Arts & Crafts for Kids: Little Assyrian Scribes
Over time, the need for writing changed and the signs developed into a script we call cuneiform. For thousands of years, Assyrian scribes recorded daily events, trade, astronomy, and literature on clay tablets. Cuneiform was used by people throughout the ancient Near East to write several different languages. Ancient Assyrians used cuneiform script until it was abandoned in favor of the alphabetic script.
Here’s a fun and easy pretend play activity that kids will enjoy and learn from. Children do not need to have any knowledge of the Assyrian language to participate. This activity can serve as a great introductory lesson to those children looking to learn the Assyrian language.
- Craft sticks, bamboo skewers, or lollipop sticks
- Printouts of Assyrian letters/words
- Printouts of cuneiform symbols
- Wooden plaque (optional)
- Placemat (optional)
- Photos of ancient Assyrian tablets (optional)
- Set up individual working stations with placemats. Place wooden plaque on placemat. Helpful tip: You can skip on the placemats and wooden plaques if you’re trying to cut budget—we’ll admit we used them mainly for the photos! To help avoid a mess, you can opt instead for newspaper, plastic tablecloth, and/or paper plates. We got our placemats from the dollar section at Target (it’s often a gold mine!) and the wooden plaques from Michael’s Craft Store for about a dollar each.
- Each station should include a writing utensil—we chose to use bamboo skewers (available basically everywhere for really cheap) because they include a pointed edge. The only downside is that they’re a bit long. Alternatively, you can try lollipop sticks or regular craft sticks. You can get a large quantity of these items anywhere for under two dollars.
- Roll a decent-sized ball of clay, place it on the center of the wooden plaque, and press down. Pat down the clay until it resembles a tablet—try to create as flat a surface as possible. Helpful tip: We got a tub of Crayola Air Dry Clay from Target. Any clay works for this project—you can even use PlayDoh—but stone-colored clay is ideal.
- Create printouts to serve as guides. You can choose to use the Assyrian alphabet, Assyrian words, or cuneiform symbols—or all three! For our activity, we encouraged children to write out the word “Shlama” in Assyrian. Keep in mind—we designed a 5-10 minute activity. If you’re aiming for a longer activity, we recommend that you create more options to keep children engaged. Laminating the sheets helps keep them clean. Helpful tip: We’ve added some options you can use—including our own—below.
- Before getting started, take a few minutes to examine samples of ancient Assyrian writing. Share fun facts (see additional reading below).
- Give each child a guide to follow. Their instinct may be to write from left to right, but encourage them to write right to left, as this is the way the language is written.
- Once they’ve filled up a tablet, you can either choose to let it dry and harden, or restart by rolling the clay up into a ball again and repeating step 3.
- Michael’s craft store always offers great coupons. Be sure to check out their website and/or RetailMeNot for the latest offers. Seriously, never pay full price.
- Instead of printing out the images of the ancient tablets—consider sharing them off of a tablet to save paper instead.
- If you’re based in Chicago like us, consider pairing the project with a trip to the Oriental Institute. Its Assyrian Gallery is home to a large number of ancient Assyrian artifacts. The museum is not necessarily kid-friendly (meaning, it’s not very interactive and there’s a strict do not touch policy), but our students aged 7 to 12 absolutely loved it.