Fifth grade Ancient Mythologies is an interesting block. I find it to be one of the more anthroposophic blocks of fifth grade in a way, because the platform underneath this block is really in tracing the development of the spiritual consciousness of (Western) man through several different civilizations. Typically this starts with Ancient India, Ancient Persia, Ancient Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt (and I always include more about Ancient Africa here!), and landing in Ancient Greece. Some Waldorf schools include Ancient China, which doesn’t really fit into Steiner’s original nod to the development of the Western consciousness, but I think is important before getting to sixth grade history proper. So this isn’t really about history per se, but a child is getting a great feel for these cultures, how the people thought and lived at the time, what the land was like and how people lived on the land, and how the consciousness of people changed over time.
Some of my favorite resources for this block includes:
- Any of the Live Education books on these subjects
- Chapters From Ancient History by Dorothy Harrer
- Ancient Mythologies by Charles Kovacs
- The Christopherus Ancient Mythology book (Ancient China is included in the main fifth grade syllabus, but not this separate book).
So I think in trying to combine all of this in a broad, sweeping view one must, like in any block about a place, time or culture, look for the things that are the incredible hallmarks that one finds in these civilizations that provide the big picture keys to the land, the people, the thinking process of those people and how the thinking changed or evolved.
Here are some of my brief notes on each of these areas that might help you:
At the beginning of this block, I like to talk about time and some ideas about how we look at large blocks of time, BCE, millenia, century, generation, etc. You can get into this a little more in mineralogy and such, but I think it is worth a mention before you look at these very ancient stories!
The Land -Basic Ideas: The vastness; the Himalayas – the throne of the gods; the Indus and the Ganges Rivers; I touched on Harappa not so much as a history proper lesson but to plant the idea that civilizations often spring up around rivers just like we saw in our local geography in fourth grade; six major climatic subtypes. I find painting to be a good way to express landscape variety in fifth grade.
The People /The Thinking – as illuminated best by the great stories : The Creation Story (About Hinduism website); a story about Indra comes next in the Kovacs book but I could not find that on the About Hinduism website so we moved into story about the Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Some of the major concepts of Hinduism. The story about Brahma and his four heads; Vishnu and Lakshmi; Shiva; we did the story of Manu and used the story of Manu and the Flood; the caste system; the laws of Manu; the sacredness of the cow; the story of the sons of Pandu from the Mahabharata.
The story of Rama and Sita is in Live Education, Dorothy Harrer’s book and Christopherus has a play version. The story of Rama and Sita is often told at Diwali, so a community celebration may also bring this to life.
Experiential Learning: a field trip to your local mandir would be fantastic, especially around Diwali. Cooking. Ancient Indian Music. Make a 3D map of India.
General Ideas: The book “Come Unto These Yellow Sands” has “Look to this Day” from the Sanskrit, the Dorothy Harrer book has “The Song of Creation” from the Rig Veda. “A Journey Through Verse and Time” also has part of the Rig Veda in it. The “Story of Brahma” by Ralph Waldo Emerson. There is a poem regarding the caste system on page 221 of “A Journey Through Verse and Rhyme”
Read Alouds: The Iron Ring by LLoyd Alexander.
The Land: A land of extreme heat and cold, flat plains that caused Persia to be invaded over the years; no major rivers for travel; the Zagros Mountain area,
The People/The Thinking – as illuminated by the great stories -“Knowledge of self is knowledge of God”; Zoroastrianism, which is considered an early influence on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and one of the first monotheistic religions; the Avesta (the holy book of Zoroastrianism) and the battle between Ahura Mazdao and Ahriman; how people moved into farming. I think the best stories for this part are those found in Kovacs’ book. The Wise Men are also a good story to include.
Experiential Learning: Drawings of the stories of Zarathustra; find a family or communal celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Paintings of the land, modeling of stars or daggers; dioramas of first farming; cooking Persian food.
General Ideas: I find this a good time to review writing fantastic sentences and paragraphs. Verse on page 222 of “A Journey Through Time in Verse and Rhyme.”
The Land: The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers; the impact of this on the Sumerians, Babylonians, and the Assyrians. Farming and domestication of animals.
The People/The Thinking: The story of Marduk in Kovacs; the story of Hammurabi; ziggurats and astronomy; the famous hanging gardens; the story of Gilgamesh; the irrigation system of the Mesopotamia; Cuneiform writing; Hammurabi’s Code; the invention of the wheel.
Experiential Learning: Clay tablets; ziggurat models or paintings; paintings of the land, glue painted plaques from Pinterest, make sand clay, drawings of Gilgamesh.
Free Resources/General Ideas: This is a nice blog post from Five of Us
Read Alouds: Gilgamesh, of course!
The Land: The Land of Egypt; The Nile, The Flooding of the Nile
The People/The Thinking – as illuminated by great stories: The Creation Myth; The Birth of Osiris and Isis; The Terror of Sekmet; Ra’s Secret Name; any of the other many Egyptian Mythologies; life in Ancient Egypt; the pyramids; Hieroglyphics and the Rosetta Stone; mummies (why? what does this have to do with the afterlife?)
I like to extend into Ancient Africa here – there are more pyramids in Sudan than Egypt! Places to begin might include Nubia and artistic work around that and how Egypt was conquered by Nubia (this National Geographic article might be helpful with this idea); the Zaire Basin and the Mbuti; The Creation Story of the San People.
Experiential Learning: Drawings and paintings of the Egyptian stories; drawing and paintings of the pyramids and the landscape; working with making paper; visiting Egyptian artifacts at your local museum; making an Egyptian feast
Resources: Tales of Ancient Egypt by Roger Lancelot Green; Hymn to Ra; background reading for the teacher might be this article: Waldorf Journal Project #4. There are also some free resources on Main Lesson.Com. “Pyramid” by David Macauley.
Read Alouds: The Golden Goblet or Mara of the Nile
That is just a bit to start you on! It isn’t hard to put together these blocks, and the library often is an incredible source of free resources.