Know Your Ancient Civilizations

 

Veterans of 1st grade will recall we invest several weeks learning about ancient civilizations. Like the King in Alice in Wonderland we think history makes more sense when you "begin at the beginning and go on 'til you come to the end." As parents know far-too-well, time is quite abstract for young children. Many educators believe kids can't learn history at this age as it is not concrete enough. We know they can, they just need support.

After a class presentation on monotheism, I recently explained to a 1st grader that David, the famous King of Israel, lived a long time ago.

"You mean like the 80's?," she asked?

Even longer, I explained.

Her classmate chimed in, suggesting, "Like the 2500's?" That's more like it, I nodded.

The stories of the Babylonians, Egyptians, Aztecs, and Israelites might seem to offer little more than the answers to Trivial Pursuit questions. But their cultures form the foundations on which ours rests, whether in art, literature, technology, math or philosophy. The fact that you can read this blog post is a sign of our debt to our ancient ancestors' systems of writing. (Something many ancient American civilizations lacked.)

Ancient cultures frequently borrowed from each other - Our third graders understand how the Romans recycled the Greek gods. But these civilizations also had distinct features, as one of our 1st graders recently explained.

This week his mom recounted seeing a paper on which her son's name was written, and underneath an unusual script. "What's this," she asked?

In the tradition of families everywhere, the older sibling, who does not attend ICS, blurted out: "It's hieroglyphics. He spelled his name."

The ICS student responded promptly, "No, it's not, it's cuniform."

"Same thing," interjected the older child.

"No it's not," replied the younger one. "Cuneiform is Mesopotamian and hieroglyphics are Egyptian."

If you're struggling to tell the difference in the pictures in this post, ask one of our first graders. They may not know (yet) exactly when the Sumerians and the Israelites lived. But there's a lot that they do know. And bit by bit, maybe even without you realizing it, they are building insight and understanding that will serve them for the rest of their lives.