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Homeschool History: The Ice Age and the Stone Age

Holiday madness is over!!

I love the winter holidays but I’m always so exhausted by then when they’re finally through. The disruption to our schedule, the added mess in the home, the chaos of bringing in new toys and sending out the old…I don’t know, man. I feel like moms need an extra holiday after the holidays and that one where everyone stays up until midnight doesn’t count!

We did manage to wrap up another history unit right before the holidays really got crazy. We had moved from dinosaurs to the nomadic peoples of the Ice Age and Stone Age. I had a hard time planning this unit because we didn’t have any picture books in our home specifically focusing on this area (which is just plain crazy since I swear we own ALL the books in the world) so I had to rely on chapters in our larger world history texts.

Also, I learned about the animals of the Ice and Stone ages by visiting the La Brea Tar Pits but since we aren’t in Southern California that wasn’t going to work for us. We do have some fossil skeletons from the right era here but they’re displayed right next to the dinosaur skeletons and it’s hard to get the kids to really imagine what these huge mammals were like.

So, we read the books and I showed them some online videos but we didn’t focus too much on the animals of the time. We’ll go more heavily into them the next time around (we’re on a three year history cycle) but for now I wanted to focus on the first humans and the idea that these peoples were nomads who had to constantly seek food and shelter.

We read the first story in The Story of the World reader and I had them add a reading log about the story to their history notebooks, but I knew that it hadn’t really sunk in. So, we did a living history day where I actually sent the kids out into the snow to be nomads. I did bundle them up, since wrapping them in only animal skins seemed a bit harsh, and we did a quick refresher on the nomadic lifestyle and all of the things these people had to think about.

After our discussion, I sent them out into the backyard with a baby doll and two animal skins (throw blankets). Their instructions were to find shelter, find something to eat, and figure out how to keep their baby warm and I’m happy to report that in the hour they were outside they did all three. Well, sort of. They did build a little shelter using their “skins” and some equipment we had in the backyard and they gathered some food (leaves and rotten things from the garden) and made a fire (a pile of collected sticks) but I’m afraid their baby didn’t fare very well because they kept her warm by holding her, rather than actually putting her by the fire or wrapping her in something. These two won’t be babysitting for me anytime soon.

While they were outside, I moved on to the second part of the lesson, which dealt with cave art. I had shown them examples of cave paintings and we had talked about how interesting it is that these people made art since nobody had ever done that before, so they had heard the concept of art as a way of telling stories but I figured they wouldn’t really let that sink in until they got their hands dirty. Or paint-y, rather. So I mixed some natural colors in tempera paint and covered the walls of the bathtub in kraft paper.

The kids were excited to come in and warm up in their paper cave and I asked them to make some cave art that would tell archeologists about their lives. They used paintbrushes but I also brought in a spray bottle with white paint and water mixed into it because we had seen some examples of art where people had blown (spit) paint over their hands to leave silhouettes. I didn’t want them to actually attempt to spit paint on themselves (and, inevitably, each other) so I thought the spray bottle would be a good substitute but I added way too much water and the paint didn’t really turn out. They had a good time trying, though!

The resulting art was a lot more about leaving handprints than it was about actually telling a story but the kids had a good time and I felt like it was a nice way to wrap up that unit before moving on to the first farmers. That’s the nice thing about plotting out a repeating history curriculum – I don’t feel like I have to jam absolutely everything in at once and, if anything, these first three years of history can be more about making fun memories than learning concrete facts.

Of course, now that we’re done I heard about a fun Stone Age themed board game. Naturally!! Maybe we’ll need a little refresher this summer…

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