Sunday, February 24, 2013

Castles and Dungeons

If you are taking a look at the Medieval Period, you simply can't skip past a good look at castles - and along with the castle, the associated Dungeon.  In reality, things like the infamous iron maiden, and other torturous devices were generally used during witch hunts and religious persecutions that took place in the latter portions or the period.  Stories of dungeons for use of torture devices and leaving forgotten, starving captives languishing in darkened prisons below ground are vastly exaggerated.  These stories really come from the pre-renaissance portion of the dark ages.  Additionally, with elementary kids, I think most would agree focusing on the castle part of things is sufficient, but for those kids that really like the drab and dark, I've tried to include a few resources here for that as well.

Projects to Do:

Modeling Castles

I decided to have Alice build a small model of a motte and bailey castle, and then also build a model of a "fairytale castle."  This link will take you to a basic diagram of a motte and bailey.  Motte and bailey castle models are apparently a common project in some locales so instead of rewriting the instructions here, I will direct you to this set of clear instructions.

For the fairytale castle, we simply used an old shoebox, paper roll cylinders of various sizes for our base.  Tag board cut into circles with a pie slice removed, were rolled into cones for the tops of the turrets and then the whole thing was painted.

Textile Arts

Castle walls and floors have often been adorned with tapestries, rugs and other textiles to help keep chilling drafts at bay.  Since Alice had also been reading the "Caroline" Book Series from the American Girls Collection, she was already becoming interested in different stitches so I taught her cross stitch and tied in tapestries with this skill.  Not that tapestries were cross-stitched, but some wall-hangings of the time, were woven tapestries and sometimes made with embroidery.  We took a look at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's article on tapestries and compared needlepoint wall hangings with tapestries.  A famous medieval needlework wall hanging is the Bayeux Tapestry.  Although, not officially a tapestry, the linen is 70 yards long and covered with needlepoint depicting the Norman invasion of England in 1066. After viewing the museum page, I also shared this You Tube video with Alice.  It animates the tapestry so although it is not an accurate depiction of the artwork itself, it certainly expands upon the tapestry designer's intent.

We also took a look at "themes" in art lessons and quickly learned that the Medieval Period resulted in repeated religious motifs, but she was fascinated with the idea that tapestries depicted unicorns so often.  She decided to choose a favorite animal for her cross stitch project and did a panda.  Though not medieval in any way really, while she stitched, Alice felt connected to people of the past that had to sit and learn the same kinds of skills.

If needlepoint isn't your thing, and you don't feel confident picking up a beginner's kit to help your child with, pick up a small piece of white linen and have your child draw a scene depicting a subject from your studies on the fabric using charcoal or chalk.  He or she can draw a favorite personality from the period, a castle, an animal such as a unicorn or bird the Medievals may have chosen or any such thing.  Then, use a little fabric paint and trace the picture with dashed lines to look as though they are stitches.  Also add some color, glue the fabric to a dowel and hang it proudly on the wall somewhere. 

As a part of her studies of Ancient Greece, Alice had already learned a lot about weaving because of our activities relating to the myth of Arachne and her weaving.  During this time, I had purchased a potholder loom, but she hadn't been quite ready to have the patience to complete a project yet.  I've discovered she is ready now!  Alice completed one pot-holder square quickly and easily this time.  If you'd rather not focus on needlepoint, since most surviving tapestries are actually woven, such an activity for your child would be highly appropriate.  Just don't expect to be able to fashion a picture on the first try!

Build a Trebuchet

Part of what makes the Medieval Period one that is so hard to know about, is that it was a time of huge upheavals and a lot of warfare.  The loss of a unifying government and its central police force and laws led to the destruction of many resources and an increase in the need to spend one's time making a living.  Fewer people had the chance to learn to read and write so they made fewer records of themselves.  Many records and treasures were also destroyed during battles and sieges.  Each group of people fought differently and had different weapons at their disposal.  Medieval Battle Tech, by Modern Marvels offers up insight into the different weapons in use and who used them during this period.
The trebuchet (treb- you- shay) is not quite the same as a catapult, but by using the word catapult, I give you an idea of what a trebuchet was for.  As much as a castle was a home for the nobles living in it, a place of work for the numerous servants working there, and a place of celebration and symbol of opression for the many serfs that lived in the shadows of its walls, its first function was mainly that of a fortress.  Siege warfare proved to cause an ever-escalating arms race both in the technology used in laying siege to a castle and in defending it.  Building a trebuchet together offers opportunities to introduce concepts in mechanics and create a memorable experience in learning more about this period in history.  Trebuchets were used to weaken castle walls, injure and kill soldiers on the wall, and instill fear in those people sequestered inside the walls.

Again, building a trebuchet is a common assignment at some points in school so I will include a link to these instructions which will actually take you to a set of instructions for a wooden trebuchet, but there are also a few other possible styles listed below if you prefer (we liked the popsicle stick one - though it is pretty light-weight).  You can also buy kits if you wish.  We happened to also be studying simple machines so building a trebuchet tied in quite nicely with our science studies as well. 

Books We Enjoyed

Everything Castles by Crispin Boyer
This book has the gorgeous photographs and stunning visuals we have come to expect from National Geographic.  It is thorough as well.  Covering everything from the construction of a castle, to siege and castle warfare, the weapons used, and the life of the knight who fought to protect the castle.  It even shows some "Pop Culture Castles" such as Hogwarts and Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Life in the Middle Ages - The Castle by Kathryn Hinds
Despite its title, this book is actually a well-rounded look at life in Medieval Europe.  It actually describes what feudalism is in a way that is relatable and understandable for the older elementary/primary student - something most books on the period often mention, but don't fully address.  It covers the various responsibilities/jobs of the variety of people that would have lived in the castle.  While knights and the crusades are discussed, they do not dominate the whole book.  There is even a section titled, "Ladies at War," that discusses the role women sometimes took on in protecting their lands or their husbands during this dangerous period of history.  Illustrations depict tapestries, pages from manuscripts and paintings from the Medieval period or Early Renaissance.

Stephen Beasty's Cross-Sections: Castle by Richard Platt
Search out the enemy spy while you peruse this large and visually detailed primer in the anatomy of a castle, its defenses and its times.

Video and Online Resources

Time Team Special Dover Castle is a must see for anyone wishing to have a better understanding of Medieval Life and life within and around a castle.

History Channel's Modern Marvels Take a look at Castles and Dungeons

David Macauly's Castle Both the book and movie provide a nice anatomy of a castle, how and why it was built, and how the people in and around them, depended upon castles.

Modern Marvels: Forts - Describes the evolution of technology behind building defensive battlements.

Lecture: English Architecture Making England in the Shadow of Rome - 410-1130 by Simon Thurley for Gresham College.

How Stuff Works - Castles Includes articles and videos about castle construction, living, history and defense.  Only one of the castle moves is directly about Castles, but the articles are brief and give good over-views providing a great place to start research on any number of sub-topics regarding castles and castle life.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Roald Dahl's: The Witches Literature and Writing

Witches is a tantalizing and horrifying book about Witches.  If you aren't already familiar with Roald Dahl and have an 8 or 9 year old - you are in for a treat!  At this age, kids often go through a stage where they love to moan and groan, "eww" and "yuck!" at stuff that is disgusting all while giggling.  This book is perfect for these kids. The mixture of tension due to scary happenings with descriptions of the gross and horrifying is engaging yet simple.

The protagonist in the story is the narrator and as such, we never learn his name.  So, for the purposes of this article, I will forever refer to our hero as "Nat" (which I see as a sort-of abbreviation for narrator).

Language Arts Ideas:

Meaning From Context

One of the really fun things about Dahl is his creative language.  Do remember the name Scrumdiddlyumptious Bar from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?  How about Snozzberries?  Before you even begin a reading of Roald Dahl's, Witches, you will want to begin a "Dahlinary."  A Dahlinary is like a Dictionary, only it contains made-up words like splendiferous and frumptious. You will not find a huge list of these words in witches, but there are a few.  Extend the assignment by allowing the kids to choose one more book by Dahl to read and report on and they can include words from their other choice reading as well.  Kids that really enjoy made-up words should be steered toward The BFG and the gobblefunk it contains.

Here are just a few of this Dahl Vocabulary to be found in Witches to get you started:
  • tomfiddling (a.k.a. tom-foolery which is a real word)
  • swollop (spelled "svollop" in the book, as the witch says it in her accent.)
  • giganticus
  • bogwumper
  • boshwolloping
  • bogwomper
  • Witchophile
  • fantabulous
  • bisch
  • titchy
  • rootle
  • blabbersnitch
  • carrabcrunche
  • grobblesquirt
On a related side note, you may enjoy this article published as part of the collection of blarticles for the Oxford Online Dictionaries. It even includes an image of his handwritten list of made-up words for use in The BFG.

Using Witches to Teach Even More Vocabulary

Learning root words, prefixes and suffixes is helpful to kids for vocabulary building purposes because it helps them figure out the meanings of new words that use roots, prefixes and suffixes when such words are encountered.  Such a lesson is completely appropriate here. Kids can  add their own made-up words to their "Dahlinaries" if you choose to allow or assign it.   Dahl's made up words are a great tie-in for this grammar and vocabulary-building lesson and the kids can be required to use proper root words, prefixes or suffixes in new ways to create their own words for their Dahlinary.  Using real roots, prefixes and suffixes in this way, introduces them to the related concepts and material in a fun and engaging way that will prime them for more lessons, later.

You may want to have your Dahlinary include some real word sections as well, kids pick up a great number of vocabulary words on their own if they read enough, but by being explicit about it, they learn even more.  Many of the free guides and activities I found online, didn't go into a lot of depth in terms of vocabulary.  Even one website that carried the title "vocabulary flashcards" on my search page only included these seven words.  I did find that as I delved deeper into the book, there were fewer and fewer vocabulary words to list per chapter, as many words used in the beginning get used again (this is partly why the book is such a nice easy read for young ones).  Different children will come to a reading of a book with knowledge of the meaning of different sets of words.  However, I have attempted to create a more comprehensive list here.  Simply click on the image to open it as its own page for a table listing words found by chapter.  I'm sorry about the "Sample" across it.  My converter is automatically adding that.  You can still see most of the words.  You should also be aware that most of these words are used for the first time in the first six chapters of the book. 

Using Witches to Teach About Grammar

Parts of Speech:

One second grade objective in our list is "learn to distinguish between adjectives and adverbs."  For us, the last section of the Dahlinary, will be for collecting adjectives and adverbs.  I will be assigning Alice specific categories of adjectives and adverbs to look for at different points during our reading (or she'd be writing a word down nearly every sentence).

Here are a few examples that come to mind:
  • Find adjectives and adverbs describing Grandmama's cigars and cigar smoking.
  • Discover adjectives describing things that are disgusting.
  • Look out for adverbs describing movement. 


Geographical Spelling and Naming

You may want to discuss the fact that just as words can sound different in the way they are pronounced depending on the region to which you travel, words can be spelled differently too.  Having grown up on the US/Canadian Border, I was well aware of this at an early age and I feel any good reader should become aware immediately of the differences in UK and US spellings because there are so many "fantabulous" British Authors.  Some differences will include; recognise, favourite, realising, swop and colour.  Here is a resource listing most-often encountered differences, for reference.  By the way, a bilberry is a real berry - it looks a bit like blue berries, but is not the same as blueberries (though the two plants share the same genus).

You might also want to note phrases and words that are used differently.  For example, "ring each-other up," may not make a lot of sense to a child from the US, but you adults will know it means to "call each-other."  Likewise with things like dressing gown (which is really just old-fashioned), and  Conker Tree (Horse Chestnut I have to say, I like Conker-Tree better.)  Not related to geography, they may also need help with the phrase, "witch conscious" in the chapter, The Grand High Witch.  OH! and of course, when Nat mentions football, he means what we in the states call, soccer.

Geography of the North Sea

In the first few chapters of the book, there is some traveling that occurs and place-names mentioned.  What a wonderful opportunity to introduce some really basic geography.  I suggest obtaining a political map of the North Sea that includes England and Norway.  Then have your kids identify the following:

New Castle

I also suggest having a "North Sea Cuisine Day."  The children can figure out which countries border the north sea and determine an appropriate food to represent each country after doing a little research.  If you have a classroom full, you can break them into pairings and each child can present a little about the country studied and the food they chose.  Let your students sample a little from each country that is bordered by the North Sea (though I don't personally recommend ludifisk).

Check out this ferry map and ask the kids which route Nat's family must have taken.  Have them track the whole trip to Norway and back.  Tracking their journey gets kids using maps and practicing important map skills.

The Geography of Currency

I also thought it would be fun to take a look at Minting and Printing Currency.  Since the Grand High Witch Simply makes her own cash, she is counterfeiting in a variety of currencies.  Kids could easily learn about this and how governments make it difficult to counterfeit in order to prevent it.  Along they way, they can learn about exchange rates (math) and the symbols used on the currency at which they take a look (like president's and royalty's faces).

A Safety Lesson from Roald Dahl

A stranger is anyone that your family doesn’t know well. It’s common for children to think that “bad strangers” look scary, like the villains in cartoons. This is not only not true, but it’s dangerous for children to think this way. Pretty strangers can be just as dangerous as the not-so-pretty ones. When you talk to your children about strangers, explain that no one can tell if strangers are nice or not nice just by looking at them and that they should be careful around all strangers.
But don't make it seem like all strangers are bad. If children need help--whether they’re lost, being threatened by a bully, or being followed by a stranger--the safest thing for them to do in many cases is to ask a stranger for help. You can make this easier for them by showing them which strangers are okay to trust.
National Crime Prevention Council

According to John Walsh and others, "Stranger Danger" education does nothing to help the kids we wish to keep safe and it has come to be considered a passe way of teaching kids about safety in regard to dangerous persons.  The paragraphs from the National Crime Prevention Council above, outline what a stranger is, unfortunately, no matter what you say, many kids do not understand it.  The word "stranger" illicits a picture of someone who is "strange" and "dangerous."  Instead, try replacing the word "Stranger" with "Tricky People" and it addresses all of the points made in the quote itself.  A stranger is anyone you don't know well.  Anyone (including people you do know well) can be "tricky people."  It also doesn't give kids the impression that all strangers are bad.

The basic idea behind teaching kids about "Tricky People" is that most people out there would want to be helpful if a child needed it, but some might hurt a child instead.  There is no way of ever knowing for certain, who is who. There are ways of minimizing the chances of getting tricked and those are the things you teach your child.  One really important thing for children to understand, is that "tricky people" will seem quite safe.  They will look nice, speak pleasantly, might offer nice treats. . . just like anyone else.

Witches are a perfect example of "Tricky People."  They are beautiful, seem quite normal, and "may even be the teacher reading" Witches (quote from book) - you never can really know for sure.  Rotten old Slugworth from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is another good example of a "Tricky Person" though it is a little easier to tell he is a bit under-handed.  Many suggested activities for Witches online, include the idea of having your students make "Missing Persons" posters about the five children described in Grandmama's story.  This is a great activity for comprehension purposes, but why not have kids make "Wanted" posters describing witches and how to spot them instead?  Then, look over this article by the National Crime Prevention Council and incorporate a safety lesson about "tricky people."  As a part of that lesson, have your kids make posters about how to avoid "tricky people" too.


Of course you can have your student(s) calculate how many kids are getting squelched per year, decade, century, etc. if one child per week is getting squelched.  You'll want to calculate this based on one witch first, and then, move on to estimating how many witches might live in a given country.  If only 2% of the female population in England are witches. . . Assuming 5% of the Norwegian Population . . . 

Other Learning Guides and Free Resources

Of course there are also "official" learning guides available for purchase.  However, whether teaching from the classroom or the home, education gets spendy enough so I've stuck to the free stuff here.

Teaching Ideas has a great guide that even include an audio version and a useful video clip to introduce the book to your kids.  It divides ideas into classroom ways to relate the book to each school subject including "Maths" and "I.C.T."  I will be using quite a few of these ideas.

Official Site for Roald Dahl:  Get all his biographical information, a list of works and play games.

Schmoop is a nice resources for brief  chapter, character and theme summaries.  You'll also find a "Tough-O-Meter" that discusses how easy the book is to read and follow and more.  You can even use pre-made quizzes (though they are not very in-depth) here.

Bright Hub Education goes over some creative writing ideas inspired by the book including, "Write your Own Recipe," "What Would Your Mother Say," and "Become a Newspaper Reporters"

This Link will take you to a page with a few links including a podcast about the characters and a short activity booklet with questions you may choose to ask about witches.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


When considering the Medieval Period in Europe, one of the first things many people think of are Knights.  Many of the best stories of the Medieval Period are legends of Knights.  The stories might be myth and legend such as those of Arthur's Round Table, St. George, or based in reality such as tales about Sir William Marshal.  This page will offer up all kinds of information about how Knights dressed, how they trained for the job, what they did and the tools they used.

The word knight itself, comes from an Anglo-Saxon word that originally meant servant.  Knights had other names in other countries.  In Germany, they were referred to as ritters, in France as chevaliers and in Spain as caballerosSince knights were part of the cavalry, many associated them with their horses, so many of their names originate in the fact that they were owners of horses (for example, in French, Cheval, means horse).  The Warrior class in Japan named their top warriors Samurai.  Samurai can't be forgotten when considering the great Knights of the Medieval Period.  

Chivalry came to refer to the "Chivalric Code" or a Knight's code of conduct.  There were certain rules a knight was expected to obey.  For example, when he captured an enemy, that enemy was supposed to be treated as an honored guest - even if he was a captive.  In return, captured knights were supposed to remain "captured" until released or a ransom was paid.  In other words, a knight wasn't supposed to run away or try to escape once captured.  Chivalry was not a common expectation during the early middle ages, but by the late middle ages, there were clear and definite rules of war to be followed by all knights participating in a conquest or battle.


Heraldry was how different people announced who they were.  This was really important to Knights who were covered in armor, so their colors and symbols were worn on their shield, shown in banners, and used on their outer garments and the blankets worn by their horses.  There is a whole system of proper symbols and by the end of the Medieval period, one had to register their "coat of arms" officially with the ruling government.  
Many families can actually find an official family crest assigned to their name generations ago.  There are also many companies that will allow you to "purchase" a copy of your family crest.  Unfortunately a lot of these companies are charlatans.  Making sure the crest you find for your family is the correct crest can be difficult and far fewer of us actually have an official family crest than these companies would like you to know.  Still, if you'd like to do a search and learn what your family crest might have looked like, this can be a fun activity.

It might be more fun to allow your child to create his/her own family crest and/or coat of arms.
First, you'll want to learn some of the symbols and  color and backgrounds used in heraldry and share an appropriate amount of detail with your child.  A very small child may only need to see some examples and be imaginative, while a much older child can get very serious on his/her quest to make the coat of arms a very meaningful symbol of self.  An individual had special symbols he/she might use as well.  For example a third son might have included a molet (or five-pointed star) on his shield while a second son would have worn a crescent (opening upward) on his.

Training To Be A Knight:

A boy from a family of wealth, would frequently been sent to train under a knight at around the age of eight.  He would begin as a page.  Loyal and obedient service to your knight was rewarded with more lessons and eventual advancement to squire.  Pages and squires had numerous jobs that involved cleaning and caring for the knight's equipment, learning the art of falconry and aiding in hunting, and helping a knight to dress.  There were games for pages and squires to play that also helped them learn key strategic and fighting skills.  Squires also began riding lessons, drills on horseback and horse care.  An experienced squire even rode into battle to help make sure his knight had renewed supplies and he could offer quick repairs to weapons if needed.   As always, please preview videos.

In this museum minute you'll see the steps to getting a Knight dressed for battle or a tournament.  Something a squire would have been in charge of doing for his master knight.  The company makes replicas, so it is really an ad, but it doesn't come across strongly as one and still shows the process nicely.

Tournaments were a big deal and a chance for knights and squires to practice as well as show-off their skills.  If you live near a Medieval Times, or a Reenactment Group, I definitely recommend going and taking in a tournament together.  There are a few myths about how things really were during  the period, and Medieval Times in particular, is all about the show and entertaining its audience (who can blame them, that is what they are for) but it will be a fun experience and an older student can compare what they see with their research while evaluating for accuracy.

Knight's Clothing And Tools:

Parts of a Knight's Armor:

Armor fashions and technology changed over time but here are some of the main pieces a knight might wear for protection.
  1. Arming Cap - tie that keeps coif attached.
  2. Breastplate - cover chest.
  3. Chainmail - "fabric" made of thousands of tiny linked loops of metal shaped into protective garments.
  4. Chausses - chain mail worn over legs.
  5. Coif - chain mail covering for head worn under helmet.
  6. Cuisse or Kneecup - cover kneecap and upper leg.  
  7. Faulds or Tassets - cover hipbones. 
  8. Gambeson - shirt.
  9. Gauntlets - cover wrist and hand. 
  10. Gorget - covers neck. 
  11. Greaves - cover lower leg. 
  12. Hauberk or Haubergeon - chain mail tunic worn under plate armor. 
  13. Helm - Helmet.  
  14. Pauldrons or Shoulder Plate - cover shoulder.
  15. Sabatons or Solorets – cover feet.
  16. Shield - carried for additional protection against blows to the body or head. 
  17. Spaulders - cover upper arm and outer elbow (elbow cap).
  18. Vambrace - cover forearm. 
  19. Visor - portion of a helmet that covers the face and is move able. 
Dress a Knight Game - Practice vocabulary of the parts of Medieval Armour

There were also bits of armor and equipment worn by the horses.  For those knights that could afford such extravagant protection, horses had armor too.  Since, a knight's most valuable companion was his horse, they hoped to protect their brave, well-trained, animals too. 
  1. Bridle - straps holding the bit in place and allowing for reining (reins attach to the bridle and are held by rider to help in directing the horse.
  2. Shaffron - covered forehead of horse
  3. Spurs - a piece of metal worn at the heel of the knight creating a protuberance to goad the horse into moving forward and help in steering a horse using foot commands.  Some spurs are equipped with a rowel or rotating wheel of small spikes.
  4. Stirrups - loops of metal the knight set his feet in while he rode helped the rider stay in the saddle.  

Tools and Weapons:

Of Course a knight carried his sword, shield and lance.  These were the most important tools of the knight, but he also may have used a battle-axe or pollax, mace, flail, war club and a variety of other hand-held weaponry.  Of course, the Knight was the cavalry so he used weapons suited well to his position on horse-back.  There were other warriors that used bows, crossbows and even operated such war technology as the trebuchet.

History Channel's Modern Marvels: Battle Gear - Fast Forward to 10:00 and you'll get a little more info about the knight and his gear (Middle Aged section actually begins at 9:00, but there is some incorrect information about when Medieval Knighthood began as well as how likely a knight was to kill his opponent).  Starting at 10:00 still means seeing chainmail, and plate armor and learning how and why each was made.

You might also like Weird Weapons of the Middle Ages.  It even indicates some of the evolution from farming tools to war technology.  The Host makes advantages and disadvantages of each weapon very clearly.  You will want to discuss the difference between cavalry and infantry before viewing.  The movie will show some of the vulnerabilities a Knight had to face.

Alice is Knighted by the Queen.

Additional Book Resources:

Eyewitness Guides are always wonderful.  DK has published Knight as a part of this series and I highly recommend taking a look at it with your knight enthusiast.  It doesn't really stick to information about the night only and includes information relevant to the whole knightly lifestyle.  This includes a break down of castles from all three time periods within the medieval era, weaponry used by other warriors that would have entered into battle, the chivalric code, heraldry, and information about tournaments and jousting.  True to DK fashion, the book is filled with helpful and clear images and diagrams.  Gravett, Christopher. NY: 2007.

 Knights in Shining Armor by Gail Gibbons is a fabulous read for your preschool or early elementary(primary) knight enthusiast.  This book is clear, simple and brief for the shorter attention span.  I just read it to a two-year-old today that got really mad at me when I stopped reading half way through to attend to something else.  The illustrations are bright and include just the right amount of detail.  The text and pictures compliment each-other in a way that gets tons of information across in very few words.  1998.

Knights: Fearsome Fighters by Rachael Hanel is a great resource for the amateur historian of about 8 or 9 and up.  The images in the book are rich and varied as the book includes artistic depictions, photographs and even an image of a knight shown on a playing card.  The text offers descriptions with details you won't find in the other books listed here.  It even includes information about how much a Knight ate, and what his medical care would have been like.  At the same time, since it is considered, "juvenile literature" it should be an easy read for your intermediately skilled reader - even a younger reader will enjoy looking at the pictures while you read it.  

Life as a Knight is also by Rachael Hanel and is a "you choose" fictional novel where the reader comes to the end of a passage and makes a choice to determine what happens next.  Along the way, the reader also picks up a number of facts about the life of a knight, what responsibilities he had, a little something about the crusades, and the kinds of choices a Knight (or page or squire) might have to face.  Read it multiple times and make a different set of decisions with each read.

Many of the books that purport to discuss Castles really spend a lot of time also discussing the Knight and his role since the Knight played such a huge role in warfare and protection of the castle, the resources it stored and the people that lived within it.  Check out this link for resources on Castles and their Knights. 

More Knights and their Tales:

King Arthur and his Knights - 
Fiction or Biography? Links and resources regarding the history - or lack thereof behind Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable
A Literary Unit - Reading the Legends. Reading Arthurian Legend with your kids: a few resources.

William Marshal -
The Greatest Knight BBC: The story of William Marshal is told while a modern journalist tries to learn the skills of the Knight
William Marshal; Earl of Pembroke: an online article about this real-life legend. 

Additional Online Resources:

Middle Ages.Org - A knight's Armor 
Castles of the World - Knights 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

American Quilting Lessons

Quilts have an amazing story and have played a role in recording the story of our American History.  This lesson is meant to share a bit of that history and the evolution of the American Quilt as treasured repository of stories as well as great pieces of art.  The idea of the quilt as a coded map to "Ride the Underground Railroad" is an idea that, though not corroborated or proven as truth, has taken hold in our minds and launched a heated debate over the validity of the idea.  True or not, it is an interesting idea, and adds to the romance of the history hidden in American Quilts.

Whether there was a quilt code or not, we do know that quilts were used sentimentally to tell stories and remember family during much of our past.  That is what this lesson is all about.  First, there are some wonderful picture books to share with your elementary or primary grade student that will introduce quilts as a medium for story telling.  I recommend reading both in the order given if you can find copies.

Learning About Why Quilts Mattered To the People that Made Them:

The Josefina Story Quilt by Eleanor Coerr.  

Use this "I Can Read Book" to introduce quilts as a way to record stories.  The story takes the reader on a wagon train and follows a little-girl as she builds patchwork squares to tell the tail of Josefina the Chicken, her favorite pet.

You may find this article about pioneer women and their traveling quilts helpful as background information to have for discussion with your young reader as you read and discuss the book.

Eight Hands Round a Patchwork Alphabet by Anne Whitford Paul:

In this non-fiction book, 26 different quilt patterns are described and the origins of their names are speculated over.  Along the way, kids will learn a little history and a little about quilt patterns.  Try this wonderful Geometry Lesson using the book from Mary Beth Martin's wonderful collection of Quilting Lesson Plans.

The Patchwork Quilt by Valerie Flournoy.  

Grandma begins making a special quilt with bits of each family member's stories sewn in, but when Grandma becomes ill, Tanya has to keep the sewing going so Grandma's masterpiece can be finished.

To make the most out of a reading of this book, I suggest having kids find an old article of clothing in their closet that is meaningful to them.  If you are at home, your child can simply tell you why it is meaningful, but if your are in a classroom setting, this will turn into a show and tell opportunity. 

After everyone has shared their piece of clothing, have each child take a photo of some part of the clothing that is interesting.  Perhaps there is an insignia, a bit of embroidery or something cool in the pattern, or maybe there is a stain with a memorable story behind it.  If you are working with one child or a very small group of children, you might ask each child to choose two or three favorite articles of clothing and then take a few photos of the same piece of clothing, but different parts of it.

Get the photos printed. 

During a second lesson, take prints of the photos and paste them together in one large "patchwork collage."  Now you have a photo quilt that can act as a wonderfully sentimental piece of art in your home, or as a great display on "Open House Night" at your school the parents will love.  If you are a father looking at this, it might be a nice project for a Mother's Day Gift as well.

Of course, depending on your sewing aspirations and skills, you could also go ahead and make a real family patchwork quilt too.

View the Reading Rainbow Episode

Additionally, here is a link to a  math lesson using The Patchwork Quilt as a spring board into problem solving, patterning and combination problems.

Faith Ringold and Harriet Powers:

This link will take you to a wonderful lesson plan using Tar Beach by Faith Ringold as its inspiration.

The photos below, show Alice in the process of making her Ringold - inspired story quilt and her finished product.  As usual, we tweaked things a little to suit our needs.  Wallpaper samples can be difficult to come by, so we used one-inch squares of scrap-booking papers cut with a square hole-punch for the "quilting squares" because it was what we had on hand.  The squares were glued down using regular old "white glue."  Just a small dab and then a paint brush to spread the glue out avoids bubbling.

We also watched this short PBS Video of Faith Ringold talking about making Tar Beach while punching out the paper squares.  I thought it might be of additional interest to you as well.

Before having Alice start the "story square" I had her check out more of Faith Ringold's artwork with links from her website to view pieces reproduced online.  Whatever you do, don't miss, The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles.  I'd have to say it is definitely a favorite!

Alice decided she had four locations she'd like to fly over, so she did four "story pictures."  In the finished piece, she had The Zoo, The Chinese Bamboo Forests, Hogwarts and My Parent's Beach.  I helped her draw a dashed line to look like stitching between the four pictures.  She decided in the end, she didn't want to actually add herself into the "quilt story pictures." but they still provide a snapshot of her favorite things which is a kind of story about the things she has explored this year.

Faith Ringold on Quilting as an Art Form

Before Faith Ringold there was Harriet Powers Although she did not write a wonderful children's story, the two quilts history has of hers are beautiful examples of stories in a quilt.  Here is a lesson plan (I did not try) all about Harriot Powers for fourth and fifth grade.

More Books With Quilts

History Resources:

Why Quilts Matter
Quilt me a Story
Quilts and Quiltmaking in America America's Quilting History

Video Resources:

Specifically Regarding the Railroad Quilt Code:

History of the idea of the Code by Wikipedia
Time Article regarding the idea
Brief National Geographic Article

Monday, February 4, 2013

Making your Neverland Coastline a Map

If you have not already checked out the Unit Resource Page, or the beginning steps, Modeling Your Neverland and Neverland Topography, simply click on their titles to link to these first steps and instructions.

Now that your child has a map of the coastline of his or her Neverland, he or she can fill in the land with landmarks and a variety of habitats.  In an open space on the map you'll want to place a Legend box.  Explain what a legend is and then fill it in with some of the kinds of symbols your child feels is most appropriate for his/her map. 

Encourage your child to include:
Forested Areas, Desert, Grasslands and other types of familiar terrestrial ecosystems,
Streams, Lakes, Rivers and other aquatic/marine ecosystems,
Magical landforms of his or her imagination - perhaps gumdrop fields, or an ice-cream glacier.

A Town or two and a "capitol city" with roads or pathways connecting each of these locations.

For older children, you might want to explicitely guide them into thinking about how the topography effects the likely habitation of the land.  To do this, overlaying their political information on their topographical information might help, but keep the topography lines very light so that they are mostly "covered" by the new map information.  Too many lines of equal darkness can become confusing.

You can see what Alice did in her map above.  You can also see how I gave her a couple of examples of symbols in the legend and helped her with the actual writing of the words in the legend some.

The map you see above is really only a beginning.  Over the top of this, can be added symbols for towns and cities, as well as names for locations right on the map.  To take the final steps, make light pencil lines to create a straight line where-ever a name is needed.  For example, over the central area of the "lagoon" in the middle.  Then have your child give a place name for each location. 

This is a fabulous chance to introduce or review proper nouns versus common nouns.  A lagoon is a common noun, but once it is named "Mermaid Lagoon" it becomes a specific place, similar to "girl" being a common noun but, "insert daughter's name here" (or use boy and a son's name) is a proper noun.  It is your child's job to offer up the proper nouns now for his/her Neverland.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Middle Aged Europe

Having been given the title, "The Dark Ages" many people think of this as a period in history when not much was happening except death, war and decay.  In fact, there are amazing stories, art, and advancements that happened for society during the middle ages too - especially when you take a look at the world beyond Europe. 

In Europe, the middle age was the time of Vikings and their raids and amazing naval feats.  It was the age of Kings, Knights and Feudalism.  The Middle Ages brought us complex characters such as Charlemagne, William Wallace, King Alfred, and a huge variety of "Saints". The Legends of King Arthur and his Knights as well as the Legend of Robin Hood come from this time period as did the Magna Carta.  Like the history before it, the Middle ages were a time of betrayals, raiding and warring, of suffering and injustices but it was also a time of survival, re-growth, re-definition and change.

Whether you are a believer or not, the story of how Christianity and its influence over art and society grew during this time is a fascinating part of Europe's history.  The atrocities that took place in the name of Christianity are a part of this story as are the illuminated texts and the stories of the monks that sacrificed everything for those texts.  It is also the time when the essence of what we now know as The New Testament in anything other than Greek or Latin took shape through controversial translations and re-writings.

Elsewhere in the Eastern Hemisphere, there was even more innovation - particularly through the work of early Muslims, there were major advancements in math, medicine, technology and the sciences as well as innovative cultural ideas.  For a really fast and funny over-view of the time- period (adults and teens - when I say, fast, I mean fast)  I recommend crash course

Lessons and Activities:

Make sure you know who is who in First Millenium Europe.  This blarticle will help you get to know the different barbarian groups in and near Europe at the End of the Roman Empire and those that followed shortly after the fall of Rome. 

Illuminated Manuscripts - use Help you child or children create a beautiful "History Record Book" in which to keep journal entries, artwork and maps used or made in their lessons on the Medieval Period.  Along the way learn about what an "Illumination" is and dip your feet into just one example of the amazing achievements in art during this period of history.  End the activities with a view of The Secret of Kells.

Knights - This set of lessons, includes Knights, with information about the tools and life of a Medieval Knight, and Two Articles about the Legendary King Arthur, Biography or Fiction? and a Literature Unit Resource page.

Castles, Cathedrals and Dungeons This article has a list of a few activities to try as well as video and book resources to help kids get to know castles, their construction and life in and around a Medieval castle.

Middle Music Information and Resources regarding the evolution of music during the Medieval Period.  Also make sure to check out the Illuminated Manuscripts as some of these scripts are the first examples of written semi-modern musical notation.

Careers in Medieval Europe Video Resources depicting different jobs various medieval peoples may have had and the good, bad, and downright aweful of making a living during the Middle Ages.

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table - There are actually a couple of lessons on this topic.  One, is a literary study that can be adapted and adjusted for a variety of ages and a variety of book sources.  The other is more of an historical study regarding who is King Arthur and how much factual history is the basis for the legend.

Some Related Articles that May be of Interest:

You may also find some inspiration for Language Arts practice with this list of Ten Writing Ideas for Historical Writing.

As with the Ancient Rome Unit, this page will grow and change over the coming months as I develop and add a variety of lessons to accompany it.  For now, here are just some of the wonderful resources I have found to get us started.

Other Resources of Interest:

From the History Channel: The Dark Ages (This movie is about the brutal time period we call the Dark Ages, Medieval Period and the Middle Ages.  Violence and death are shown) - Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9.

Terry Jones follows the first Road Atlas ever in The Great Mystery Map Series. The link will take you to episode one. 

Britain AD Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.  This has some surprising insights into the not-so-dark, dark ages.  Even if you do not share this with your kids, I recommend it for background information for you as the teacher and informer.  It certainly seems appropriate for Middle Schoolers and older who are studying the period (as well as many elementary school students) but preview the movie first so you know it fits your objectives and expectations.

Art of the Middle Ages and Gothic Influence

The Viking Sword: +Ulfber+t swords: This movie is an engaging documentary about the discovery of these amazing swords that defy explanation from the era of the vikings.  A modern blacksmith attempts making a genuine replica using only the materials and technology of the era while archaeologists search for clues as to who the maker of the swords was.  A great diversion if your child is a fan of knights, vikings or just ancient weaponry in general. 

Blacksmith Clothing - a little insight into women's fashions of the time as well.

The Secret of Kells: This movie has amazing imagery full of symbolism.  Bleak, beautiful, fearsome, enlightening.  Although it is a cartoon, the story is a very serious one about monks trying to create their illuminated texts and escape viking raids.  The artistry uses images from Celtic traditions, illuminated texts and Anglo Saxon/vikings to bring about this visual telling of one take on what life might have been like for those involved in writing The Book of Kells.  It was never given a rating and although it does not have a lot of violence or any images of sex or bad language, you should be aware that some of the images are pretty dark and mysterious and might be scary for the particularly sensitive and young child.  I had no qualms about sharing it with my six-year-old however, and even developed a couple of lessons leading up to watching the movie.