Making time to do hands-on history activities with my kids can be a challenge sometimes, but I think it is worth the effort. Kids seem to remember information so much better if they get to experience it in a hands-on way instead of just reading about it. As part of our ancient Mesopotamia studies this year, we decided to make a model ziggurat.
This ancient Mesopotamian Ziggurat activity was largely inspired by the ziggurat activity in the book, Ancient Egyptians and Their Neighbors: An Activity Guide. While we didn’t follow the procedure in this book exactly, the idea to stack boxes came from this book.
All we used to make this ziggurat were some material from packages we received the past month, sugar cubes, homemade air dry mud clay, and glue. I did have in mind that I wanted to do this activity with my kids for about a month before we actually did it which was helpful. During that month, I paid close attention to boxes that were going in our recycle. Whenever I was about to throw one out that was relatively square and flat, I set it aside. One of them was a contact solution box and one was a corndog box.
My kids had a blast working on this ziggurat. I thought there might be fighting, but thankfully they worked together. I built the base structure al on my own, then let my kids add on the sugar cubes and clay stairs. My four kids were somehow able to each work on one side of the ziggurat without fighting.
To go along with this ancient Mesopotamian ziggurat activity, we also read the Gilgamesh trilogy of picture books by Ludmila Zeman. While I think learning about Gilgamesh and the city of Uruk helped my kids appreciate the ziggurat even more, you don’t necessarily need this series. Check your library for books for kids about Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh the Hero by Geraldine McCaughrean is slightly longer, but another good option.
After I thought our ziggurat was complete, my 6 year old asked if we could build little houses around the ziggurat with sugar cubes and clay, so I said sure. That inspired me and I said, “Why don’t we pretend this is the city of Uruk where Gilgamesh lives?” We built a wall around the city since Uruk was known for its wall. My 6 year old then made 2 little people out of clay to represent Gilgamesh and his friend, Enkidu. In my opinion, this was learning at its best.
Ancient Mesopotamian Ziggurat Activity Details
- flat boxes of various sizes (ideally you will have 3 or 4 that stack on top of each other getting progressively smaller)
- large cardboard to use as base
- sugar cubes
- air dry clay (we used this recipe for mud clay)
- brown paper (optional – we just used the crumpled brown paper that came in packages and used this to wrap our boxes to give them a uniform look)
- paint (optional – we ended up not using it)
- glue (we used Elmer’s)
- paper plate or some other container to pour glue for dipping and paint if using
- packing tape
- tools for carving: skewers, forks, knives (optional)
- paintbrushes (optional – only if using paint)
- The first step was to make sure we had boxes of various sizes that could be stacked into a step pyramid shape. Once you have your boxes, tape them up so they hold their shape.
- Next, I wrapped up the boxes in brown paper. You could also paint them. I did this step for my kiddos before we started just to make things easier.
- Once you have your boxes of different sizes all wrapped up, hot glue each box on top of the next smallest box.
You should end up with a stack of boxes in a ziggurat shape.
- Next hot glue your ziggurat onto a cardboard base.
- Cut out a piece of cardboard with a length slightly longer than your bottom box and a width that is about double the height of your bottom box. The exact dimensions are not crucial. Cut slits in that rectangle leaving a few inches uncut in the middle.
- Make a triangular fold in the cardboard and tape it together as shown. Cut off any excess cardboard pieces.
- Repeat on the other side. In the end, you should have a piece that looks roughly like this.
- Hot glue this cardboard piece to the front of your ziggurat to represent stairs.
- Now comes the fun part. Let your kids decorate the ziggurat with sugar cubes and clay. Paint is another option, though my kids ended up choosing not to paint their zigguart.
- Since I have four kids, I let them each work on one side of the ziggurat. I showed them how they could use the clay to build a ramp, then use a skewer to create lines that looked like stairs.
- Use pictures as guidance, then let their imaginations run wild on their homemade ziggurat!