The Story of Grace Hopper for Kids

Has your curiosity ever gotten you in trouble? Maybe you took something apart or made a mess while you were trying to find out how it worked, or maybe you’ve asked a grown-up a question they didn’t know how to answer. If so, don’t feel bad about yourself! You have something in common with some of the smartest and most innovative people in history, including the subject of today’s episode, Grace Murray Hopper. 

Grace was born and raised in New York City, and she was a very curious child. Her family had a large summer home, which they shared with her many cousins. Each of the seven bedrooms in the house had an alarm clock, and every evening, Grace’s mother would set each alarm clock. This was the early twentieth century, so these weren’t the kind of alarm your parents might have on their phone, or even a digital alarm clock. These were old-fashioned clocks with gears in them and two bells on top. When the alarm rang, a small hammer would go back and forth, quickly hitting the bells and making a loud, high-pitched ring. This kind of ringing was impossible to sleep through! If you imagine what an old-fashioned fire alarm might sound like, it would be similar to that. 

Grace was fascinated by the alarm clocks, and wanted to know how they worked. So she took one apart! But looking at the pile of gears, springs, and hands, in front of her, she still wasn’t sure. 

So she took apart another. 

Then another. 

Eventually, Grace took apart all seven alarm clocks, trying to figure out how all the tiny, complicated pieces worked together. Her mother wasn’t exactly happy about all the alarm clocks in the house being broken, but she was understanding, and she let Grace keep one clock to study.

Grace’s father also supported Grace’s curiosity. He encouraged her and her sister to get as much education as they could so they could support themselves. This was not common for girls in the early 1900s. Grace especially loved math and geometry. She used geometry to draw pictures. This is a fun way to use math – try to see what you can draw some time just using the basic shapes like circles, squares, and triangles. If you look around, you’ll notice these shapes, along with angles, lines, curves, and other things that can be described with numbers, in many things you see every day.

Grace worked hard in school, and was almost able to start college when she was sixteen! Why almost? Her test scores in math were very high, but her scores in Latin were too low. But, just as she had done with the alarm clocks, Grace didn’t quit trying after one failure. She tried again, and was able to start college the next year at seventeen. She graduated with degrees in math and physics in 1928. She went on to get a PhD in math at Yale in 1934. Eventually, she became a math professor at Vassar College.

When World War II started, Grace tried to join the Navy, which had just started accepting women. Her grandfather had been in the Navy, and she wanted to follow in his footsteps. But the Navy wouldn’t take Grace! Their reasons for rejecting her were not what you might think: they said she was valuable to the war effort as a math professor; she was too thin for her height; and she was too old at 34. This shows us another important lesson: people often don’t say no to you because they don’t like you. They might say no because of rules they have to follow, or because you’re too important! Not a bad reason to be rejected, right?

But knowing Grace, you can probably guess that this rejection didn’t hold her back. She tried again. Grace took a leave of absence from her job as a professor and volunteered for the Naval Reserves. She had to get special permission due to her weight being too low, but she got to serve in the Navy and support the war effort, just like she wanted. Not only that, she was at the top of her class in the training program! The Navy sent her to Harvard University to work on the first computer made in the United States, the Mark I.

Grace worked on programming the Mark I to help the navy solve problems on their ships. Programming a computer means giving it instructions so it will do what you want it to do. You might be wondering why Grace was given a job programming computers. But, have you ever thought about why a computer is called a computer? Well, it’s because their original purpose was to compute things, to do complex math that humans can’t do quickly. The navy used the Mark I to help them track the location of enemy ships and submarines. It could perform math quickly, and never made mistakes like human mathematicians sometimes do. But, the Mark I did need humans to tell it exactly what math to do, and that was Grace’s job. 

Early computers were programmed using numbers and symbols. You had to understand a lot of mathematics to program a computer, which is why many early programmers like Grace, had degrees in math. Programming was complicated and it was easy to make mistakes, even for an expert. So Grace would save pieces of programs that did specific things so she could use them again in new programs. She also developed a system that allowed the computer to find these pieces of code without her having to input all of it again.

After the war, in 1949, Grace went to work at Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation. Here, she worked on Univac, the first computer in the United States to be sold to businesses for general purposes. This got her thinking about what people were trying to do with computers, and she realized not everyone could get their job done using only the language of math, numbers and symbols. Grace thought there should be computer programming languages that were based on the English language. This would make it easier for more people to learn to program and use computers to help them do their jobs. But, in order to create this kind of programming language, she also needed to invent the technology to translate English-based commands into the mathematical language that computers understood.

And that’s exactly what Grace did! She called her translator a compiler. If you want to imagine what a compiler does, think of all the word problems you’ve seen in your math books. You might have a problem like:

“Dan has seven apples. He gives three of them to Isaac. How many apples does Dan have left?”

The English words in this sentence give us clues about what kind of math problem we need to do. We know that the special words seven and three are numbers. We know if someone gives something away, they will have fewer of that thing. This gives us a clue that we need to subtract to find the answer. Once we think it through a bit, we can figure out that we need to write a math problem, “seven minus three equals” and then compute the answer. A compiler does something similar: it has a set of rules it uses to take the commands and translate them into numbers. The rules are more complicated than the subtraction word problem we just talked about, but the idea is similar.   

At first, the men Grace worked with thought this idea was crazy. But she kept working on her ideas for years, and eventually, others who worked with computers accepted them. Grace also reached her goal of inventing the first programming language based on English words, rather than numbers and symbols. This new language became known as COBOL. It was used for decades, and is even still used today. More importantly, COBOL inspired many other computer scientists to invent new programming languages based on human language to solve different types of problems. Today there are dozens of languages, and millions of people who learn and use them everyday. 

Later Grace returned to working for the Navy. After a long career, she reached the rank of rear admiral. At the time, she was one of the highest ranking women in the Navy. She retired in 1986 at the age of 80, but even after retiring, she continued to work. She was always eager to help young people learn about computers and programming, and aside from inventing the compiler, she said this was one of her greatest accomplishments.

Grace used to have a clock on her office wall. It was the kind of clock with hands that tick off the hours, seconds and minutes, just like the alarm clocks she took apart as a child. But this clock was unique: its hands went around in the opposite direction from other clocks. Instead of going clockwise, her clock went counter-clockwise! Even though the clock went backwards, it still ticked off the hours and minutes reliably, and gave the right time. 

Grace said this clock was a reminder that you don’t have to do things the same way everyone else is doing them. If you think you have a different or better way to do something, you should try it, even if others don’t understand at first. And as she showed so many times in her life, don’t just try once. Try over and over again until you get it! If you have a good idea and work hard to make it a reality, other people will eventually notice. 

Grace never gave up when she had a goal or a  great idea, even when others around her didn’t support her. She kept working on her ideas, and showing her work to others, until they had to listen, and, often, had to admit she’d been right all along! She knew that good ideas didn’t always fit the way people had done things in the past. They might even seem a little crazy at first. But without crazy new ideas we wouldn’t make any progress.

Sources

https://stories.vassar.edu/2017/assets/images/170706-legacy-of-grace-hopper-hopperpdf.pdf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Hopper

The History of The Eiffel Tower for Kids

Imagine yourself standing at the top of a tall building, one that is the most famous building in the world.  You look out on all sides and can see the whole city around you.  There are old fashioned buildings and cars.  People are walking and talking together.  Some people are riding bikes and some ride on boats that are floating along on the river below you.  The boats disappear for a second as they cross beneath below you.  But they reappear again and cruise slowly along their way.  You are in Paris and the building you are visiting is the Eiffel Tower. 

There are many important and famous buildings in the world but one of the most famous, loved by people everywhere is the Eiffel Tower in Paris. You have probably heard of the Eiffel Tower before, but have you ever wondered how it was made? Or why? 

The Eiffel Tower was built in 1889 and is now the most recognizable building in the world.  Can you imagine what it would have taken to build something like this in the old days?  When it was first built, many local people in Paris were not sure that they would like it.  They doubted that it would be a good building and some did not want it to be built in their city. 

The idea for the Eiffel Tower came about as part of the planning for the World’s Fair in 1889.  Paris was the host of the World’s Fair that year to mark the 100-year anniversary of the French Revolution.  The City of Paris wanted to host a memorable event and wow the crowds that would come there.  Memorable means something worth remembering because it is special.

The City asked for designers and artists to create plans for a monument for the city to mark the event.  A monument is a statue, building, or other structure that is meant to be a symbol for something. In this case, it was meant to be a symbol marking the World Fair.  More than 100 artists submitted plans for the monument.  It was going to be built on a famous street called the Champ-de-Mars in central Paris.  It was going to be the entrance to the fair when it started.

The winning company was a consulting and construction firm owned by an architect named Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel. An architect is a person who designs buildings and often oversees their construction.

While Mr. Eiffel often receives credit for designing the Eiffel Tower, it was actually one of his employees, an engineer named Maurice Koechlin, who came up with the idea. The design idea came to him because a few years before that, the two men had bought the metal and he had been trying to find a project they could use it for.

The final design for the Eiffel Tower required more than 18,000 pieces iron and 2.5 million rivets. Rivets are short metal pins used for holding together two plates of metal. Several hundred workers spent two years putting together the frame of the tower.  When it was finished it was almost 1,000 feet high and was the tallest structure in the world at the time. It weighs around 10,000 tonnes!

At the time of the World’s Fair, the tower was lit up by hundreds of game lamps and a beacon sent out beams of red, white and blue. Searchlights from the tower illuminated different parts of the fair. The start and end of the fair each day was announced by a cannon explosion from the top. 

At the top the set up a post office where visitors to the fair could send postcards to friends and family. Many famous people visited the Eiffel Tower during the World’s Fair. These included the Prince of Wales, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Thomas Edison. Thomas Edison, an engineer himself was particularly impressed with the tower. 

There were also millions of regular people who visited the Eiffel Tower during the World’s Fair and afterwards. Many were very impressed with it, but some were not.  Some people who lived in Paris thought that it changed the way the city looked and thought it was ugly.

At first, only the Eiffel Tower’s second-floor platform was open to the public.  Today, all the levels are open and two of them even have restaurants.  The first two levels can be accessed by stairs, but the top, third level, requires taking an elevator to get to.

When the Eiffel Tower was originally built, it was meant to be a temporary building for the World’s Fair that would be torn down later.  However, the city realized that it could be used as a radio tower and so they decided to keep it.  Many years later, the Eiffel Tower was used to intercept enemy radio communications during the first world war. 

Throughout the years, the Eiffel Tower has been used for many important ceremonies and events.  It has also appeared in many, many movies.  It has become such a popular building that there are now more than 30 structures around the world that are copies of the Eiffel Tower design, including one in Las Vegas.

In 1986, the Eiffel Tower was renovated.  Renovated means to restore something so that it looks nice.  It is now repainted every seven years to keep it looking fresh.  Every time it is repainted, it uses 50 tonnes of paint!.  

Every year more than 7 million people visit the Eiffel Tower.  It is the most frequently visited structure in the world. The French name for the Eiffel Tower is “La Tour Eiffel”, it also has the nickname “La dame de fer” which means the iron lady.

There are more than 500 people who work at the Eiffel Tower.  They work in its restaurants and maintaining its safety and security.  There are people who clean it and there are people that run the elevator that takes visitors to the top.

At the top of the Eiffel Tower, you can look out and see the beautiful view of Paris.  People from all over the world come not only to look at the Eiffel Tower, but also to ride to the top and see the beautiful city of Paris, which is also called the City of Lights.

Have you ever been to the Eiffel Tower?  Would you like to visit it one day?  If you want to visit somewhere like this, keep the vision of it in your mind.  There are many people who have dreamed of visiting the Eiffel Tower with someone they love or on their own and have made it happen by saving money and making plans to visit.  Can you picture yourself standing on the top of the tower and looking out on the beautiful view?  Hopefully you will get a chance to visit one day.

Alternative Energy for Kids

Close your eyes and imagine that you’re living in a futuristic city. Looking at the horizon, you can see towering wind turbines gently rotating in the wind. On the other side, you can see a whole field of solar panels. A nearby dam uses river water to produce even more electricity. The air you breathe is clean and fresh. The cars and other vehicles don’t give off any smoke or pollution. Your surroundings are clean and green, with plants growing all around you. Far away, you can see an old power plant, which is being demolished to make way for new, alternative energy sources. You can also see several large factories nearby, but none of them are emitting black smoke! This is what a city looks like where alternative energy rules the world .

So, what actually is alternative energy? As you may know, today we rely almost completely on petroleum and coal-based energy sources which are called fossil fuels. Energy companies obtain these resources from deep inside the earth’s surface and refine it to produce different fuels, like gas, gasoline, diesel and kerosene. These fuels are burned in power plants to produce electricity. Petroleum was formed by the remains of tiny plants and animals that died millions of years ago. Coal, on the other hand, was formed by larger plants like ferns. These dead materials were covered by layers of mud, rock, and soil over the years. Because of the pressure caused by all the top layers and the heat from earth’s core, the plant and animal remains transformed into petroleum and coal.  Because it took millions of years for petroleum and coal to form, this means that the amount of fossil fuel resources in the world are limited and won’t last forever. Since the number of people in the world  and businesses  in the world keep increasing and advancing, the need  for energy is also rising.  This is why finding new ways to harness energy is so important! Luckily, the world already has a lot of alternative energy sources and smart scientists and engineers are always working on finding new ways to harness energy and improve the technology we already have.

The alternative sources of energy include solar power, wind power, hydro power, tidal energy, geothermal energy, and biomass energy. These are called renewable energy, because they are naturally replenished in a short amount of time unlike petroleum. For example, there’s always more sun and wind! 

First let’s talk about solar energy. Solar energy is the energy we get from the sun. The sun is an incredibly huge, ball of energy which lights Earth with its rays we receive as sunlight. For thousands of years, people have used the sun’s energy to cook food, dry clothes, and keep warm. In our day, people have invented technologies to transform sunlight or solar energy into electrical power. This is done by solar cells, which are also called “photovoltaic” cells. “Photo” means “light” in Latin and “voltaic” stands for “electricity”. So, it’s basically turning sunlight into electricity! Pretty amazing, right? Solar panels are made by putting together many solar cells. If you’ve ever seen shiny panels on rooftops, those are solar panels. A few of my neighbors have them. In Arizona, solar panels are popular because we get LOTS of sunshine. It can also save people money, because the panels capture the light energy from the sun and turn it into electricity that can be used to power all the electric equipment in their house. Solar panels are sometimes used to power boats, food trucks, buildings, and satellites. Although solar energy IS renewable, how much energy they can produce depends on the time of day, season of the year and location in the world. For example, Arizona is much better for solar panels than a place like England that is often cloudy.

Now, let’s talk about wind energy. Wind energy is made from the wind, which is freely available to us just like sunlight. During the middle ages, people used wind power to pump water or grind grains. They built windmills to do that. Nowadays, people use a large structure called a wind turbine to make electricity using wind power. You may have seen these wind turbines as very tall structures that have long blades to capture the wind. Wind turbines can be around 400 feet tall, because the turbine blades need to reach high up into the atmosphere where the wind is faster than on the ground. The power of the wind is transformed into electricity by a small machine called a turbine generator which is connected to the turbine blades. Energy companies build hundreds of wind turbines in large fields where there are a lot of wind. These areas covered with wind turbines are called “wind farms”. When our family drives to California we pass through a huge wind farm. If you’ve never seen a wind farm look up pictures of San Gorgonio Pass. It’s pretty amazing.

The next form of alternative energy is hydropower or hydro energy and is made by using the power of moving water. In the past, people have used the power of water by making water wheels in rivers. Ancient Egyptians used hydro energy to grind grains and early Americans used it to saw wood. In the 1800’s, scientists discovered how to make electrical energy using hydro energy by turning the turbines of a generator. So, it works a little bit like wind power. To harness hydro energy today, people build a dam across a river which creates a water reservoir, which is like a man-made lake. By making a reservoir, we can have a controlled flow of water which can be used to generate electricity. That is, powerplant workers can control the amount and speed of the water flowing out of the dam. So, unlike solar or wind energy, hydro power is more constant and controllable. In Arizona we have the Hoover Dam and Glen Canyon Dam that generate a ton of electricity using hydro power. Be sure to lookup pictures of these impressive dams.

Tidal power is another type of hydro power. But instead of using inland waters like rivers and reservoirs, the energy of seawater is used to make electricity from tidal energy. Ocean tides usually occur twice daily, and tidal powerplants use turbine generators to convert that energy into electricity. Tidal turbines are placed in the path of the tidal waves. When the waves hit the turbine blades, they begin to spin. This movement is transformed into electric power using the turbine generators. So, you can see that the design of wind turbines and hydro turbines are very similar. However, tidal power can change based on the season. We cannot control it like how we control the power generated from a reservoir.

Geothermal energy is a form of alternative energy, that is obtained from the earth’s core. You may already know that the core of the earth is packed with heat. You can sometimes see this heat coming out of volcanoes and geysers. Geothermal energy can be used for heating, cooking and in electricity generation. We get it by circulating water or other liquids through underground tubes. The liquids absorb the geothermal heat and bring it back up. The captured heat can be directly used for heating. It can also be used to produce electricity using steam turbines.

Another really interesting form of alternative energy is biomass. Biomass is  biological materials such as sugar cane, straw, wood chips and many other plant materials. These can be burned to generate electricity instead of burning fossil fuels. Biomass can also be used to make other types of fuel such as diesel and biogas that can replace petroleum-based fuels. This makes biomass different and more important than the other types of alternative energy we discussed. That’s because biomass can be used to produce solid, liquid and gaseous forms of energy instead of just electricity. 

It’s pretty exciting to consider all of the new forms of energy that have been developed over the last 100 years and the improvements that are happening every day. Does alternative energy interest you? If so, do an internet search to watch videos of some of the amazing things people are doing to use renewable energy and what is being done at places like wind and solar farms. Also, more and more engineers and inventors are needed to solve the energy problems we have. Does engineering interest you? If so, math and science are important subjects to improve at. Also, being creative and coming up with lots of ideas. Can you think of an interesting way to use alternative energy to power something you use everyday?

With all of the new inventions, we have more and more options and not one of them is perfect, so many people believe a combination of technologies will solve the problems of pollution while sustaining all of our energy needs. There are over 7 billion people on this planet, so we need to find ways we can all live here and have enough energy without polluting this precious gift we can be given. 

History of Thomas Edison for Kids

Take a moment to cover your ears so you can’t hear anything.

How does it feel to not be able to hear anything? It would be difficult to know what was going on and to be able to communicate with others, right?

Tonight, we are going to talk about a very successful businessman and an inventor who on his twelfth birthday developed hearing problems and became completely deaf in one ear. Thomas Edison. 

Thomas Alva Edison was born in 1847 in Milan, Ohio. But, in 1854, his family decided to move to Port Huron, Michigan where he was raised.

Thomas was the seventh child and the youngest in his family. Edison was home-schooled by his mother. He attended public school but only for a short period. 

For whatever reason, Thomas struggled in school, so his teachers thought he wasn’t smart enough, so his mother decided to teach him herself. She taught how to read and write. 

Sometimes people who struggle in school don’t have problems, they just don’t do well in a normal school setting. This was the case with Edison and the genius Albert Einstein ran into the same problem.  

After a while, Thomas developed a love for books. He read a lot of books and taught himself on his own. As a child, he was amazed at technology and new inventions and started spending long hours working on experiments at home. 

He loved to tinker and try new things. He would try different ways to solve a problem until he figured it out. This is called “tinkering” and one way that inventors solve problems. 

When Thomas was 12 he became  completely deaf in one ear and developed a hearing problem in the second “ear” too.  

But what was at first a handicap, ended up being helpful to Thomas. His  hearing problem allowed him to concentrate on his work. 

Because he is not able to hear things properly, outside noise is not able to distract him from his work, and as a result, he went on to become one of the greatest inventors in history with 1,093 inventions!

When Thomas was young  he decided to sell candy, newspapers and vegetables on the trains running between Port Huron and Detroit.  

One day a young boy was on the train tracks. Thomas spotted him and pulled him off the tracks, saving the boy’s life. The train officials took notice and offered Thomas the job of a telegraph operator. 

The telegraph is a device that was used to send messages at distance using a wire before the telephone was invented.

Thomas was earning good money by the time he was 13, but most of the money went to buying equipment for his electric and chemical experiments. He had always been  very hardworking. 

He had also been  selling newspapers on the street and at 19, decided to work for the newspaper Newswire. He asked to work at night  so he could spend the day time hours on his  experiments and reading.   

Thomas was so into his work he even  did his experiments while working on the job. In one accident caused by sulphuric acid, he lost his job. Edison started his own company in October 1869. 

Next, let’s talk about some of his world-changing inventions..  

At the age of 22, Thomas invented an electric vote recorder, he also developed a multiplex telegraphic system, which could send two telegraph messages at the same time.  

Thomas’s most famous invention came in the year 1879 when he built his first light bulb. It took a very long time to figure out how to build the lightbulb and he had many technicians working on the project.

They tried hundreds of different materials until they found the best one for the lightbulb. This invention made him a very famous inventor across the world and even today many people know Edison for this invention alone. 

Edison was granted a right (known as a patent) for the motion picture camera known as “Kinetograph”. This was one of the first devices for watching movies. With this motion camera, Edison also had a  film studio made around 1,200 films.  

Some of the film’s names were:  Fred Ott’s Sneeze (1894), The Kiss (1896), The Great Train Robbery (1903), Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1910), and the first Frankenstein film in 1910. 

Edison won several medals like Matteucci Medal (1887)-It’s an Italian medal given to a person who is an expert in the field of physics and the Edward Longstreth Medal in 1899 for the encouragement of invention. 

In 1890, he was chosen as a member of the famous Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

In the United States, there are buildings and bridges named after Edison, particularly, the town of Edison and Thomas Edison State University, both in New Jersey. 

There is a bridge in the state of New Jersey, Florida and Ohio named after Edison, all three are known as “the Edison Bridge”. 

Thomas Edison invented many things, but his work was not easy. On December 10, 1914, in the evening, a massive fire broke out in his laboratory at West Orange, New Jersey. Edison was called and  quickly rushed to his lab. 

The fire was so fierce that it burned more than half of the laboratory. It was very hard to put out.

Edison stood and watched his years of research work burn to ashes. Everyone was worried that Edison would not be able to recover from this shock. 

But instead Edison  peacefully walked over to his son and told him, “Go get your mother and all her friends. They’ll never see a fire like this again.”  

His son couldn’t believe it. Edison went on to say, “It’s all right. We’ve just got rid of a lot of rubbish”

“Although I am over 67 years old, I’ll start all over again tomorrow.”  

True to his word, the very next day Thomas Edison got to work rebuilding the lab.

To do incredible things, we need to be resilient enough to bear disaster and setbacks. Resilience means to get back up when we’ve had setbacks. We’ve got to love what we do in life. 

We have to find happiness in every single thing that occurs. Because of  Edison’s positive thinking, he was able to start working again even with setbacks and create so many useful inventions. 

Edison’s life teaches us that everyone has challenges, but if we don’t lose hope and remain confident enough, we can move mountains. 

Remember Thomas Edison next time you have something difficult happen to you and you wonder if you can keep going.

History of Benjamin Franklin for Kids

Have you heard of a Founding Father before? A Founding Father is someone who helped start the United States of America. Benjamin Franklin was a Founding Father. Some have also called him the First American, because he had so many of the traits that would become known as American, such as hard work and independence. Independence is when you do something for yourself. 

Ben Franklin was born in Boston Massachusetts to a very large family. He had 17 brothers and sisters! His family didn’t have very much money so he only went to school for 2 years. But he did spend a lot of time reading on his own. He also learned to write and enjoyed doing it.

When he was young he worked for his older brother who was a printer. A printer would print newspapers and books for other people. Printing was important, because it was the best way to share an idea at that time. Printers would use little metal letters and build entire pages of words and sentences, then use black ink to make copies of the metal letters. Because Ben was working for his older brother he was called an “apprentice.” An apprentice is someone who is learning to become a master at a certain skill like printing. 

While Ben was working as a printer he also liked to write for the newspaper. He would use a fake name Silence Dogood to write in the newspaper. He pretended to be an old lady and wrote funny jokes. Many people in the town thought this was very funny and didn’t know it was Ben writing the jokes. 

After a few years Ben left his brother’s shop and started working for a new printer. His job was to set the metal letters in the big printing machine. He was also a clerk, a shopkeeper and a bookkeeper. He liked to stay busy and to learn all he could while he was working.

Around this time, when he was 20 years old, Ben formed a group including other Americans who also liked to read. Books cost a lot of money to buy, and there were no libraries, so Ben and his friends started their own library. They shared the books they read and met together to talk about what they read. Later in his life Ben would help start some of the first libraries in America because he knew reading and learning were so important.

After working for other printers for many years, Ben started his own printing shop. He wrote about his own ideas and used parts of the paper to talk about good morals. Morals are the things that are good to do in life — like being honest, being kind, not stealing and working hard. Ben made lists of what he wanted to do better each day then at the end of the day checked the boxes on what he did good at and made note of what he needed to do better. He believed improving each day was very important.

Ben was very interested in science and invention. He studied electricity. At the time no one had electricity, which means they had no lights or electronics like we do today. Ben saw lightning during a storm and guessed that it must be electricity. Sometimes when lightning hit tall buildings it started fires. Ben had the idea to put a metal pole on the top of buildings, so when the lightning struck the pole it would go into the ground instead of start fires. This invention was called a lightning rod. Many people think that Ben used a kite to discover lightning was electricity, but he really just wrote about the idea and someone else tried it.

Ben also invented a certain type of eye glasses called bifocals, which allowed someone to see differently depending on the part of the glasses they were looking through.

Ben also liked to play chess. He also created the first Fire Department and helped start some of the first universities in the United States.

Because of his newspapers and his inventions and other achievements Ben Franklin became very well known in America and across the ocean in Europe. When many Americans disagreed with England about taxes, Ben was on the side of the Americans who wanted change. He wrote about his ideas and even helped Thomas Jefferson write the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence was a paper they wrote to tell England they wanted to be their own country and to be free.

A war began between America and England, so Ben took a ship across the ocean to ask for France’s help. The French people loved Ben Franklin. He liked to wear a fur hat and talk about science and his inventions. They thought he was interesting and fun to talk to. France ended up helping America fight and later win the war against England. 

In his new country, Ben helped put together the first Constitution. The Constitution was a list of laws to help the country stay together and work well. To the end of his life Ben did all he could to help make America a strong country. 

Earlier we talked about some of the morals, good things we should do, that Ben wrote about in his paper. Ben wasn’t a perfect person, like all of us, but he wanted to do good things. 

He wrote about temperance. Temperance is not doing too much of something such as eating. We need good food for our bodies, but too much of it isn’t always a good thing. We can usually tell by how our stomachs feel when we are eating.

He also taught about silence. Sometimes it’s good to speak up, but other times it’s better to listen and think about what we should say. If we don’t think before we speak, we often say things we don’t really mean.

Order means to think about what we are doing and have a plan. We shouldn’t spend all our time doing the same thing, but giving the right amount of time to each good thing.

Frugality means to be careful with the money that you have. It’s easy to want to spend all of your money, but it’s better to spend money on what you need and to save some. It’s ok to spend some of your money on fun things, but not all of it.

Industry means to stay busy doing useful things. Each day we can make a plan of what we want to do and then get to work. Having fun is good in its own time, but we should also spend time learning, helping others, and getting chores and other things done.

Justice means treating others well and doing our best to make things fair.

Cleanliness means we should take care of our bodies by keeping them cleaning, bathing each day, and brushing our teeth.

Like Ben, we can do our best to live by these teachings each day. You could even keep track of your goals like Ben did in his journals and checklists. You can also read and learn and come up with new ideas that will help other people like Ben’s lightning rod. You can also be courageous and stand up for good things like Ben did during the Revolution. 

History of the Transcontinental Railroad for Kids

Do you know what a train is? You may have seen one when your car was stopped and you had to wait to watch it pass. Or maybe you’ve even taken a ride on a train. Trains are extremely important because they move goods and people from one place to another and can do it very quickly. Railroads are one of the most important parts of American History, because the country is very big and they helped connect the East and the West.

Many years ago it took a very long time to travel from the East to the West. Most people had to take a boat all the way around the continent, a journey which took months to complete. Travellers could also take a wagon across the dangerous wilderness and tall mountains to get from one side of the country to another. Either way, it was a very difficult journey and kept the country separated in many ways. 

But in the 1800s gold was discovered in the West and many Americans moved there to try and strike it rich. But one major problem was how long it took to get to the gold. One man, Asa Whitney, believed a railroad could be built right through the the middle of the country. Many doubted this could be done, but Asa made a plan and went to the government with his idea, but at first no progress was made.

Later, an American named Theodore Judah decided to find a way to build a railroad across the country. He was a surveyor. A surveyor is someone who looks at the land with special tools and finds ways to build roads and buildings on it. Theodore had many good ideas about how the railroad could be built. He had to learn much about math and other sciences in order to design maps that could be used to make a path for the railroad. 

Eventually two big companies, the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad caught the vision of the railroad and decided to make it happen. They would call it the Transcontinental Railroad. Soon afterward one company started in California and the other started in Nebraska with a plan to meet in the middle. 

Building the railroad across the United Stated was a dangerous task and extremely difficult at times. They had to build tall bridges across wide rivers. To go through mountains they had to dig deep holes, then place gun powder in them and blow them up to create even deeper holes that went all the way through the mountain. Many smart engineers worked on creating a path for the 2000 miles of track that were being laid. Railroad tracks were laid by pounding spikes into railroad ties. All of this work was done by hand, by pounding each spike in with a hammer. This was very difficult work and many workers didn’t survive the hard labor. Americans of all different races and colors helped build the railroad. One group that did much of the work were Chinese immigrants. An immigrant is someone who comes from another country. Chinese immigrants worked long and hard for very little pay to help complete the monumental task. 

In 1869 after eight years of work the two companies met in the middle at Promontory Point, Utah. They threw a big party to celebrate the completion of the railroad. A gold spike had been prepared as the last spike in the railroad. President of the Central Pacific Railroad, Governor Stanford gave a speech then lifted a hammer to pound the last spike into the ground. But he swung and missed! The crowd burst out laughing. “He missed it!” They said. He swung again and hit the gold spike in. Everyone cheered! 

News of the finished railroad was sent by telegram to both parts of the country. When it reached New York and California they fired off cannons to show their excitement. It was truly an exciting time for the United States of America! A trip across the country that had taken many months now only took 10 days! The new Transcontinental Railroad was truly an engineer miracle of hard work and smart minds all working together to accomplish a common task.

The Stone Age for Kids

Close your eyes and imagine you are walking through the forest. You hear birds whistling in the air and watch a squirrel scurry up a tree trunk. You look down at your feet. They are bare! And your clothes are rough and made out of deer skin. You move around the forest looking for berries and nuts. You suddenly see some and shout for joy. You pick as many as you can, place them in a leather sack, and then run along a path out into an open meadow. In the meadow are brown huts made out of sticks and mud and clay. Smoke from campfires rise above the meadow and the people of your tribe are busy roasting fish and nuts. You find your family and show them your find of berries and nuts. Your mother and father are very happy and gets to work smashing them up for dinner. This is what it may have been like to live as a child during the Stone Age.

Like this child, if you had been born 10,000 or more years ago your life would have been very different! Would you like to live during this time? Or not? 

In our last episode, we learned all about the first human cities. We talked a little about what life was life was like before cities. Most humans lived in small tribes and wandered for their food. And groups of humans lived like this for a very, very long time. This was a time known as the Stone Age because the best tools people had were made out of stone. The Stone Age was divided into the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic Age. During much of this time, the earth was very cold during what was known as the Ice Age.  

As you can imagine, during this time the main purpose of these early humans was to just survive. This means finding food to eat and staying safe. Their world was very dangerous. They had to worry about staying warm, keeping the bad weather off, and avoiding dangerous animals. And getting enough to eat, of course. So they spent most of their time looking for food and trying to stay safe. Stone Age humans found food in many different ways. One of those ways was by gathering it. They looked high and low for berries to eat, roots, mushrooms, seeds, edible plants, nuts, grasses, and really anything that would give their body nutrition. The children probably spent most of the time just trying to gather anything their tribe could eat. They used their stone tools to smash whatever they gathered in stone bowls until it was easier to eat or cooked it into soups. They also ate meat. If they lived near a river they speared fish or at certain times of the year they hunted larger animals. When they did kill animals to eat, they often had big feasts and ate as much as they could because they weren’t sure when it would be until they could find meat again. And they didn’t only eat the meat, but used every part of the animal possible to stay alive. For example, when they killed a mammoth they used the hides for clothing and for their homes and the tusks for tools. Through the Ice Age humans relied on the big mammoths. If you haven’t seen a picture of a wooly mammoth before, they are similar to elepaphants but are hairier with longer tusks. 

They also hunted deer, bison, pig, and any other type of animal that would give them meat. A very long time ago, huge animals such as the wooly mammoth roamed the earth. The other big animals were saber tooth tigers which were like modern day tigers, but bigger and had had huge curved teeth. 

Stone Age humans were able to survive because they had found ways to sharpen stone tools and use very strong stones such as flint. Flint tools allowed them to chop meat and cut hides into clothing. They made arrowheads and spears out of flint, which gave them an advantage over animals. Eventually they developed hunting tools like a slingshot and bow and arrow. They also made harpoons for fishing out of ivory, which was the tusks of mammoths and hammers out of the hard stones they found.

Eventually, after the Ice Age, humans also found ways to start some basic farming, by planting their own seeds, and by domesticating animals. This means keeping animals in a fenced area and using them to make more animals. They domesticated goats, pigs, chickens, and other animals. 

Through the Ice Age humans were only able to survive becaus they used animal skins and furs to keep themselves warm and build shelters. Their shelters were like tents when they needed to be on the move or were huts made out of strong sticks and mud and clay with straw roofs. Often they also found deep caves that kept them warm. They had also learned how to start fires by striking flint in order to create a spark. This spark was struck into kindling, which was then used to build a fire. Fire kept humans warm through the winter and was also used to cook and preserve meat. It was also used in other ways to make food. With all of these special skills, many tribes of humans were able to survive the long Ice Age until the earth warmed. Once the earth warmed humans were able to grow faster and settle in places like rivers. This is around the same time the megafauna like the Wooly Mammoth died out. We aren’t sure whether this happened because of the change in the weather or because they were hunted to extinction by humans. But with the good weather, humans moved into the period called the Neolithic where they farmed more, domesticated more animals, and didn’t have to move so much like their ancestors. 

Stone Age humans spent most of their time eating and staying safe, but they also spent some time creating the first art. Paintings can be found in caves and on rock from thousands of years ago. Rock drawings are called petroglyphs. They carved pictures of the animals around them and human shapes that look like some of the stick figures you or your brothers or sisters might draw. Very ancient cave paintings were found in a cave in France near a town called Altimira nearly 14,000 years ago. These people also found ways to play music using very early flutes and drums. Our Stone Age ancestors were creative we are today. They probably sang and danced and told stories around the fire at night. Because they hadn’t figured out how to write stories down, the people who told stories had to memorize them or make them up. Then these stories were passed down. This is also called an oral tradition. The stories were about their lives, their hunts, or the gods they believed in that caused mysterious things to happen like the change in weather. They didn’t understand why things happened, so they made up stories to explain them. This is called mythology and each group probably had different gods and explanations for why things happened. 

Often large groups of tribes had the same beliefs and constructed the first basic temples to their gods. In some sites, large stones have been found standing in a circle. It must have taken many humans pulling on ropes to make these hugs rocks called megoliths to stand upright. It was here that together they worshiped their gods. When their loved ones died, they created grave sites and buried them with their things. They found way to memorialize, or remember them, after they passed away.

Over time, humans began to gather into communities and then into towns and eventually large cities. Be sure to check out our episode about The First Cities to learn more about Bronze Age humans. But even though many people turned into city-dwellers, many other humans lived like Stone Age humans for a long time after this. Even today there are small tribes that live deep in the jungles of places like the Amazon and still use stone tools and hunting and gathering to survive. Isn’t that wild!? 

Would you like to live like our Stone Age ancestors, or do you like living like we do today? If so, why? Are there things better about their lives in some ways? And in what ways is your life better? Think about some of the things you have to be grateful for that they didn’t have. We usually have more food to eat and are safer than they were. We have many modern conveniences to be grateful for. When I asked my kids, they said some things about Stone Age life sounded fun. Like being able to be outside and roam around in nature all day. Like many things are ups and downs to all ways of life. Spend some time thinking about what it would be like if you lived during their day.

Thanks for listening to this episode about the Stone Age and be sure to tune in next Monday for a brand, new episode!

The History of Glass for Kids

If you look around your house, and it’s like mine, you’ll probably notice a very common item. Jars are made out of it, some cups and bowls are made out of it, maybe a few decorations on your shelves. This is what windows are made out of and the screens on tablets and phones. Can you guess what it is? …. If you said glass you are correct! Many household items are made from glass. Sometimes materials like glass are just taken for granted. That means we have them but we don’t really understand how they are made or the history behind them, so we don’t really think much about them. But tonight we’re going to talk about the history of glass. Where it comes from, how it’s made and the many steps through history until it became the glass we know today!

To my surprise, I found out glass has been around for a very long time. It’s funny because I thought it was a more recent invention, but the earliest known man made glass is from 3500 B.C., which is about 5500 years ago! Crazy, right? But even before that a form of glass, called obsidian, was used hundreds of thousands of years ago in the Stone Age. You’ve probably heard of the Stone Age, where early humans lived a very simple  life, just barely getting by. It was a hard life. Metals weren’t even invented yet and so basic stones were used as tools. Obsidian was one of those tools. It’s a black, glossy rock that is formed from the lava of volcanoes. Stone age humans used it to cut meat to eat and animal skins for clothes and shelter. It was very sharp, so it was a very popular rock to own! But obsidian was different from later glass, because humans didn’t create it, they just found it lying around volcanoes.

So later, around 3500 B.C. in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia humans learned to make the first glass. Most of the early glass was not clear like the glass you know today and usually they just used it for jewelry, the beads in necklaces, for example. But later they found ways to shape it into bowls and it continued to be very valuable, because very few people knew how to make glass objects. 

Over the years glassmakers became very skilled at their craft and by the time of the Roman Empire, they found ways to make it more clear and transparent. Archeologists have found many glass objects around the world that date back to Roman times, proving they were getting very good at glassmaking. The Romans also became skilled at carving (or etching) in the glass and it was traded all across the Roman empire.

By Medieval Times glassmakers became so good that they were able to create windows of glass and used them to decorate the windows of many churches and cathedrals. A cathedral is a very big church. Often these glass windows were red and blue and green and yellow, many different colors, which is called stained glass. When the light hits these colored windows, it produces a very beautiful effect. 

Next, during Renaissance Times one of the best known places for glass making was Murano, Venice in what is now known as Italy. Venice is a city literally built on the water on stilts. Can you believe that!? Venice even has a huge cathedral, or church, built on top of the water. People use boats to travel around the city and bridges over the water to connect the neighborhoods. It’s an amazing place to visit if you ever get the chance. 

So the glassmakers of Venice were very good at their work, but glassmaking required hot furnaces so it often started fires. So the city leaders had the idea to move all of the glassmaking to the island of Murano, off the coast of Venice, this way if there was a fire it wouldn’t burn down the rest of the city. Good idea, right? The first glassmakers of Murano became famous for their beautiful glass beads and mirrors. Unlike earlier glass their glass was very clear, similar to the glass you see today. And because they were so good at their job, the Murano glassmakers were paid very well and given lots of privileges in Venice. But one thing they weren’t allowed to do was leave! There were very strict rules about the glassmakers not leaving and starting their own businesses or sharing their ideas with people outside of the city. But even with the rules, some of the glassmakers were able to escape and soon the technique of making glass spread across Europe. If you visit Venice today glassmakers still live and work there and there you can see them at work, creating and shaping their glass in beautiful ways.

If you’ve never seen how glassblowing works, it’s worth finding a video and watching it, but basically one person takes a very long tube called a blowpipe. Then molten glass is heated up on the far end in a very hot furnace. They spin the blowpipe in the furnace, shape it on a metal table, and then begin to blow into the end of the pipe. This expands the hot glass on the end, making it larger. Then it’s put in the furnace again and shaped and blown through the pipe, over and over until it’s the shape and size the maker wants it to be. Finally it’s placed in a kiln until it cools and is ready to be used. Like I said, check out a video about glassblowing sometime, it’s really fascinating.

And what is glass made of? There are different materials used to make glass, which include sand, soda ash, and limestone, but it’s melted at such high temperatures it becomes a liquid that can then be shaped or made flat depending on what the creator plans to make.

So back to the history of glassmaking, in 1674 an English glassmaker named George Ravenscroft invented lead glass, which is also known as crystal, and was a major breakthrough in glassmaking. 

And then by the 1900s engineers designed machines to make glass. Do you know what happens when you find ways to build something faster? It takes less time, so it becomes less expensive. During the Industrial Revolution, an inventor named Michael Owen’s created an automatic bottle blowing machine, which could make 2,500 bottles in one hour! Soon even ordinary people were able to own glass and used them for cups, bowls, bottles, windows and in many other ways.

In the 1950s Alastair Pilkington discovered a way to make huge glass sheets by floating molten glass on a metal like tin or lead. This allowed them to create large sheets for windows and is now used widely and known as the Pilkington Process after its creator. 

Today glass is created in many different ways, using different chemicals to make it stronger so it breaks less. If you’ve noticed the glass in many phones has become stronger due to these better techniques. This is part of the engineering process. Taking something that works and using new techniques or materials to make it better. That might mean making it faster or making it work better or stronger. That idea applies to your own life. You can take something you like and work at it until you become better and better at it.

So, what do you think about glass? Is it more interesting now? I’ll bet when you see glass next you won’t think about it the same. If you’re like me, you’ll look at it and think “wow, I didn’t know it took SO long to get to the kind of clear glass we use today, and how many inventors and glassmakers it took until they were able to figure it out.” 

Next time you see something common, like the lights in your house or the refrigerator or the TV, do some investigating yourself. Find a video or an article and read all about the history of that object. It’s fascinating to find out how we got to the inventions we all know and appreciate now. 

History of Mars Exploration for Kids

Meet Mars Perseverance Rover

Watch NASA engineers prepare Perseverance for launch

Learn more about the SpaceX Starship for it’s 2022 Mars Mission

On certain nights, if you go outside and look up into the sky you may see a very bright light. It may look like a star, but if you’re looking at the right place and at the right time, you can see the planet Mars. Mars is special because it’s one of the closest planets to Earth. It’s also more similar to Earth than any of the other planets in our Solar System. It has a surface you can walk on. And with the right tools, people could someday live on Mars. Humans have always been interested in Mars and have explored in more than any other planet. 

Because of its color Mars is often called the “Red Planet.” It’s the fourth planet from the Sun and Earth is the third. Because it’s further from the Sun than Earth, it’s very cold on Mars. Like most planets, Mars is very big, but it’s about six times smaller than Earth. It has two small moons named Phobos and Deimos. The surface of Mars is rocky and covered in red-brown colored dust. It’s extremely cold and dry. There is no flowing water on the surface of Mars and no plants or animals live there. However, there is evidence that millions of years ago water flowed on Mars, but over time it froze or evaporated.

Even though there is no life on Mars, it has some amazing geographical features, which include a mountain and volcano called Olympus Mons, which is more than twice the height of Mount Everest and the second-largest known mountain in the Solar System. The Red Planet also has a gigantic canyon called Vallis Marineris, which is 10 times longer than the Grand Canyon and 6 times deeper. If it was on earth Vallis Marineris would stretch all the way across the United States.    

For thousands of years, humans have been interested in Mars. Ancient astronomers such as the Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians and Chinese watched Mars in the sky with wonder. The Romans named it “Mars” after the god of war, because it was red, the color of blood. In 1877 when Mars was closest to Earth, the Italian Astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli used a telescope to draw a detailed map of Mars. As telescopes improved humans learned more and more about the Red Planet. They wondered if it had planets and animals like earth and they dreamed of visiting it someday. Science fiction authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs imagined it having people and wrote adventures about what happened there in his book A Princess of Mars.     

The first attempts to explore Mars were made by the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s. The Soviet Union was the name of Russia and other nearby countries at that time. They launched 9 different unmanned rockets in hopes of reaching Mars. Unmanned means no humans are on the rocket. Most of the first spacecraft never made it to the Red Planet, but the Mars 3 lander did land on the surface of Mars, and the Mars 5 lander landed and was able to send back some information before it stopped working. 

In 1964 NASA, the United State’s National Air and Space Administration launched Mariner 4 and Mariner 5 to learn more about Mars. The first spacecraft failed, but the second one made the 7 month trip to the Red Planet. When it arrived it took pictures from space and sent them back to Earth. It was the first time humans saw the surface of another planet! It was amazing! They saw craters and learned that living on Mars would be harder than they expected. More spacecraft were sent and took new pictures of Mars. With each visit, they learned more about our neighboring planet.

The next goal was to land a vehicle on Mars so it could take close up pictures and samples of the Martian air and dirt. Remember, that all of these spacecraft and landers were unmanned, they were robots and didn’t have people on them. They were all controlled by people on Earth. Sending a human to Mars would be much more challenging and dangerous. 

In 1975 NASA sent two more landers to Mars and called them Viking 1 and Viking 2. They landed successfully and sent back color pictures of the surface of Mars. They showed red, rocky land. The Viking landers also learned more about what life would be like on Mars.

Next came the Mars Pathfinder mission, which landed again and this time included a rover. A rover is a robot with wheels and arms that drives around the surface of the Red Planet. It can take pictures and samples of the dirt and air. Then it uses radio communication to send all of this information across space and back to Earth.

Other missions sent more probes to fly over Mars and take pictures. Then in 2012 the Curiosity Rover landed on Mars and took even better pictures and samples to prepare for future missions. 

While researching this episode, I learned that this month, July 2020, NASA plans to launch its new and improved rover called Perseverance . If it launches this month it would land on Mars in February and send back whatever it learns. One of the coolest things about the Perseverance rover is it will also have a small helicopter on it that will detach and fly around and explore and take pictures from the sky. 

Also, just this last week China launched its first spacecraft and lander to explore Mars. Mars exploration is really exciting lately! I’m look forward to hear what they find out next. 

The next big step with Mars will be sending humans to live and do research there. Elon Musk is a tech billionaire and visionary who has made sending humans to live on Mars the mission of his company, SpaceX. His goal is to send humans there by 2022. This is called colonization. It’s a big goal, but he and his engineers have accomplished amazing things in the past. He also started Tesla, which makes the famous electric cars.

In 2020 if SpaceX is ready, their mission to Mars would begin by launching their Starship spacecraft attached to their Super Heavy rocket. It would probably take 6 months to get from Earth to Mars, but the engineers at SpaceX are working to make it faster. Two more Starships would launch the same year. If SpaceX reaches the Red Planet they’ll have to be prepared to live there. First, humans will need oxygen, because Mars’s air does not have oxygen like Earth’s. They will bring some of their own oxygen and also use special machines to pull other elements like Carbon Dioxide out of the air and convert it into oxygen. They’ll also need water. One way to do this is to dig up the soil and extract water from deep in the ground or from frozen ice caps. They will also need to wear special suits because its air doesn’t protect them from the Sun’s radiation — and radiation is very dangerous to the body. The Red Planet is also extremely cold. Their homes and suits will need to keep them warm. These habitats will also have the oxygen and air pressure the body needs to survive. And  of course humans need to eat, so they will bring some of their own food at first, but if they want to live there for a long time they’ll need to figure out how to grow plants in Martian soil, so they can eat them. 

Many teams are already preparing for life on Mars by living in habitats in the desert on Earth. Living alone will be a challenge and all of the astronauts will have to work as a team and find ways to get along with each other. The goal to send people to Mars is a big one, but humans have done amazing things in the past as they think big and work together.

Would you like to visit a faraway place like the space station or the Moon or Mars someday? What kind of skills would you need to survive in a place like that? If so, what can you do now to prepare to explore like an astronaut or create new devices like the engineers at NASA and SpaceX? 

Building things requires a knowledge of math and science. It also requires creativity. There are a few ways you can develop these skills on your own and at school. Remember that even though subjects like math don’t always seem interesting at first, understanding them can give you the ability to do amazing things.

Also, teamwork is important to achieve big goals. All of the space missions require huge teams of engineers and scientists, mission control operators, and astronauts to get the job done. No one achieves these feats alone. Learning to be patient and get along with your friends and family members prepares to work well with others and on a team. This will be important for the rest of your life.     

And be sure to mark your calendar for July 30th as NASA prepares to send its next rover, The Perseverance, to Mars. 

Thanks for listening! Be sure to check out our website BedtimeHistoryStories.com to see our favorite books and movies about Mars exploration and a really cool video of NASA preparing its next Mars mission and SpaceX’s 2020 Mars mission. That’s BedtimeHistoryStories.com 

History of Athens and Sparta for Kids

Greek Parthenon

Close your eyes and imagine you’re walking down an ancient, stone road. In the distance, you hear music and the voices of people gathering and singing songs. You join the crowd along the road and slowly walk up a very tall hill. At the top of the hill is a magnificent white building supported by gigantic marble pillars. People are streaming into the building as they clap their hands, sing and celebrate. Inside the temple, you gaze up at an enormous statue of Athena, the greek god who protects your city. You place a wreath of flowers and food at her feet as an offering. Others around you do the same. Today is Panathenia, the festival celebrating Athena’s birthday. It’s the most important holiday of the year in the city of Athens.

Tonight we’re going to learn about Athens and Sparta, two of the earliest civilizations in Western History. Athens and Sparta were located in what is now known as Greece in Europe on the Mediterranean Sea. 

Around 2,500 years ago Greece had over 1,000 city-states. A city-state was like a very small country. Athens and Sparta were two of the most powerful. At the time the Persian Empire controlled Greece and many of the city-states. But the Greek city-states wanted to be free of Persian rule, so they went to war and eventually beat the Persians during the Battle of Marathon. After the Greco-Persian War Athens and Sparta grew in number of people and in wealth.

Even though they lived nearby each other, the people of Athens and Sparta couldn’t be more different. The people of Athens were known for their love of wisdom and subjects such as philosophy, history, science, and art. The word philosophy is a Greek word that means “love of wisdom.” The earliest and most famous philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were Greek. They spent their days studying the world around them and reflecting on their own thoughts. One of Socrates most famous quotes was an “unexamined life is not worth living,” which means we should focus on trying to understand our own thoughts and motivations and trying to make sense of the world around us. Inscribed on the Temple of Delphi were the words: “know thyself.” As we come to understand our own minds and intentions, we can improve ourselves and likewise the world around us. The philosopher Aristotle was known for studying nature and making observations about it. He was fascinated by the world around him. 

During its Golden Age Athens formed one of the first democratic governments, which means large groups of people made decisions for their city-state rather than a single ruler. This style of government was ahead of its time and later influenced the democratic governments we enjoy today, ruled by the people instead of a king. One of their leaders was named Pericles. Pericles was a talented speaker who loved wisdom and was known for thinking rationally, which means making decisions based on truth rather than strong emotions. The people loved Pericles and he led them to make good decisions for Athens. Most children were able to attend school and taxes were used to make the city a better place. The Athenians built beautiful temples to the Greek gods. The Parthenon was the most famous temple whose ruins can still be seen today on Acropolis Hill. Inside the Parthenon, they built sculptures of the goddess Athena and Zeus, the god of sky and thunder. 

The Athenians wrote stories about their gods, which became known as Greek Mythology. Each of the gods had personalities and behaved like humans. Sometimes they were angry, sometimes they were happy, and even threw parties. In the stories, the gods fought wars and often used humans to do the fighting for them. The Athenians used their gods to explain acts of nature like hurricanes and the crash of thunder. The stories often also included moral stories to teach how people should behave. Some of the other well-known gods were Poseidon, god of the sea, Hera, goddess of marriage and family, and Ares, god of war. 

The theater was also very popular in Athens. The people loved to gather and watch plays and listen to songs and music. Some of the great playwrights of the time were Sophocles, Euripedes, Aeschylus (ES-kul-us), and Aristophane. 

The Athenians loved art and wisdom, but to protect themselves and secure their freedoms, they also built a powerful navy. A navy was important because Greece was located on the Mediterranean Sea and surrounded by islands and other coastal city-states, which often attacked each other. Athen’s navy was made up of triremes (tri-remes), huge wooden warships that carried 170 rowers manning 3 banks of oars. The ships were 100 feet long and 20 feet wide. At one point Athens had over 400 warships and 80,000 sailors that protected their coasts. All young men joined the military when they were 18.

Athens wasn’t the only powerful city-state in Greece at the time. Sparta was another very powerful city-state, but they couldn’t be more different than their neighbors. The Spartans were ruled by two kings and a small group of leaders who controlled the people by force. They prized military strength above all else. They were all about being strong and dangerous — a true warrior society. At the age of 7, Spartans joined a military school called the Agoge (ah-go-gey), that trained to be tough and fierce. They went everywhere barefoot, so their feet could be strong. They ate bland food and wore uncomfortable clothes to toughen them. They learned how to wrestle and fight as soldiers. They were taught self-control and to be courageous in the face of danger. All Spartans were expected to devote their lives to their city-state above all their personal wants and needs.

Sparta was made up of three groups: the Spartans, who were full citizens and full-time soldiers, the Helots, who were slaves to the Spartans, and the Perioeci (peer-ee-oh-see), skilled craftsmen who built things such as homes and weapons of war.

Spartan soldiers were called hoplites. In battle, they wore bronze helmets, breastplates, and red cloaks. They carried large round shields, and a spear or sword. They were truly fierce warriors and were known for their tight fighting formation called a phalanx. In a phalanx, hoplites stood close together with their shields overlapping to form a single wall of armor. Then they attacked together as one body. 

One of the most famous Spartans was King Leonidas, who led his army against the Persians in the Battle of Thermopylae. According to Greek historians, when Leonidas saw they were losing he sent most of his troops home, but stayed with 300 soldiers to fight a much larger army of Persians for three days. Leonidas and the other Spartans fought bravely, but the Persians found a way around them and eventually won. Even though Leonidas and his army lost, they would forever be remembered for their courage to continue fighting even when they were outnumbered.  

Spartan women were known for being strong-minded and independent. They were also expected to be fit and physically strong. They received some education and competed in games such as javelin throwing and wrestling. They also enjoyed dancing and singing and were able to own their own property, which wasn’t common in other parts of Greece.

Sadly, Sparta and Athens didn’t get along. As they grew more powerful, Athens tried to control the other city-states like Sparta, who wouldn’t stand for it. In 431 B.C. Sparta and its allies attacked Athens in what became known as The Peloponnesian War. Athens had a strong navy, but Sparta was stronger on land and besieged Athens. A siege is when one army surrounds the city of its enemy. During the siege a plague also hit Athens and many of its people didn’t survive, making the city even weaker. Surprisingly, Athens survived the siege, but the war went on another 15 years. Athens tried to use its navy to beat Sparta, but in 405 B.C. the Spartan general Lysander and his armies finally beat Athen’s navy and besieged the city once again. This time they conquered. Athens had to surrender and join the new Spartan Empire. 

Eventually Sparta faced its own problems, like the revolt of its slave class who didn’t want to be ruled anymore. By around 300 B.C. the more powerful empire of Alexander the Great conquered Greece and the Sparta, too. 

Even though Athens lost the war against Sparta, their ideas about philosophy and history and science and art spread throughout Greece and beyond. Later the Roman Empire admired Greek thought and culture and it’s beautiful sculptures were admired through the ages. During the Renaissance Greek culture was rediscovered by the Italians and once again the philosophy of Socrates and Plato was read. In fact, you can read their writings today and they have formed the foundation of modern philosophy.

Tonight think about the values of each of these amazing groups of people. Neither were perfect, but you can take what is best about them and apply it to your own life. The Athenians loved the mind and wisdom. What does it mean to you to “know yourself”? Spend some time thinking about your own thoughts and why you do things or maybe why you were upset about something the other day. As you come to know yourself first, you can better manage yourself, and in turn help those around you.

Also think about Aristotle and how curious he was about the world around him. He studied every living thing he saw: the sky, the trees, the birds and other animals. He made observations about them and continued learning and sharing his ideas with others. 

The Greeks loved beauty and found ways to express it through their sculptures. You could do the same by drawing beautiful things around you.

The Spartans were dangerous and aggressive, but we can take their values of courage, strength and apply them to ourselves. Spartan children didn’t always get what they wanted, this taught them to have self-control. Sometimes when we get everything we want, we don’t appreciate things as much. They also found ways to strengthen their bodies by running and swimming and doing sports. It’s important to keep your own body strong and healthy. Think of ways you can be physically fit like a Spartan.

Spartans also had courage and continued to fight even when they were outnumbered. The struggles you face may not always be physical, it may just be a problem you’re trying to solve or something you’re trying to be better at, but you can continue trying and persevering even when it seems like you can’t win.

May you have the mind and heart of an Athenian and the strength and courage of a Spartan!