Senet, an ancient Egyptian game

Quite a few years ago, when I was visiting the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (MFA), I saw the ancient Egyptian board game Senet made out of faience (a type of pottery) and wood. Scholars and board-game-lovers have invented modern rules for Senet, based both on ancient Egyptian depictions of people playing Senet and on the several surviving copies of the game. I’ve read through several modern reconstructions of the game, but all the modern rules seem overly complicated. I wanted a set of rules that would be easy for school aged children to learn.

This week I came up with a simple set of rules, rules which remain fairly consistent with what is actually known about the game but are easily learned by school-aged children. The rules are below the fold.

The interesting thing about Senet is that it can be understood to represent the journey of the ba (roughly equivalent to soul) after death through the underworld to some kind of eternal life — it’s not just a game, it’s religion! Some day, I’ll write a lesson plan that ties Senet to ancient Egyptian religion. In the mean time, it’s still a fun game.

Above: The game board I made, printed out and trimmed to size. I used whatever I had around the house for playing pieces — 5 light-colored cubes, and 5 coins (mostly old Boston subway tokens). I made throwing sticks out of some pieces of wood I happened to have (popsicle sticks would work better), and I used a rubber stamp to put an Egyptian scarab beetle on one side so each stick has one clear side and one marked side.

Rules for playing Senet follow…. Continue reading “Senet, an ancient Egyptian game”

Updated Sunday school teacher manual

I just completed a major re-write of A Manual for Sunday School Teachers in Unitarian Universalist Congregations.

Among other improvements, I completely rewrote Section 2, “Basics of Teaching and Learning,” based on my observations of what new Sunday school teachers really want to know. On Saturday, I’ll be leading a workshop on “Teaching 101” at Pot of Gold, the district religious education conference, and I’ll base this workshop on the revised Section 2 (with added hands-on activities).

I’ll post the table of contents below the fold.

Above: A Sunday school teacher coaching a middle schooler on how to use a power tool during a Sunday school class at my church. No, this is not your mother’s Sunday school!

Continue reading “Updated Sunday school teacher manual”

Exodus: The Card Game

A few months ago, I wrote about prototyping “Exodus: The Card Game,” a game based on the wanderings of the Israelites. After lots of play with both kids and adults (and lots of changes to the rules), prototyping is finally done. I made 6 decks using the online printer Board Games Maker; the printing quality is excellent, and here’s what a deck looks like:

One of our curriculum goals in our Sunday school is to play more games. “Exodus: The Card Game” is designed to supplement an upper elementary or middle school unit on the Hebrew Bible. Once you learn the rules, play takes about 15-20 minutes, so it fits nicely into a typical Sunday school class time. And the rules are fairly simple and straightforward; I’m including them below the fold so you can get an idea of the game.

The only problem with this game is the price. I bought 6 decks, and the price including shipping and handling came out to just under $25 per deck — pricey for a card game. (If I printed 1000 decks the price would drop to about $6 per deck, but what would I do with 1,000 copies of this game?)

If you’d like to buy a copy of the game, email me and I can get you a single copy for about $27. (There’s a price break at 6 copies, which knocks approximately $2 off the price; next price break is at 30 copies.) If you’re going to the Pot of Gold religious education conference in Sacramento on Sept. 29, I’ll have a few extra copies of the game to sell.

Continue reading “Exodus: The Card Game”

Guide to visiting other faith communities

Here’s a five-minute video I made about what to pay attention to when you visit services at a faith community that’s not your own. Drawing on Ninian Smart‘s seven dimensions of religion, the video suggests that when visiting another faith community it’s most interesting to focus on three of Smart’s seven dimensions: the emotional/experiential, social, and material dimensions.

Look. Listen. Feel. Visiting other faith communities.

I’m in the process of updating our congregation’s “Neighboring Faith Communities” course for middle schoolers (available online here).

The introductory video for this curriculum might be of interest to readers of this blog, so here it is:

I’ll put the script for the video below the fold, as some group leaders might want access to it. Continue reading “Look. Listen. Feel. Visiting other faith communities.”

Painting with Jello

My sister-the-children’s-librarian keeps telling me how much fun it is doing process art and sensory art with kids. So this Sunday I decided to do jello-painting in Sunday school. (The term “Jell-o” is a a registered trademark of Kraft Food Groups, but I’m using “jello” as a generic term for any gelatin-based sweet dessert.)

At the local supermarket, I found jello in all the colors of the rainbow: cherry for red (it looked like a deeper red than strawberry or raspberry), orange for orange, lemon for yellow, lime for green, some random berry flavor for blue, and grape for purple. Since I was expecting 8-12 children, I got six ounces of each color — er, of each flavor — whatever you want to call them.

I figured jello-painting would take about twenty minutes, so we did some other activities first. Then we went outside to the picnic tables, where I had already set up a can full of paint brushes, a whole bunch of little cups to mix colors in, wooden stirring sticks, and several cups of plain water to clean brushes in. The packages of jello powder were on a separate table, along with a big pot of very warm (but not hot, for safety’s sake) water with a couple of ladles.

I gave a quick demonstration: pour some jello powder into one of the little mixing cups, add some warm water, stir with one of the wooden stirring sticks, then paint on the paper. Then I gave each child a piece of watercolor paper, and let them figure out the rest for themselves. It took them a moment to realize that Barb and I were just there to facilitate the process, but we weren’t going to tell them how to do things. Then they liked the idea that they could just play with the materials. Barb helped this process — he quickly started making his own painting, asking the other children if he could borrow some of their orange jellopaint for the sunset he was making.

Below is a photo of Barb mixing some of his own jellopaint — you can see the pot of very warm water with a ladle in it, to the left:

(I really like the fact that I have a photograph of a Moderator of the Unitarian Universalist Association — the highest elected office in our denomination — mixing jello to use as paint.)

Continue reading “Painting with Jello”

Parama Pada Sopanam

I’ve written before about Moksha Patam, one version of the Indian board games from which the classic Snakes and Ladders game is derived. A few weeks ago, I decided to order the real thing — I ordered Parama Pada Sopanam, another version of Moksha Patam, from Kreeda Games in Chennai, India. Kreeda’s mission is to promote traditional Indian games, by “learning through play.”

I ordered two games for use in our religious education programs (plus one for my own use!), and they arrived today. I was more than pleased with the games. The cloth game board is beautifully designed. The traditional long dice are fascinating and satisfying to throw and use. The wooden pawns, though smaller than I would like, are a pleasant shape with good colors. The game box is made out of corrugated cardboard, which sounds cheap, but the bright printed designs on the box make it look exactly right. I liked the little cloth bag in which the pawns and dice are stored. And nothing in the game is made of plastic, which makes it all the more satisfying.

Kreeda’s games are aimed at modern families (and educational programs) who want to retain a connection to traditional games and culture. The best part of Kreeda’s version of Parama Pada Sopanam are the brief stories for each of mythological names of the “snakes.” If you land on a square where you are to slide down a snake, you can read aloud the brief story of that mythological figure. Thus, this game is not just fun, it is a way to become introduced to some traditional Indian myths.

Mind you, ordering a game from India is not exactly easy. The cost of shipping from India is more than the cost of the game; however, the game is inexpensive, so the overall cost is not prohibitive. The bank had a hard time when we wired money to Kreeda. And the U.S. staff of the international courier, DHL, proved less than competent in delivering the package: we saw the DHL truck drive right up to our house, then were notified that the driver could not find our house; when I called the national office in Arizona to straighten things out, the woman on the phone was less than polite, and wanted me to go pick up the package at their warehouse; and when the package finally arrived, one of the game boxes was partially crushed (which is OK by me, given that it will get wrecked anyway in our program, but it is annoying). If you decide to order a Kreeda game from India, be patient — and ask if you can pay Kreeda to pack the game in a sturdy box to prevent DHL from crushing it. What I really wish would happen is that someone in the States would import this game, and other games made by Kreeda — that would lower the cost, and make delivery easier.

I’m looking forward to playing this game with the early elementary children in our program. I expect the children in our program will have fun, and enjoy absorbing a little bit of one of the greatest cultures in the world.

Arjuna’s Choice

A story from a series for liberal religious kids; this story comes from the Bhagavad Gita.

Once upon a time, two armies assembled at the Kuru Field. On one side was the army of Yudhishthira [Yut-ish-tir-ah], who was the nephew of Dhritarashtra [Dri-tah-rahsh-trah], the great blind King of the Kurus. On the other side was the army of Duryodhana [Dur-yo-tahn-ah], the eldest of Dhri-tarashtra’s hundred sons. Twenty years before, Dhritarashtra had decided to give his kingdom to his nephew Yudhishthira, instead of to his son Duryodhana; for he knew that Duryodhana was wicked and selfish.

———

As the battle was about to begin, great heroes, their bows and arrows at the ready, stood in their chariots behind their charioteers, who were busy controlling the horses pulling each chariot. Other great heroes also stood at the ready, armed with many different kinds of weapons, each of them skilled in war. (In those days, in that place, only men fought wars, so everyone there was a man.)

Ajuna was one of the heroes who stood in in chariots. His was a large and fine chariot, pulled by magnificent white horses who were driven by a skilled charioteer.

Suddenly, somewhere a warrior blew on a conch shell, making a loud and terrifying sound, to signal that the battle was to begin.

Other warriors took out their conch shells and blew them. Still other people beat on drums and cymbals, and blew loud horns. All this made an incredible noise which sounded over all the earth, up into the sky, making everyone’s heart beat faster.

Someone let loose an arrow, and other warriors responded by shooting their own arrows.

At exactly this moment Arjuna said to his charioteer, “Drive the chariot in between the two armies. I want to look at all these warriors standing eager for battle, those people I’m about to fight.”

His charioteer drove the chariot out in between the two armies. The sound of the conch shells, the sounds of the drums and horns, was just dying away. The two armies are about to join in battle.

Arjuna stood in his chariot, alone in the middle of the field, all prepared to fight. As he looked across the field, he recognizes many of the people in the other army—uncles, teachers, cousins, and friends of his. He saw fathers who had sons in his army, and brothers who were about to fight brothers in his army.

Arjuna thought to himself: “Here are friends and relatives on either side of Kuru Field, about to try and kill each other. This does not make sense.”

Arjuna turned to his charioteer and said, “My mouth is dry and my mind is whirling. I feel that we are about to do a bad thing. What good can come of it if brothers kill brothers, if fathers kill their sons? I feel it would be better if did not fight at all, and simply let the other side kill me.”

Arjuna could not decide what to do next. Should he throw down his weapons and let the other side kill him? Should he go forward and kill his friends and relatives? He did not like either choice, yet he must do something.

And his charioteer turned around, and gave him an unexpected answer….

To Be Continued….

Source: Chapter 1, the Bhagavad Gita

Story book

Over the years on this blog, and on its predecessor, I’ve published a number of stories for liberal religious kids.

You can now locate these stories using the tag “story book”:
link to “story book” tag on this blog
link to “story book” tag on the old blog

Additional stories for liberal religious kids appear in thre curriculums I’ve written; some of these stories are revised versions of the stories found on my blog:
Greek Myths
From Long Ago
Beginnings

Amar Chitra Katha

Someone in our congregation lent me a copy of a comic book biography of the life of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. Aimed at middle readers, I think it would work for older kids (and adults) too — a concise, easy-to-understand summary of Guru Nanak’s life and principles.

That comic book is published by Amar Chitra Katha, a publisher with over 400 comic books on hand, with titles like “Guru Nanak,” “Buddha,” “Buddhist Tales” and “More Buddhist Tales,” “Kalidasa,” and “Rabindranath Tagore” (the Nobel prize winning poet much beloved of mid-twentieth century Unitarians).

The one I really want to get is the forthcoming title “Valiki’s Ramayana,” a 960 page graphic novel treatment of the Ramayana. Most of us in the West know far too little about this major Indian religious work — and most of us aren’t going to read the full Ramayana, so I’d love to structure an adult education course around this graphic novel.

Amar Chitra Katha has lots of comics that would work great for children and youth, too. They have a U.S. branch, so the prices are pretty reasonable.