the discovery of Tutankhamun in Egypt. There were many other artifacts discovered by a famous archaeologist called Leonard Wooley between 1922 and 1934 including the gold helmet of Meskalamdug which is utterly exquisite. The boys looked at the British Museum website to find out more about the rituals and artifacts associated with burials in ancient Sumer. They enjoyed being able to inspect the items they had seen in the relaxed setting of their own front room - in the tomb we were all anxious that we would be sealed in for all eternity at any moment. 

Our next adventure will be concerned with the myths of ancient Sumer. I do hope that you will join us as we look at an epic poem to reveal more interesting facts about Sumerian culture. 

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Silent Sunday

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Homeschool Adventures - Skimming Stones & Butterfly Hunting

Yesterday we went exploring along a path which we have never ventured down before. It took us on quite a long and enjoyable adventure through fields, under bridges, by streams, next to ponds and through the woodland. We left at 8.30 am and returned at 12.30pm having walked for many, many miles. The boys are both used to walking but Tristan especially impressed us by walking the whole way without moaning at all. Infact, when we finally reached home he asked if he could go to the park - he certainly has lots of stamina for a four year old. 

We saw all manner of wonderful things on our adventure including lots of fluttering butterflies. The boys enjoy being able to tell us what the name of a flower, tree or plant is when we are out and about but they didn't know the names for the butterflies yesterday. As soon as Theo got home he switched on the computer and found out the names of the butterflies he had seen so that he will be able to tell us on our next adventure.

This is a 'peacock' butterfly (Anglais io). It has spectacular eyes on the wings which look threatening to preditors and the underside is dark which enables it to camouflage itself against tree bark. We saw at least ten of these amazing butterflies.

The 'Brimstone' (Gonepteryx rhamni) butterfly is delicate and yellow. The name butterfly probably derives from this particular species as it is butter yellow. It is a beautiful butterfly.

The 'Specled Wood'(pararge aegeria). This is a common butterfly near where we live because it is often found in woodland. The wings are spotted brown and orange. We saw many of these. 

The 'small white' or 'cabbage white' (Pieris rapae). I think that these butterflies are beautiful however they can be a pest for farmers and gardners. The caterpillars like nibbling on vegetable crops rather too much. They are incredibly common.

 The 'orange-tip' (Anthocharis cardamines). This butterfly really excited Tristan because his favourite colour is orange. We saw six of these vibrant butterflies. The male has the orange coloured tip on the wing whereas the female is completely white. We saw a few of the females which are distinctive from the small white because of the wing shape and vein appearance. 

We were thrilled to see so many butterflies darting from flower to flower in the sunshine - it made the walk truly magical. 

Our adventure took us along the banks of the River Irwell. We found remnants of old canals, buildings and bridal paths as we explored. We talked to the boys about the industrial revolution and the hugely important role Manchester played in it. Theo explained that factories would be situated next to the river beacuse they would harness the power of the water. Tristan was very interested to hear how horses were used to pull canal boats which made us think that we must visit a working canal very soon with them both. 

We stopped for a break on a rocky bit of the river bank and their dad taught the boys how to skim stones successfully. They had a great time seeing who could bounce the stones across the water the best. They also collected various stones and bits of rock. Theo was able to identify a number of the samples thanks to his recent 'Mincraft' activity. We will certainly be following in the footsteps of 'The Gallivanters' who told us all about their recent 'Mincraft' inspired museum visits on the #BigKid link up. I am delighted that the game has given Theo an interest in geology. 

We saw flowers, trees proudly displaying their new leaves, insects and an incredibly bold field mouse washing his whiskers under a large leaf. It was a lovely, sunny outdoor adventure. The boys will be making some butterflies over the weekend and I will share them with you soon. 

Enjoy the spring weekend. 

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Big Kids Link Up

Welcome to my new 'Big Kid' link up. I am always on the look out for exciting new resources to supplement our home schooling syllabus but generally I find it much easier to find online information aimed at young children than at older children. It means that my four year old has a plethora of fun resources such as printables, online learning games, books, crafts and songs to go at, yet I often struggle to find anything quite as entertaining for my nine year old. 

It sometimes feels as though older kids are forgotten about a because the are so many new mummy, baby and toddler blogs about. There is quite a fall-off as the kids get older and there are subsequently less 'older-children' homeschool blogs. I thought it was time to balance the blogs somewhat and provide a place for the mums of older kids to link up each fortnight. 

All you need to do is link up a post which shares some of the adventures you have been having with your older child. It can be anything from an interesting day trip to their current favourite book or even a killer Minecraft construction. The key is to share resources which have really interested your older child - it could even just be a photo of a picture they are proud of. Through this shared knowledge I am hoping that the older kids amoung our ranks might not feel quite as sidelined and we will come up with some great ideas to truly inspire them. 

Why every fortnight not every week like many other linkys? Generally books for older kids take longer to read, LEGO creations can take many man hours - larger project need a little more time. 

Who can link up? Anyone who is or has a child over 7 years old. You don't have to be a blogger to join in though - just  leave a comment at the end of this post. 

What are the rules? Keep it clean and relevant - that's it! 

So what is my nine year old obsessed and excited about at the moment? 

Unsurprisingly (like many other 9 year old boys) he is currently very into 'Minecraft'. He has just bought a game companion book called called 'Minecraft - Red Stone Guide'by MOJANG. He thinks that it is incredibly useful and has been relentlessly constructing pistons to move other objects by using red stone dust. You can read all about his Minecrafting in his post which is linked up below. 

He is also finding 'Heros of Olympus - The Lost a Hero' by Rick Riordan incredibly engaging and entertaining. He recently read the Percy Jackson series by the same author and absolutely adored it. Apparently, he says, this book is even better - has anyone read this series already? What fiction book  do you recommend for him to delve into next? 

From my perspective the most useful resource we are using at the moment is 'Fizz, Bubble & Flash,' by Anita Brandolini. This book is an excellent introspection to the elements of the periodic table and is filled with experiments, facts and challenges. 

We have been looking at the periodic table quite a bit and learning what the molecular differences are between particular element atoms and isotopes of elements. He is absolutely fascinated by the Fox show (shown on Sky's National Geographic channel over here) Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, presented by eminent astro-physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Stories of Isaac Newton, Edward Halley, James Clark Maxwell, Galileo Galilei and Albert Einstein have prompted an excitement and interest in science. We are quite excited to find that study guides for each episode are available to take the subjects further. We've only just seen these so more on that later.

As a result of this learning Theo is at present obsessed with a fantastic iPad/iPhone free app called 'Nuclear'.

In this fun little game app you begin with an atom of Hydrogen, a single electron orbiting a single proton. From the bottom of the page you can add either a proton, neutron or electron to build a new element. You have to be quick though because if you add particles that create an unstable element it will decay or explode! Before long you have Helium, Lithium, Beryllium and as you discover the elements in this way the app fills them in on the periodic table. The graphics are pretty cool too with electrons whizzing really fast around the nucleus. Even as an adult it really clarifies how the element atoms work and is a brilliant refresher for those of us with only long-forgotten science lessons on which to rely.

What is your older child really excited by at the moment? Are they academic, creative, intuitive, analytical?

I am really looking forward to finding out and seeing how all these amazing little people construct their own learning.

Thanks for taking part - I will read and reply to each and every one of you. 

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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Homeschool Adventures - Magical Childhood

We have spent the last two days outside in the sunshine. When the sun comes out we are able to fill a bottle with juice, throw some sandwiches together and then head off for as long as we like. It has been a glorious couple of days for us all. 

We have played in the park, walked as a family for miles through the woods, watched tadpoles, chased butterflies, climbed secret steps, hunted for fairies in holes, spotted birds, counted flowers, spied bluebells in bloom, visited an old hall, examined ruins, told stories, sprinted away from trolls under bridges, laughed at squirrels darting across bouncing branches and dangled our legs off logs as we sat watching fish in a pond. Sounds idillic - yep - it was. The beauty is that we can recreate this entire experience whenever we see fit not just during Easter holidays. If you are considering home education then this freedom is a huge positive to consider. Your child doesn't have to be cooped up in a stuffy classroom all day with the curtains drawn, feeling miserable because what they really want - what they truly desire is to be outside playing in the sunshine. With home schooling the days spent outdoors are just as valuable as the days spent indoors. We learn how the world works, how the plants work, what the air is made of, how to balance, how to take risks, how to navigate and a multitude of other skills. Everyday brings new questions, awakens new ideas and is most of all fun. 

Is their childhood magical? Yes. I believe that it is.

When we have been at home we have engaged in some fun learning activites about life cycles, the elements, decimals and the cosmos. Theo has been enjoying another great book and Tristan has been reading a slightly more challenging book with me. There has been a fair amount of Minecraft in the evenings as well. 

I hope that you have been enjoying the beautiful weather as much as we have. 

Monday, 14 April 2014

Homeschool Adventures - Excited About Elements

Theo is enjoying learning about the elements so much that we have done little else during the last few days. We have carried out a number of experiments about sodium and magnesium which have been great fun. Theo and Tristan learnt what effect salt has on the freezing point of water by making some ice cream, the experiment itself was a huge success although a little salt leaked into the ice cream making it taste quite disgusting. 

They also crushed spinach leaves in isopropyl alcohol and watched the colours from the chlorophyll gradually bleed along a piece of filter paper. This was very interesting and we will repeat this again with a different colour leaf to see what the difference might be. 

We have learnt about hydrogen in more depth. It was rather fabulous to watch 'COSMOS - a Space Time Odyssey' with the boys and see the amazement on their faces when Neil deGrasse Tyson began to talk about hydrogen - the very same element which they had been learning about. It has added more fuel to the fire and as well as finding out about the elements we will also be examining light. Isn't it wonderful when children are so obviously enthused and inspired? 

We also returned to the electrolysis experiment but this time used foil and bicarbonate of soda in the water. The experiment worked but not as well as we anticipated - I think we need a new 9v battery. 

Tristan found a small fan and a motor at the bottom of another science kit. The boys spent an hour building simple circuits to get the fan working. Theo tried to use the fan to send a current to a compass which should have worked well but we discovered that the compass was broken so any energy he managed to generate was not noticeable. We have lots of resistors, wire etc with which to build circuits but I'd love to get hold of a good circuiting building kit as an introduction, especially for Tristan. If anyone has any recommendations then please let me know. 

We conducted the experiment featured in this months issue of 'Aquila' magazine which was all about snake bites. The experiment we conducted was to see what effect protolytic enzymes have on amino acids. They made jelly and then added fresh pineapple and tinned pineapple. The following day they turned out the jelly to see what had happened. It was an exciting experiment with the added benefit of introducing the children to using a 'control' sample when carry out an experiment. They both enjoyed examining the results and eating the intact jelly, of course. 

We have been on a rather interesting time travelling adventure to Sumer again where the boys found a magnificent artifact. If you have been following our Mesopotamian adventures you will be aware that we have travelled to Sumer on a couple of occasions now and have built up a fairly in depth understanding about the culture. The latest Mesopotamian post will follow in a couple of days so watch this space.

There has also been reading, baking, gardening, walking, Mine Crafting, exploring, running, painting, papier mâché making as well as the daily maths and English sessions. It really has been quite busy but that is certainly the way we like it.