Perhaps spurred by recent popular children’s novels, second- and third-graders came to the classroom very interested in Greek mythology. During read-aloud, the teacher read a children’s version of Homer’s Odyssey. Immediately, the children were captivated. Some of the stories were familiar to the students, but others were new.
Over the course of a few different discussions, the children decided to recreate The Odyssey in the classroom. Each child chose a topic or figure to research and began gathering information. Slowly the project took shape. The cubby room became the Underworld, complete with shades depicted on the walls, Cerberus guarding the gates, Charon the ferryman, and Hades on his throne. A large tarp hung from the ceiling in one corner of the classroom became the Cyclops’ cave. A student portraying Zeus stood on a ladder and wielded thunderbolts he had made out of cardboard. Another student, having researched traditional Greek homes and daily life, took on the role of Penelope, waiting in her little house in Ithaca for Odysseus’ return.
Each student wrote and memorized a speech to give in character. They made costumes out of bed sheets and props out of cardboard, paint, duct tape, and papier mache. Following a trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art, students also made large canvas paintings (six feet high) designed to complement the general feel of their particular area. The canvas on the Island of the Lotus-Eaters, for example, depicted large circles in soothing blues, greens, and purples. The students who painted it captured in their abstract painting both the beauty and serenity of the island and also the sense of lethargy and repetition. Students thus had multiple vehicles for demonstrating what they had learned about Ancient Greek culture.