Ancient Rome for Kids

What’s the big deal about Ancient Rome?

Well, actually, it’s kind of a huge deal. But you will never believe it until you study it for yourself and ask yourself the hard questions. And until that point, you will most likely think it is boring, outdated, irrelevant, and that reading about a bunch of old, ignorant, and now dead guys and how smart they thought they were is a complete waste of time.

I first started realizing the importance of this ancient fallen empire while I was actually studying Plutarch and ancient Greece. After almost every little mini biography I would turn to my husband and say, “Honey! This is almost like reading a newspaper! It could have been written yesterday!” And he would smile and nod and go back to his Amazon Prime documentary on transportation around America or the history of speedboats or whatever he was onto at the time. (I’ll get more into this in a later blog post. Not the speedboats, but the relativeness of Ancient Rome.)

Our interests vary… just a little bit. 😉

The mythical foundations of Rome from the Trojan War to Romulus and Remus and the reign of kings, the success and failures of the senate in the republic, and the moral, political, and economic corruption of the emperors, the repression and enslavement of the people, and downfall of arguable the greatest empire the world has ever known!

I mean, this is fascinating stuff! Who wouldn’t be interested?

But, you know, the approximate millennium long political progression of an ancient civilization and it’s application to the current western world at large is probably a little heavy for my pre-K, 1st, 3rd, and 5th grader.

So instead we read these books!

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This little book somehow missed the group picture, so he gets a special shout out all his own. 🙂 

We didn’t spend a great deal of time with Roman mythology, just because we had read a lot of Greek mythology and the overlap is pretty significant. Although we noted the name changes and other minor plot changes as well at times. Heracles = Hercules, etc. But I’m sure they won’t forget who Romulus and Remus are. I figure it is an unwritten rule of history book writers that every book on Rome has to start with that story.

We learned about Julius Caesar. A lot. My 1st grader commented just a few weeks ago, “You know, I’m just really into Julius Caesar right now. I’ve got, like, 9 Julius Caesar things already.” He even drew me a picture of good ol’ Jules to put on my wall. And although I’m glad he has taken such a strong interest in his history studies, someone other than Julius Caesar would have made my heart a little happier. But truth be told, you just can’t find that many books written for children about Cato the Younger – or even Cicero.

We learned about the soldiers and the wars. We learned about the transition from a Republic to an Empire – although purposefully leaving out Antony and Cleopatra. That is NOT age appropriate! Ha ha. (Actually, if you get right down to it, not much Roman history is elementary age appropriate.)

We learned about the Colosseum, the gladiators, Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius. We learned about every day life in ancient Rome. (Let me just interject here, we’ve been learning about Rome for a good 6 weeks or more. So we got a good chance to really dive into some of these topics.)

(And while I’m interjecting half pertinent info, there is a really fun trilogy by John Christoffer called “Fireball.” It’s a sci-fi quasi back-in-time multiple-reality type thing. And the writing style is typical John Christoffer – you’ll know it when you read it. But it has some super interesting insights into gladiators and Ancient Rome. The other two books in the trilogy, from a history standpoint, were also really fun to read.)

(One more semi-related book review… if you or your children follow the Brotherband Chronicles from John Flanagan, we finally got book 7 called Caldera. I haven’t read it yet, but my son starting grinning and ran up to me saying, “So this book takes place in an empire that got too big and had to be split in two pieces. The western half got weaker and weaker, but the eastern half got more powerful! They are in a city called Byzantos and they have to save the princess Justina! *wink *wink!”

I love it when they kids know their history!)

And we watched Ben Hur! That was so fun. Except the part where Messala gets run over by his horses in the circus in Jerusalem. Oh. That was bad.

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In math we learned some Roman numerals and in Latin we learned some… Latin.

Instead of picking projects for the kids to do, I handed them the Ancient Roman Craft books and told them to pick out what they wanted and we would go from there. The crafts they picked were, according to my taste, a little odd. But at least one of them turned out really fun.

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First off: The Loser.

A Colosseum Zoetrope. It didn’t work.

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The 1st Runner Up: Scrolls.

My beef with this is that there is nothing inherently Roman about a scroll. Didn’t lots of other cultures have scrolls even before the Romans. And we later found out that the ancient Romans were actually the inventor of the book as we know it today. Well, not an eBook as we know books today, but like the hardbound, sewn pages that turn from right to left, printed on both sides. An actual, real book. So to make the project more “Roman” I had my older two write something up in Latin on their scrolls. My 3rd grader wanted to write down “the law,” but, bless her heart, the only “law” she could think of was the 10 Commandments – also not Roman. Thankfully it’s pretty easy to find the 10 Commandments translated into Latin online, so we printed that off and she got to work copying. My 5th grader chose to write a murder mystery. The Emperor’s son has been murdered in the Colosseum! But the only way to figure out who dun’ it, is to do a math problem written all in Roman numerals. I introduced him to the online English to Latin translator. Nothing like actually trying to use a foreign language creatively to let you know you really don’t know what you’re doing.

Good think nobody speaks Latin anymore.

The Winner: Wooden Spoon Puppets.

Also not inherently Roman. Whatever, I just went with it. I think the idea was to get them thinking about the theatre (invented by the Greeks) and how it was an important part of Roman life.

But they turned out SO CUTE! I keep trying to get the kids to write up a little script in Latin and then have them perform it! It would be so darling!!

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Honestly, my favorite is the red haired Celt!

But it’s also the end of April and we are all getting a little tired of being inside doing “schoolwork” so the chances of it happening are pretty low.

It would be just so easy, though!

“Salve! Amicus?”

“Non Amicus! Inimicus!”

“Ahhhh! Pugnabimus!”

“Oppugno! Neco tibi. Gladius meus est magnus!”

Something like that. Battles and warfare, blood and guts. Now that is very Roman.

Overall, it’s been so much fun. I love learning about ancient Rome. I’ve loved learning about it on my own – Mom School – and then knowing how to elaborate and infuse the history where the kids books falter. Even then, I’m not such a genius that I don’t learn a lot from reading all those children’s books.

Hopefully this has given you some ideas of where to start with your Ancient Roman study or what to do. I realize the info is fairly broad – really, we mostly read a ton of books together – but that is how we love doing history! And in our house, we really do love history. (It’s not just me, right? I don’t think it’s just me and my rose colored glasses.)

Still, I would LOVE to hear some of your ideas or experiences! What’s your favorite book? What is your favorite project? Or documentary? Or activity? We’ll be back on the ancients in 4 years so any tips for next time would be awesome! Thanks.