Of all the history topics, Ancient Egypt must be the most exciting one to teach kids.
Visually alone, it’s a feast for the eyes – from hieroglyphs to archaeological wonders like the pyramids. And there is an endless supply of mythology and weird and wonderful religious beliefs about the afterlife what with their 2,000 plus gods. The real trick is figuring out where to start ...
Whether you’re a private history tutor, a desperate parent helping with school projects or merely interested in teaching your kids about ancient Egyptian history and the rise and fall of dynasties in the ancient world, this blog will offer some useful guidance for your educational endeavours.
A Kid’s Guide to Egypt’s Historical Past
For most children the most surprising part about the ancient Egyptian civilisation would probably be the numerous Egyptian gods.
The ancient Egyptians believed there were many different gods as opposed to one omnipotent spiritual being.
This same belief was also true for the dynastic rule; it’s believed that Egypt didn’t have just one Pharaoh at a time but multiple rulers who were known as the ‘kings of all the land’. Kids also love learning about the Great Pyramids of Giza, some of the most spectacular wonders of the ancient world.
The History of Ancient Egypt
Life in ancient Egypt relied heavily on the River Nile. The river still flows strongly today and remains the life source of the Nile valley much like it would have in ancient times.
Most of popular tourist attractions form the ancient Egyptian culture in both upper and lower Egypt can be found along the banks of the Nile River. From the pyramids of Giza, the ancient ruins at Luxor and the tombs of many a pharaoh, such as Tutankhamen in the Valley of the Kings located on the West bank of the Nile in Upper Egypt.
The really incredible thing about the history of Egypt is that there's so much information on this ancient dynasty that existed millennia ago.
Not only did these civilisations begin a little more than 5,000 years back but more astonishingly the Egyptian kings were able to maintain their dynasties for over 3,000 years.
The study of ancient Egypt and its antiquities has even earned its very own name: Egyptology.
We have so much knowledge on this unique historical period due to the very advanced systems of record keeping that were developed by the Egyptians. Hieroglyphics is the first language that has been recorded through inscriptions.
The pharaohs and their advisers clearly recognised the value of thinking ahead and went to great lengths to record important events for the sake of keeping record for the future. Perhaps this was driven by the Egyptian religion that put much focus on the afterlife.
The ancient Egyptian culture went to great lengths to prepare for life after death through mummification of the dead, which preserved the body. And obviously even more effort was put into building the tombs of their rulers and successors which can be seen in the excavation of one pyramid after the next, each containing a burial chamber. The interior of these monumental structures were adorned with reliefs of Egyptian art and hieroglyphs.
Over and above the numerous gods and goddesses, Pharaohs were also regarded as deities thus warranting pyramid builders to spend entire lifetimes constructing monuments such as the pyramid of Giza and the Sphinx in honour of their glory.
Within the walls of these incredible architectural feats that have stood the test of time are numerous pyramid texts written in Egyptian hieroglyphs without which archaeologists would never have been able to uncover the mysteries of this ancient world of kings and pyramids.
Significant Egyptian Eras
Let’s take a look at the chronology of Ancient Egypt:
The Early Dynastic Period - c. 3100 to c.2680 B.C.
It’s believed that the first kingship in Egypt was held by King Narmer who reigned over both upper Egypt and lower Egypt.
He and his descendants (and successors to the throne) are referred to as the First Dynasty. From then on pharaohs were depicted in art works as deities who bore two tiered head dresses. The white tier represented lower Egypt and the red tier represented the Upper region of the kingdom.
Old Kingdom - Fom c. 2680 to c. 2180 (3rd to 6th Dynasties)
This was the era that produced Egypt’s most majestic and enormous landmarks: Egyptian pyramids.
The great pyramid of Giza still stands as the earliest structure that makes up one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.’
First Intermediate Period - From c.2180 to c. 2055 (7th to 11th Dynasties)
During this period Egypt was ruled by several kings who each lead a different region of Egypt. Then towards the end of this period a pharaoh of the 11th dynasy, Mentuhotep II, took over the entire Egyptian territory.
Middle Kingdom - 2055 to 1650 B.C. (12th – 14 Dynasties)
‘The golden age’ of Egypt was lead by a number of mighty kings who controlled the entire Egyptian kingdom as well as a large part of Nubia (now Sudan).
Lake Faiyum became a centre for agricultural development where much of the crops that fed Egypt were grown. This lake was fed by the Nile and the fertile land around the lake bore abundant crops. It was during this time that building projects on the great Temple at Karnak began.
Second Intermediate Period - c. 1650 to 1550 15th & 16th Dynasties
Foreigners to Egypt known as the Hyksos tribe conquered a large part of lower Egypt during this period.
New Kingdom - c. 1550 to 1069 B.C. (17th to 20th Dynasties)
The Egyptian army drove the Hyksos tribe out of lower Egypt during this period and the pharaoh regained control of both upper and lower Egypt. The civil service of royal officials in Egypt were allowed to develop powerfully and became a prominent part of Egyptian culture at this time.
Late Period - c. 1000 to 32 AD (21st to 30th Dynasties)
At this time Egypt became divided again and was split into two kingdoms.
From around 700 BC onward was a tumultuous time in Egypt with the Nubians began invading Egypt periodically as well as the Assyrians, Persians and Greeks under the rule of Alexander the Great with the aid of his general, Ptolemy. It was finally invaded by the Romans.
The Gods of Egypt
As we mentioned, one of the things that really stands out about the Ancient Egyptians was their unique religious belief system that consisted of thousands of gods and goddesses. In fact their gods were so numerous that is impossible to list all of them.
Each of the gods had their very own unique symbol and specific spiritual function.
Some of the gods had human like qualities and appearances but many were part human, always having human bodies and animal heads such as crocodiles, jackals, cats, rams and even the head of a falcon. This belief in so many deities is unique, as most religions tend to worship only one deity.
Taking a Closer Look at the Most Popular Gods and Goddesses
Despite there being so very many gods and goddesses, there are a few that really stand out.
Perhaps it’s due to their fascinating appearances of perhaps it’s the special symbolism that they present. Let’s look at the most popular deities:
Osiris was greatly revered, perhaps more than all the other gods and goddesses in fact. He reigned over the underworld and judged the dead. It seems he was symbolic of evil and darkness and greatly feared, which makes him a thrilling study for kids!
Isis was the mother goddess and wife of Osiris. Her husband was murdered by his brother and then Isis's son Horus swooped in to rescue his father and bring him back from the dead (Horus had the power to bring back to life). Surely Osiris’s brother had a lot of regrets when he discovered Osiris had come back to life!
An ominous god, Anubis had the head of a jackal and was the god of the dead. He was believed to oversee tombs and embalming, yet another deity who dwelt on the fringe of darkness.
The Egyptian god of fertility, Heka, had a rams head and also had magical and medicinal powers.
Best Children’s Literature on Ancient Egypt
The ancient Egyptian era continues to be one of the most popular history topics amongst children. And this should come as no surprise because it certainly is a fascinating and colourful aspect of world history shrouded in mystery and wonder.
What child wouldn’t be fascinated by mummies, pyramids and omnipotent pharaohs?
There are so many books bursting with facts about Egypt, we have selected a few to get you started:
The Scarab’s Secret
Written by Nick Would and illustrated by Christina Balit, The Scarab’s Secret is a stunning picture book that is enticing for children of all ages. The protagonist of the story is a scarab beetle named Khepri who intervenes in a plot to kill the Pharaoh. But can this small creature succeed in his mission?
There’s A Pharoah In Our Bath! by Jeremy Strong
Jeremy Strong tells the comical story of a boy named Tony with a penchant for bringing home stray animals. Except that one day he brings home a grown man wrapped in bandages who turns out to be a mummified pharaoh who was disturbed from his eternal slumber by a pair of grave robbers. There’s a Pharaoh in our Bath! is a fantastic book to read with your kids.
The Time Travelling Cat And The Egyptian Goddess
When his mother passes away, his dad buys him a cat in the hopes that it will comfort him. However the cat looks very similar to an ornament of a cat from ancient Egypt that Topher’s mum gave him just before she died ... When Julia Jarman wrote The Time Travelling Cat and the Egyptian Goddess she created a touching tale that can easily be shared with children.
My Story: Cleopatra
Written by Kristiana Gregory, My Story: Cleopatra is a great book for older kids. Probably the most famous female figure from the Ancient Egyptian civilisation, Cleopatra is an alluring figure that has gripped the imagination of many an Egyptologist. “An Egyptian Princess’s Diary” that is sure to be a success with budding Egyptologists.