A few weeks ago, I was asked by a Greek school teacher at the Toronto District School Board to come to her Saturday morning Greek language class to teach her kindergarten and grade one students about Greek Mythology.
At first I thought “Wow! Sure! That’ll be great.”
Then I started thinking about it. “Uh oh!”
I had no idea what I was going to talk about. The teacher knew I was an author and said she wanted me to tell a story.
Ok. But which story? Most of the stories in Greek Mythology, let’s face it, involve brutal killing, rapine, incest, and revenge.
Not really tales for the kiddies!
I began flipping through some kids’ books from the public library and my own collection, serching for something that would work.
I knew I wanted to incorporate a little history lesson first. I mean, hey, I always try and get in the history! So, for that I thought I would try and get them to name the 12 Olympian Gods of ancient Greece. That would be fun.
When it came to the story, I decided on one that was clean, fun, and short. I also wanted one that involved names they might know.
Phew. What a relief!
Now, I won’t lie. I was nervous. Yes, yes, I know. But their just kids!
True. But I’ve taught history to kids at museums and other places in previous jobs, and let me tell you, kids do not mince their words.
“This is BORING!” or “When’s snack time?” are common phrases that some kid in any given group will inevitably call out, no matter how exciting the subject.
Whether I still wanted to do it or not, Saturday arrived and I set off for the school. I had shaved, so as not to look scary, and I wore blue because it is soothing and chills people out. One hopes.
This was my strategy:
· Do a small intro
· Ask them to name ancient Greek gods they know until we hit all twelve
· Tell them the story in animated fashion, using the chalk board to draw pictures
· Have them work on the fantastic colouring sheets I had found of Athena and Poseidon
I’m happy to say, it all went well. At first the kids were like “Who is this stranger person standing at the back of the room?” But once I started talking about the gods and goddesses whose names were familiar, they began to warm to me. Referring to Disney’s Hercules certainly jogged their memories!
I was going to find my way! I was going to go the distance! Erm, sorry…
Anyway, if they didn’t know the names of a particular god, they certainly related to the trait of that god. Hestia may have been strange to them, but they could certainly understand her as Goddess of the Family (hearth).
So, we got through that, and because there were a couple kids in the audience who were named after Greek gods, they were quite chuffed.
Then I got a “When’s it snack time?” question which the teacher quickly stomped out.
When I told them it was time for a story, they hushed up and bent forward.
Ah, the power of storytelling!
I had written a retelling of the story of the contest for Athens beforehand, but reading from the paper would not have done it. I had memorized it, and told it loud and clear, with sound effects (if you grew up playing with Star Wars toys (as I did), there are always sound effects!).
Their little faces beamed with wonder and I knew I was doing all right. Thank you, Muses!
They even loved my rubbish drawings of the Acropolis, Poseidon’s trident, and Athena’s olive tree as I told the story.
Afterward, I passed around a book from the library on the Parthenon so that they could see the temple that was built on the Acropolis so very long after the events of that story, in honour of the winner of the contest, Athena Parthenos. They loved the visual!
When I mentioned colouring sheets, they all cheered, each wanting to colour both of the gods who were in the story.
I had to run down the hall to make more photocopies!
When the class was finished all the children smiled and thanked me, ‘Kyrios Adam Alexandros’, for coming and talking to them about Greek mythology. A few of the kids were indeed going to Greece this summer and said that they were going to tell their parents the story at dinner that day.
In my few experiences teaching children about history, whatever the period, it has always been a joy to have even a couple children leave the lesson happy, intrigued, and wanting more information. They’re small, but they’re like sponges, and if you teach it in an exciting way, you will reach them.
On this occasion, almost all the children, even the very quiet ones, left happy and excited, eager to show their parents their colouring sheets of Athena and Poseidon.
I needn’t have worried.
The tales of Greek mythology are indeed bloody and explicit, but there are some that can be related safely to a younger audience. There are also many kids’ books that contain tamed-down versions of the stories. One of my favourites is Atticus the Storyteller’s 100 Greek Myths by Lucy Coats and Anthony Lewis.
So, this summer, if you’re looking to entertain your children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews, with some stories from ancient Greece, don’t be afraid. Give it a go!
If you like, you can use my full retelling of the Contest for Athens story which I’ve put at the bottom of this post.
You’ll be amazed at how much these tales grab children’s attention. After all, they’ve done so for thousands of years!
Thank you for reading!
If you are interested in the ancient Greece colouring sheets, the best ones I found are at http://www.hellokids.com/r_1032/coloring-pages/countries-coloring-pages/greece-coloring-pages/greek-mythology-coloring-pages They’re free!
Here are a few of the students' colouring pages that went up on the classroom wall:
Here is my retelling of The Contest for Athens:
The Contest for Athens (a story of Athena and Poseidon)
Once, a long, long time ago first king of Athens, King Cecrops (who was part man and part snake!) wanted to find a god who would be the protector of his beautiful city.
Two gods came forward to be the city’s protector: Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, and Poseidon, the God of the Sea.
They almost fought over it, and just as they were about to attack each other, Athena, being the Goddess of Wisdom, suggested that they should hold a contest for the city. With King Cecrops as the judge, they set up the contest and decided that whoever gave the best gift to the city would win.
A huge crowd of people gathered with King Cecrops as the judge, and they went up to the Acropolis to present their gifts to the city.
Poseidon went first. He lifted his massive trident (three pointed spear) and struck the earth with it. Where the spear struck the ground, a spring of water gushed out of the rock. The people loved it, but as they went closer to taste the water, they discovered that it was salty. Don’t forget that Poseidon was ruler of the sea and the water he controlled was salty, just like the seas he ruled.
Then it was Athena’s turn. She quietly knelt on the rocky ground and buried something. Everyone watched. Everyone was silent. Then, a brilliant green shoot began to grow out of the rock. It grew, and grew, and branches and leaves appeared. It was an olive tree, full of beautiful silver-green leaves, and plump purple olives. The crowd gasped.
This turned out to be a much more useful gift. It gave the people of the city, not only the olives themselves as food, but also the olive oil for their lamps and for cooking their food, as well as the wood from the olive tree to build their boats and houses.
King Cecrops declared Athena the winner of the contest, and the protector of the city which became known as Athens, or in Greek, Athina.
Many, many years later, a Temple of Athena was built on the Acropolis. It is called the Parthenon. This temple had statues of the contest as decoration, and showed Poseidon with his trident, and Athena with her olive tree.
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