Ancient Greece Unit Study: Week 2

The Olympics as we know them today are very different from the original games that began in Greece. This week we will learn about the history of the games – how they were played, what the games included and what the prizes were. These lessons will include art and food history, An optional reading source you could implement into your weekly reading can be the Honest History Issue 8 – The Spirit of the Games. Download our skills and books tracker for the week here.

What you need:

Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):

Optional additional reading:

Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):

Note: We break down our supply list by so you can choose what you need based on which lessons you plan to do with your child.

Paper mache Greek urn craft:

Simplified Greek urn craft:

Build a chariot craft:

Olympic Greek wreath craft:

Simplified Greek wreath craft:

Greek theater mask:

Upgraded Greek theater mask:

Sound waves experiment:

  • ruler
  • two different size spoons (try using a teaspoon and a serving spoon)
  • about 4 feet of string or yarn (this will depend on how tall you are)

(+) Upgrade sound wave activity:

Herb infused olive oil:

Olive oil lava lamp:

What to do:

We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!

Lesson 1:

Welcome to the Olympic Games! Of course, the original games didn’t look quite like what your child might be used to today. Read the top part of page 157 in Usborne World History Encyclopedia to start our lessons. 

Note to parents: As you start learning about the Olympics and see other Greek forms of art, the topic of nudity in art might come up. Here are some talking points if you’re not sure how to have the conversation.

Activity 1: Read + Discover the history of the Olympic games.  Begin by reading Usborne Greeks pages 58 and 59, and then read this article on BBC Bitesize. (The videos will only work for our UK members.)

There were many games in the original Olympics, including equestrian events, combat sports like wrestling and boxing, running, jumping, and pentathlon. One way we learn about these games is by looking at ancient urns that depicted them. Here’s one that shows running and one for pentathlon. You can see a variety of other urns displayed here.

Activity 2: Now let’s make our own urn with this craft tutorial. Not crafty? You can also try this simpler version. (You can use our urn template, if needed.)

Lesson 2:

Read + Discover. For our next lesson, we’re off to the races! Learn about one of the original Olympic sports here—chariot races!

In ancient Greece, one of the most gripping–and dangerous–athletic events for both horses and men was the chariot race, a sport that dates back at least to 700 BC. Spectators gathered to watch as horse teams pulled drivers in two-wheeled carts around a track with hairpin turns at each end. Chariot races were held in a specially built arena, or hippodrome, with posts marking the turning points. As many as 10 chariots raced at a time, each pulled by two- or four-horse teams.

Activity 1: Where did the chariot races take place? The hippodrome! The hippodrome was an ancient Greek stadium used for horse and chariot racing. The word “hippodrome” comes from the Greek words “hippos” meaning horse and “dromos” meaning course or track. The hippodrome was a popular venue for entertainment and sporting events in ancient Greece, and it was also used for political and religious ceremonies. The hippodrome was often located near important public buildings, such as the Agora or the Acropolis, and could accommodate tens of thousands of spectators. Let’s learn more about this ancient stadium by reading about it here. See what it looked like here, and click here to see pictures of original Greek hippodrome plans and ruins. 

(+)Activity 2: Want a challenge? Try building your own hippodrome on Minecraft. 

Activity 3: Next, build your own chariot.

Lesson 3:

For day three of this week, get ready to enter the winners circle! What did the winners of the Olympic games get? Valuable prizes could be won in athletic contests all over the Greek world, but victory at Olympia brought the greatest prestige. Winning contestants were allowed to put up statues of themselves inside the sanctuary of Zeus to commemorate their victory; many bases for these statues survive down to our day. Statues of athletes and statesmen were a prominent feature of Greek cities and sanctuaries. If the athlete won three times, they could set up specially commissioned portrait statues, which could cost up to ten times the average yearly wage. Winners at Olympia also received crowns of wild olive. (source) Other prizes included money and jars of olive oil!

Activity 1: Create your own wreath with one of these two crafts: This one or this simpler version

Activity 2: Read this article on Penn Museum’s website debunking modern myths about the Olympic games. Students may enjoy creating their own true-or-false game for quizzing family members using the details in this article. Encourage them to write the questions on index cards and test the families knowledge of the ancient Olympic games.

Activity 3: Let’s compare the Olympics then and now. Read this article to review what we’ve learned this week but also to make connections with today’s Olympics. Create a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting the two events.

Lesson 4:

Want to learn more about Greek theater and drama? Let’s start the show! Read the bottom part of page 157 in Usborne World History Encyclopedia. 

Activity 1: Read + Discover. Read the Usborne Greeks pages 56 and 57 for more information on the Plays and Players.

Make your own Greek theater masks.
(+) Or you can make this upgraded version of a Greek theater mask.

Activity 2: Read + Discover. Have you ever heard of an amphitheater? Read this article to learn more about this ancient theater. This link has some great pictures to help see how the sound bounces from the stage to the seats. What is the science behind the amphitheater?

“Acoustics is a science that has to do with measuring the transmission of sound waves. A theater or other building with good acoustics allows sound to travel naturally for long distances, enabling people to hear music, a play, or something else even if they are sitting far away from the stage. Perhaps the best way to understand acoustics in action is to consider the theaters of ancient Greece. Thousands of years ago, there was no such thing as electronic sound amplification, so builders had to figure out a way to build theater structures that would allow the sound from a performance to extend all the way to the back of the Greek amphitheaters where it was conducted. They did this by employing stepped seating arrangements like those that are still used today for stadium seating at movie theaters and other venues. The first row of seats was on the same level as the stage, the second row a little higher, the third row a little higher than the second row, and so on, all the way to the back of the theater.” (source)

Activity 3: Let’s experiment with sound waves.
(+) This upgraded sound waves experiment video will leave quite an impression. Next, build your own “sound wave” with tape and straws.

Lesson 5:

For our food history lesson this week, we’ll look into the story of the olive.

Activity 1: Read about the long and lovely history of the olive tree here. Want to add more olive oil into your life? Here are some fun suggestions

Activity 2: Make herb infused olive oil at home with this simple recipe.

Activity 3: Science application. Let’s get a little funky with this olive oil lava lamp. This is a great experiment to learn about density. Why do some things sink or float in water? Watch this video. But what about oil and water? Why don’t they mix? Watch this video to learn the reason.

Activity 4: Looking for a field trip? Try to visit a local oil and vinegar tap room. Many local shops also offer oil tastings. Here is a guide to take on your tasting.

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Published by The Learn + Live Letter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-12.

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