Make a pterodactyl

OK, so this is maybe a little off subject, but I suppose you could argue that history extends as far back as you want it to, and if you can time travel to ancient egypt, well, why not back to the Jurassic too? My daughter has to give a talk on dinosaurs at school and she has chosen pterodactyls as her specialist subject (although we have just discovered that they aren’t actually called pterodactyls , and are not really dinosaurs after all – do you think her teacher will mind?) Anyway, to make her talk a bit more exciting we made….

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This was a super easy project. Here is how to do it.

Make your own pterodactyl!

Cut out the shapes for the wings and the head from a piece of cardboard. You can do this freehand for a really big pterodactyl or you could use our template for a small one. Score down the centre of the wings very gently with a sharp knife to allow it to bend.

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Cut a thin slit in the head and slot it onto the wings. If it doesn’t fit all that snugly put a blob of glue between the two.

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Now you can paint it or colour it in. We used some pastels which were fun to smudge the colours together. No-one really knows what colour they really were so you can go to town and use your imagination.

You can now put it on a stand or attach some string to the wings.They would make a fantastic mobile too I think.

Done!

Here are some of the things we found out about pterodactyls:

  • there is no such thing really as a pterodactyl – they are pterosaurs!
  • there are lots of different kinds of pterosaurs, from small ones the size of birds today to huge ones the size of a small plane.
  • they were not really dinosaurs, but winged lizards and they did not have feathers.
  • some of them had huge crests on their heads, but no-one knows why.
  • fossilised footprints suggest they walked on 4 legs when they were not flying.
  • birds evolved from small dinosaurs, not from pterosaurs.

Make a Greek Scytale Cipher

Happy New Year! Are you like me with  a house full of wrapping paper for recycling? We have lots and also a few of these great cardboard cylinders that were in the middle of some rolls of Christmas wrapping paper. What could be better for a spot of Ancient Greek code breaking?

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The scytale is a coding device that was first used by the ancient Greeks and Spartans back  the 5th Century BC. It consists of  two identical wooden cylinders around which you wrap a strip of leather or parchment and write your message. When you unwrap the strip the message is scrambled and can only be read if someone with an identical cylinder uses it to read the message.

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According to Simon Singh in his excellent book ‘The Code Book’, the messenger could sometimes disguise the strip by wearing it as a belt! In 404 BC a Spartan Admiral called Lysander was confronted by a messenger, bloody and battered, only one in five to have survived the arduous journey from Persia. The messenger handed his belt to Lysander, who wound it around his scytale to learn that the Persians were planning to attack him. Thanks to the scytale, Lysander was prepared for the attack and beat them off.

How to make a Spartan scytale

  • 1 long cardboard cylinder
  • a strip of paper (we divided a piece of A4 paper int0 6 long strips then taped them together but if you have a long bit of wrapping paper that would be great)

Cut 2 equal length pieces of cylinder. Wrap the strip of paper round the cylinder. Write your message on it. Fold up the paper and pass it to your messenger. They can take it to your general who will be able to read your message using the other half of the cylinder.

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We had great fun with this. Why not set up a treasure hunt round the house and the kids can use the scytale to decode the clues? Or divide them into groups – two groups will have to send messages via a messenger without being intercepted by the third group who will have to try to decode the message if it falls into their hands!

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Make some medieval gingerbread

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My kids wanted to make a gingerbread house this Christmas. While the gingerbread was cooking and the smell of ginger and spices was drifting though the house, we had a look at the history of gingerbread which was really very interesting.

The idea is thought to have been brought to Europe by the Crusaders in the 11th Century, although the recipe then was quite different to the one we use today.

It was popular in medieval Europe at fairs and festivals where it was moulded and shaped into many things including toys for children, hearts, people, coats of arms and characters from the Nativity around Christmas time. Unmarried women would eat a gingerbread man in the hope that it would help her find a husband!

Shakespeare mentioned it in his  play Love’s Labour’s Lost  written way back in 1598. “An I had but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it to buy gingerbread.”

It is also said that Queen Elizabeth I used to give gingerbread men as a special gifts to her favourite knights and courtiers.

We adapted this Medieval recipe found here, which uses bread crumbs, honey and spices. We used ginger and cinnamon, but gave the saffron and powdered pepper a miss.

Medieval Gingerbread

You will need

  • 200g of honey
  • 3-4 slices of stale white bread made into breadcrumbs
  • half a teaspoon of ginger (or to taste)

First, put the honey into a pan and heat it until it boils. Add the spices while it is still warm, then allow to cool a little. Stir in the bread crumbs until you have a firm, sticky dough.

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You can then mould the dough into shapes or cut it into squares. The original recipe calls for it to be decorated with leaves and cloves.

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We also had a go at putting some into a mould inspired by these amazing moulds. I had a small silicone cake mould which we just pushed the dough into, then let in set in the fridge for half an hour.

What do you think? We liked them but I warn you they are very very sweet. Even my two boys could not eat a whole piece.

We also made some gingerbread men and hearts with our modern gingerbread recipe which were a bit more popular!

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But now when I eat one, I can picture myself back at a market in the middle ages…

 

Make some Roman Stuffed Dates

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These stuffed dates are a quick and easy thing to make for any Roman Feast. The recipe was written by Apicius, who wrote a cookery book in Latin some time between 300-400AD.

You will need:

  • Dried dates
  • Some nuts – walnuts and almonds work very well
  • Honey
  • Salt
  • Some chopped pistachios or pine nuts to decorate.

Firstly, pull the dates apart and remove the stone from the middle. Put an almond or walnut piece where the stone used to be. Put the dates onto a piece of baking tray or heat proof dish.

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Next put the honey into a pan and heat it on a stove. Let the honey boil for a few minutes until it has reduced by half. You will need to get an adult to do this bit as the honey will get very hot. Take the honey off the heat and let it cool slightly before pouring it over the dates. Sprinkle the dates with a pinch of salt before the honey sets.

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Warning: do not touch the dates until they have completely cooled. The honey will look and smell very tempting, but will still be very hot.

Sprinkle some chopped nuts over the dates before serving (optional). These would probably have been served as a dessert at a Roman feast along with fresh fruit like apples, pears and grapes, some nuts and cheese.

Why not invite your family to your Roman meal? You could lounge on some cushions on the floor while you eat with your fingers. You could get some entertainment too – how about reciting some poetry, watching some gladiators sparring, or just have a philosophical conversation about the meaning of life?

Enjoy!

 

Make a Roman Wax Tablet

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Writing tablets have been used for thousands of years, long before paper was readily available. In ancient Greece and Rome, wax tablets were very popular. These were small, book sized wooden tablets that were hollowed out on one side and covered with a thin layer of wax. You could write on the wax with a stylus – a pointy tool made of metal, wood or bone. If you wanted to change your message you could either smooth the wax out again or heat it up to melt it. Two tablets were often tied together so they could be open and shut like a book, protecting your writing.

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The pictures above were found on walls in Pompeii. Real wax tablets have been found in many places and were used for lots of different things including lessons, letters, lists and birth certificates. A few were found in Vindolanda, a Roman fort on Hadrian’s wall.

Here is how to make one of your own.

You will need:

  • cardboard
  • glue
  • scissors
  • black and brown poster paint
  • wax – melt some old candle stubs, or buy some wax from a craft shop
  • saucepan and an old bowl or tin

Note: If you do not want to use wax I’m sure some non-drying modelling clay would also work well.

First cut out four pieces of cardboard – you could use a paperback book for a template. Using a ruler draw a line 2cm in from the edge of two of the pieces. Cut out the centre from these two pieces. Stick them on to the rectangles.

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Paint the cardboard with a mixture of the brown and black paints to make it look like wood.

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Make some holes on the edges so you can tie some string through the two tablets. You will have to be careful – get an adult to help.

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Once the paint has dried you can prepare your wax. You will need an adult to do this part. It needs to be melted in a double boiler – put the wax in the bowl or tin, and place it in the saucepan quarter filled with hot water. The pan can now be gently placed on the stove and the wax will slowly melt.

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Once it is all melted, brush or pour a thin layer into the space in your tablets. Don’t pour in too much or it will just leak out. Once that has set you can pour another layer on top.

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Leave the wax to cool down and harden before trying it out.

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Have fun!

Make a Celtic Mirror

This weeks project is inspired by this beautiful Celtic mirror that is now in the British Museum. It was found in Northamptonshire in England and was made in the Iron Age, between 50BC and 50AD. Several mirrors like this have been found in Iron Age burials in Britain. They are made from iron or bronze and one side is highly polished to act like a mirror. The other side is usually engraved with a beautiful celtic design.

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How to Make a Celtic Mirror

You will need:

  • cardboard
  • one piece of shiny metallic card
  • glue
  • scissors
  • gold or bronze paint
  • PVA glue
  • string

Start by cutting out your shape – you can download our celtic mirror template. We used two layers of cardboard to make the mirror a bit stronger and then glued them together.

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Next you can add your Celtic pattern. Have a look at the mirror above for inspiration. The patterns are made with lines flowing in curves and swirls. They are symmetrical so that both sides of the pattern are mirror images. We made a simple pattern using some string coated in a some watered down glue.

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Once you are happy with your pattern you can leave the glue to dry. Once dry paint the whole mirror gold or bronze. Then we marked out some areas with a pencil and coloured them in to look like some of the cross hatched areas in the original mirror.

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Stick the metallic card or foil on the other side to be the mirror. We also stuck a tiny piece of red paper to decorate the handle as some mirrors have been found with small areas of red enamel.

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Your mirror is now finished! You can use it to get yourself  dressed for the next festival, or just show it off to your friends!

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Make an Aztec Serpent

While we were in the British Museum last month, we loved the Aztec sculptures found in the Ancient Americas room. (One of us also managed to set the alarm off in that room, but that is another story.) We particularly loved this serpent which is thought to have been made in Mexico by the Aztecs in the 15th century, possibly ending up in Europe after being given to the Conquistadors by Montezuma II, just before the collapse of the Aztec Empire.

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It is made of carved wood and covered in small pieces of turquoise and shell which were very rare and highly prized. The eyes are missing, but were possibly precious or semi-precious stones. Serpents seem to have been important to the Aztecs and many of their Gods took the form of serpents. It is thought that this one could have been worn as a necklace in important rituals or ceremonies.

Here is how you can make one of your own:

You will need:

  • some cardboard
  • turquoise paper – we used a mixture of tissue paper and coloured paper
  • some scraps of white, brown and red paper
  • a couple of stick on gems or shiny paper
  • scissors
  • glue

Cut out your serpent shape from the cardboard. You can use our Serpent Template to trace the shape. An adult might need to help to cut the shape out.

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Next, cut out some small squares of turquoise paper and put glue onto the cardboard. You could stick the squares down individually, but it soon became clear that none of us had the patience to do this, so we just sprinkled them on like glitter. We cut some red squares and stuck them on the mouth and nose and some white teeth. For the eyes we put a circle of brown paper and stuck on a jewel.

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To finish it, we covered the serpent in a coating of PVA glue to stick down all the flappy bits and give it a sheen. Once it was dry we trimmed the edges.

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Finished! All ready to wear to your next Aztec ceremony.

Think you know all about the Aztecs? Take this Aztec quiz to find out.

Hampton Court Palace with kids

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We took a trip out to Hampton Court Palace while we were staying in London this half term. Luckily for us the English schools were still hard at work so other than some school visits, the palace was very quiet. We were most interested in seeing the Tudor part of the castle, so after speaking to a lady at the information desk, we set off on two guided tours for kids – one of King Henry’s palace and one of the kitchens. We were given some Tudor gowns to wear but the boys quickly decided these were not cool!

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There were also various events on during the day involving actors and plenty of audience participation. We saw one where Queen Elizabeth I was deciding the fate of Sir Walter Raleigh. The kids were far too intimidated by her to say anything. We then saw the old Tudor banqueting hall, chapel and the private pew of King Henry VIII. The corridor leading to it is said to be haunted by Katherine Howard who was dragged down the corridor to be taken to the Tower of London before having her head chopped off.

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The gardens were great for a run around and let off a bit of steam and Britain’s oldest maze was a big hit although declared ‘too easy’. We had lunch at the Tiltyard Cafe. The food made us kind of wish we had been organised enough to bring a packed lunch, but the Hungry Caterpillars Den was a big hit. Yes, so even the boys who were too cool to wear the Tudor gown spent an hour playing with the wooden play kitchen, and we got to enjoy a cup of coffee in peace.

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So my top tips would be – get some of the children’s guide booklets, get involved with the events and chat to the actors and staff who were so friendly and loved telling the kids tales about ghosts and goings on in the palace. Bring a packed lunch if the weather is nice and enjoy the beautiful gardens (and save some bread to feed the swans on the river on the way back to the station). The children’s audio guides might also be worth checking out.

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This website has some great Tudor activities for kids which are great to have  a look at before or after a visit. They include some Henry VIII colouring pages, and our personal favourite, a game where you can challenge him to a fight!

Or try this brilliant game and quiz about the life of Henry VIII set in Hampton Court!

 

British Museum with kids

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We have just got back from our half term break in London where we had a busy whirl of sight seeing, visiting family, and a long awaited (by the kids anyway) trip to Legoland. One of the things I had been wanting to do for years though, was to visit the British Museum. I had been once before in my twenties before the kids came along, but since then even the journey down to London with three children has been to put me off going back. Now I wanted the kids to see some of the amazing exhibits, as well as having another look myself.

The challenge was to make it interesting for the kids–after all one statue can look very much like another after a while, and they have had more than enough of mum ranting on about Romans and Egyptians. Thankfully the British Museum had a solution–a digital audio guide for children. They each got a console with a pen to touch the screen with–an instant hit with all of them. It led them though a choice of seven tours; we did the ancient Greek and Egyptian ones, which took maybe an hour or so.

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The directions were good and led the kids from one exhibit to another with funny sketches, jokes and weird characters. There was also a few interactive quizzes which they loved.

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This was ‘the  lady with the bare bottom’ which was a landmark on the Greek tour!

I could have stayed  a bit longer but they were tired so we stopped for a snack in the amazing Great Court and called it a day, hopefully leaving with good memories and wanting to see more another day.

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The only thing I wish I had done differently would have been to turn up a bit earlier. You would have thought I would have  done this having written this post, but somehow it just slipped my mind. There was a lot of people about and we had to queue to see some of the most famous exhibits like the Rosetta Stone, but the biggest queues were for the ladies toilets!

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Do you have any tips for getting kids to love museums?

Have a stone age feast

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OK, for this we will have go back in time a long, long way…way back before supermarkets, shops, bakeries, bags of crisps and sweets. In fact, we have to back to a time before there were any houses, fridges, saucepans or even pots! In the old stone age (also called the palaeolithic), if you wanted something to eat, you would’ve had to find it, or catch it for yourself!

So what did they eat? The people during this period of time were hunter gatherers. They hunted animals with spears then ate them, and used their skins and bones to make clothes and tools. They also would have caught and eaten fish, shellfish, insects (like grasshoppers and grubs) and reptiles like lizards or tortoises. Have a look at this evidence for a palaeolithic feast.

They gathered wild fruits and berries, and nuts would have been a good source of energy. Vegetables as we know them today did not exist – when did you last come across a wild carrot? But they would have foraged for edible plants, and there is evidence that they ate things like ferns and cattails (a marshland reed) which has lots of energy in its roots.

Have a palaeolithic feast!

Collect a selection of things that cave men would have eaten. Some ideas are:

  • Some roast or barbecued meat (or you could cook some on the fire)
  • Shellfish or baked fish
  • Fruit – apples, pears, berries (even better if you go out and pick them from the hedgerows!)
  • Nuts – you could have some hazelnuts, walnuts or anything else you can find.
  • Salad leaves

stone age food, cave man, palaeolithic diet

See if you can make a bonfire somewhere to sit around and share the food. You will have to eat with your fingers. You could maybe wrap some fruit or fish in tinfoil and cook it in the embers of the fire. Wrap up warm in some animal furs (or blankets if you don’t have any), look up at the stars, and stay close to the fire so the cave lions don’t get you.

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