Falling in Love with Pharaohs | teaching history from your passion

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If you were hanging out at our house, you’d notice that our study of ancient Egypt started with a Daddy story about the brave Thutmose the Third and his sneaky tactics that won the Battle of Megiddo. We looked at pictures on Pinterest of Thutmose’s wives’ jewelry, including a type of bezel ring that we could – and did – make with my jewelry supplies. We talked about what a cartouche was and figured out one for Meg, using a chart of real hieroglyphs. Then we drew her cartouche on the ring with a permanent marker.

Homeschooling is such a great opportunity to share what you love with your children. Ancient history is my happy place – not in a scholarly historian sort of way, which would be more socially reputable, but more like in a magpie way. I tend to fall in love with colorful realms of knowledge and want to carry them around showing them to people. I first fell in love with ancient Egypt through the Amelia Peabody Mysteries by Elizabeth Peters [1]. The series is a lot of fun, with plenty of swashbuckling adventures, murders to investigate, and curses to disprove. In one particular story, Amelia’s (homeschooled) son breaks them out of a dungeon with dynamite. I studied the real Egypt because of those stories, and now I want to share Egypt with Meg.

This is called teaching from your passion.

Falling in Love with Pharaohs -  CB - HSLDA BlogI wanted to teach Meg the history of the wide world from the beginning of time, and figured we might as well get started in preschool. It’s not like we’re going to run short on content to cover. Also, I think Meg will enjoy family dinners more when our references to Alexander the Great start making sense to her. Sadly, I couldn’t find a world history curriculum aimed at preschoolers, so I’m making one up as I go along. Really, any homeschool mom can do this on a subject that she loves. If you have a sense of the subject and know what the important things are, you can explain them in a way that makes sense to your kids.

My main sources for this are Pinterest, the library, and about five books we already own or have borrowed from my mom. By way of structuring this unit, we are talking about the top eight or ten famous people in ancient Egypt. I’m going a content-heavy route, because Meg is sharp and needs real information. But as we cover history, I want to open it like a colorful toy box for her imagination. She can always pick up more details when she’s older. 

After Thutmose, of course, we had to talk about Hatshepsut, the only female pharaoh and Thutmose’s immediate predecessor. Egyptologists pretend to be scholarly, but they enjoy a juicy story as much as anyone. And you really can’t flip a page without one author or another telling how Thutmose probably murdered Hatshepsut because he was tired of waiting for the throne, or explaining how he was so virtuous he would never have done a thing like that and she died of old age. At forty-five. Because everyone died so much younger back then. Definitely.

Meg and I looked at pictures of the beautiful temple Hatshepsut built at Deir el-Bahri and talked about her sea voyage to Punt. We sat and looked at the carving of the ship coming back laden with incense trees and monkeys, and noticed the sailors dangling from ropes. Meg asked about the gods with bird heads and dog heads and we talked about Egyptian polytheism.

One book had a floor plan of Hatshepsut’s temple with a letter keyed to what each thing was – the Hathor Temple, the Punt carvings, etc. It even had each column noted and whether it was standing or broken. Meg wanted to go through the whole chart. N, as it happened, was a “niche.” The word struck her funny bone. NICHE! There were a lot of little Ns on the chart, and every one got funnier and funnier. I think she learned what a niche is? But mostly she learned that niches are hilarious.

Falling in Love with Pharaohs 2 -  CB - HSLDA BlogA couple Christmases ago, Meg’s Nana gave her a Playmobil Sphinx toy, a tasteful assortment of Egyptian dudes, and a copy of How the Sphinx Got to the Museum by Jessie Hartland. It’s a cheerful, repetitive story about the journey of an Egyptian sphinx from its parent granite quarry all the way to display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I was thrilled to reread it and notice that it was about Hatshepsut’s sphinx – and that the story even talked about Thutmose III. It has a little afterword about Herbert Winlock, the museum archaeologist who excavated the temple and found Hatshepsut’s sphinxes.

And then, by way of teacher enrichment, I was rereading Serpent on the Crown, one of the Amelia Peabody mysteries. I haven’t read it in years. This time around, I noticed some of the side characters were archaeologists from that same Metropolitan Museum! Serpent was set in the 1920s, which was the right era! I got very excited at the connection and ran to do a little research. Sure enough, Elizabeth Peters did her homework. She had, as a minor character, none other than the real archaeologist and future director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Herbert Winlock.

I love this kind of learning.

Carolyn signature Montez font

Photo Credit: First photo from Pixabay, graphic design by Charity Klicka; second, third, and fourth photos taken by Carolyn Bales, edited by Charity Klicka.

[1] As with all books, parental discretion advised. Don’t hand them to your eight-year-old and blame me when she starts asking what “conjugal affection” means. I’ll probably let Meg read them sometime after Harry Potter and before Shakespeare’s Coriolanus.

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