England + Ireland Unit

Pack your imaginary bags (and hop into your time machine on a couple of days) and let’s “travel” to Europe. In this unit we will learn about England and Ireland and their rich history and exciting legends. We will learn about famous people of the past, some who continue to impact our lives today. So, grab your passports and let’s go! Download our printable tracker document to record the books you read and skills your child will work on.

Note: Occasionally we include project upgrades (for kids ready for more) and modifications (which can be useful for including younger siblings). We’ll mark those with the plus (+) or minus (-) symbols.

What you need:

Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):

Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):

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!

Lesson 1:

Let’s begin with a quick geography lesson. Open your atlas, pull out the globe, or look at this map of Europe and find The United Kingdom (UK) which is short for The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland…quite a mouthful! It is a sovereign state, but it is made up of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Our unit will only focus on England and Ireland (which is not actually part of the UK, but we’ll get to that later!). You can also compare these maps to the medieval map from our Castles Unit to show how the area has changed.

Review the seven continents and sing this song we learned earlier this year. Next, read the book All Aboard the London Bus with your child and point out some of the sites in your imaginary tour of the country. Focus on the London bus, Buckingham Palace, and the Globe theater since we will be highlighting these places and things in our activities this week.

Activity 1: Make a London Bus with a shoe box or small box. Draw the windows and doors in advance and have your child practice cutting and pasting.
(-) Simple London bus craft. This activity is great for kids who are still learning their shapes. Precut most of the shapes in advance if your child hasn’t developed cutting skills yet.

Activity 2: You might have heard about this little band from England called The Beatles. 😉 Introduce a few facts about the band:

  • The band was made up of four friends named John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
  • They played rock and roll music.
  • They started playing as a band in the early 1960s. (Make connections to people in your child’s life who are in that age range.)
  • They were so popular, they rented baseball stadiums for their concerts. One concert had 50,000 people. The people cheered so loudly, you couldn’t even hear the music!

Let’s listen to one of their classic songs about friendship, “With a Little Help From My Friends.” If you have a tambourine at home, play along with the song. And don’t forget to sing along if you know the words!

Activity 3: Now it’s your turn to rock! Build your own guitar with this simple shoebox craft. Note: The original craft uses regular glue, but we recommend a hot glue gun if you have one for a more secure guitar.

Lesson 2:

Remember those time machines we talked about? Today, we’re taking a trip back in time to England of old…

Activity 1: England is a country rich with history. For today’s activity, we’re introducing the idea of teaching as a story teller. As you tell your child about the Crystal Palace (see our notes below), use the same enthusiasm as you would reading them a story. Try to capture their imagination, using the photos we’ve linked to add details and color. Want more tips on how to do it? Don’t miss our IGTV how-to video here!

Have you ever heard of The Crystal Palace? When Queen Victoria and Prince Albert ruled England, they built a structure to hold the most amazing things in the world all under one glass roof—they called it The Crystal Palace. It was a structure made of iron rods and clear glass that looked like a palace and a beautiful garden green house all in one. It housed The Great Exhibition, where 14,000 exhibitors came from many parts of the world to show off their inventions proudest possessions and most interesting inventions, including false teeth, artificial legs, Colt’s repeating pistol, Goodyear India rubber goods, chewing tobacco, and McCormick’s reaper. Popular British exhibits included hydraulic presses, powerful steam engines, pumps, and automated cotton mules (spinning machines). More than six million visitors attended the exhibition. (Source) Share these photos from the Library of Congress with your child.

Activity 2: Next, meet Sir Frances Drake! Depending on your perspective, he was either an explorer or a pirate. He was friends with Queen Elizabeth I, who knighted him after he became the first Brit to sail around the world on an expedition. He was very rich, but the Spanish Armada didn’t care much for him because he stole from them. Here’s a video that tells us more about him and his travels. Talk to your child about how perspective can play into our understanding of history. How did the British monarchy feel about Sir Francis Drake? How did the Spanish monarchy feel about him? Teach them to consider different sides of history to get a fuller understanding.

Next, let’s make history come to life with this Golden Hind craft. (That’s the name of Sir Francis Drake’s ship…why, what were you thinking? 😉)
(+) If your child is engaged with Sir Francis Drake’s story, you can play this audio book. Audio books are great for car rides and quiet time at home.

Activity 3: Let’s learn about the UK flag. Scroll down to the bottom of that link for a PDF printout of why the flag has the colors it does. You can also print this worksheet to color it in. 
(+) Our co-founder’s 5-year-old came up with this cool activity to demonstrate how the three flags of the UK flag come together—if your child is interested, try this child-led upgrade!

Lesson 3:

Today is Shakespeare Day! Shakespeare is famous for writing plays. Talk to your child about the difference between a book and a play. Were plays meant to be read like a book? No, plays were meant to be acted. Read this kid friendly article with your child to learn more about Shakespeare. (The videos won’t work because the site is from the UK, but here’s a video you can share after you finish reading.) If you were able to get the Shakespeare Pop-Up book, introduce it to your child today. You can read the biography information and share the different types of plays that Shakespeare wrote.
(+) Is your child ready to dig into some kid-friendly Shakespeare? Begin reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Kids for the next few days to give your child some Shakespeare exposure. Prefer to listen to an audiobook? Here are two of our favorites told in a kid friendly style.

Activity 1: Help your child write a play of their own this paper fold method. To get the story going, have them start with one of these simple prompts if they need help:

  • Taking a rocket ride through space
  • Life in a castle
  • A day at the beach
  • Going camping
  • A walk in the woods 

Next, help your child:

  • Choose a setting. Where is your story taking place?
  • Create characters. Who is your story about? What are their names?
  • Tell a story. What is your story going to be about? Is there a problem to solve? Will the characters go on adventure together? 

Encourage them to illustrate their story, and scribe for them if they aren’t writing freely.

Activity 2: Tea and Poetry with Shakespeare. Shakespeare wrote many famous sonnets, which are a type of poem. Read a sonnet or two penned by Shakespeare as you enjoy your “tea.” If you have the Sing a Song of Seasons book we recommended in the Foundations Unit, look on pages 181 and 245 for poems by Shakespeare. Here is another kid friendly sonnet if you don’t have the poetry book at home. 

Activity 3: Some of Shakespeare’s plays involved masquerade parties where the actors wore masks to hide their true identity. Let your child make their own mask by printing this template onto cardstock and decorating markers, gem stickers, feathers, and glitter glue. Use ribbon or yarn to tie it on.

Activity 4: The Globe Theater was the special theater Shakespeare used for his performances. This short video teaches us more about it.

How did they make such a beautiful theater over 400 years ago without the help of power tools? Simple machines like a pulley help people do hard work. Watch this video to learn how a pulley works. Now build your own with this simple activity.

Lesson 4:

Let’s now travel to Ireland and Northern Ireland. (As a reminder, Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom but Ireland is not.) Begin by finding Ireland and Northern Ireland on the map. Ask your child, “If you were traveling from England to Ireland, how would we get there?”

The official language in Ireland is Gaelic. Click here to learn how to say a few animal names in Gaelic, and here to learn a few other words.

Activity 1: One of the most famous natural wonders of Ireland is the Giant’s Causeway. Made up of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the Causeway came about as a result of an ancient volcanic eruption. (Here are some pictures to share with your child!) Legend has it, though, that it came about as the result of a conflict between two mythical giants that are famous in Irish stories.

As the story goes, Irish giant Finn McCool was challenged to a fight by Scottish giant Benandonner. Finn accepted the challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two giants could meet. On the other side, Benandonner also builds to meet him. The two built for weeks! When Finn gets close to Benandonner, however, he realizes that the Scottish giant is twice his size! Finn runs home and hides. Finn’s wife, Oonagh, who is very clever, disguises Finn as a baby and tucks him in a cradle. When Benandonner comes looking for Finn and sees the size of the “baby,” he assumes that his father, Finn, must be a giant among giants. He flees back to Scotland in fright, destroying the causeway behind him so that Finn can’t chase him down. (Source) Here’s a video of the same story.

Today’s book is another Finn McCool story—you can watch our read aloud here!

Activity 2: Let’s do some Giant’s Causeway Math! Show your child the photos of the causeway again. Talk about the hexagon shape of the columns. A hexagon is a 6-sided figure.

With some sidewalk chalk, go outside and draw hexagons in the pattern of the causeway. Number each hexagon and have your child pretend to be a giant and “step across” from Ireland to Scotland. Practice skip counting by hopping, jumping on one leg, or taking “giant steps” over the even or odd numbers. Raining outside? Print a few copies of this print-out and secure them to the floor to create an indoor Giant’s Causeway.

Activity 3: Another famous Irish tradition? Clog dancing! The origins of this dance goes back almost 2,000 years. It was loved by kings and queens throughout history, and it was performed by both peasants and aristocrats during times of celebration and mourning. Today, it is part of the rich culture of Ireland and children, teens, and adults enjoy this dance and even participate in competitions. Show your child this video, which brings together the music and dancing of Ireland in one amazing performance. Encourage your child to try to dance along! Want more? These two brothers are the current 5x World Champion Irish Dancers, and their Instagram videos are a lot of fun to watch!
(+) This interview tells the inspiring story of Morgan Bullock, who fell in love with Irish dancing as a little girl. It’s a great story of overcoming challenges to achieve a goal!

Lesson 5:

Today, we’re taking a closer look at the country of Ireland. Ireland is an island nation that is very green because of its yearly rainfall—that’s why it’s nicknamed the Emerald Isle! One of the popular places to visit in Ireland is Blarney Castle. Watch this video to see the castle and surrounding gardens. Millions of people visit the castle to kiss the Blarney Stone, which legend says will give you the gifts of eloquence and persuasiveness. Here’s a video you can show your child of people kissing it (in case your child doesn’t believe you 😉).

Activity 1: Next, complete this Irish flag craft. Ask your child to compare and contrast this flag from the UK flag. How are they different? How are they the same?

Activity 2: Let’s talk about one of Ireland’s famous native residents, the Connemara Pony! This video shows some real life footage of the ponies. Then complete this fun and easy horse craft. As your child is building the horse, talk about the names of the each part. After you’re done crafting, review the parts of the animal’s body while “grooming” the horse with a doll brush or a clean toothbrush, pointing out the horse’s mane, tail, hind legs, fore legs, etc. (Need a little help knowing the horse’s parts? This blogger has printable cards for several animals. Click on the image called “Zoology Nomenclature Set” and scroll to find the horse pictures. No need to print them—you can simply use it as a reference as your child builds and grooms their horse.)

Activity 3: Now let’s talk about some famous Irish art. Did you know that art (that depicted athletic events) was an Olympic ‘sport’ from 1910-1948? We were surprised to learn this, too! But in 1924, an Irish artist named Jack B. Yates won the silver medal at the ‘24 Olympics in Paris for his oil painting depicting a yearly swim called the Liffey Swim, which takes place in Dublin’s River Liffey. Let’s take a look at this picture, which hangs in the National Gallery, and then learn a bit more about the race.

Here are some things you can ask your child about the painting:

  • Let’s talk about Expressionism. Expressionist artists like Yates didn’t want their pictures to look exactly like real life. They wanted people to feel the picture. When you look at this picture, what do you feel? Does it look exciting? Happy? Cold? Warm? Can you imagine the crowds cheering? What do you think it sounded like? Look at the people watching. We call them spectators. Why are they there? Do they look excited?
  • Yates liked to paint about sports. Why do you think he did that? Talk about how there was no TV back in 1920 when this race began. How would this picture help people to “see” what it was like to be in this race or to watch it?
  • The winners of Olympic events get medals. The first place winner gets a gold medal, the second place winner gets a silver medal, and the third place winner gets a bronze medal. Yates also won a medal for this picture—he won the silver.
  • Hundreds of people enter the Liffey Swim each year. They swim the river under several bridges where people stand and cheer, and the winner gets a trophy.

Activity 4: End the week with a traditional Irish recipe, Irish soda bread. This four ingredient recipe will be perfect for your little one. Since it’s so simple, give your child as much independence as they can handle to really take charge of this bake.

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