D-Day for children

Omaha

This time 70 years ago something momentous was happening in Britain; everyone was getting ready for the biggest seaborne invasion of all time. On June the 6th 1944, in World War II, the allied forces invaded Normandy and started to push the Germans back. It is thought that this day, D-day, was the turning point in the second world war which eventually led to victory for the allied forces.

D-day really means ‘the day’. There was a countdown; D minus 2, D minus 1, so D-day was the day for the invasion to happen. The invasion itself was called Operation Overlord.

The South of England must have been like a huge army camp with soldiers from many allied nations including Britian, America and Canada waiting for the start of the big invasion of German occupied Europe. Many months of planning included inventing new kinds of landing crafts, building floating harbours, building underwater fuel lines, and bringing hundreds of thousands of soldiers to the South Coast of Britain. There were also amazing plots to mislead the Germans, making them think that the invasion would happen on a different part of the French coast.

D-day map

The night before D-Day, the assault on Normandy started, with planes bombarding the coast with thousands of bombs. Next the paratroopers were sent in under cover of darkness to secure some strategic bridges and protect the flanks for the troops arriving the following day by sea. It is easy to imagine how terrifying it must have been to be parachuted into enemy territory at night. Have a look at the BBC site for an animated map of attack!

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The next day thousands of boats brought 160,000 soldiers across the English channel where they landed on several different beaches. Men had to jump out of the boats and wade into the sea to get onto the beach. Some of the beaches  were heavily defended by German machine guns and many men were killed and injured.

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Despite these losses, the invasion on D-day did manage to give the Allied forces a foothold in Europe. After that day they could brought more men and supplies over safely and started to push the Germans back to eventually win the war in 1945.

Omaha wounded

What is significant about this 70th anniversary of D-Day is that people still remember D-day, either because they were there, or because they heard about it. In another 30 years on the 100th anniversary it is very unlikely that any eyewitnesses will still be around. So now is the time to ask people what they can remember about D-Day and life during the Second World War. Ask your grandparents, great-grandparents or friends who would have been around back then. Ask them what they were doing on D-Day, did they know anyone in the invasion forces? What did they do during the war? Almost everyone will have fascinating stories to tell.

My own children have heard stories from one granny who was evacuated to the countryside during the war. The other granny told us about her brother who ran away to the army to enlist as a paratrooper at the age of 16, and her mother who would pace the floors at night worrying about him! One great-grandad was given a medal for working in the minesweeper boats, another was a blackout warden.

If you can’t find anyone who can tell you about D-day, you could try listening to some of these eyewitness accounts.

There are also some fantastic books for older children to read set in the second world war. These have been some of our favourites;

  • Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden
  • Machine Gunners by Robert Westall
  • Time Train to the Blitz by Sophie McKenzie
  • My Friend the Enemy by Dan Smith (at the end of which I disgraced myself by crying in front of the kids while reading it out loud)
  • D-Day, My Story by Bryan Perrett
  • Second World War, Usborne sticker dressing book

There are some good websites too. Try planning Operation Overlord here, or look at the BBC’s website to find out more about life during the Second World War.

And if you are ever in North Yorkshire then try and make it to Eden Camp; a World War II museum set in an old prisoner of war camp. It is brilliant for children, with plenty to touch, see and hear, and it is very interactive. The wartime cafe  and adventure playground also make it fantastic day out.

 

Make an American Indian Armband

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People have lived in North America for more than 15,000 years. When Christopher Columbus arrived in North America, he thought he had arrived in India which is why the indigenous people there were called Indians!

These original Americans lived in tribes, some which you might have heard of  like the Apaches, Cherokees and Sioux. They made useful items like bags, belts and shoes that were decorated with beautiful beadwork. Originally the  beads were carved from natural materials like shells, coral, stone, teeth and bone, but later after the Europeans arrived, they used glass beads that they bought.

Each tribe made different patterns, some floral and some geometric. Most of the patterns are symmetrical. We thought we would have a go at making our own version of a beaded armband.

Make your own American Indian Armband

You will need:

  • some Hama beads in a variety of colours
  • a Hama bead board
  • a jar or glass which is the same size as you want your armband to be
  • an iron
  • a piece of greaseproof paper (or the paper that come with Hama beads when you buy them)

First make your pattern with the Hama beads. It is easiest to keep the pattern symmetrical if you make the armband in 3, 5 or 7 rows. Have a look at some of these original Sioux bands for inspiration:

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When you are happy with your design you are ready to iron it.

bracelet6 Ask a grown up to help with this bit. Get the jar ready. Once the beads have started to melt, take them quickly and wrap the band round the jar and leave it to cool. It should cool into its round shape.

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There, your armband is finished. You can try making different patterns and colour combinations. It can become quite addictive!

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Why not make a Tomahawk to go with your new armbands?

The mystery of the Neolithic stone balls.

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One of the things I love about the Neolithic is the number of totally weird things that have been found. And for most of these we have absolutely  no idea at all what they were used for. Like stone circles, man made hills, deer skulls that might have been worn as masks, and knobbly stone balls. Yes, knobbly stone balls. Look at  this beautiful example from 3200 – 2500BC which was found in Aberdeenshire.

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You can also see some real ones at the British Museum.

Almost 400 of these balls have been found, most of them in Scotland, including five from Skara Brae. Most of them are around 7cm in diameter and almost half of them have six knobs, though some have less and some have more. The are all symmetrical and some were decorated with spirals and other patterns.

No-one really has any clue as to what these balls are all about, but here are some of the ideas that archaeologists have had:

  1. they were used as weapons – maybe swung round in a leather strap then flung
  2. they were used as balls in a game
  3. they were weights
  4. they were used to help in the construction of stone circles somehow
  5. they were used in rituals of some sort

They must have taken a very long time to make, and some were incredibly beautiful, which makes me think they must have been precious objects. Very few of them are damaged or chipped which makes it less likely that they were chucked about. We thought we would try and made some of our own to see if that would give us any ideas.

Make your own Neolithic stone balls

Take a lump of air drying clay about the size of a tennis ball and roll in into a sphere.

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Next, work out where your knobs will be. If you are making a six knob one, you will need three pairs of knobs, with one knob on either side of the sphere, like sides of a dice. Now you can carve out the knobs using a modelling tool (or your fingers).

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Once your knobs have been carved you can smooth them out bit with a finger dipped in water and then decorate them.  You could make spirals, or use something else to make a pattern. My daughter rolled hers around on a cheese grater (as you do.)

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There, your balls are finished. They are lovely to hold in your hand, and it is very tempting to roll them along the ground or play bowls with them. What do you think? Do you have any other ideas? You never know – maybe you could be right!

 

 

 

 

Make an Egyptian Sistrum

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Have you ever noticed that Egyptian Goddesses sometimes hold this funny looking object? It turns out that it is something called a sistrum, which not only looks beautiful, but makes a sound too. It was first used in Ancient Egypt and could be made of wood, pottery or bronze. The loop at the end has thin metal rods strung across it from which beads or metal strips were threaded. These would slide against each other when the sistrum was shaken to make a sound just like a rattle.

It is thought to have been used in religious ceremonies and was associated with the Goddess Hathor. Perhaps it played a rhythm to accompany a sacred chant, or made a noise to scare away evil spirits. In some Ethiopian churches, sistrum’s are still used by priests today.

We have made our own version here. It might require a bit of pre-planning or rummaging through the recycling to find some things to make the jangles.

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You will need:

  • some stiff cardboard
  • some flexible thin cardboard (an old cereal box is ideal)
  • glue, scissors
  • gold paint
  • pipecleaners or thin metal wire
  • jangly things – we used some bells from the craft shop and some buttons.
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Cut out two handles from the thick cardboard and stick them together to make the handle stronger.

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Cut out a long thin strip from the flexible card. Make a slit at both ends so that it will slot onto the sticking out bits on the handle. Check that it will make a loop. Carefully make a couple of small holes in the both sides of the strip.  Thread a pipe cleaner or a piece of wire through a hole on one side and fix it in place with some sticky tape. Thread your jangly things onto the wire and then  put it through the holes on the other side. Tape them in place too.

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You can spray the whole thing gold if you fancy or just get playing. Ours sounded very different – one jingly and one sort of clackety. I love the idea that we could recreate the sounds that once played in Ancient Egypt. I would love to hear what the original ones sounded like, wouldn’t you?

 

Make an Egyptian Circlet

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Have you ever noticed that in lots of Egyptian paintings people are wearing bands round their heads? Some seem to look like they are made of gold, some of the ones worn by royalty have snakes or animals at the front. Others have patterns similar to the collars they wear. So what are they? This needed some further investigation.

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It turns out that these things are known as circlets, and were popular in ancient Egypt. They were worn by both men and women, and by rich and poor. At first they were simple bands made of woven reeds used to keep long hair in place. Plain linen circlets that were knotted at the back were also popular, and it was fashionable to tuck some lotus blossoms or other flowers into them.

circlet ladies

Of course, the rich started to make their circlets more elaborate, and started using gold wire instead or reeds or linen, and gems and beads instead of flowers. Kings and Queens would wear gold circlets  mounted with a vulture or a cobra which were symbols of royalty. Have a look at this beautiful one which was found in the tomb of  Princess Sit-Hathor Yunet, a sister of the Pharaoh.

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                                                     (photo: Hanns Ollerman, from Wikimedia Commons)
 

So inspired by this we decided to make our own version. Here is how we did it:

Make your own Egyptian circlet

You will need:

  • some thin card ( a cereal box is ideal)
  • gold paint – spray paint in quickest, but other paint will work too.
  • small amounts of acrylic paint in other colours
  • glue

Cut some long strips of the card about 3cm wide and glue them together so they fit snugly round your head.

Cut out a snake shape and bend it round a pencil to make the curves of the cobra. Stick the base of the cobra to the bottom of the circlet. Use a small piece of card to attach the top to the top of the circlet.

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Cut out some round circles out of card – a 10p is a good template, but some golden chocolate coin wrappers would be even better if you happen to have any.

Spray all of the card gold, then decorate with the acrylic paint.

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Finished!

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