Classic Parenting: "Greeking Out" With Greek Mythology
Want To Get Your Kids Into Greek Mythology? Try “Greeking Out” With A Side of D’Aulaires
When our twins were a year and a half old, we dressed them up in matching himations as Artemis and Apollo, for Halloween. They liked the outfits, and liked carrying around the bows that went with them. But it had no particular educational value. Two years later, we could ask them who Apollo and Artemis were and get blank stares.
This was true for their knowledge of Greek mythology in general. We had made occasional efforts to read or tell Greek mythological stories to them, but they never showed any special interest and we moved on. That is, until the past few months, when at the age of five (almost six) they have suddenly turned themselves into little mini-oracles of Greek mythic information. Just last night they had a seventeen-year-old babysitter here, and they were helping her pronounce words like “Hephaestus” and “Hyperion.” What happened?
We never applied any force or made it an educational priority. In fact, this fall’s main priority has been the Ice Age, and learning about mammoths and cave art and hunting. But we happened upon a wonderful educational combination: the podcast “Greeking Out,” and some beautiful copies of D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths.
We live in a rural community and our nearest grandparents are a nine-hour drive away, so our kids spend time in the car. To entertain the kids on the road — we limit screen time and don’t have any screens in the car — my wife was using Storynory, with recorded stories for kids, and YourClassical Storytime. Both offer excellent options (for whatever reason Storynory’s version of the Epic of Gilgamesh has been the kids’ favorite so far). Further experimentation led to National Geographic’s podcast Greeking Out.
This has proven the kids’ favorite audio entertainment, and it’s not even close. Sometimes it’s downright addictive: just earlier today the kids were screaming at me “PUT ON GREEKING OUT! PUT ON GREEKING OUT!” for a short drive to church. They want to listen to it at home now too.
There are reasons someone could get addicted to this podcast. It’s exceptionally well done. Each episode contains emotionally resonant stories, narrated by Kenny Curtis, that appeal to children (our four-year-old loves it too), with just enough snark, irony, and deft writing to appeal to us adults. In order to handle culturally alien tidbits and difficult vocabulary, the designers of the podcast have diverted all digressions to a second character, voiced by Tori Kerr, a computerish “Oracle of Wi-fi” who will define terms like “agora” or “myth” or “Athens,” as well as direct listener’s attention to the continued cultural relevance of stories discussed. The Oracle of Wi-fi also gets to play straight man to Curtis’s more emotive role, which ends up being quite funny. The result is superbly educative: it instructs as well as entertains.
The podcast has provided the spark. We were lucky enough to have some fuel on hand as well, in the form of D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. Now, after three months where all we’ve done is read them stories that they’ve asked us to read and put on the podcast some of the times they request it, all three of my toddlers know not only Zeus and Aphrodite but Cronos, Helios, and Amphitrite. I’m actually kind of amazed.
Now I’ve never personally loved the D’Aulaires’ Greek Myths book. It holds no sentimental value for me: I never knew it as a kid. It consists of words and pictures, and both can be criticized. The stories are all retold (by Ingri D’Aulaire), and do not always hold up to scholarly criticism. The writing does not seem especially elegant to me either. I don’t love reading it to the kids. The pictures (by Edgar D’Aulaire) do not really correspond to my vision of the Greek gods and heroes: the gods — even Cronos and Hades and Rhea and the Titans — basically all look like blond-haired, blue-eyed variations on the Apollo of Olympia. But I live by Sibelius’s dictum: “No one ever erected a statue to a critic.” D’Aulaires’ book works. The kids look at the pictures and ask me to read them the story. They listen to the story and remember it. And when they have free time, they open the book and remind themselves of the names of the gods and goddesses. I would have preferred to read the De Natura Deorum to them, and discuss with them the general messiness of ancient theology which produced Cicero’s Academic skepticism of the whole subject. But I suspect that would not be as effective with my children as the D’Aulaires have proven. And it’s not only my kids: thousands of other people have loved this book. For whatever reason, it appeals to children. It’s a winner.
I will note that I think the results from Greeking Out — which has undoubtedly been the catalyst, as we had D’Aulaires’ sitting around for a year before the kids really took an interest — have been better because we have the book to reinforce the story (there is also a companion book to Greeking Out, about a hamster named Zeus, but I don’t know anything about it). Sometimes I will ask the kids about the Greeking Out story afterwards and I find that their memory is sometimes very good for it, and sometimes atrocious — they were spacing out. The book has provided a way for them to return to the stories and consolidate their knowledge.
Now my four-year-old, who has decided she is going to marry one of the neighborhood boys, tells me, “I guess Aphrodite made me fall in love with him.” My five-year-old daughter tells me she is “queen Hera.” My five-year-old son knows the story of Arachne. If you’d like the same for your kids, I recommend you get a copy of D’Aulaires’ and put on “Greeking Out” next time you’re in the car with them.
John Byron Kuhner is editor of In Medias Res, and has completed a draft of his biography of Fr. Reginald Foster, which probably means you’ll be hearing more from him in coming months.
Sign in with