Friday, February 26, 2010

Aeneid Class: Week 3: Roman Parlor Games

This post relates to my literature class for children at Homeschool Out of the Box co-op in Norfolk, VA. This semester we are reading The Aeneid, using Penelope Lively's book In Search of a Homeland, and other supplemental materials. For other lessons, please click the Aeneid tag at the bottom of this post.

Quiz: We took our quiz on the Roman clothing fast facts and remembered that different colored togas were worn in different situations: purple for emperors, white for those running for political office, and black for mourning. The challenge for this week is to look out for togas or toga-like garments being worn around town. Hint: Those people in Statue of Liberty costumes dancing around outside all the tax preparation offices might be one example.

Songs: We sang our songs, still working on memorizing the first eight lines of the Shakespeare soliloquy and the first four lines of the Virgil invocation. The children's favorite song is definitely "Let's Get the Heck Out of Troy," no doubt because of the mildly transgressive "heck" which I would apologize for if I didn't so intensely enjoy seeing them get a big bang out of singing it.

Memory Work: We were very excited to hear our first successful recitation of the Mark Antony's speech at Julius Caesar's funeral by William Shakespeare! Richard F. is the first Roman to possess two citizenship coins and got himself a set of knucklebones for his trouble. Congratulations and well done!!! Amazing work!

Fast Facts: This week we are learning about Roman games and toys. We learned the rules for Tali (the Latin name for Knucklebones), Odds and Evens, and introduced Latrunculi. We talked about how a lot of the simple toys that children use today and a lot of the familiar games we play were already around in Ancient Rome. It's important for them to recognize, in the midst of learning about all the differences in Roman culture, that there are many similarities.

Knucklebones: Tali is an ancient game played with four four-sided dice. You roll all the dice, calculate your score, and then the other guy rolls, for a predetermined number of rounds. Scores are not cummulative: whoever wins each round gets a point, and you play to a certain number of points. Click on this page to read all about knucklebones. Here is a picture of a real set of knucklebones, made from the actual bones of a sheep or goat:

The little one in the picture above is actually made from bronze, to minic the shape of the real bone. Here is a picture of a set of knucklebones that I made:

You can make knucklebones by making a little rectangular box out of Sculpey, then scratching a number into each side. The small ends should be a little rounded to ensure the die doesn't end with a small end up. The numbers on the dice are 6, 4, 3, and 1 with opposite sides adding up to 7. I made enough sets that each pair of kids could have a set to play with. One package of Sculpey makes two sets.

Scoring Tali is complicated, and there are lots of different ways to do it. We learned a method of scoring that requires the kids to add up the values of the dice in their heads, which I think is good practice, and also involves some of the "special" rolls, like the Venus (6, 4, 3, 1) the Vulture (all dice the same) and the Dogs (all dice 1).

(6,4,3,1) :Venus -- all four tali with different sides.
(6,x,x,x) : Senio -- a single six and anything
(6,6,6,6) : Vultures -- all four tali the same
(4,4,4,4) : Vultures -- all four tali the same
(3,3,3,3) : Vultures -- all four tali the same
(6,6,6,4) : Total = 22
(6,6,6,3) : Total = 21
(6,6,4,4) : Total = 20
(6,6,6,1) : Total = 19 (high)
(6,6,4,3) : Total = 19
(6,6,3,3) : Total = 18
(6,6,4,1) : Total = 17
(6,6,3,1) : Total = 16
(4,4,4,3) : Total = 15
(6,6,1,1) : Total = 14 (high)
(4,4,3,3) : Total = 14
(4,4,4,1) : Total = 13
(4,4,3,1) : Total = 12
(4,3,3,1) : Total = 11
(4,4,1,1) : Total = 10 (high)
(3,3,3,1) : Total = 10
(4,3,1,1) : Total = 9
(3,3,1,1) : Total = 8
(4,1,1,1) : Total = 7
(3,1,1,1) : Total = 6
(1,1,1,1) : Dogs -- lowest of the Vultures

Here are some pictures of the kids playing Tali:

Odds and Evens: This is a very simple game that relies more on instinct than skill. To play, you need several small objects: buttons, coins, stones, etc. They should be small enough that the players can hide them in their hands. We used little buttons. The game is played between two people, a holder and a guesser. The holder puts a number of the objects in his hand and holds it out. The guesser tries to guess whether the number of objects is odd or even. If the guesser is right, he gets a point. If the guesser is wrong, the holder gets a point. Very easy, and yet when you start playing it, very complicated psychologically! But this one was really fun -- we had some kids that were really great at intuiting what their opponent would do with those buttons!

The educational value of Odds and Evens was mostly for the enrichment class -- learning which numbers were odd and which were even. The older kids could pretty much do that already. All the kids learned to make a score-keeping chart and keep tick marks to tally a score. It is also very important to practice your "I AM INSCRUTABLE" face and also your "I AM READING YOUR MIND" face while playing Odds and Evens.

For more pictures, see our Flickr set.

Latrunculi: I gave the children an optional project to earn an additional citizenship coin. They can make a Latrunculi board and demonstrate that they know how to play. This is not an assignment! Moms, do not slay yourself over this one. If the kid is on fire to research it and make it, great. If not, no harm. Here is a link to get you started on the wonders of Latrunculi.

Next week is our Roman dinner party. Here is a little info about that:

CLOTHING:Please dress up in whatever way you like! Want to be a gladiator? An emperor? Afine lady? A humble slave? A senator? Do it. Gender roles to not have to limit you. Historical accuracy is not necessary but it would be great if the kids knew about their outfits to explain them to the class. Remember that among the ladies, elaborate up-do hairstyles and flamboyant jewelry items were popular!

MUSIC:We are going to be listening to the music of Synaulia, an Italian ensemble that replicates the music of Ancient Rome with authentic instrumentation. Here is a little sample:

FOOD:Our meal will be eaten as we recline around low tables. We will be using our fingers to eat from communal plates. There will be three courses: an appetizer course of eggs and radishes, a main course of meat, olives, and cabbage, and a dessert course of fruit and honey.We will be drinking "wine." The Romans watered down their wine and added honey. Rich Romans who could afford the luxury kept ice in deep pits. We will be drinking white grape juice over crushed ice.

ENTERTAINMENT:Romans entertained at dinner parties by reciting poetry, singing, and dancing.Fortunately we can do all these for ourselves! If your child is ready to recite any part of (or all of) any of the poems or songs, they will get a chance toperform at the dinner party, as we all digest.We will also be playing Evens and Odds, Knucklebones (Tali), and Latrunculi.

RITUAL: As host of the party, I will start off the meal with a toast. We will also pause between "prima mensa" and "secunda mensa" (dinner and dessert) to observe amoment of silence and make an offering to our household gods.

VOLUNTEERS: How can you help?

Prepare food: If you can help with any of the above items (like bringing a dozen peeled boiled eggs, or a dish of olives, or a plate of chopped cabbage orgrapes), please email me and let me know what you'd like to bring.

Come be a slave: We will need a couple of slaves during each class, to serve thefood, crush the ice, fix loose togas, press play and pause on our musicians, help with Knucklebones, and obey our every whim. Slaves do not need to wear costumes, but they can! Slaves can also bring their cameras.

Lend something: If you have an earthenware or pottery dish that looks oldy-timey-ancienty-romany, I would love to borrow it for serving. If you have a statuette of some kind that looks oldy-timey-ancienty-romany, I would love to borrow it to join our collection of household gods to receive our sacrifice.

If you are interested in participating in one of these three ways, please email me and let me know specifically what you would like to do. This is going to be awesome!

NOTE: Students must possess a citizenship coin to participate in the Roman dinner party! No invitees unless they are the children of slaves who are slaving away at the party.

Assignments: Carry on with the book. Carry on with the memory work. Consider making a Latrunculi board. And get your costume on for next week's party!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Aeneid Class: Week 2: Bulla Bulla

This post relates to my literature class for children at Homeschool Out of the Box co-op in Norfolk, VA. This semester we are reading The Aeneid, using Penelope Lively's book In Search of a Homeland, and other supplemental materials. For other lessons, please click the Aeneid tag at the bottom of this post.

Quiz: Today we took the quiz on the Roman symbols, and remembered that SPQR does not stand for Stand Proud, Quarreling Rodents! and that the crescent and star first represented a bright star, comet, or some other omen in the sky. The kids did a great job! They should continue to look for Roman symbols throughout the semester, as well as phrases that reference Rome, like "Rome wasn't built in a day" and "When in Rome do as the Romans."

Songs: This week we practiced our two songs, "I Sing of Arms and the Man" and "Let's Get the Heck Out of Troy." We spent a fair amount of time in the enrichment class learning "Arma virumque cano, troiae qui primus ab oris" and the children did a really most excellent job. We also began work on "Friends, Romans, Countrymen" and in the academic class we talked about how the unique situation presented by Caesar's funeral made it necessary for Mark Antony to really hide his true meaning in a lot of layers of sarcasm. That's something we'll be talking about more as we go along, but I was impressed with the kids' ability to accomplish this kind of subtle reading.

Fast Facts: Our lesson this week wass about Roman clothing, hairstyles and jewelry. We learned that women don't wear togas and that human urine is just another alkaline chemical, useful in removing dirt and oils from woolen cloth. Neat!

Project: Roman children wore little pouches called bullas around their necks. These pouches contained lucky symbols (and yes, phallic symbols) and other treasures. Fancy ones were gold, some were leather, and ours were very simple pouches made by threading a cord through a circle of fabric.


Fabric (I used white cotton with a little bit of lycra in it for stretch)
Cord (About the size of a shoelace)

I first handed out small pieces of cardstock for the children to create their lucky charms, and directed them to draw something that was important for them, or something that symbolized one of their interests. One drew a tree, one drew a lucky clover, one drew a sword... we had a lot of variations but I think they got the idea. Sadie drew a diamond (to represent wealth) and a person (to represent her family). Nice! Then the decorated their bullas, strung them on the cords, and drew the strings tight.

I encouraged them to add some different little items when they got home: lego bricks, dried flowers, photographs, candy, leaves, tiny toys, or whatever they feel represents them and brings them luck.

Citizenship Coins:

We talked about how important citizenship was to Romans, and how important citizenship is to us today as well. I gave each of the children a citizenship coin and impressed on them that only citizens of my class will be allowed to participate in the upcoming chariot races, gladiator games, etc. so they should be proud of their citizenship and protect it. Their names are on the backs of the coins. They each get one just for showing up and smiling, but they can earn more for feats of strength and valor, such as memorizing poems, and more. Several precocious children asked me why they'd want more than one. I can only say that if a little citizenship is good, more is better.

Here's what's on the front of the coin:

For next week, please memorize the first line of the Aeneid in Latin. Here's a great video that will help you with that. Also read the second chapter in the book, and for good measure, especially if your child was also in my Odyssey class, you better watch this video:

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Ever Breath by Julianna Baggott

This post is a book review. Really. But it will take me a minute to get there.

I have two children, four years apart. My son, 10, likes books about science. He likes to pour over them, again and again, memorizing the delicious facts and savoring the tasty trivia. The only fictional stories he's been interested in at all involve butts, roughly drawn comics, underpants, middle school hardships, warrior cats, and fake superheroes. I don't think I need to mention titles -- you know which ones I mean. Still, any book with pictures of the moon's surface will handily defeat any book that has characters and a beginning, middle and end. He's just not that into fiction.

My daughter, 6, has a categorical aversion to chapter books. Not only does she not want to admit she can read, she also does not want to be treated like a person who can read. In her mind, as she has explained it to me, reading will lead to college, and she doesn't want to go there. While I completely blame myself and all of my "Oh, sweetie! Don't ever change! Be my baby forever!" nonsense, I still feel like we should be able to move past the picture book stage before she hits puberty. Jan Brett, I super-love you, but I am done reading Fritz and the Beautiful Horses to my six year old, while she firmly asserts she cannot handle any more challenging fare. Then there's the fact that Sadie likes science books too. Books about polar bears. Books about caves. Books about what your heart does -- not figuratively, or as a literary theme, but as an actual biological fact.

True fact that is lodged in my bitter, resentful throat: Both of my kids prefer nonfiction to fiction. They will sit and listen to books about geography, or history, or science. They will not sit and listen to storybooks. They will not get interested in dragons. They do not yearn to discover more about elves or wizarding schools or hard times on the cold prairie. They just want to know more about why fish are cold, or where Indonesia is.

I'm a book person, and more specifically a fiction person. I have fantasized, since I knew I was going to have kids, about reading to them from the favorite books of my childhood. I looked forward to sharing Narnia with them, Middle Earth, the Moomins, etc. it's hard for me to realize that I can't keep up with Benny's interest in astronomy and the lymphatic system, and if I have to read "McElligott's Pool" one more time I will put a fishhook in my eye and gouge out my frontal lobe. I mean seriously, learning to swallow the fact that my kids just aren't that into novels has been almost as bad as finding out makeup is made out of bacon fat, or whatever.

Pretty difficult. It hasn't been great. But. There have been moments.

I bought Julianna Baggott's newest book, The Ever Breath, because hope springs eternal in this human breast, and because I like her, and I thought, hey, we'll give it a shot. What could it hurt? We've stalled on so many read-aloud attempts, and retreated to the safety of Childcraft for Benny and Let's Read and Find Out for Sadie. Why not try one more?

People, this is the book review part of the blog post. And I really feel like this is all I need to say, to sell you on this book. It was like magic. After the first chapter, I had one child tucked up on each side of me, and the other child tucked up on the other side. When I tried to quit reading for the night, I heard the words that had never been said by my children before: "Just one more chapter!" I felt like I was dreaming. I'm not kidding -- it was weird! I don't even know why this happened -- I'm not sure what captivated them in The Ever Breath where other books have so utterly failed. Why is it so accessible to these kids of such disparate ages. Why was Sadie saying, "This is my favorite book!" and why was Benny saying, "This book is better than Harry Potter!" I don't know.

I can tell you it's inventive. It's exciting. It's something you haven't seen before. And I can tell you that the children in my house careened through it at breakneck speed, anxious to get more, find out more, read more. That means a lot to me -- maybe this won't be the only book we'll read cover to cover, all curled up together. But it was the first!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Aeneid Class: Week 1: Amo Te

This post relates to my literature class for children at Homeschool Out of the Box co-op in Norfolk, VA. This semester we are reading The Aeneid, using Penelope Lively's book In Search of a Homeland, and other supplemental materials. For other lessons, please click the Aeneid tag at the bottom of this post.

Important dates:

March 2: Roman dinner party. We will wear tunics (girls) and togas (boys) and sample Roman food, listen to Roman music, play knucklebones, and vomit into buckets behind the pillows we’re lounging on.
March 23: Gladiator Games. We will have wild animals, condemned criminals, gladiators, guards, wealthy sponsors, and spectators at this exciting spectacle.
April 20: Chariot races. With wagons, helmets, and ropes, good cheer, and hope for sun, we are going to turn Grace Street into the Circus Maximus. Rain date: April 27.
May 11: Roman forum. In our classroom, we will recreate several elements of the Roman forum, including the Rostra, where volunteer orators will show off the stuff they’ve memorized during the semester, applauded by all.
May 18: Final day performance.

Welcome! I'm so happy to welcome you to this semester's adventure in ancient Rome. The Aeneid is the foundation myth for the Roman empire, and there is much to learn not only about the story of the poem itself, but also about Rome in the time of Virgil, when the Republic had come to an end and the Empire was just beginning to come into power. Rather than try and learn all about the Romans, we're going to focus our study on just this moment in time, when Augustus Caesar was in charge, and Virgil wrote the story of Aeneas to prove that Rome was founded on a Trojan ancestry, with a fine old tradition of warrior heroes and a proud heritage of strength and valor.

Reading: Each week you'll be reading one chapter in the Penelope Lively version of the story at home, until the book runs out. Then we'll be looking at some other material, including other translations and some art and modern interpretations. It is not necessary to bring the book to class each week, and we will not be reading it in class.

Scrapbooks: Your child received a spiral bound scrapbook in class. He/she will be filling it up with songs, projects, and eventually photos from the class. Academic track kids will be taking quizzes on the backs of the pages on which we glue the Fast Facts each week. They will also be creating a chart on the page that includes the Aeneid in Latin so that we can give them stamps as they memorize each line. Apart from those pages, any page in the book is okay for them to draw in, personalize, glue photos or pictures into, or whatever they'd like. These books should come to class with the kids every week.

Songs: This week we learned two songs, "I Sing of Arms and the Man" and "Let's Get the Heck Out of Troy." The first is an aid for us as we memorize the invocation to the muse (the first 12 lines) from the Aeneid in Latin. We only did the first half of it -- we will move on to the second half once we get a handle on those first few lines of the poem. The second song summarizes the action from the first chapter of the book, when Aeneas is leaving Troy with Anchises and Iulius, after those lousy Greeks burned the city.

Story: The academic track children mostly already knew the story of the Trojan war and the Trojan horse! That was awesome. We were able to have a great discussion comparing Virgil's version to Homer's version, and how the heroes from the two sides of the war would have been characterized in each one. Briefly stated, when we read the Odyssey the Greeks were the good guys, but now that we're reading the Aeneid, it's the Trojans that we're rooting for. In the enrichment track class, we talked about the Trojan horse, and the line in the song that says "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts." We talked about how that means that if someone's been beating you up and then suddenly they turn around and give you a present, you should be very very suspicious of that present.

Project: We made Latin valentines, using the Latin endearment sheet in their scrapbooks. We learned a bit about pronunciation of the different sounds (hard c, v sounds like w, etc.) as we pronounced the different phrases. Here they are:

Mea tu Belliata: My beauty

Amata mea: My beloved girl

Deliciae Meae: My sweetheart

Ego Amo Te: I love you.

Amor vincit omnia: Love conquers all.

Amantes sunt amentes: Lovers are lunatics

aut viam inveniam aut faciam: I’ll either find a way or make one.

Per aspera ad astra!: Through difficulties to the stars!

Nulli secundus / Nulli secunda: Second to none (male/female)

I was anticipating that they would make valentines for their mothers, but a lot of the made the for each other, so I'm sorry you didn't get to see those! I'm also sorry I put heart confetti into the envelopes, since a lot of it ended up in the hallway upstairs instead of in *your* hallway where it was intended to land! Heh. Here are a few pictures:

Fast Facts: Today's Fast Facts are about Roman symbols. The children were challenged to find some of these symbols in their everyday life. It's my hope that as we go through the semester they'll find more examples of how references to Rome pop up our lives, not just visually but in literature, language, and culture. For those of you who are wondering what a fasces is, here is a picture of a couple of guys carrying facses at a parade. Remember: "I can beat you with this stick, and I can chop your head off with this axe, so you better behave, because I'm the government!" Think we don't threaten our citizens with such hostile symbols? There are two in the House of Representatives and one in the Oval Office. Hmm. Interesting. Click for a bigger image.