The study of HISTORY is such a worthwhile endeavor, and one which lends itself to young children in a way that no other subject even comes close to rivaling:  you can bring in costumes, play-acting and model buildings, field trips and arts and crafts, and on and on it goes.  This is one reason why our homeschool experience is “driven” by our history studies on one side, and science on the other.  Both are simply fascinating for kids when they are taught with enthusiasm.

We have been studying Ancient History this year using Story of the World as our launching curriculum.  What a great year it’s been so far.  

As a curious, enthusiastic parent who always enjoys learning alongside my children total nerd myself, when it comes to history, I have difficulty not staying for months in one unit of study because there is always an OCEAN of information and ideas and activities to wade through and choose from.
However, when teaching very young elementary children, I’ve found it’s best to look at all the information, then narrow the focus to one or two MAIN ideas for that particular unit.  So instead of overwhelming or boring our young children with loads of information that is way over their heads, we can usually begin by asking ourselves–what do I really want my children, (in my case, who are first grade and younger) to come away with from our study of _____?  Ultimately, during the younger years, we want them find the study of history to be interesting, enjoyable, and even fascinating.

This year, as we approached our unit on Ancient Greece, these big ideas are what stood out to me from our texts:

1.  Greek gods and mythology
2. The Olympic Games
3. Warring City-States

Other ideas that I thought would also be interesting would be Greek culture, food, clothing, and contributions in the areas of literature, architecture, mathematics and science.  

During read-aloud, we’ve read and listened to many of the Greek myths, which my children have found to be fascinating and entertaining.  There is some crazy stuff happenin’ with all those gods and goddesses!
So we definitely had mythology covered from our read-aloud times…which, by the way, if you’d like to familiarize your child with Greek mythology, I highly recommend the book, 

Next, on to the Olympic Games…I called up my girlfriend and homeschool buddy, Becca, and we planned a day of competition and games at her place, because what could be more perfect than holding our own Greek Olympics?–it’s hands-on, active learning and perfectly suited for our young children’s energy and interest levels.

Interesting Olympic facts we learned before hand:
~The first Olympics games can be traced back to 776 B.C., held to honor Zeus, the king of the gods.
~It is also said that they were held as a celebration of peace between two previously warring cities.  As time went on, more and more Greek cities joined the games and feasting.
~The games were staged on the ancient plains of Olympia, beneath Mt. Olympus, deemed to be the home of the gods.  
~Initially, foot racing was the only Olympic event but as time passed, wrestling, disc and javelin throwing, horse and chariot racing and long jumping were added as well.
~Only men were allowed to compete and only men or unmarried women were permitted to watch the olympic games.
~Men probably competed naked. :O
~During the final ceremony of those ancient games, only one winner was declared, and the sacred olive branch wreath (kotinos) would be placed upon his head. 

Although Ancient Greece is often remembered for its sophistication and “modernized” culture, its knowledge-centers and architecture, much of its history was stained by its long and bloody wars between independent city-states.
When we read aloud of the famed Spartans and their city’s military culture, and their continual battles with neighboring city-states, most notably, Athens, the look in my boys’ eyes told me that the best way to drive home that big idea was to go all out and have an epic Greek battle.

So that’s just what we did–and–we had our battle on the same day as our Olympic Games actually.

Because even though the famed Peloponesian War (lasting 27 years between Athens and Sparta) came a couple centuries after the first Olympics, we thought with our crew that it would be most fitting to do all of our battling first, then make peace, then hold Olympic Games to celebrate.

DIY Foam Weapons

In preparation for the battle, I cut about a dozen swords and several shields from a large piece of rigid foam board insulation.  Let’s talk about this stuff for a second.
First of all, it’s really inexpensive (around $10 for a giant 8×4′ piece (seen below) at Lowes) and it’s some of my favorite material to work with for party decorations, stage props, etc.  It’s a light greenish color at first (sometimes it’s pink or light blue as well), but it is very easy to paint onto.  It takes regular latex paint very well, but it can also be spray painted if you’re careful (the chemicals in spray paint sort of melt or distort the foam if you apply it too heavily).  I  have used spray paint, house-hold leftover paint and acrylic paints on this foam board and as you can see below, it turns out really great.  Here is what it looks like at first…and by the way, I use the 1/2 inch thick board, but you can use 3/4 or 1 inch if you want it sturdier.
Originally–at the beginning of the year, I painted a space scene onto this piece of foam, since we were heading into a 1/2 year of studying Astronomy…  We used to set it up when we met with friends for Science club and the kids loved it.

The only issue I had was in getting this baby home.  It wouldn’t fit into my van (with 4 kids in it, lol) in its 4×8′ original state, so before I left the store, I had a Lowe’s guy cut it down to the size I wanted for this prop, and I was able to slide the 3 pieces into my van a lot easier…
I used duck tape along the inside seams to hold the thing together, and when it was not in use, I could fold it up.
Anyway, later in the year, I slapped some leftover house paint on the back half of the space set to create a little Christmas stable backdrop for the  living nativity we did with the seniors at the nursing home where we volunteer…you can see it here in the background…

And finally (sorry this is the longest tangent ever about something most people probably don’t care about) instead of pitching the whole thing, I was able to use it one more time to make a whole bunch of foam weaponry.  Once bronze came on the scene in the Ancient world, it was all the rage, so of course, after cutting them out (with my utility knife), I spray-painted the weapons bronze.  Do I even need to tell you how excited my boys were as they watched me cut out sword after sword after sword?  If you have boys, you understand.  This was pretty much the best. day. ever. for them.  Altogether I was able to make about 10 swords, 5 or 6 knives and 5 large round shields with that piece of insulation, and I didn’t even use it all.
You can see the foam weapons in all of the battle pictures.  All the little boys loved them so much.  And since they were light-weight foam, we mamas didn’t have to stress too much about them hurting each other too badly, lol.

Ok, now on to COSTUMES.

Probably the most favorite part of our studies in history is the chance to create and wear new costumes. We went all out when we studied the early Nomadic peoples, the Egyptians, the Hebrew people, and the ancient Chinese…so naturally, we knew we HAD to do ancient Greek outfits.

This time around, however, I had very little time to prepare the children’s costumes because things have been a little crazy here, so I had to really get creative with very limited materials.  I had no extra white fabric in my fabric stash that would be long enough to make a simple dress with, and so I was forced to look elsewhere in my house…and that’s when I thought: a sheet.  But when I got to digging into the sheets, I came across an old king-sized pillow case, and I knew I could make it work for my daughter

To turn this….
 into this….

So here is a quickie tutorial for making an easy, no-sew Greek costume from a pillow case.
(make sure your pillow case is extra long if you have a taller child).
To start, you’ll want to go ahead and cut three holes in your pillow case–one for the head, and one for each arm.

Now initially, the pillow case will probably be too big for your child.  Here is what it looked like as we first tried it on…we were just sort of playing with the look at this point, using some jute to wrap around and talking about how we wanted it to look.

So first things first, you’ll need to bring it in a bit and hot glue it in the front and back so it fits better.
This does not need to be perfect, and honestly, I didn’t really think about it too much, I just drew in fabric, and hot glued.  Now your rounded neck will become a v-neck.
 You sort of want to pinch the fabric together toward the middle like this, and add hot glue underneath to keep the fabric in place there.  Just be careful that you don’t burn your fingers. 
Once you’ve glued it, the back, inside area should look a little bit like the picture below–see how I kept the fabric pretty flat as I was hot gluing so that my daughter didn’t have bump sticking into her chest and back while she was wearing it.
 Repeat the process for the back of the pillow case/dress.  Pinch the fabric together and hot glue.
 Then once that is done, you’ll want to draw in the fabric on the shoulders as well. 
 So to get this fancy look with the gold band….

 You’ll need some of this stretchy gold fabric.  I have no idea what it’s called but it’s in the costume fabric section of the craft store.
 Here is what the back of it looks like–and I tried to stretch it for the pic so you could tell.  Anyway, I only had a tiny bit left from back when I made our Egyptian costumes, but you really don’t need much for this Greek outfit.  Maybe 3 inches on each shoulder.
 Just fold the fabric under, then fold it under once more….
 Then wrap your gold stretchy fabric strip around…
 …and hot glue it in place. Don’t forget to hide the seam on the underside so it doesn’t show.
 So now your costume is coming together.  By the way, just so you know, I did a lot of this when the pillow case was actually ON my daughter (low heat setting for the glue gun) about 1/2 hr before we went out the door to our Greek Olympics.  :O I am queen of last minute.  (I didn’t do the photo tutorial until after the pillow case dress was washed and one of the gold shoulder straps had come off in the process).
 Then to further embellish, I grabbed a leftover sequin band thing that I had in my scraps bin, and was delighted to see we had JUST enough of it to wrap it two times around the whole outfit.  Love when it works out like that.
A dab of hot glue on the sides held the gold belt in place nicely.

By the way, my daughter wore this costume ALL DAY long, and she was actually very comfortable in it, which is more than you can say for most non-cotton costumes.  

To complete her outfit, I rummaged up an old gold head band of mine that looked Greek-ish enough, and we re-used some bronze arm cuffs that we made back when we studied Ancient Egypt.  Here you can see them on my girl’s arms.

The boys also love those arm cuffs, and they wear them as armor.  As I said, I made them months ago by cutting up a couple old Pringles canisters, spray-painting them, and gluing them back together tighter (so they fit my kids’ arms a little better).  

We have actually gotten a LOT of use out of them. They seem to go with many of our costumes.  🙂  Here they are on my daughter:

One thing I’ve learned as I’ve made costumes here and there for my kids in the past couple years is that it really is best to make something that can grow with them.  You don’t want to spend your time creating the coolest costume ever only to see it not fit your child 3 months from now.  Detachable pieces work best.  See this ancient Egyptian costume I made for my daughter last fall?  Well, the collar and the belt are detachable.  This dress no longer fits my daughter, because the material had NO give whatsoever, and I made it too tight to begin with when I sewed it.  I am SO SO glad that I did not sew the handmade belt onto it at that time, because now, my girl is able to use her pillow case dress in a couple different ways–she can be a Grecian woman, or an Egyptian.  All she has to do is change out her belt and headband and accessories, and she’s a princess from a different ancient kingdom.  🙂

You’ll also notice I used many of the same pieces of fabric and embellishments for both costumes, like that gold stretchy material and the sequin belt.

Ok, on to my boys’ costumes–if you can even call them that! We chose to represent the Spartans, and red was their color, so we grabbed one of daddy’s old tshirts and got to cutting.

I don’t really know how to tell you how to do this….
I basically cut apart one XL men’s tshirt to make 3 “costumes” for my 3 little boys.  Really it’s only 2 costume pieces, but we draped the extras onto the baby for fun.
Here is a little sketch of how I cut it apart to make them.  Really, it’s not fancy or professional AT ALL.  (and the kids don’t care so why should I?!)

Here is my (growling) 5 year old wearing the “sash” piece of the tshirt.  I actually had to tie a knot because it was so long.  He was very pleased with his simple costume.

…..Aaaaand my 3 year old sporting his cape….

 Here you can see we used the leftover piece of tshirt as a small sash to drape over the baby just for fun. 🙂  And yes, my 3 year old was very, very excited.

 Here is a pic from just before we left to attack Athens (read: drive down to my friend Becca’s house where her kids were waiting to do battle before our Olympics).  My daughter really isn’t sad, she was just acting very dramatic and damsel in distress-ish.

Once there, we took a few photos of the kids.  Here are our two first graders, Ben and Eden.  Ben was ready to protect the princess from any harm.
My beautiful girl…

This Athenian is ready for battle with his foam weapons.
 It’s also fun to use things you have in your home to add to your special event or costume…in this case, my Josiah thought his Thor helmet was the perfect complement to his battle gear.  Looks good to me!

 Our battle took place on a chilly 50 degree morning, so some of the kids kept their coats or shirts on over their costumes.
Before the fighting began, the older kids explained the rules that they came up with…example: if you were hit with someone’s sword, you had to fall to the ground for 10 seconds, etc.  🙂

Check out these two 3 year old warriors.  My friend Becca did a tshirt cape for her boy as well.  
 This Greek princess stood by, watching, while the boys fought it out.

 It was intense.  I personally think the Spartans won.

Anyway, once we finally stopped battling, we celebrated peace between city-states by holding the first ever OLYMPIC GAMES!

 We began with foot racing  (we staggered the starting places by ages to keep things a bit more fair).

These two Athenians and Spartans have become good friends. 
 After each race or event, we crowned the winner with the olive branch wreath.  The kids just loved this. They felt very proud.  
I made the wreath out of 2 colors of card stock that I cut into leaf shapes and hot-glued onto a piece of jute.  It took about 15 minutes to make it the night before the games.  

Here are some more Olympians lined up for racing.

This is my sweet 3 year old, Josiah.  He never won a single race, but he was such a good sport, and had SO MUCH fun that we gave him a chance to wear the olive wreath too.  Also you’ll notice he is now wearing the pringles can wrist bands  🙂
More racing.  Ancient Greek superheroes?
Then we had a few wrestling matches.  Now this was a wild success.  Major highlight for the little boys.

We also had disc throwing (frisbee) and long jumping, but my camera died and so I have no pictures from those events.  But all in all, it was a wonderful day of hands-on learning with friends.  
That’s it for this super-long blog post. I sure hope you enjoyed seeing our pictures and are inspired to get out there and do some creative, hands-on learning with your own kids.  


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3 thoughts on “How to Have Your Own Epic Greek Battle & Olympic Games

  1. Amy Maze

    This is just wonderful! We have just begun Ancient Greece, and I was planning on inviting some friends over to have an Olympic celebration. You have just provided me with a setp-by-step ‘how to.’ Thank you! I’m definitely going to look for some of that foam stuff next time I’m at lowes. It looks perfect for so many things! Did you make any Ancient Greek food during your studies that you particularly liked? I was thinking if trying to tie that into our Olympic day.

  2. Crafty Homeschool Mama

    Thanks Lucinda 🙂
    It was truly so much fun, and we’re gearing up for another great day of all things Roman here at the end of our school year. …and I can’t help but look ahead at all the fun possibilities that await us next year in the Middle Ages. 🙂 It’s fun to learn alongside our children, isn’t it? Blessings, Joanna

  3. Lula B @

    That looks like such an awesome day! Your daughter’s costume is beautiful, she must have been so pleased with it. (She does a fantastic damsel-in-distress look :-)) And it looks like the boys were thrilled wtih the foam weapons! Thanks for sharing. Lucinda

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