Did you know that August 24th commemorates a historic volcanic eruption? Over 1900 years ago, a cataclysmic event changed the face of southern Italy. On this date in 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius violently erupted burying the cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae in volcanic ash and pumice. It is estimated that 3360 people perished from the tragic event which is slightly less than the 3500 people who perished during the 2nd explosion of Mt. Vesuvius in 1631.

Children and adults have been fascinated by this tragedy. As a family, you can study geography, art, archeology and science of Pompeii, as well as aspects of the first century citizens’ daily. So let’s get started!

Daily Life in Pompeii depended on your social class. Rich or poor; slave or free; citizen or the sailor passing through: all walks of life were represented prior to Vesuvius catastrophe. Ducksters.com (Ancient Rome/Pompeii) and the A to Z of Life in Pompeii present an overview of life in Pompeii. Worth mentioning, prostitution and bathhouses were prominent in Pompeii as was the worship of numerous gods and goddesses, and as a family, you may wish to predetermine the depth of culture studies related to Pompeii appropriate for your family. Ducksters.com Gods and Mythology or the DK Find Out History-Ancient Rome: Roman Gods and Goddesses provide a family friendly historical view.

As your children learn about ancient Roman history through life in Pompeii, introduce them to the geography of Italy. Pompeii was located near modern day Naples. Using the map from Maps of the World, show your children the location of Mt.Vesuvius and Naples Italy, and its distance from Rome. What a blessing it is that Vesuvius is not located closer to Rome! Rick Steve’s Europe has a wonderful article and You-Tube video that tours Pompeii and Vesuvius today, for a more up close and personal view of this historic area. Ancient Roman culture is forever remembered for its beautiful mosaic arts. Introduce your children to this classic form of expression, the Encyclopedia of Art details the history and use of mosaics. Children of all ages and abilities can create a personal Mosaic using 1” square pieces of colored construction or tissue paper. Simply draw an outline on black construction paper for them to follow, unleash their creativity and allow them to freely glue their design. In addition, Dick Blick has excellent free lessons and videos that are ideal for the more serious artist.

A study on Vesuvius and Pompeii is incomplete without introducing children to archaeology. Free online lesson plans to introduce children to this fascinating field are available at Archaeology for the Public website and the Archaeological Institute of America. Just a taste of these fascinating findings includes a loaf of bread discovered in a Herculaneum oven (recreate a similar ancient bread at home), a Roman townhouse –known as the house of Vetti, and the brilliant deduction of Giuseppe Fiorelli in 1864, to make plaster casts of the voids in the hollow pockets of the ashes, which allowed replication of human and animal artifacts for study. For a fascinating look at the archaeological discoveries from the Vesuvius disaster, visit Discovery and Excavation of Pompeii. Did you know eyewitness accounts of the tragedy were discovered in the 16th century? Eyewitness to history summarizes the letters of Pliny, with Ancient History from About.com giving more historical background.

Understanding the science behind the tragic events of Vesuvius can take many ‘rabbit trails.’ Mount Vesuvius is considered one of the world’s most dangerous and violent volcanoes, identified as a complex stratovalcano (or composite volcano). Interestingly, Mount Vesuvius has erupted more than 50 times in the past 2,000 years. It is monitored 24 hours a day for seismic activity as it is predicted to erupt again. How Stuff Works has explored what would happen if Mt. Vesuvius erupted today. Resources abound to show children the power of a volcanic eruption. Make your own Volcano provides detailed instructions for making a stratovolcano. Although the eruption caught people off-guard in 79AD, the signs that Mt. Vesuvius was changing became evident 16 years prior when the area experienced massive earthquakes. Although not all earthquakes precede volcanic activity, there is research supporting a connection between the two. Older children can research this phenomenon and write an opinion essay. Earthquakes for Kids and STEM Works Earthquake activities are excellent resources for teaching the science behind earthquakes.

It is my hope this study will be a benefit to your family. I thoroughly enjoyed the time spent learning! May this inspire your own unit study journey and if you would like to “talk” unit studies, I would love to hear from you (dcrawford@rainbowresource.com).