Classical Kids: An Activity Guide to Life in Ancient Greece and Rome

Classical Kids: An Activity Guide to Life in Ancient Greece and Rome

by Laurie Carlson

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Travel back in time to see what life was like in ancient Greece and Rome while having fun with such hands-on activities as making a star gazer, chiseling a clay tablet, weaving Roman sandals, and making a Greek mosaic. 100+ line drawings.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781569767795
Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 07/01/1998
Series: A Kid's Guide Series
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 200
File size: 6 MB
Age Range: 5 - 11 Years

About the Author

Laurie Carlson is the author of Colonial Kids, Westward Ho!, More Than Moccasins, Green Thumbs, and Kids Camp! She has taught preschool, primary grades, and children’s art classes. She lives in Cheney, Washington.

Read an Excerpt

Classical Kids

An Activity Guide to Life in Ancient Greece and Rome

By Laurie Carlson

Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Copyright © 1998 Laurie Carlson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-56976-779-5



Ancient Greece was an area but never one nation. The people lived in city-states that were independent and were often at war with each other. Although they were sometimes competitive, all the city-states shared the same language and customs. Because of the rugged land, most people settled in river valleys or along the coast. In time the population grew too large for the food supply, so Greek city-states began to set up colonies in other places.

Greeks sailed around the Mediterranean Sea in search of locations for new settlements.

A landless Greek could go to a colony and become a landowner. Others just wanted to go for the adventure. The colonists took a sacred flame from the hearth of the city-state. When the new colony was built and secure, it broke ties with the city-state.

Two city-states became the most important and powerful, Sparta and Athens. They were both homes to Greek citizens who spoke the same language, worshipped the same gods, and were located only one hundred miles apart. Yet life was very different in these two city-state.



People in Sparta wanted order and stability. Nearly every part of life was controlled by the law, and the city-state was ruled by kings. Most Spartan citizens didn't work; they lived off the proceeds from the public lands worked by slaves and noncitizens. At about age six, children were sent to live in training barracks. Boys learned military arts and virtues like discipline, obedience, toughness, and endurance. Girls learned things they needed to know to run a home and take care of a family when they grew up. Girls also spent a lot of energy on sports and athletics. Spartans wanted girls to be strong so they would bear strong children. When boys reached the age of twenty they entered the army. They could marry, but they couldn't go live with their wives and families until age thirty. At thirty they earned the right to vote in the assembly. They served in the Spartan army until about age sixty.

Spartans ate simple foods: black broth and mush. They wore simple, plain clothing, unless going into battle, when they wore a scarlet tunic and a polished bronze helmet. Spartans were forbidden to work in stores or trade and couldn't make crafts or art because they needed to spend their efforts keeping fit and strong.

No other army ever entered Spartan territory. They were the best soldiers anywhere.


The citizens of Athens enjoyed freedom and liked change and creative living. They didn't work much either, having slaves do everything. Athens received profits from silver mines outside the city, so few citizens had to worry about money. Citizens were paid to serve on court juries or hold elected office. Athenians loved going to the theater to see plays and pageants. The government paid admission for the poor so everyone could attend.

Athens had an army, but it was nothing like the Spartan army. Athens also had a big navy, with more than two hundred ships. Citizens were paid to be in the navy, too.

Citizens of Athens voted for their government officials. Aristotle was an Athenian who thought that the system of voting in a democracy could become just like having a king. He said that politicians would flatter and make promises to the voters just like the members of a royal court did to a king. Then, once in office, they would serve their own interests instead of the country's. He thought laws provided a more fair system of government than election by a majority vote. Athens had a system of laws, but the citizens voted, too. They cast their votes on pieces of broken pottery. Sometimes they voted to send a politician away for several years; however, he could come back later and run for office again.

Athens was a democracy but only for free male citizens. Women couldn't vote, own property, or become citizens. They had to spend nearly all of their time inside their homes; men even did the shopping. Only people born to parents who were citizens could become citizens. At age eighteen, boys applied to become citizens of Athens. If there was doubt whether a boy was freeborn, a panel of five judges determined whether he could become a citizen or not. If it appeared he had no right to become a citizen, the city sold him into slavery. When a boy was approved as a citizen, he went into the army and learned to fight, march, and drill. At the end of the second year the soldiers were sent out to patrol the country and live at guard posts. During the two years in the military they received a cloak but no pay. Fortunately, they didn't have to pay taxes during the two years.

Citizens of Athens were elected to many jobs. There was a treasurer of military funds, treasurers of the theater fund (all poor citizens could apply to the fund to receive money to pay for theater performances), and a superintendent of the water supply. They were elected to their positions for a term that lasted from one Panathenaea Festival to the next. The elections were held in July of each year.

In Athens there was a law that citizens who owned little property and who were physically disabled and couldn't work would receive money for their support from the public funds.

Of course there were other important city-states besides Sparta and Athens. Each was a bit different from the others. People in Sybaris, in southern Italy, put a lot of emphasis on city planning, and the citizens tried to create a pleasant place to live. Noisy businesses were prohibited inside the city and city planning created a serene, comfortable town. It was the only city-state where men ate dinner with their wives and good cooks were highly paid. People in Crotone, another city-state, valued intelligence, too, so they built a major medical school.


Not much is known about Greece before the seventh century B.C. Only legends survive from that time.

One was a long poem (called an epic) titled The Iliad, written by a poet named Homer. He designed it to be recited in public. Its about the hero Achilles who fights bravely on the side of the Greeks in the Trojan War. When his friend Patroelus is killed by the enemy, Prince Hector of Troy, Achilles gets revenge by killing Prince Hector. The poem was about the loyalty of friends to each other. Another famous epic was The Odyssey. It was a story about the hero Odysseus who was returning from war (bed been gone twenty years) but had to overcome witches and giants before he made it back to the island of Ithaca. Odysseus used his clever skills to finally get home to the island of Ithaca where his wife Penelope was waiting for him. While he was away, suitors had come to Ithaca, pestering Penelope to marry one of them. Odysseus returned in a disguise, murdered the suitors, and greeted his son, Telemachus, who had grown up while he was away.

Professional reciters would tell the stories by memory to audiences who always enjoyed it when the hero was successful.

Hesiod was a Creek sheepherder who became a professional reciter of epics. He made up some of his own epics and also wrote an almanac, called Works and Days, which was sort of a calendar. It was full of magic and advice about saving money and working hard. Centuries later, Benjamin Franklin did the same, with Poor Richard's Almanack.


The Greeks wore simple, loose-fitting clothing. They didn't want to restrict the body with tight garments, and they wanted to show off the grace and beauty of their physically fit bodies. It was a very warm climate, and keeping cool was more important than staying warm. Women wove the cloth in their homes. The type of yarns used in the weaving depended on the family's wealth and status. The rich wore linen; the poor and those living in the colder regions of the north wore wool. No one threw out a garment until it wore out. The Greek styles were popular for more than four hundred years and then were copied by the Romans, so there were no fashion trends to keep up with.


Men wore a chiton, an oblong piece of cloth mostly worn draped around the body with a hole in one side to put one's arm through. The two ends of the open side were fastened over the other shoulder with a button or clasp. A free citizen (only boys whose parents were both citizens could become citizens) wore a chiton that fastened at both shoulders.

Workmen, artisans, and slaves wore a chiton with one hole for the left arm; the right arm and half of the chest remained uncovered. In Greece, you could tell what social class someone belonged to just by looking at his garment.

What about underwear? There wasn't any, but women did wrap a linen cloth tight around their waists to look thinner.


A peplos was a long tube. The top was folded down and pinned at the shoulders.

Women wore a dress called a peplos, which was a narrow, ankle-length tunic that doubled over at the shoulders to create a loose top that hung to the waist. It fastened at the shoulders with long straight pins. A peplos was often made in a bright color with a decorative border.


The himation was a sort of cloak in a large square shape that was worn by both men and women. How gracefully one draped one's himation showed style and social status. Tiny weights were sewn in the hem of the himation so it would drape elegantly.


Greeks wore sandals, some with thick soles to make men taller, some with a lot of jewels for rich ladies. Greeks took off their sandals before going inside a house, but to make things even easier, they all went barefoot most of the time.


Greek women wore simple hairstyles: long hair tied up in the back with a band that crossed the brow or parted in the center and pulled back into a bun. They liked curly hair and used curling irons to make pretty hairdos. They also used oils and hair dressings to style their hair.

Men wore short haircuts because long-flowing tresses could be grabbed by an enemy on the battlefield. As warfare grew less important, men allowed their hair to grow longer; sometimes it was braided and pinned up at the sides or back.


Queens and goddesses wore coronets or diadems; other women wore scarves, simple veils, or hairnets to hide their hair. Men seldom wore hats, hut travelers wore a large-brimmed hat that looked sort of like a cowboy hat and hung on the back from a cord around the neck.


The Greeks paid a lot of attention to how their bodies looked. To keep in shape, men worked out at the gym doing exercises, lifting weights, and swimming. Rhythm and balance were also important — a graceful walk was appreciated.

The Greeks studied the human body and came up with what they thought the perfect body should look like:

The neck should be long and powerful.

Ankles and feet should be shapely, and the small toe should be the same length as the big toe.

A man should be six times as tall as the length of his foot. A woman should be eight times as tall as the length of her foot.

Use a ruler to measure the length of your foot. Multiply it by 6 (for boys) or 8 (for girls). How do you measure up? Try measuring family members. Do you think the proportion should be different for children and adults?

The Greeks thought a man should be 6 times as tall as the length of his foot; a woman should be 8 times as tall as the length of her foot.


About 700 B.C. Greeks decided that stones held magic and gave each month a special stone. People with birthdays in that month or people dressing for a special festival could wear the stones of that month for extra luck and protection.

Here's a list we use today, with many of the same stones the Greeks used. What is the stone for your birth month?



Smooth stone, at least ½ inch by ½ inch Clear fingernail polish #18 gold-, silver-, or copper-tone wire (available in craft supply stores) Wire cutter Pliers

* You can make a clever stone pendant from any interesting smooth stone you find. Paint a coat of clear nail polish on the stone to make it shine. When it's dry, cut 1 12-inch-long piece of wire. Make a cage for the stone by wrapping the wire around the stone, using your fingers to press it to the stone. Keep wrapping until the stone is secure. Use the pliers to bend a loop at the top.

Wear the pendant on a chain or make a neck ring from wire by bending wire into a circle big enough to go around your neck comfortably. String the pendant on the wire and then twist the ends of the wire into loops at the back to interlock. You may need to string the pendant on the neck ring before bending the back loops into shape.


The first Greek families lived on small farms and grew wheat or barley, cultivated fig and olive trees, and raised pigs for meat and goats for milk used to make cheese. As the number of people increased, the hillsides were stripped of trees, which were used to build houses and trading ships and to make charcoal to use in metalworking. The soil washed away in the rain, and the hills lost soil. The sediment covered the valleys and ruined the farmland.

With so little land, the Greeks needed to grow something they could trade in exchange for the food supply they needed. Since everyone in the ancient world used oils for cooking, lighting, medicine, body oil, and perfumes, the Greeks decided to grow olive trees and make olive oil for trade. They didn't plant much else. While the people prospered for 150 years by growing olives, they quit raising livestock, wheat, and barley. Because they were even more dependent on other countries for food, they had to produce even more oil for trade. The imported grain was so valuable that it was used in bread and not fed to livestock, so the people didn't eat much meat.

The foods eaten in ancient Greece were simple, and the diet of both rich and poor Grecians was pretty much the same. Everyone ate barley mush, barley bread, olives, figs, goat's milk cheese, salted fish, and eggs. Wealthy people ate more pork and enjoyed things like honey cakes with spices. The wealthy homes also had cooks with more time to create interesting dishes from these basic foods.

Ancient Greeks thought food and cooking was an art. Male slaves did most of the cooking, and professional cooks were hired to cook special meals. At a Greek dinner, the number of people to be seated at a table was five — never more. Greeks enjoyed conversations and thought more than five people would be too many for a good discussion.

Ancient Greeks didn't eat butter; they said it was food for the barbarians. They thought butter caused disease. They preferred olive oil on bread. They liked olive oil so much that they created groves of sacred olive trees. The oil produced from the olives on these trees was given out as prizes in athletic contests. (These trees were considered so holy that if anyone dug up or cut down one of them, the person was executed.) Greeks milked goats and sheep and used the milk to make cheese. They didn't drink cow's milk.

Greeks kept wine or oil in bags made of animal skins sewn together, tied at the top, and stopped with a cork. They could take the bag along to work or when traveling because it had a strap that could be slung over the shoulder.


The Greeks loved asparagus. They even had a saying about. it. If they wanted something done in a hurry thev said, "Do it in less time than it takes to cook asparagus."

* (Adult help suggested.)

Wash the asparagus in the sink and trim off the ends that are whitish and tough. Fill the saucepan half full of water and add the oil. Bring it to a boil on the stovetop. Add the asparagus and let it simmer for 4 minutes. Drain the asparagus in the colander, and then plunge it into the bowl of cold water to chill quickly. Drain it again and enjoy with a spoonful of mayonnaise or your favorite salad dressing.

Microwave Method: Cut the asparagus into 2-inch pieces. Put it in a 2-quart casserole with a lid. Add ¼ cup of water and microwave on high for 4 minutes. Drain in the colander, and then plunge the asparagus into the bowl of cold water to chill it quickly.

The Greeks copied the Persians' habit of lying on couches to eat meals. They ate with their fingers, wiped their mouth on pieces of bread, and washed in a small fingerbowl when the meal was over.

4 servings


1 pound fresh asparagus 1 tablespoon olive or salad oil Mayonnaise or your favorite salad dressing


Serrated plastic knife Large saucepan Colander Large bowl of cold water

Asparagus grows out of the soil in early spring. You can cut asparagus from an asparagus bed for years.


Called spanakopita, spinach triangles are fun to make and are just like what ancient Greek people would have purchased at the market to take home for dinner. There was no need for plates, making them the first fast-food take-out meal.


Excerpted from Classical Kids by Laurie Carlson. Copyright © 1998 Laurie Carlson. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Time Line,
Map of Ancient Greece,
Dress Up Creek,
Eating Greek,
The Arts,
Spinning and Weaving,
Map of Ancient Rome,
Dress Up Roman,
Dinner Roman Style,
Roman Army,
Counting and Measuring,
Home Sweet Home,
Volcano Alert!,
The End,

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Classical Kids: An Activity Guide to Life in Ancient Greece and Rome 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
wrigmt02 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Classic Kids contains many interesting activities as well as descriptions of how these activities were influenced by Greek and Roman culture. This book provides information on how Greek and Roman culture influenced many things we do today. I would use this book in all elementary classrooms. I would use the activities occasionally but I would not put this out for everyday use. I rate this book five out of five because it contains valuable information and interesting activities.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was looking for Ancient Greece and the download was the Colonial Kids. I will request a refund.