Make a Mini-Piñata for Kha b’Nissan

Date: March 29, 2017

As a tribute to the traditional twelve-day celebration of the Assyrian New Year, we’re sharing unique ways to honor Akitu no matter where you are in the world as we count down the days to Kha b’Nissan 6767.

It can be tough to get the little ones in the spirit of the new year. But sometimes, a simple, small activity can do the trick. Here’s an easy craft that is guaranteed to bring you smiles this Saturday morning.


  • Toilet paper roll
  • Tissue paper (dark and light blues, white, red, yellow)
  • Tape
  • Ribbon
  • Scissors
  • Glue gun (optional)
  • Small candy


  1. Cut your tissue paper into strips. The strips should be about 6 inches long, and 2.5 inches wide. You should have two strips of each color.
  2. Fold the strips in half “hot dog style.” Tape the strips down to your table so that the folded end is facing you.
  3. Snip vertical lines along the tissue paper strip. We recommend snips be about a centimeter wide, but you can cut these as you like.
  4. Cut two square sheets of tissue paper. You will need one to cover each of the holes, so use the holes as a guide for size. Cover the bottom hole using one small square of tissue paper. Secure with tape. Don’t worry about what it looks like because it will be covered. Make sure you only use a single piece. Doubling up might seem like a good idea now, but it will be a problem later.
  5. Starting from the bottom, select a strip of tissue paper prepared in step 3 to wrap around the roll. We recommend using the same colored tissue paper as the piece you chose to cover the bottom hole. The tape should be used to position the strip.
  6. Work your way up until the whole roll is covered, covering the top of each strip with the fringe of the next one.
  7. Make confetti by cutting up extra strips of tissue paper into tiny bits.
  8. Fill the paper roll with small pieces of candy and your homemade confetti. We used Hershey’s Kisses.
  9. Cut a piece of ribbon to serve as your handle.
  10. Use a glue gun to secure the handle. The two ends should be placed inside the circle directly across from one another.
  11. Use the glue gun to trace along the top rim of the roll. Place the second sheet over the top and trim away the excess.
  12. Cut piece of ribbon several inches long and tape to the bottom so that it hangs.
  13. When you pull the bottom string, it will tear open the bottom. Out will come the candy and confetti. Happy New Year!

5 Important Reasons to Teach Your Kids Assyrian History

Date: March 24, 2017

As a tribute to the traditional twelve-day celebration of the Assyrian New Year, we’re sharing unique ways to honor Akitu no matter where you are in the world as we count down the days to Kha b’Nissan. 

Most diaspora-born Assyrians have a vague sense of their history. They know, for example, that it spans thousands of years. They’ve heard and repeated the phrase “the cradle of civilization.” They can probably name a few famous Assyrian kings, and they surely know of Queen Shamiran. Fast forward a couple thousand years—they also know that our modern history has been defined by genocidal violence. But that’s about it.

If you’re a parent, you certainly don’t need to be told why it’s necessary that you’re involved in your child’s education. However, it can be difficult to figure out what subjects to prioritize now, and what can wait until they’re older, especially with limited resources available to you. But’s important to expose them to Assyrian history. Here’s why:

  1. Children develop a greater appreciation of history when they learn it early.
    Studies have shown that skills children are taught to appreciate at an early age translate into good habits and deep passions as they grow and mature. Take, for example, a child that spends every Sunday cheering on the Chicago Bears with her parents. She will likely become a Bears fan for life (and also develop serious levels of patience). Or consider a child who takes music lessons—he’s far more likely to continue to practice as an adult. A child who goes fishing with his father, and so on. While learning Assyrian history is not exactly a recreational activity, it can be fun. Children enjoy fun facts and interesting stories. Spend some time talking about the history of the great nation of which they are descendants. Keep reading for ideas on how to provide them with opportunities to ask questions and seek answers about their history.
  2. They will not learn about Assyrian history in school. Most Assyrian-American students will never hear the word “Assyrian” uttered by their teachers, nor will they see it printed in a textbook. Those that do might come across it once or twice while flipping through pages when searching for their assigned reading, but its is never a part of a school’s curriculum. While Assyrian history is certainly not the only one that’s overlooked, it must be prioritized in Assyrian households. It is absolutely important to encourage children to learn about the history of Western nations, but it’s just as important to realize that their history classes will exclude information about Assyrians. This will have lasting negative effects on their understanding of their own history, as it’s likely they will come to accept its exclusion as a lack of importance. Spend time personalizing Assyrian historical figures and events for your children. Check out our list below for ideas on how to do this. They should have the opportunity to learn about topics and important events related to Assyrians that they will not be learning in class.
  3. It will help shape their identity as an Assyrian. As children grow and mature, there is a natural, increase desire for them to explore their roots—they want to know who they are and where they come from. Learning Assyrian history can provide Assyrians of any age with a better sense of their identity, including children.
  4. Exposing your child to Assyrian history will help them develop qualities like empathy and tolerance.
    Learning about your ancestors and cultural heritage is essential. For most Assyrians growing up in American schools, they naturally view the histories of other peoples, including their own, as foreign. Giving them the opportunity to study Assyrian history will help broaden their perspective. They will come to understand and appreciate that there is more to the world than what they’ve known. A child who is taught about other countries and backgrounds is more likely to grow up to be compassionate, socially-aware, and tolerant.
  5. Learning about Assyrian history helps children build connections with their community.
    A child who has been given the opportunity to explore their own history is more likely to get involved with their community later in life. This can mean many things—perhaps they will get involved with the Assyrian Athletic Club, pursue Assyrian studies, or become a social activist—regardless, they will recognize the importance of their involvement. They will grow up feeling connected to other Assyrians, and will appreciate the sense of belonging.

Here are some easy ideas: 

  1. Visit The Ashurbanipal Library at AUAF. As the largest collection of Assyrian texts outside the homeland, you will find almost everything by Assyrians or about Assyrians under our roof. Not only will they find plenty of books on Assyrian history, but they will appreciate the experience.
  2. Take a trip to the Oriental Institute. The museum’s Assyria Collection will leave any young one in awe of their history.
  3. Try one of our Assyrian-themed arts and crafts activities. They provide the perfect opportunity to talk to your kids about their history, and gets the little ones engaged.
  4. Encourage your children to select an Assyrian book or figure for their school project when possible.
  5. Share with them important documentaries focusing on Assyrians. The Last Plight is a moving documentary that’s a must-see for all Assyrians. Though it’s only ten minutes long, it packs a heavy message. It may not be appropriate for your youngest kids, but those in the double-digits should see it. It’s guaranteed to spark all the right questions.

How to make a tissue paper Assyrian flag

Date: March 21, 2017

The first of April—or Kha b’Nissan—marks the Assyrian New Year, also known as Akitu. In ancient Assyria, the new year was celebrated for a period of twelve days. Now, after thousands of years, Assyrians are spread all over the world, but continue to honor the holiday annually.

As a tribute to the twelve-day custom, we’re sharing unique ways to honor Akitu no matter where you are in the world.

Looking for a fun way to get your kids thinking about Akitu? The Assyrian flag is a great place to start. Here’s a simple, inexpensive craft that will give you the chance to talk to them about Assyria and the new year.


  • Tissue paper (red, blue, white, light blue, yellow)
  • Elmer’s glue
  • Pencil
  • Card stock
  • Marker
  • Picture of Assyrian flag (print out or electronic)
  • Cardboard (optional)


  1. Cut tissue paper into small squares (2×2 is a good size). You will need more red, blue, and white squares for the piece. A good technique is to start by cutting tissue paper into strips, and then proceed to cut the stacked strips into squares. They don’t have to be perfect—it won’t matter later.
  2. Draw an Assyrian flag onto a blank piece of card stock. We made the star a bit larger than usual. The color of the paper and the marker doesn’t matter. We used a standard 8.5×11 sheet, but this project will work with any size. You can use regular sheets of paper if you don’t have card stock handy, but using a thicker stock will ensure the flag doesn’t flop around once finished. You may choose to glue the sheet (card stock or not) to a piece of cardboard before starting. While we recommend this, it’s not necessary.


  1. Start by wrapping a square of tissue paper around the pencil’s eraser, and dip the end into glue.
  2. Using the pencil, press the tissue paper onto the sheet. Children should have a picture of the Assyrian flag handy to use as a guide. We started from the very center of the Assyrian star, working our way out. Don’t worry about getting the pieces to look “right.” As you continue to fill the flag, it will come together.
  3. The red and blue lines might be difficult to replicate using tissue paper. Don’t stress over this—the tissue paper will give them a fun, organic look.
  4. While working, consider talking about the symbolism of the Assyrian flag.
  5. Once finished, allow flag to dry.
  6. Display the piece in your home to celebrate Akitu, or gift it to nana and jedo. Either way, it’s sure to brighten up any room. Smaller versions can be used to decorate a bouquet.

If you give it a try, please be share to share your photos with us! Use #12DaysofAkitu and tag us on Facebook.

Looking for more Assyrian-themed art projects to try with your kids this Kha b’Nissan? Check these out: 

  • Ishtar Gate Mosaic: This unique mosaic-style art activity will give your child the opportunity to recreate one of the most iconic Assyrian sites.
  • Little Scribes: Your child will learn how to write like an ancient Assyrian—on a clay tablet!
  • Assyrian Metalworking: A fun art activity that will give kids a look at an ancient Assyrian industry.

Art for Kids: Ishtar Gate Mosaic

Date: December 8, 2016

The Ishtar Gate is one of the most iconic sites in the Assyrian homeland. Erected during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar II, it was the main entrance leading to the city of Babylon. At one point was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Gate was built in honor of the Assyrian goddess Ishtar—the goddess of love, fertility, and war. Built using glazed bricks, it stood nearly 40 feet high. The walls were adorned with depictions of flowers, lions, bulls, and dragons using colored tiles. For this project, we’re zooming in on the famous lion design depicted on the Ishtar Gate.

Our unique mosaic-style art activity will give children the opportunity to reflect on and explore Assyrian heritage. A mosaic is a picture or pattern produced by arranging together small colored pieces of hard material, such as stone, tile, glass—or in our case, paper!



  • Small foam board
  • Scrapbook paper (shades of blue, brown, grey, yellow)
  • Glue stick
  • Black marker
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Crayons or markers
  • Paper-cutter (optional)


  1. Print out the above image to serve as your inspiration. If you look closely, you’ll notice the discoloration that occurred with time. We chose four colors to help recreate this aged look: navy blue, royal blue, light blue, and grey. We also got a few shades of browns for the bottom bricks for the same reason, but only one yellow color (with an orange tint). You’ll need more blue than any of the other colors.
  2. Once you’ve chosen your colors, start by cutting the scrapbook paper into strips. These will be used to create the bricks. We used a paper-cutter for this step, but you can use scissors instead if you don’t have one at home. Try and gauge how many strips you’ll need—we used only one strip of each color and two of the navy blue.
  3. Rip the strips into small pieces. Vary the sizes and the shapes—this will make for a more interesting art process and a cooler final product. Don’t use a scissors for this step, as the irregular, softer tear will result in a more natural look when you start piecing the bits together. Sharp edges won’t give you the same effect.
  4. Now, onto your foam board. Using a pencil and a ruler, draw out a brick design. Try to get the bricks to be about the same size.
  5. Go over the pencil design with a black marker. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect. It won’t matter in the end.
  6. Finally, find a “coloring-book image” of a lion on the internet. We tried googling “roaring lion coloring book page” (and all variations of that phrase), but couldn’t find one we liked, so we went with this one instead. Adjust size as necessary to fit your board, and print it out.


  1. Share the Ishtar Gate image you printed with your children, and allow it to serve as their guide during this project. A quick intro is appropriate here—maybe a few words on Ishtar herself and the magnificent gate that was built in her name. Encourage children to examine the image and share with you what they see in detail.
  2. Give the kids their foam boards, explaining to them that they have to fill in the bricks with the scraps of paper using a glue stick. The bottom row should be brown, as pictured here, and the rest a mix of the blues. Give them free reign here, but the same way that they are taught to color inside the lines, they should try to keep the scraps inside the brick lines. The straight edges on each piece will help them fit the pieces in. Pieces can (and should) overlap one another. Some white space is okay.
  3. Once their board is filled, kids should turn their attention to their lion. You can choose to bring him to life with the same paper-mosaic process, but we’ll be honest—that’s a little ambitious. Kids will likely be tired at this point. We simply used crayons to color ours. Once done, cut him out.
  4. Using a glue stick, attach the lion to the foam board. Make sure his feet line up with the brown bricks. The end result is awesome.


  • For younger kids, consider a larger foam board and larger scrap pieces. Small bits like the ones pictured here may prove too daunting a task for the little ones.
  • Swapping the foam board for construction paper or card stock works just as well if you’re trying to minimize costs.
  • Look at other images of the Ishtar Gate for other variations—i.e. Maybe try to recreate the flower design as opposed to the lion.
  • If doing this in a group or classroom setting, hang all of the designs together to create a wall.
  • If you’re trying to save time (or if your child generally loses interest quickly), consider tracing the lion on the board and instruct children to fill only the blocks outside its shape.



Glue Art for Kids: Ancient Assyrian Metalworking

Date: December 2, 2016

The Assyrian Empire is known for its rich material culture—magnificent stone wall reliefs, colossal gateway figures, and legendary towers. Often overlooked, however, is Assyrian metalwork. Assyria had a thriving metalworking industry, considered superior to any contemporary state in the region. Much of ancient Assyrian metalwork was excavated from the Assyrian city Nimrud between 1949 to 1963. Assyrians produced large quantities of sophisticated bronze and ironwork—some of which were intricately decorated.

Here’s a unique art activity for you to try with your kids. It’s simple, exciting, and gives kids a reason to use glue for a purpose other than gluing (which is pretty much their dream come true). The only catch—it’s a two-day project. Luckily, both parts to this project are equally exciting.


  • Cardboard
  • Elmer’s glue
  • Pencil
  • Metallic acrylic paint (stick to gold, bronze, and silver colors)
  • Paintbrushes (or sponges)
  • Photos of ancient Assyrian patterns



  1. Take some time to google “Assyrian art patterns.” You will find many exquisite designs that can serve as your inspiration for this project. Print some of your favorite images to be your guides when drawing out the patterns. You can make this step part of your prep work, or you can decide to do it with your child. Either way, before getting started, be sure to take some time to discuss the various geometric patterns, the similarities between designs, and common features—such as the Assyrian stone rosette. Also, talk to them about the history of metalworking.
  2. If the kids are old enough, they may be able to do this step on their own. But for the younger ones, you’ll want to include this as part of your prep. Using a pencil, draw Assyrian-style designs on pieces of cardboard. Different sizes will make for a more interesting project, but we recommend that you keep the shape to a rectangle “plaque.” Keep the designs simple, both to remain true to Assyrian designs and to avoid winding up with a big blob of glue when we get to the next step. We simply cut up cardboard boxes to use for our plaques.
  3. Now that you’ve got your patterns down on the cardboard plaque, use Elmer’s glue to trace over the pattern. Remind the kids to go easy on the glue, and have them start at the top and work their way down. Your child may not follow the design exactly (it’s tough for even adults to do!), and that’s perfectly fine—the end result will still be great.
  4. Let the glue dry overnight. It will dry clear.
  5. Once dry, have the kids use paintbrushes (or sponges) to paint over the designs using the metallic acrylic paints. Be sure to cover the entire plaque. Encourage children to paint in streaks for a smoother end result—but of course it’s okay if they don’t.
  6. The plaques will dry quickly. Once they do, they look awesome! The kids will love the process and their final pieces—we promise.


  • We picked up all of our paints at Michael’s Craft Store. We went with Emperor’s Gold, Venetian Gold, Rose Gold, Worn Penny, and Shimmering Silver (all DecoArt products). Never pay full price at Michael’s. They’ve always got great coupons on their site, and be sure to check out RetailMeNot where you might find a better deal. It varies.
  • When letting the glue dry, be sure the cardboard is set on a completely flat surface. Otherwise, the glue will slowly but surely start sliding across the plaque, distorting your design, and will likely drip over the edge.


How-to: Our Adorable Thanksgiving Shoot

Date: November 30, 2016

Another year, another Thanksgiving. Whether your family served turkey, or went the traditional Assyrian route—serving dolma and the likes instead—you’re probably all out of leftovers, and chances are you’ve already got your tree up. But before we fully shift gears into Christmas mode, we want to share with you our adorable Thanksgiving photo shoot. If you haven’t seen the photos yet, check out our post. The children you see pictured are students of our music and art programs.

The results were adorable, and we got such great feedback from parents. Our photo booth was so effortless, we decided we’d share a quick how-to. This is a simple and fun way to capture memories at your next family event or birthday party.


  • Camera (your iPhone camera will do)
  • Tri-fold board (any color, but we went with orange for Thanksgiving)
  • Small chalkboard
  • Chalk
  • Chalk eraser (napkins work fine)
  • Tape (or glue)
  • Scissors
  • Glue gun (optional)
  • Prop printouts (optional)
  • Bamboo skewers (optional)


  1. The tri-fold board will serve as your backdrop. If you’d like to include any text/images, it’s easy to do. Given that ours was a Thanksgiving shoot, we went with the text, “I am thankful for.” You can easily swap the text for a different phrase—”Happy Birthday Sargon!” for example. We printed the text, rolled up bits of tape and stuck them on the back of the letters to attach them to the board. You can choose to glue instead, but taping allows you to remove the letters should you wish to reuse the board. Also, using tape allows you flexibility if you realize you need to reposition the letters. Tri-fold boards are available anywhere that school supplies are sold, but if you’d like a specific color, chances are Michael’s or a Constructive Playthings Store will have a wider variety.
  2. We set up our tri-fold board on a table and had the kids sit in front of it. Each child was asked what they’re thankful for, and we jotted it down on the chalkboard for them. They then simply posed with the chalkboard as we snapped some photos. You don’t need to be a professional to get a great shot. We bought our chalkboard from Michael’s for $5, but there are always tons in the Target dollar section.
  3. In addition the chalkboard message, we decided to incorporate photo booth props. You can find tons of options on Etsy or at your local Party City for sale, but if you’ve got the time and the soda, you can easily make them yourself. We spent some time googling clip art images (for our Thanksgiving shoot, we went with: turkey, pumpkin, pie, pilgrim hat, fall leaf, corn, ties, a bow-tie/bow, and mustaches—which were hands down the most popular), copied and pasted them into a Word document, and hit print. Our only recommendation here is that you try to find clip art that are similar in theme/style. We printed our images on card-stock, and then laminated them for good measure. Using a glue gun, attach one bamboo skewer to each prop to act as the holder. If you don’t have a glue gun handy, several strips of tape should do the job.


  • Don’t worry about getting the perfect shot. You can always crop later.







6 Ways to Teach Your Kids their Assyrian Heritage

Date: November 10, 2016

Culture is a defining piece of an individual’s identity, shaping how they see themselves and the groups with which they identify. Every community, cultural group or ethnic group has its own values, beliefs, and ways of living. Observable aspects of culture like food, clothing, celebrations, and religion are only parts of a person’s cultural heritage. The shared values, customs, and histories related to a culture shape the way a person thinks, behaves, and interprets the world. Cultural heritage serves as the thread that ties members of the group together and creates a sense of belonging.

As Assyrian families assimilate into the American way of life, many families gradually discard their cultural customs in favor of new traditions. The number of first- and second-generation Assyrian Americans continues to grow in the United States, and its important that they be taught their families’ heritage, in addition to their new country’s traditions. Here are some ways to teach your children about their heritage, even if you’re far from home:

  1. Start with the older generations. 

    Grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other family members who are originally from the homeland can offer a wealth of information about culture and their native country. Suggest that your child—even the younger ones—interview these relatives, asking questions about where they grew up, the cultural foods they ate, the traditions they practiced, and the games they played, and the holidays they celebrated. Jedo and Nana would surely appreciate the interest, and likely have incredible stories to share. After the interview, discuss which of these traditions your family might be able to carry on. Here’s an interview we did earlier this year with an 83-year old Simele Massacre survivor. (Warning: You may need tissues.)

  2. Share traditional dishes. 

    One of the easiest ways to learn about a culture is to indulge in its most popular dishes. Try to incorporate Assyrian dishes into your family’s meals, if you don’t already. Teach your kids a favorite family recipe—you’re guaranteed to make memories that may last a lifetime. Find great recipes online at Assyrian Kitchen. Also, consider trying an Assyrian restaurant. As your kids enjoy the food, spend time talking about what distinguishes Assyrian cuisine from other foods. Larsa’s Mediterranean Restaurant is a local favorite.

  3. Attend Assyrian cultural events and visit local museums.

    Many Assyrian organizations in diaspora hold cultural events celebrating Assyria, often around special holidays like Akitu—the Assyrian New Year. These events provide the ideal opportunity for Assyrian children to learn about their culture as they dance to the music, try different foods, and see native costumes worn and on display. If you’re in the Chicago area, a trip to the Oriental Institute is a must: the Assyria Collection will leave any young one in awe of their history. Check out photos from our students’ recent field trip to the OI.

  4. Keep traditions alive. 

    It is possible to incorporate some popular Assyrian traditions for your family today. Research Assyrian cultural practices and identify those that might fit with your family’s lifestyle. Make Assyrian Martyrs Day mandatory in your household. Play Assyrian music in the car. Make kilecheh for Christmas every year. Try an Assyrian-themed arts and crafts activity around Akitu. The possibilities are endless.

  5. Use books and films to help educate. 

    Stop by the Ashurbanipal Library here at AUAF to find many books that can help teach children about Assyrian culture and history. There are books appropriate even for young children. Encourage your teenagers to choose books that focus on Assyrians—perhaps for their next school book report. We’ve also got a ton of DVDs, including informative documentaries—some are a bit dated, but still worthwhile. We’ve also got pretty much every Assyrian CD (and cassette tape!) ever released.

  6. Learn the language.

    Assyrians who’ve emigrated from the homeland are likely already teaching their children the Assyrian language. But kids in later generations may not learn the language of their ancestors. There are many benefits of learning other languages. Learning new languages makes children smarter and more creative, it helps them become more observant and perceptive, and of course, it fosters cultural understanding. Speak the language at home. Take advantage of wonderful resources like Rinyo or Julia Sorisho Rodgers‘s children’s books. Register your kids for a local Assyrian language class—they’ll probably fight you on this one, but they’ll thank you years from now. In Chicago, the Assyrian National Council of Illinois offers language courses for students of all ages.

Easy Kids Activity: Understanding Heritage

Date: November 1, 2016

Explaining something as abstract as heritage to a young child can be a challenge. They may have some sense of their own culture, but often times they are balancing more than one. By helping your child understand and respect similarities and differences you will also help your child to understand who he is in the context of your race, ethnic group, culture, religion, language and familial history. In so doing, you will provide your child with personally meaningful information and also introduce concepts from anthropology, history, religion, and geography.

Here’s a very simple and quick activity designed to help you initiate this conversation with your children (that also works with their attention spans!):


  • Photos of various items/traditions that represent Assyrian heritage (see our photos below for ideas)
  • Photos of various items/traditions
  • Optional (see #5 below): scissors, glue, poster board


  1. Shuffle photos of Assyrian and non-Assyrian heritage. Place them into a face-down pile.
  2. Before starting, ask the children to define the world culture. They may have some ideas. Here is the simplest definition for a child: Culture is the way people live. Observable aspects of culture include language, clothing, celebrations, art, and food.
  3. Have children alternate picking up a photo from the pile. They should be asked to identify what’s pictured in the photo, and then decide if it’s an example of Assyrian heritage. The photos should then be divided into two piles (Assyrian and non-Assyrian heritage). We ran this activity in a large group setting. Each child was given a photo and told to keep it face-down until it was their turn. When prompted, they showed their image to the group and identified the object—often prompting laughter (i.e. a photo of sushi got the loudest laughs)—and together the group decided whether it was representative of Assyrian heritage. If the answer was yes, the child then added the photo to our board. 
  4. Once you’ve identified all the examples of Assyrian heritage, allow the activity to lead into a discussion. Some sample questions: Which of these items are things we do/use everyday? Which of these traditions are your favorite?
  5. Optional: Encourage children to create a collage using the photos. 


  • Looking to go paperless or save ink? Consider using an iPad to display the photos. Create a photo album with the images (be sure they’re mixed). In this case, consider making a chart where children are encouraged to write down items that are part of Assyrian heritage. (In a large group setting, try a PowerPoint presentation).
  • Another alternative is to create and print a worksheet with these photos and ask children to circle those that can be categorized as Assyrian heritage.






Arts & Crafts for Kids: Little Assyrian Scribes

Date: October 1, 2016

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.


  • Clay
  • 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)


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 TargetAny clay works for this project—you can even use PlayDoh—but stone-colored clay is ideal.
  4. Create printouts to serve as guides. You can choose to use the Assyrian alphabet, Assyrian words, or cuneiform symbolsor 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.
  5. Before getting started, take a few minutes to examine samples of ancient Assyrian writing. Share fun facts (see additional reading below).
  6. 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.
  7. 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.







Q&A with Children’s Books Author Julia Sorisho Rodgers

Date: August 15, 2016

Q: When did you know you wanted to write? 

A few years ago, I took my children to our local library in the Washington, D.C. area, and came across an international books section for young children. I flipped through bilingual books written in Korean, Vietnamese, Spanish, Arabic, and Hebrew. I was inspired by the collection and thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to publish a bilingual Assyrian and English board book?”  I especially wanted to publish board books because my three children used to chew or rip every paperback book we owned.


Q: What attracted you to children’s books? 

I became a mom in 2010, and since then I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of children’s books with my little ones. Like many other parents, I believe that reading to young children can instill a lifelong love for reading and curiosity.  I was inspired by great writers and illustrators who seamlessly blend whimsy with beautiful art, particularly Eric Carle. He’s my favorite children’s writer and illustrator.



“My Assyrian Language Alphabet” by Julia Sorisho Rodgers

Q: Do you have a favorite among your own books? If so, which one and why? 

I really prefer my second book, Atwateh d-Lishani Atoraya. I worked harder at the illustrations. It’s bigger than the first book, and has over 20 illustrations.  I wanted to present the Assyrian Alphabet and corresponding words with images that children can relate to. For example, instead of painting a cross for the word “sleewa,” I painted an image of an Assyrian girl holding a Palm Sunday cross. I imagined that some parents would use the image as an opportunity to talk about Assyrian Christian traditions.  For the word “nooneh,” I painted clown fish thinking children might relate those images to “Finding Nemo.” I also included things children do, like build sandcastles, hold a teddy bear, kick a ball, and blow out birthday candles. I also tried to make some images countable.  Parents can help their kids count the geese, fish, apples, and zebras in the book and build basic math skills.


Q: When did you know you were an artist? 

I illustrate my books, but I definitely do not consider myself an artist.  I never obtained the training I’d need to refine my work. That is not a #humblebrag. Before I started, I did not know the difference between a filbert, a flat brush, or round brush. Often times I’d turn to YouTube and enter searches such as “how to paint skin tones” and “how to paint a beach scene.” I had to improvise and teach myself techniques late at night, after my kids went to bed.



Farm Animals by Julia Sorisho Rodgers

Q: What is the illustration process like? 

For me, it’s quite challenging, especially painting people and children realistically. I did not want to be too literal with my images, but I’m not a cartoonist either. I used Google image searches and perused stock photography to find images of kids, people, and animals that I think were interesting. My pictures are often a modification those images or a composite of many images. I used acrylics, colored pencils, and markers for the illustrations, and used Adobe InDesign to design the book.


Q: What comes first? The words or the pictures? 

For me, the concept comes first. I wrote Khaywate d-Khaqla (Farm Animals) because children have an inexplicable love for animals and the sounds they make. I also thought a classic alphabet book would be a great addition to an Assyrian child’s library. From there, I tried as much as possible to create a rhyme scheme in both books in order to make the books memorable and rhythmic.  I tried as much as possible to not torture our beautiful language. I enlisted the help of many linguists and experts (including Malpana Michael Younan of San Jose, California, and Dr. Alda Benjamen of Washington, D.C.) to fix practically every aspect of my writing – word choice, grammar, syntax, and usage.


Q: What part is more satisfying to you—writing or drawing? 

Definitely drawing. I wish I was a better Assyrian writer, but I definitely do not have the gift or ability to write the way I’d like to write in Assyrian: with whimsy and playfulness like authors such as Sandra Boynton or Dr. Seuss.


Q: What are you working on next? 

I am not sure yet. My relative encouraged me to write an Ancient Assyrian history book for children.  I think there’s a lot of potential in that idea.



Assyrian Alphabet puzzle available for purchase at the Ashurbanipal Library.

Q: What inspires you? 

There is a movement to create new and exciting products for the Assyrian children in diaspora, and I’m inspired by the creativity emerging from that movement.  Elaine Alkhas created a wonderful Assyrian Alphabet puzzle perfect for toddlers. It’s perfect for teaching fine motor skills.  Robert Oshana created an Assyrian Alphabet blocks set that can be used to teach both letters and vocabulary. My kids had a lot of fun playing with those blocks. Shameran Hanna published A Sailor Went to Sea, which is particularly great because proceeds support Christian genocide relief efforts in Iraq and Syria. Then you have an incredible array of apps and videos created by Rinyo, Base2Apps, and Ninos Warda. I am particularly fond of those products because they are fun, creative, and engaging.  In addition to publishing MoonSahraRomil Benyamino just published Benjamin and the Miniature Man. I’m looking forward to adding that book to our library!


Q: What impact do you hope your work will have? 

I hope more people join this movement to create new products for our children. We already spend a small fortune on Legos, Thomas the Train, American Girl dolls, and the like. We need Assyrian-themed toys like superheroes, princesses, and ninjas. We need an Assyrian “Bob the Builder.”


Q: Why do you feel it’s important for Assyrian children to learn their native language?

It’s tough to maintain bilingualism. It is very hard for me to speak Assyrian without making embarrassing mistakes. However, in publishing my books, I’ve discovered that I’m not alone. Certainly, many “second gen” Assyrians are excellent in their reading and writing abilities, but many also share my struggles. Even though it can be hard to speak Assyrian regularly, I pray that we don’t give up. Our language is precious and beautiful. We have to dedicate the time to appreciate it and learn it so that it doesn’t become extinct.


Q: What does a typical day look like for you? 

I am a part-time consultant for a federal government agency (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development).  When I’m not working, I enjoy the fun aspects of motherhood (i.e. building Hot Wheels tracks and ninja-fighting with my kids).  I also reluctantly tackle endless laundry and cooking and cleaning.


julia's gang

Julia’s boys.


Q: Do you read often? What is your all-time favorite book? 

Unfortunately, I do not read as much as I’d like to. The book I’m currently reading is by Dr. Sargon Donabed titled, Reforging a Forgotten History: Iraq and the Assyrians in the Twentieth Century. My favorite book is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.


Q: What’s your favorite quote? 

It’s one of my favorite Bible passages: “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.” Titus 3:4-6


Q: How do you balance your identity as an Assyrian and an American? 

I think I balance my dual identity in a myriad of small ways. I try to cook Assyrian food so that my children are familiar with dishes like dolma and kubbeh. Two of my children have Assyrian first names. I published the bilingual Assyrian/English books to help young families teach their children Assyrian. I also hope that non-Assyrians use the book to learn our language. I try to support Assyrian political activism in Washington whenever possible.


Q: Three words that come to mind when you hear Assyria

“Strong” because of our endurance through almost every horrific tragedy. “Fragile” due to our current persecution, out-migration from our homeland, and destruction of precious historic and cultural sites. “Eternal” because I believe God has a divine plan for our people and will not abandon us.


farm animals

Farm Animals by Julia Sorisho Rodgers

Q: What are you most proud of about your work? 

A few years ago, the Skokie Public Library purchased a few copies of Khaywate d-Khaqla as part of an early childhood literacy partnership with area preschools. I was thrilled to know that SPL was that committed to serving the Assyrian-American population in this way. Also, I was happy to receive grant support for both books from the Naby-Frye Assyrian Fund For Culture (NFAFC). The fund helped defray printing and shipping costs, which tend to be relatively high for board book printing. Finally, I’m most thrilled when I get emails from parents who tell me their children like reading my book with their grandparents — those are wonderful memories to make.


Q: Where can people purchase your books? 

Both of my books are available on Amazon: Atwateh d-Lishani Atouraya and Khaywate d-Khaqla. For bulk orders, email me at


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