Good morrow, lords and ladies! We are so excited to kick off our Castles Unit, which is packed with history around Medieval times and the Renaissance in Western Europe. You little learner will explore life and culture in the dark ages, while also flexing their math, science, and literacy muscles. Ready to get started? Huzzah! Click here to download our printable tracker.
Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):
Note: There are SO many castle book options for this age! We’ve listed a few examples below, but use whatever you already own or can find at your local library if you don’t want to make a purchase. As long as your book shows a bit about how castles were built, their parts, and the people who lived in them, they should work fine for this unit. Here are some we enjoy:
- Fast Forward Castles by Peter Dennis (or read this slightly different edition on OpenLibrary)
- See Inside Castles by Katie Daynes
- Castles – Usborne Beginners by Stephanie Turnbull (or read it here on OpenLibrary)
- (+) The Usborne Book of Castles by Lesley Sims (or read it here on OpenLibrary)
Other books for this unit:
- The Hawk of the Castle by Danna Smith (this book is difficult to find, so you can listen to this read aloud instead if you can’t find it)
- Knight: A Noble Guide for Young Squires by Sir Geoffrey De Lance and Dugald A. Steer (or read it here on OpenLibrary)
- Who Wants to be a Princess? What it was Really Like to be a Medieval Princess by Bridget Heos (or listen to the L+L read aloud here!)
Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):
- paper + access to a printer (don’t have one? we like this model)
- laminator + laminator sheets (optional, but recommended for repeating lessons)
- cardboard (you will need scrap cardboard for a variety of crafts this week, so save any shipping boxes you receive!)
- coloring materials (crayons or colored pencils)
- medium to large cardboard box (or you will need 4 paper towel rolls, 4 pieces of scrap cardboard, and tape or glue)
- paint (black and gray)
- craft knife or scissors
- string, ribbon, or yarn
- sponge (optional)
- single hole punch (or you can use your craft knife or scissors)
- 2 pony beads (optional)
- straw (optional)
- one large piece of blue felt (34cm x 128cm piece)
- white, gray, and red felt (at least 20 x 22cm)
- measuring tape
- fabric glue and/or hemming web
- gold spray paint (or you could use regular gold paint)
- aluminum foil
- a long cardboard tube (a paper towel roll will work, but it works best with something more durable, like a wrapping paper tube or the cardboard tube from a box of foil or plastic wrap)
- craft knife
- hot glue gun + glue
- small beams of wood (~3 feet long) + small wood pieces to act as fulcrum (if you’re not able to get to a hardware store, see the modification for the catapult activity)
- construction paper
- bamboo skewers
- dry erase markers (if laminating)
- small magnets
- black marker
- toilet paper roll
- small cardboard box (like a rectangular tissue box)
- stiff cardboard tube (like the roll from a box of foil, or a paper towel roll will work)
- popsicle sticks
- 5 small jars
- 1/2 head of red cabbage
- Sprite (or similar soda)
- cream of tartar
- baking soda
- lemons or lemon juice
- pitcher (or any pourable container)
- ingredients for this recipe
- 2 plastic cups
- duct tape
- gem stickers (optional)
What to do:
We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!
Introduce our unit with a little map work! Find Europe on your map or globe and point out the part of the world we will be learning about. This medieval map will help you identify the land names as they were called at the time. (You can download a preview if you don’t want to print/purchase.) Timelines are difficult for little kids to understand, but we want them to know that we will be going back in time some 2,000 years. This won’t have too much significance to them right now, but as they continue to learn about history, that foundation will be invaluable. This video also shares a brief overview of life in medieval times for kids, and this one is great for grownups looking to brush on their medieval knowledge.
Activity 1: Read about castles in whichever book you were able to find. (The recommended books all have several pages about where castles were built, what materials were used, what their purpose was, and who lived in them.) Point out that castles were not only homes but also fortifications, meaning they protected the people inside from outsiders. (Note: During the late Middle Ages, the peasants homes were also inside the castles outer walls. This allowed them to be protected, too!) After some reading, discuss the difference between the homes of Lords to your own home.
Now it’s time to build your own castle with this simple project!
Note: If you have a very imaginative child, don’t rush them through this project. They may want to decorate their castle or continue open-ended play with dolls or figurines that live in the castle. This play is learning, too!
Activity 2: Review the part of the castle with this word search activity. As your child finds each word, use your book to point out what that part looks like.
Activity 3: Next, let’s work on some grammar practice with this castle noun and verb sorting activity. (If you have issues printing this activity, try saving the download to your desktop and then printing from there.)
Ready to learn if you have it takes to be a royal knight? Let’s start with a joke: What do you call a medieval lamp? A knight light! Next, let’s read Knight: A Noble Guide for Young Squires. This book has a lot of details, so start by reading the middle paragraph in each section, and then read whatever details your child is interested in. You may also want to review the pages about knights in your castle book.
Activity 2: Make a sword craft.
Activity 3: One piece of weaponry a castle knight would love to have on hand was the catapult. Let’s make and test a few of our own with this trajectory experiment. (Note: You may want to do this one outside, if possible!)
(-) Need a smaller scale launch? Make this mini catapult and test it by launching pom poms at your castle model!
Activity 4: Another popular weapon for knights and hunters alike was the bow and arrow. Use this tutorial to make a paper bow and arrow to use with this archery math game.
(+) Ready for an upgrade? Try this bow and arrow tutorial. Note: Both these options should only be created and used with proper adult supervision, and they should never be fired at another person or animal.
Today, we’ll talk about some people who live in the castle, starting with the royal family. Read to your child about the kings and nobles who lived in the castle and about their life. Share the food they ate and feasts they enjoyed. If you need a giggle, don’t forget to show them the castle “toilet” in your book (AKA, the hole that ran down the wall into the moat!). They might also enjoy knowing that bath time was rare—instead lots of herbs were thrown about to hide the smell. 🛀 Next, read Who Wants to be a Princess? or listen to our read aloud here!
Activity 1: Education in medieval times was very different from today. Most people (especially peasants) couldn’t read or write—even many nobles couldn’t read or write. It was mostly the clergy who had all the education. If a noble family wanted to educate their children, they would either do it themselves or get a priest to tutor them. (source) One common subject in school was learning to write, often using a form of script called calligraphy. Let’s get an introduction to looping, script writing with this calligraphy drill sheet.
(+) If your child enjoys this style of writing, you can print this cursive handwriting practice sheet for them to try to trace.
Activity 2: When they weren’t having lessons, young children in the castle might also play with handmade toys and other playthings, like dolls, stick horses, and puppets. Let’s make our own dragon marionette with this free printable.
Activity 3: Now, let’s create a story for our puppet! Start by creating a story this dragon comic, using the first three images as a prompt. From there, let your child draw their own story, adding in text as desired (you can also scribe for them if they are not writing freely enough to tell their story). Once the story is done, act it out with the puppet to create your own show!
Activity 4: Castle skip counting.
Of course, there were many other people who lived during this time period besides royals and knights. Today, we’ll look at some of the other jobs that were available then.
Activity 1: Have you ever heard of a falconer? This special form of hunting is still done occasionally in our time, but it was much more popular during medieval times. Let’s learn what this job entailed (as well as some fascinating facts about birds of prey) in the book The Hawk of the Castle. (You can also listen to this read aloud.)
Next, let’s do this craft to create our own falcon.
Activity 2: Musicians were used often to entertain both rich and poor in medieval society. The music of medieval times can still be recreated today, thanks to a few composers who wrote it down. Listen and watch some authentic medieval music here. Discuss the instruments they used. (Here’s a quick list of instruments you can share with them: lute, recorder, harp, and the vielle.) Talk about the beat, or rhythm of these songs—are they fast or slow? How do they change? What kind of mood or emotion does the song evoke, and what kind of events or settings could they see it being played at? Next, use this tutorial to make your own lute to play along.
Want to listen to more music while you do the next art activity? Try this video.
Activity 3: While very little art was created in Europe during the medieval period (also known as the Dark Ages), there was an explosion of art, music, and other culture during the Renaissance. One of the most famous artists of that time was a sculptor and painter named Michelangelo. If you purchased A Child’s Introduction to Art, you can read more about him and his work on pages 26-27. You can also watch this video to learn more about his life. Like most artists at the time, Michelangelo worked on largely on commissions, meaning a wealthy or powerful person would order a work. One of his most famous commissions was the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, a chapel at the Vatican Palace, the officially residence of the Catholic pope. In 1508, Pope Julius II ordered Michelangelo to fresco, or paint directly on the ceiling using pigment powder in wet plaster. Even though he didn’t want to do it (Michelangelo preferred sculpting to painting), he couldn’t turn down a request from such a powerful person. It took four years to complete, and the Sistine Chapel remains one of the most famous works of art in the world. You can view it on page 27 of book or here.
Now, let’s make our own fresco painting! Tape piece of paper to the underside of a low table or bench. Have your child lie on their back under the table with paints and a paintbrush. (You may want to put a sheet or newspaper under your child to catch drips.) Now, paint your own masterpiece! Once your child is done, ask them what it was like painting like this. Are their arms tired? Michelangelo painted like this for four years!
Let’s end our week with one last science experiment and a medieval feast!
Activity 1: A popular form of science in the Middle Ages was called alchemy, and it was based on the idea that, using science, a person could turn one material into another. For example, many alchemists tried to turn lead into gold by heating it or adding other materials. (source) Today, scientists have debunked many of the theories of alchemy, but some believe these alchemists laid the foundation for modern day chemistry. Let’s do this simple chemistry experiment that shows how one material can cause a reaction with another.
Activity 2: Let’s end our week with a little Medieval feast of our own. What did people eat during medieval times? This silly video breaks it down for us. (Check your castle book, too, to see if it has pages about how medieval people ate!) Now, get your own plate ready! We recommend creating a “medieval snack plate” with any of the following items:
- bread + butter
- veggies (and dip if you prefer!)
- meat (lunch meat works fine!)
For dessert, make these simple honey cakes.
Activity 3: Finally, make this chalice craft together and get ready to raise a glass at your feast.
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