England Unit: Week 2

This week is filled with history, science and art as we explore the English Renaissance! The Renaissance was a “rebirth” for most of Europe, but for England in particular it meant great writing and other creative expressions. We will be introduced to kings, queens, and writers that you may have heard about before. We are so excited for this hands-on week of lessons—let’s begin! Click here to download your tracker for the week.

Note to parents: This week will also touch on several not-so-happy parts of history. We have published the article Why Historical Truth is Essential to help you navigate some of these difficult topics. 

What you need:

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

Pick from one of the following for Week 2, Lesson 1, Activity 1:

Pick from one of the following for Week 2, Lesson 4, Activity 2:

Optional additional books:

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

Note: We break down our supply list so you can choose what you need based on which lessons you plan to do with your child.

Lock Ness Monster craft:

Bow and arrows DIY:

Renaissance fashion design:

Battleship game:

Queen Elizabeth I portraits:

  • white cardstock
  • permanent markers or colored pencils
  • felt, feathers, beads, remnant lace fabric, cupcake liners, or other three-dimensional items for details (optional)

English Empire map:

Globe Theater model:

Strawberry tart recipe:

Rock candy recipe:

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:

Today, we’ll learn more about the myths, legends, and folklore of England. Folklore is a complicated blend of storytelling, superstition, convention and custom that has its roots in practices that went on well before recorded history. Somehow, many of these fascinating tales still exist—and, in some cases, are even believed—to this day. While some stories and customs are quaint, others are downright creepy! Either way, you can’t visit the UK without learning a little about their long history of folklore. (source)

Activity 1: Discover. What are myths, legends, and folklore?

Myths are usually understood as stories about gods or divine figures. They answer big questions such as: How was the world created? Where do humans come from? How did we learn to make fire, or to smith metal? What is the origin of the gods?

The term ‘myth’ may be used more loosely to cover whole cycles of tales, like the stories of the Irish gods or the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, dealing with Welsh semi-divine characters. Stories that explain where certain peoples come from are known as ‘origin myths.’ The most important and enduring origin myth for Britain is the legend of Brutus, a refugee from Troy who sailed to these shores and slew all the giants who were then the only inhabitants, giving his name to the British Isles.

Legends deal with heroes, imagined as human or superhuman, such as St. George, Robin Hood, or Hereward the Wake. Sometimes there is a semi-historical basis for these stories. For example, Hereward was a real person, descended from Viking lords on one side and English nobility on the other, who led a resistance movement to the Normans after the Conquest.

Legends usually have a close connection with a particular place, such as Sherwood Forest, home of Robin Hood; Tintagel, where King Arthur is said to have been conceived; Stonehenge; or Dover Castle, where the skull of Arthur’s famous knight, Sir Gawain, was long preserved.

Folklore covers a range of beliefs, from the existence of fairies who dance in certain places when the moon is full to the habits of the Loch Ness Monster to the belief that witches can turn into hares and steal milk from cows. Many of England’s most familiar stories of dragons, black dogs, kelpies or hobs, are folkloric because they contain motifs which are commonly found in other stories told across Europe or they tap into beliefs that are widely held across the British Isles.

Similar stories occur all over the world, varying only in particular details. For example, versions of Cinderella or the Three Men who went to Search for Death can be found in places as far apart as China, India, Britain, and North America. Sometimes it’s clear that these stories spread through migration and were then passed down by word of mouth across the generations. As a result, quite a few English folktales and ballads made it to North America and are still in circulation to this day. (source)

Choose a book to read from this genre from the list we have provided above. This can be done as a family read aloud or as independent reading. It would also be a great choice for a homeschool book club!

Tip: Do you have a reluctant reader? Before handing a book to your child to begin reading independently, start it as a read aloud. Read the first two or three chapters together. Once the story has peaked their interest, they will be much more inclined to want to continue reading the rest of the book on their own. In fact, they may find that reading aloud is just “taking too long” because they are excited to know what happens next! 

(-) Are the above options too long for your reader? Try one of these shorter stories instead: The Great Smelly, Slobbery, Small-Tooth Dog: A Folktale from Great Britain by Margaret Read MacDonald or Merlin and the Dragon by Jane Yolen.

Activity 2: As we read earlier, many of the stories in these books are inspired by real places. Let’s look at two of these: Scotland’s Loch Ness Lake and Sherwood Forest.

Loch Ness, located in the Scottish Highlands, has the largest volume of fresh water in Great Britain; the body of water reaches a depth of nearly 800 feet and a length of about 23 miles. (source) The Loch Ness Monster, or “Nessie” as she is referred to, has been a thing of legends for thousands of years. Scientists continue to wonder if the legend was based on a real animal of ancient times or purely a fiction of people’s imagination. Researchers recently made one guess that sounds reasonable—they think Nessie is an eel!

Let’s make our own picture of the Loch Ness monster like this.

Activity 3: Discover Sherwood Forest. Sherwood Forest is a royal forest in the English county of Nottinghamshire. It is well-known due to its historical association with the Robin Hood legend. Sherwood Forest formerly occupied almost all western Nottinghamshire and extended into Derbyshire (encompassing more than 115,000 acres, or 46,500 hectares, in total at the beginning of the 13th century). Through hundreds of years of harvesting the native oak trees, agricultural encroachment, the establishment of coal mines, and urban development, the forest land was greatly reduced. Today, only small, disbursed areas of woodland remain between the towns of Nottingham in the south and Worksop in the north. (source)

(If you are local to the UK, this looks like a wonderful field trip opportunity!)

Archery was the primary method of hunting used during the renaissance. Now that we have been inspired by the story of Robin Hood, let’s make our own bow and arrow with this tutorial.

Lesson 2:

Today, we’ll be exploring more of the Renaissance. As a reminder, add details from today’s lesson to your timeline after completing each activity.

Activity 1: What is the Renaissance? Read Honest History, pages 8-9, to find out what important events took place during this time in Europe.

The Renaissance was slow to penetrate British cities and life, so the English Renaissance was not the same as the Italian Renaissance. One of the significant differences was literature and music as these were the dominant art forms for the British Renaissance. Visual arts were much less significant than during the Italian renaissance era. (source)

Read about Renaissance fashion in Honest History on pages 28 and 29. Learn more about the details of their dress here

Next, let’s design your own Renaissance garb using this template. Use the resources above and this, this, and this link for more inspiration. You can draw directly onto the template or use fabric to create a three dimensional design. 

Is your child interested in fashion design? Check out our Level 2+: Fashion Unit!

Activity 2: What are the Tudors? The Tudor dynasty ruled England from 1485 to 1603. There were five Tudor monarchs spanning three generations: Henry VII (ruled 1485–1509), Henry VIII (ruled 1509–47), Edward VI (ruled 1547–53), Mary I (ruled 1553–58), and Elizabeth I (ruled 1558–1603). During the Tudor period, the monarch was the most powerful person in the land. The royal court served the king or queen, and society was divided into classes. Lords, senior religious leaders, and barons were the nobility, while ordinary people ranged from businessmen and merchants to peasants who worked on the land. (source)

Let’s learn about a few famous members of the royal family, specifically King Henry VIII and his six wives. Read Honest History pages 10 and 11 to learn about this notorious king of England. Read about two of his wives (Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn) on page 31 and 32. Watch this video to see what life would be like during this time.

There are many references to this family in pop culture, so it’s good to know the names of these Tudors. Here are a few jokes for you to either laugh at or roll your eyes at:

When Henry VIII has trouble in school, what does he do?

He hires a Tudor. (source)

Why did Henry VIII have so many wives ?

He liked to chop and change! (source)

Which king loved fractions? 

Henry the 8th. (source)

Sorry, we’ll stop now! Think you can do better? Make up your own jokes inspired by what you have learned so far about the House of Tudor. 

Activity 3: Critical thinking. Discover the creation of a new religion: The Church of England. Read Honest History page 12 to learn about The Reformation. 

As we see in the development of this new religion, there is sometimes a conflict between government and religion. Many nations around the world institute laws that try to separate the two. Have a discussion with your child about why these separations exist in some places. What rules and standards fall into the category of “religion” and “state”? Is there ever a crossover between the two? Who or what dictates the moral compass of a society? Who should enforce those morals? What limits should governments put on religion, if any? What limits should governments have on the lives of people? Continue the discussion and see where it goes. 

Lesson 3:

Activity 1: Discover Queen Elizabeth I. Read Honest History page 23 for a brief summary of the life of this monarch. For additional information read this page or one of these picture books: Good Queen Bess: The Story of Elizabeth 1 of England by Diane Stanley OR World History Biographies: Elizabeth I: The Outcast Who Became England’s Queen by Simon Adams. 

Read this article that outlines the Spanish/English navy war timeline and then play battleship, the game. Battleship is a critical thinking game that also helps students learn about grids and coordinates (math skills). If you have a real battleship game, play that or try this online version. If neither of those are good options, try playing with our printable version

Directions for our printable: To play the game, print out two copies of both sheets on card stock and cut out the grid so each person is holding two grids. One grid will keep track of your ships in the “ocean”. The other grid will keep track of your shots fired. Be sure to use a cardboard or a big book to hide it from their opponent. 

Each opponent should secretly place their own ships on the ocean grid. You can each use 3-6 ships each. Decide ahead of time how many ships you will want to place on your grid and both players should have equal ships. Glue or tape your ships on your grid. They should be placed vertically or horizontally (not diagonally). 

Players take turns firing shots (by calling out a grid coordinate) to attempt to hit the opponent’s enemy ships.

On your turn, call out a letter and a number that identifies a row and column on your target grid. Your opponent checks that coordinate on their ocean grid and verbally responds “miss” if there is no ship there, or “hit” if you have correctly guessed a space that is occupied by a ship.

Mark each of your shots or attempts to fire on the enemy using your target grid and a marker (choose red for hits and green for misses). As the game proceeds, the red marks will gradually identify the size and location of your opponent’s ships.

When it is your opponent’s turn to fire shots at you, each time one of your ships receives a hit, mark your ship with a red mark on the grid space. When one of your ships has every slot filled with red marks, you must announce to your opponent when your ship is sunk. In classic play, the phrase is, “You sunk my Battleships!” But we can change it to things like, “You sunk my Golden Hind!”

The first player to sink all of their opponent’s ships wins the game.

Activity 2: Frances Drake was one of the English naval captains favored by Queen Elizabeth. For most of the world, he was a pirate, but in England he was glorified a hero. He was even knighted by Queen Elizabeth I because of his success at taking down Spanish ships and stealing their gold. Let’s learn more about the infamous captain in this video

Dig deeper into the life of Frances Drake by reading the book A Wicked History – Sir Francis Drake Slave Trader and Pirate by Charles Nick.

(-) Make a craft of Drakes’ ship, The Golden Hind, with this tutorial.

Activity 3: Look at some of the portraits of Queen Elizabeth I that have been studied and admired for centuries. What do you notice about the way she is painted? Artists typically tried to make the queen look young, virtuous, and grand. What did her clothes look like? What is she sometimes painted holding in her hands? Did you see the snake, the scepter, and the feathers? Did you notice her crowns? What about the fur and lace in her clothing?

Do you notice what you aren’t seeing? Her teeth! Apparently, they were very bad. The queen was especially fond of sweets, but not so fond of the dentist. Her teeth rotted, and they turned black and gave off a foul odor. Eventually, Elizabeth lost so many teeth that people found it difficult to understand her when she spoke. (source)

Draw a cartoon version of Queen Elizabeth I with the help of this video link tutorial. Include three-dimensional pieces to add details to her dress or her accessories. Next, add a little humor by adding her black tooth smile! (As usual, have fun with this activity and be creative!) Need inspiration? Take a look at these photos: 

Not into the rotten teeth? Take a look at this blog for more ideas.

Activity 4: Discover the East India Company and the formation of the British Empire. What began as the establishment of trading routes soon became one of the darker chapters in history. Exploration soon evolved into an industry of colonization and human trafficking. 

The East India Company’s…origin was as a small group of investors and businessmen looking to capitalize on these new trading opportunities. Their first expedition left for Asia in 1601 with four ships commanded by James Lancaster (pictured to the right). The expedition returned two years later with a cargo of pepper weighing almost 500 tons! James Lancaster was duly knighted for his service. It was during this time that the Company also decided that it could not compete with the more powerful Dutch East India Company in the trading of spices, so instead turned its attention to cotton and silk from India. This strategy appeared to pay off, as by the 1700s the Company had grown so large that it had come to dominate the global textile trade and had even amassed its own army in order to protect its interests. Most of the forces were based at the three main ‘stations’ in India, at Madras, Bombay and Bengal. (source) The forces, which by 1800 comprised some 200,000 soldiers, was more than twice the membership of the British Army at that time. (source

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the East India Company relied on slave labor and trafficked in slaves from West and East Africa, especially Mozambique and Madagascar…Although its slave traffic was small in comparison with transatlantic slave-trading enterprises such as the Royal African Company (A Dutch trading company), the East India Company crucially relied on transfers of slaves with specialized skills and experience to manage its far-flung territories. (source)

Beginning in the early 19th century, the East India Company illegally sold opium to China to finance its purchases of Indian tea and other goods. Chinese opposition to that trade precipitated the First and Second Opium Wars (1839–42; 1856–60), in both of which British forces were victorious.”(source)

England grew from a small island nation to the British Empire, controlling over 100 countries around the world. Click here and scroll down to where it says “The United Kingdom” to see all the parts of the world that were under the control of the British Empire. (We will learn more about that part of British history next week.) The expression “the empire on which the sun never sets” to describe the British Empire comes from the fact that it seemed as though it was always daytime in at least one part of its territory.

Was your country once part of the British Empire? For extra geography lessons, look up the names and locations of the countries that were once a part of the British Empire. You can also create your own British Empire map by coloring them in on this map. If desired, create a key on the bottom of the map labeling each country a different color.

Lesson 4:

Though it was centuries ago, the English Renaissance still has an impact on life today. Let’s learn more about it in today’s activities.

Activity 1: Not surprisingly, the English language as it is spoken today has its roots in England. Watch this video for a history of the language. Today’s activity is included in Excavating English’s sample lesson. Visit their website here and click the sample lesson link. Scroll down to Activity 1.5 on page 8. Print out the map and learn all the places in the world where English is spoken, whether it is spoken exclusively, one of the official languages, or where it is widely spoken. If your child is interested in the topic, consider reading chapters 1 and 2 in the sample lesson. There are several other activities included that they may enjoy. To purchase the full curriculum click here.

Activity 2: Read + Discover Shakespeare. Read Honest History page 40 to learn about the famous playwright. Watch this short video to learn more about his life and see the place where he was born and worked. (Much of his famous works were written when he was homebound during a global pandemic! Sound familiar?) Read the book Pop-up Shakespeare to learn about the genres of his works, including comedies, histories, romances, and tragedies, as well as sonnets. 

Shakespeare’s plays are best enjoyed today in the theater. Many companies produce Shakespeare plays in many different styles, including plays, movies, and ballets. There are also companies that cater to younger viewers, so check your area to see your options for seeing Shakespeare live.

As we read in our Pop-up Shakespeare book, Shakespeare had his own theater, The Globe. Let’s build a miniature model of the Globe with this printable.

After reviewing the themes of Shakespeare’s plays in the book, choose one with your child that they might enjoy reading and find a kid-friendly version of the play to read. We highly recommend reading this as a read aloud—Shakespeare is best enjoyed read out loud or with a group!

Here are a few suggestions to find at your local library or purchase:

Activity 3: Read + Discover. Review some of the famous quotes from Shakespeare featured here and read through them. Find a few that you and your child enjoy and research their meaning and how they may have become part of our everyday speech today. Next, depending on your child’s age, have them pick a quote and use it for copywork or dictation. 

(Click these links for help on how to do copywork, dictation, and narration.)

Activity 4: (This activity is great for co-ops!) Let’s next meet a famous actor in Shakespeare’s plays, Ira Aldridge. Read Honest History pages 42-45 to learn more about him.

What was it like for an actor performing a Shakespeare play? 

Elizabethan actors lived very differently from modern theater actors. Their use of a repertory system meant that their company would perform a different play each day, gradually cycling through the plays they owned, adding new ones, and dropping old ones that had gone out of fashion. The actors were thus expected to memorize their roles for each of these plays and be able to perform them with only a few days’ notice. As if this were not stressful enough, an actor did not receive a copy of the entire play, only a ‘part’: a scroll containing only his character’s lines with short cues indicated. Actors normally studied and learned their lines alone, and often received only one group rehearsal before the play was performed.” (source)

Want to try a few exercises actors still use to prepare for their roles ? (They have been modified from this source.)

Many theater students begin with warm-ups before taking the stage or rehearsing because it helps with verbal concentration and articulation muscles. Also, it’s really fun to do tongue twisters! Here are a few fun warm-up ideas to try. Practice saying the below phrases, repeating them five times, and then saying them faster and faster to work your speaking muscles!

  1. Unique New York
  2. Three tree throws
  3. Red leather, yellow leather
  4. Say this shortly, say this sweetly, say this sharply, say this softly.
  5. Rubber baby buggy bumpers

The next exercise demonstrates to children how important it is to project their voices. (This was especially important in Shakespeare’s time because there were no microphones!)

Place three objects (or people) in front of the child. Place one about 10 feet away from them, the second about 20 feet away, and the third about 35-40 feet away (adjust these measurements d to suit the physical environment of the home). You can also do this exercise outside for an added challenge.

1. Ask the child to look directly at the first object and say their name and the name of their favorite animal.

2. Instruct them to say the exact same things to the second object. (They should naturally increase their volume to adjust for the added distance.)

3. Finally, have them repeat themselves to the third object. When asked to address the third object, they obviously should be projecting their voices as loud as they can.

Next, we’ll do an exercise with our five senses. Encourage your child to make their actions as big as desired for this one! Have your child pretend to:


• A hot stove

• Icicles

• Sharp tacks

• Velvet


• A sour lemon

• Their favorite candy

• Spinach


• A gentle wind

• Underwater sounds

• A whistle


• A car coming far away and towards you

• A giant

• An ant

• A big black spider


• Freshly baked bread

• A skunk

• Perfume

• Onions

Lesson 5:

Fun fact: Queen Elizabeth made a law in 1563 that compelled everyone to eat fish on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. This was not a religious fast but a way of supporting the fishing industry. Those that disobeyed the law could land up to three months in jail! (source) Let’s learn some more food history from this time with today’s activities.

Activity 1: Read + Discover. Learn about the diets of Tudor times in this web article. As you read in this article, because of colonization the UK was introduced to foods from all over the world. It changed the recipes and flavors that nobles and the wealthy enjoyed. Sugar is an example of one of these imports. 

Try this Tarte Of Strawberyes recipe from 1557 CE. (source)

A Proper newe Booke of Cokerye” 1557

This is a wonderful strawberry tart recipe, thickened by sugar, butter, egg yolks, and white bread crumbs. The egg yolks and bread break down as a thickening agent and do not overly flavor the dish, so if you find sweet strawberries with lots of delicious flavor, this strawberry tart will beat any modern one hands down.

It has to be noted that the wild strawberry in the Tudor period is different to the mass produced ones we see in the supermarket today, but if you buy small, sweet, organically grown ones from an old strawberry variety (or pick wild ones you planted in the garden) it will be pretty close.

You can use both plain flour and whole meal (or whole wheat) flour to approximate an 80% extraction rate of a fine Tudor flour.

To make a tarte of strawberyes:

Take and strayne theym wyth the yolkes of foure egges, and a lyttle whyte breade grated, then season it up wyth suger and swete butter and so bake it.

To make short paest for tarte:

Take fyne floure and a cursey of fayre water and a dysche of swete butter and a lyttel saffron, and the yolckes of two egges and make it thynne and as tender as ye maye.

“The coffyn must be fyrste hardened in the ove.n”

Is that not clear!? (Ha!) Better click here for a full list of ingredients, measurements and a proper recipe in modern English. If you are creating this recipe in the U.S. or Canada, you will likely need to do some math conversions before starting.

Activity 2: The history of sugar in Europe.

“Sugar first came to England in the 11th century, brought back by soldiers returning from the Crusades in what is now the Middle East. Over the next 500 years it remained a rarefied luxury, until Portuguese colonists began producing it at a more industrial level in Brazil during the 1500s. Financed by Dutch merchants, they began to traffic enslaved Africans to farm the sugar. The planters were able to ship commercial quantities to Europe.

In the mid-17th century, British colonists adopted the same business model, using slaves to plant cash crops in Barbados, Jamaica and other smaller islands. And it is from this point that the British relationship with sweetness really accelerates. 

Sugar came in a number of varieties at a number of different price points and wasn’t confined to the tables of the elite. Triple-refined white sugar remained the most expensive, but a poorer consumer could also buy ordinary brown sugar or dark viscous molasses, known as treacle. Recipe books from the period are filled with ideas for how to use the ingredient, from sprinkling on salad to a fine plum cake. Sugar was particularly useful as it kept fresh goods for longer, turning low-calorie perishable fruit into high-calorie preserves and jams.” (source)

We know how much Queen Elizabeth loved sweets! What do we think she would have done with rock candy? Let’s make some sweet sugary treats with this recipe

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Published by The Learn + Live Letter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-12.