Ancient Egypt Background Information for Teachers and Parents
This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about ancient Egypt. The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Ancient Egypt. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.
Studying ancient civilizations provides a fantastic opportunity to teach world history and helps children understand different cultures. Children can reach a greater understanding of how the world has changed over thousands of years. Help your children realize that ancient Egypt was much more than just mummies and the Great Pyramids. It was a complex civilization with a history that spanned over thousands of years.
Ancient Egypt spanned the northeast part of Africa along the Nile River and began around 3150 BC and ended around 31 BC when the Roman Empire conquered Egypt. Your children should understand that the Nile River was very important to ancient Egyptians. The river not only provided water and food, but provided rich soil for farming. Ancient Egyptians dug canals to irrigate their crops and invented tools like a shaduf, which was a lever that helped retrieve water from canals. People from all over the area traveled along the Nile to trade goods and services and ancient Egypt became an important and powerful center of trade. Over thousands of years, ancient Egypt went through periods of peace and war. Rulers of different lands fought to take control over land, people, and trade.
Ancient Egyptian society was divided into different classes, or groups of people. The ruler of an ancient Egyptian kingdom was called a pharaoh. Many children are familiar with Tutankhamen, or “King Tut,” a pharaoh who ruled from 1333 BC to 1323 BC. People discovered his tomb in 1922, marveling people all over the world. The last pharaoh of ancient Egypt was Cleopatra, who reigned from 51 BC to 30 BC. We recommend screening the BrainPOP movie on Cleopatra for children who are interested in learning more about ancient Egyptian history. Pharaohs were believed to communicate directly to the gods and wielded much power over their people. They were also blamed for bad harvests and natural disasters, such as droughts and floods, and some were overthrown or even executed by their people. Pharaohs appointed priests and priestesses who led rituals, ceremonies, and festivals. Later, priests and priestesses vied for power and the throne. Noble men and women were members of society who were wealthy and powerful, and merchants were those who traded goods and services. There were also farmers, artists, and scribes. Explain to your children that scribes were people, most often males, whose job was to read and write hieroglyphics, the ancient Egyptian writing system of symbols. Scribes were in many ways historians and storytellers. They wrote stories and tales of their pharaohs and gods on temples and recorded history on papyrus, ancient Egyptian paper made from reed plants that grew along the Nile River. Slaves were the lowest class of ancient Egyptian society. They were often prisoners of war and were forced to work and build monuments, temples, and other buildings to honor the pharaohs and the gods.
In 1799, French soldiers found the Rosetta Stone, a tablet that dates back to 196 BC. The tablet has a decree written in three different languages, classic Greek and two ancient Egyptian writing systems, Demotic and hieroglyphics. The Rosetta Stone was monumental in understanding hieroglyphics and its discovery allowed experts to learn more about ancient Egyptian history and culture. Classic Greek scholars and Egyptologists were able to translate many of the symbols. Today, the Rosetta Stone can be seen at the British Museum in London, England.
Remind your children that an artifact is an object left over from an ancient civilization. People have found ancient Egyptian artifacts such as paintings, tools, furniture, jewelry, and pots, which all help experts understand a civilization that ended thousands of years ago. Ruins are buildings left from an ancient civilization. Because of Egypt’s hot, dry climate, many monuments, temples, and other buildings are still left standing today. The Great Sphinx is a statue of a lion with the head of what many Egyptologists believe is the pharaoh Khafre. The Pyramids of Giza are tombs that were constructed over four thousand years ago. The Valley of the Kings is an area of Egypt where there are several tombs of pharaohs.
Pharaohs were buried with things they would want in the afterlife, including jewelry, furniture, clothing, food, and even pets. Cats were important to ancient Egyptians because they protected them against rats and poisonous snakes. Cats were seen as protectors and many statues of cats decorated temples and monuments. People have discovered sarcophaguses, or coffins, of rulers and important members of ancient Egyptian society such as priests and priestesses. People have even discovered mummies, or bodies that have been wrapped and preserved in special ways to prevent decomposition. Ancient Egyptians believed that the body and spirit continued even after death and mummification helped preserve the body for the afterlife. There were many different ways of mummification and students who are interested can watch the BrainPOP movie on Mummies to learn more. Unfortunately, many tombs have been discovered empty because their contents were stolen.
Ancient Egypt’s history spans thousands of years and we recommend supplementing the movie with plenty of books and a trip to a museum. Your local library most likely has a wide range of materials about the topic, including documentaries about the latest ancient Egyptian discoveries. Learning about ancient civilizations will help your children understand how our world has changed over thousands of years and inspire them to learn more.