Life lessons from Ancient Egypt

We have been studying Ancient Egypt in history recently. It’s easy to see why it’s an essential part of any history curriculum. Majestic pharaohs, mysterious tombs filled with treasure, strange tales of gods with animal heads, a hippo/lion/crocodile monster that eats bad people after they die, code-like hieroglyphs, battles and boats, massive pyramids and colossal statues, beautiful queens and women who rule. There’s something for everyone.

It is easy to find crafts and hands on activities too. Sugar cube pyramid anyone? Crack the secret code. Turn your doll or an apple into a mummy. Make papyrus with brown paper bags. Walk like an Egyptian. Pinterest is awash with inspiration to satisfy the cravings of even the craftiest of crafters.

“Papyrus” with Egyptian artwork. It’s satisfyingly stiff and crackly.

We have learnt about Menes the first pharaoh and Cleopatra the last pharaoh. Ahkenaten who worshipped the sun and Ramses III who fought a battle at sea. We have discovered how they irrigated their crops and what they ate. But as I reflect on what we have learnt lately, there are other, bigger lessons that we have been learning. Life lessons.

I don’t mean that lentils are tasty, though I wish my kids would learn that one. Or that if you are a naughty girl the Devourer will eat you in the afterlife (very thankful that one is not true!). I mean lessons like that of Jean-François Champollion, who worked for fourteen years trying to decode the Rosetta Stone before he deciphered a single word.

One of my children struggles with perseverance. She is gives up on average after about a minute and a half. Fourteen minutes is a long time for her to stick at a task, let alone fourteen years. So we are choosing to make Champollion one of our role models. To carry on with something just a little bit longer before we give up. If Champollion can work day in day out for fourteen years before he got a result, we can work just a little longer before we decide that our maths is too hard, or that our sock is lost forever.

Another lesson we can learn from the Ancient Egyptians is to manage our resources well. The Egyptian farmers built irrigation channels and catch basins to make the most of the Inundation – the yearly flooding of the Nile River. Careful engineering meant that the once a year flood would provide all of their water for the rest of the year. If they didn’t make the most of it when it came, there would be no rain later – their crops would fail.

It’s easy to let time pass and miss opportunities because we are busy or distracted. But if we work hard when the time is right, then we can manage our resources well and have provision for later.

Practically, that means for me taking a week off school when our apple trees are ready to harvest, so that they don’t drop and rot on the ground (ooops…. it makes a mess, I can tell you!). But it also means putting in the hard work of character training when children are young (digging the irrigation channels) so when the Inundation that is the teenage years come, we are ready to use the wonderful opportunities that they bring, instead of being swamped. It means teaching our children that if we save our money by not buying every sweet and toy that catches their eye, then later we can travel and build memories. For me as a mother of young children, it means not shirking my task, but investing in my children while they need me. The season will come when I can finish writing a blog post without a million interruptions, or get a full night’s sleep, or drink tea while it is hot. It’s just not now. The Egyptian farmers, like farmers everywhere, live their life according to the seasons, with busy periods of work and periods of rest and maintenance. We do well to do the same.

History has always fascinated me – it’s full of colourful characters and darn good stories. They catch the imagination and lift us for a little while out of the mundane. But one of the things I love about home educating is the chance to go deeper with our conversations, to let history shape us and direct our future. To learn from the successes and failures of the past, and to be inspired by those whose stories we read. That’s what I want to pass on to my children.


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