Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sparta & Athens

We kicked off our study of Ancient Greece by comparing the city-states of Athens and Sparta. It is hard when you teach history -- do you do things chronologically or do you focus on the stories and times that appeal to you and your kids? After much deliberation, I've decided to go with the latter. We've been reading the Percy Jackson series and this has sparked a huge interest in Greek mythology and Ancient Greece, in general. Yes, we could have started earlier than 300-400 BCE and delved into the Bronze Age and the Dark Ages of Greece but I'm not sure how long the kids' interest will last and I really wanted Ancient/Classical Greek to be the focus.

So, we spent a little bit of time talking about the two great city-states of the time, Athens and Sparta. We learned that Sparta was a difficult place to live and that people there proudly shunned all of life's luxuries (the term spartan originates from this culture of belief). The kids were amazed that boys were removed from their homes at the tender age of 7....with a cloak and nothing more, relying on their wits to steal food and clothing to survive. Girls were not soldiers but were taught how to read and write and could participate in sports. Women were often left in charge of their homes as men were off fighting wars -- and even when they weren't at war, they lived in military barracks -- so they needed skills necessary to protect themselves and their property.

Children in Athens had a far more peaceful existence. A boy's education began around the age of 5 and they were given a classical education. Girls were not educated unless their fathers hired a private tutor for them; instead, they were taught domestic arts such as spinning and weaving. They were not allowed to participate in sports and, as women, were married off to a man of their father's choosing and became that man's property. They could not vote and could not own property (unless their father had no son, at which point property could pass to a woman and her husband).

We talked about food, too -- the kids were fascinated with the Spartan's food of choice: Spartan broth which consisted of pork, salt, vinegar and...gulp!....blood. The Athenians embraced all manner of foods, as well as other luxuries such as theater, poetry, etc.

There were a lot of questions and we barely scratched the surface! After our discussion, the kids each chose a city-state to create a travel brochure for. They set right to work.

I was surprised that they each chose a different city-state. As luck usually has it, if you have two choices and two kids, they both pick the same thing. Not this time!

They each gave presentations about their destination of choice. Nick liked Athens because he didn't have to leave home and could eat good food. Hayley chose Sparta because, despite their horrible diet, girls were given more choices (and the fact that they were educated in gymnastics was a huge draw!)

This website has a lot of useful information about the city-states of Athens and Sparta.

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