Teacher Feature: Four Year Old Classroom Explores Egyptian Tombs

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Will Kuehnle and Jessie Miller in the four year old Honey Bear classroom.  Our teachers were inspired by the children’s interest in Ancient Egypt and mummies during their unit on digging entitled, “Can You Dig It?”  I joined their class for a lesson led by Will on Egyptian tombs.  Below you will find a reflection from Will and Jessie, and images from the lesson.

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What were your topics of exploration? Why did you choose them? Where did they come from?

Our topic for the majority of the first half of the year from the end of October through the end of January was digging and the underground world. The concept was sparked by the children’s interest in using shovels to dig holes on the playground. While children dug outside they would find rocks, bugs and roots that sparked questions about what was going on underneath their feet. We knew that there was a whole world underground that could be dug up, so we created a thematic web to corral all of our ideas. The subject of Ancient Egypt came to light after learning about archaeology. Our original thematic web included many concepts and we hoped that we would eventually get to archaeology, but with an emergent curriculum you are always on your toes for shifts in the children’s interest, so we were fully aware that our roadway of topics leading up to archaeology could easily shift course in an entirely different direction.

When we started back in October with our, “Can You Dig It?” unit we began with gardens and digging to plant seeds to grow. Continuing our exploration through such themes as animals that dig, underground construction, utilities, mining, buried pirate treasure, caves and plate tectonics, we were excited to see strong interest in the subjects presented. After winter break we knew the children would love to hear about how digging underground can give you clues about the past because of the children’s questions surrounding old artifacts spotted in museums and an interest all preschool students seem to have: dinosaurs and fossils. When we returned in January we explored the differences between archaeology and paleontology before learning more detailed information about Ancient Egypt due to the children’s many questions about mummies. It was an exciting journey and by far the longest we have stayed under one subject umbrella, but it felt fresh the whole time because of the various ways we approached the “Can You Dig It?” theme.

Why and how did you choose the visit?

We chose to see the photographic collage Oum el Dounia by Lara Baladi, which is on display in the lobby of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Art until June 5, 2016 as part of the museum’s Perspectives series. We actually stumbled upon the piece during one of our first archaeology lessons. On that day, we were heading to the museum’s Feast Your Eyes: A Taste for Luxury in Ancient Iran exhibit to think about why archaeologists search for clues and what those clues can tell about the past. Our walk through the lobby of the museum that morning took us right by Lara Baladi’s tapestry. Our agenda that day was put on pause for a moment so that the whole group could soak up the work of art for a moment. The objects size and scope made it an approachable work of art for children. One of the main focal points on the tapestry was the image of a sphinx in a dessert looking landscape, which had many of the children wondering if the collage was Egypt. We acted just as curious as the children and filed away the piece as an object to visit again with more time to observe and intentionally dissect what we discovered. When our archaeology exploration landed on Ancient Egypt as a point of interest, we knew we had to go back to the piece that had planted a seed of curiosity in the subject.

What were your learning objectives? (What did you want your children to take away from the lesson?)

The main objectives for this lesson were to connect the mummy and Ancient Egypt information we had been learning about with the creation of our own pyramid and tomb.  We also wanted to provide a fun and engaging experience driven by the children and their desire to do something with the knowledge they had been gaining through our exploration. Specifically, we wanted the children to learn the motives (tomb robbers) of the evolution of tombs in Ancient Egypt, from mastabas to the Valley of the Kings. We try to weave many areas of developmental growth into all our lessons, and this particular lesson provided a great platform. New vocabulary was spoken consistently throughout the morning, books were used as a tool to quench curiosity, whimsical figurines in the tapestry were counted, different types of tombs were categorized, reflective opportunities surfaced when the children thought about what a person might need in the after life, motor skills and creativity were utilized in adorning the inside of the pyramid with paint and hieroglyphs. The kids had a blast with the lesson, and we as teachers we were glad that their enjoyment coincided with development of skills we feel are important to their growth.

What was most successful about your lesson?  How did the lesson reach your objectives to expand the topic?  What was successful in terms of your preparation and logistics?

The most successful part of our lesson was how the children took the lead in creating the pyramid. Their excitement and creativity in finding objects to contribute to the tomb was terrific to watch. As preparation in the days leading up to this lesson the class had wrapped our mummy (which was a plastic human body with removable parts) after dissecting vital organs for canopic jars the children decorated. The class then made a sarcophagus for the mummy a different day when we viewed an actual sarcophagus at the National Museum of Natural History, and an actual archaeologist gave us insight into how color was used in Ancient Egypt. The outside of the pyramid (which was made by using a construction fort by Discovery Kids found on Amazon) was decorated with paint and sand (plus a few sprinkles of glitter) prior to the lesson as well. All these objects were on display in the classroom and added to the curiosity and excitement building up to the creation of the tomb. Logistically, having all those materials made before the lesson made the creation of the tomb more streamlined. All that was left to do was collect items for the tomb to be included alongside the canopic jars and sarcophagus, and decorate the inside walls of the pyramid. By breaking the class into two smaller groups we were able to give each child a quality experience doing both tasks.

What could you have done differently to better achieve your objectives and expand the topic?  What was challenging regarding logistics?  What recommendations would you have for another teacher trying out this lesson?

Reflecting back on the lesson we thought one thing that could have been done differently was the timing of the lesson. We felt that we could have split the lesson into two different days: one day to go to the museum to discuss what a tomb is and the different types of tombs, and another day to focus on creating the tomb in the classroom. We felt painted into a corner with the timing of the lesson due to an unrelated activity we were obligated to do later in the week and did not want to wait until the following week to create the tomb.

Thinking back on it, we probably could have delayed the creation of the tomb and spent more time exploring the evolution of tombs in Ancient Egypt from mastabas to the Valley of the Kings because the class was highly interested in this topic.  This was so fascinating to the children because one of the main reasons pyramids went out of fashion was due to the their clear invitation to tomb robbers of possible treasure inside (which brought back many fantastic memories of our time exploring pirates and buried treasure earlier in the “Can You Dig It?” unit). A simple follow up activity such as a journal entry prompting the children to choose a type of tomb they wanted to draw and items they wanted to put inside the tomb could have been a great wrap up after the museum visit, with the actual pyramid creation the next day or week.

One thing that challenges us in teaching is whittling down a complex topic to the main points we want to get across in a developmentally appropriate way. This is a challenge because we must balance our desire to dive into a topic of interest with the desire to keep the children’s interest. With this particular lesson on tombs, we probably could have kept the obvious high level of interest and excitement going for little bit longer, but we as teachers were also excited to shift themes after a successful three months of digging.

One tangible recommendation we would give teachers thinking about doing this lesson would be to look into acquiring a large image of the object you are going to view. Our museum education team was able to print one for us using Microsoft Publisher and it made the interaction with the object mush more meaningful because although the children cannot touch the real art, they could touch the print out and interact with it (such as adding different types of tombs to the landscape). The print out also has the added benefit of bringing a museum like experience into any classroom, regardless of museum access. As luck would have it, it was raining the morning of our lesson and we thought of skipping the walk to the museum, which would have made the print out a vital component for the lesson if we had stayed inside the four walls of our classroom.

Here are a few images from their lesson on Egyptian Tombs:

Lara-Baladi-Oum-el-Dounia%201MB%20(2)Will began the lesson by heading straight to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery to see Lara Baladi’s Oum el Douna (The Mother of the World) as part of the museum’s Perspective series (Photo courtesy of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.) This large piece is located in the far end of the gallery lobby, which provided a large, quiet area for the class to sit in a semicircle and become absorbed in Oum el Douna. IMG_0779.JPGWill asked the children what they noticed about the piece.  Oum el Douna is so large, with so many aspects that the children had many observations to share.  Several children spotted the Sphinx immediately, and many others mentioned the two bright colors, and how they believed this represented the sandy desert and blue sky or water (“maybe it’s the Nile River!” said one child). IMG_0785The class decided that the piece was most likely depicting Egypt due to the Sphinx and the desert.  Will asked the class what might be missing from the piece if it was Egypt.  Many students said, “pyramids!”, and when asked what pyramids are they said, “tombs”.  To learn more about the evolution of tombs, Will read an excerpt from Mummies and Pyramids by Will and Mary Pope Osbourne.  To demonstrate this information further, Will also drew a picture to illustrate the evolution of tombs from mastabas to the Valley of the Kings.IMG_0790Will explained that tombs in pyramids became targets for tomb robbers due to their size and promise of treasure, so Pharaohs began building their tombs underground in the Valley of the Kings to keep them secret and protected from tomb robbers. IMG_0794
After learning more about pyramids and tombs, the class worked together to add pictures of pyramids, mastabas, and the Valley of the Kings on a print out of Oum el Douna that Will brought with the class. IMG_0815After all the discussion about tombs, the class went back to school and began readying a tomb for their mummy, Claudia, who they had prepared earlier in the week.  The class split into two groups- one with Will to decorate the tomb walls, and the other with Jessie to gather items to go inside the tomb.  Jessie explained that mummies laid in their tombs with anything they might need in the afterlife.  The group brainstormed what Claudia might need, and came up with lots of ideas including food and chapstick.IMG_0874
Jessie took the group around the school and the children each chose an object they thought Claudia could use in her next journey.  They placed them carefully in their tomb structure.  IMG_0877Once the objects were in place they built a podium for their sarcophagus.IMG_0816IMG_0865.JPGThen it was time for the groups to switch so they each had an opportunity to gather objects, and decorate the tomb walls.  Will helped the children color hieroglyphs, paint with glitter paint, and add hieroglyphic stamps to the inside of the pyramid walls so that Claudia’s tomb would be colorful.IMG_0890Finally, the class came back together to finish off the tomb walls by adding a dash of glitter to make it extra opulent, just like the Ancient Egypt Pharaohs would have wanted.IMG_0919.JPG   IMG_0920Lastly, the class laid Claudia in the tomb and touched her mouth for the “Opening of the Mouth Ceremony” so that Claudia could live on in the afterlife.  They wished her safe journey and put the final wall on their tomb.

Will and Jessie ended their “Can You Dig It?” unit with Ancient Egypt, and started exploring Storytelling and Theater. Check out our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for more ideas from their unit on “Can You Dig it?” and Ancient Egypt! See you in two weeks with our next Teacher Feature!