LEARNING ABOUT THE ANCIENT ROMANS
Last academic year my elder daughter studied the ancient Romans as her school topic. As we love all things historic here at Breathing in books we got into the Roman spirit at home as well as at school. Romans come up a lot at school as a topic and it’s a fun and interesting area to explore anyhow so I thought I’d share some of the ways we enjoyed learning more about them.
There are several Roman sites across the UK that are really worth a visit. Our favourite so far is the Roman Baths in…Bath (the website has a Roman numerals bingo game). We actually went a couple of years ago on a girls’ mini-break and had an amazing time. It does get busy so go early before the crowds build up. You can borrow an audio guide especially designed for children. There is also a learning room where you can have a go at mosaics and other activities. Actors were around the site in costume ready to talk to visitors about life in Roman times. A Roman ‘noblewoman’ showed us all the contents of her make-up box, telling us where the ingredients came from and what the hair and cosmetics fashions were in ancient Roman times. The site itself is just fascinating without all the extras, however; we loved learning about the curses and gifts thrown into the spring.
We didn’t go all the way to Bath again so soon but we did go to Bignor Roman Villa in West Sussex. This is a small, rather old-fashioned site and doesn’t have audio guides or interactive displays but if children are interested in Roman history there is still a fair bit to see including the remains of the Roman mosaic floors, artefacts found around the villa and a model of how the villa might have looked. As my daughter had been asked to make her own Roman villa for homework, this was very useful. There are also a few dressing up clothes, games, mosaic kits and wool spinning to try.
We decided to have a Roman Day at home one weekend. We started by making Roman coins from air drying clay. We etched Roman numerals into them and painted them silver and gold. We also made an Usborne Roman Fort kit which I had picked up in a National Trust shop. This is incredibly detailed and takes a very long time. You also need a strong glue! It was fun but my younger daughter who was six at the time found it very fiddly and rather repetitive. If I had had the choice I probably would have chosen the Usborne Roman Amphitheatre instead because it better suits their interests. The children dressed up in Roman-ish costume, just making use of what we had already in the wardrobe and dressing-up box. We also tried to remember what the Bath noblewoman had taught us about make-up and had a go at recreating it. The results were quite alarming!
For the Roman Feast we made Roman cheesecake which is really a sort of roll made with ricotta cheese and served with warm, runny honey. I used this recipe from Lisa’s Kitchen. It turned out quite well and I would like to say we all enjoyed it but my fussy children weren’t keen. Fortunately we had stuck with the Roman-ish theme and got hold of some grapes, olives, tomatoes, proscuitto ham, nuts and an ‘ancient grains’ loaf. We served the food on a wooden desk top that wasn’t being used for purpose, raising it up with some old church hassocks borrowed from my parents. We could then recline around this on cushions Roman-style!
Bookwise there are a lot of resources out there to learn more about the Romans. One of the best borrows from the library was the Usborne A Visitor’s Guide to Ancient Rome which is a really fun read with heaps of information about the lifestyle, culture, famous buildings and so on of ancient Rome. For a more contemporary look at the city you can’t beat The Lonely Planet’s Not for Parents: Rome: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know which includes information about Renaissance Rome and what the city is like today. Another excellent one is the Usborne Flap-book See Inside Ancient Rome which has cut-aways of the famous places in ancient Rome. My daughter likes the Newspaper History books and The Roman Record by Paul Dowswell is useful for Roman studies. To get a taste of the stories behind the people The Ordchard Book of Roman Myths by Geraldine MacCaughrean and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark is a beautiful book. Also fantastic are the comic-strip style books The Illiad and the Odyssey and The Romans: Gods, Emporers and Dormice by Marcia Williams. The Usborne Young Reading Pompeii is good for younger readers as long as they aren’t the type to be frightened by mild peril. My daughter did enjoy it when she read it after visiting the Roman Baths but I have steered clear of other books about the subject including the My Story: Pompeii book, although the My Story series includes a lot of excellent books. Caroline Lawrence’s vast The Roman Mysteries (also a CBBC series) are very popular but my daughter didn’t really get into them. She did enjoy the Roman Mysteries Treasury, however, which I found in a charity shop. It gives character summaries, facts, recipes, history and so on. There really are piles of books to choose from, both in your local library (hopefully) and to purchase online (definately) so I have just included some of the books we found most useful and enjoyable.