Friday, December 1, 2017

We're Vikings: The Terrors of the Sea!

It's admittedly quite a change up.  A few weeks back we were pretending to be monks, living quiet, humble lives in our stone monasteries, doing penance on our knees and tasting pottage and mead.  And today, we're learning about Vikings, a bloodthirsty group who'd slaughter a monk and make off with his pottage.

After we read up on Vikings and their many journeys across the Atlantic, exploring Iceland and Greenland and North America, we decided it would be fun to create a Viking helmet and shield.

Although I created a color version and a black and white option, the kids wanted to color their own.  And maybe add a few extra designs to make the helmet truly their own.

A bit of color, a few fine jewels drawn on:  we're definitely getting the hang of what Vikings valued back in their time period.  That, and land.  They did appreciate a good piece of land, didn't they?

After we completed our helmets, we were ready for more!  The shields were brought out!  Now I admit, I did not intend these shields to be used in pretend play.  The idea was to let the kids design their very own shield:  with colors or images that made it uniquely theirs.

 We were printing on card-stock (I always print these kinds of things on a good thick sturdy card-stock!) and rather naturally, the kids cut out their shield once they'd colored it, stapled on a hand grip and were deep in Viking combat almost before I knew what had happened!

Those paper swords were kid created, out of a rolled up and stapled card-stock sheet.  These shields aren't sized accurately.  Let your kids know, if you try out this activity, that actual Viking shields were at least 32" in diameter, and the boss in the center, was like a 6" dome off the front!

The next day, these kids were still hot to trot about Vikings.  So, we investigated a bit more and came up with these fun activities!

First of all, runes!  There are several different Viking alphabets because they were always adding more as they conquered new peoples and added that to their language, too.  The alphabet we share in our Viking Activity packet has 21 characters.  As we looked over the characters, we could see several that are in our own English alphabet today (with a bit more curvature).  We also watched this excellent introduction to Viking runes:

After that, the kids were ready to try out carving runes of their own.  We made our own dough (using flour, cornstarch, coffee and one drop of blue food coloring) and we drew our runes using plastic knives.  This was easier to do than I first thought it would be.  The Vikings knew what they were doing with that upright line based alphabet!

And last but not least, we decided to create a paper model of a Viking longboat.  This, along with all the activity pages in this post, is available in our Store.  You can print out a fully colored version or and black and white one for coloring in yourself (my kids always prefer that!).

Now the cutting was a bit tricky for my 5 year old, admittedly.  She needed a lot of help.  But once I explained that all the dotted lines were for folding, she went after those folds.  Great folding practice!

We used glue, staples and tape for attaching things.  Staples were best for the mast, and glue was best for affixing little tabs together.  But the finished product looks neat and was fun for pretend play while I read out loud a bit more about those villainous Vikings!

And we finished up our Viking study by putting on "How To Train Your Dragon" just for fun.  It's always important to clarify what is fact and what is fiction in these stories but you just can't go wrong by hanging out with Hiccup.

All of the activities previewed here are available in our store for purchase.

Thanks for reading, and please share your favorite Viking activity in the comments! 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Making Quill Pens and "Parchment"

We're having so much fun with our medieval studies over here, that we decided to delve a bit more into the tasks of the early Christian monks.  We read how the monks made their parchment papers (which was actually quite an involved process utilizing animal skins) and sewed their pages we decided to attempt something like this.

Not having any fresh animal skins to work with, we decided to "fake" the parchment and just make it look like parchment.  This is a pretty easy process, where you begin with a peerless piece of modern white paper (that a monk would have honestly killed for), and demolish and otherwise destroy it with coffee and crumpling so that it looks a bit more like the stuff they had to use.

But we'll walk you through it here.  Start by tearing off those pristine edges:

Then crumple it up as small as possible in your fist, flatten it out on a cookie sheet, and smear left-over coffee all over it.

After the paper is nice and soggy, spread it out somewhere to dry, either naturally in the sunshine, in the oven for a minute at 350 degrees, or even with a blow-dryer.

That's how you make "parchment" (in quotes because it has absolutely nothing to do with the way parchment is actually made, but the finished product does have a nice ancient paper look).  We were so inspired with our skill, that we decided we could make ink in old fashioned ways, too.  And besides, The Hippy Homemaker had this amazing post about the many different ways you could make ink at home.  The kids and I took a nature walk, found pocketfuls of acorns and brought them home to give the acorn ink a try.

After boiling these guys for about 45 minutes and adding water when it steamed off, we finally got a liquid that looked promising.  We added a touch of gelatin to increase its thickness, and got out our dried parchment to give it a try.

Now to be fair, it did leave a faint stain on the parchment.  Very, very faint.  Maybe acorn ink needs about double the boiling time we gave it.  Whatever the case, we gave homemade charcoal ink a try, too.  But it was watery and faint, too.

Actually, trying these inks gave a whole new meaning to this little image showing complaints of monks from a prior age:

We read all of these over after our failed ink attempts and chuckled in understanding as these guys from long ago could definitely be related with, now.

The next day, I went out and bought ink from a craft store.

The feathers worked really well, once we trimmed them into nibs.  If you're trying to trim them yourself, you can follow this excellent video which explains how to cut a decent feather quill pen:

But before we could use our Quill pens, we decided we better sew up our parchment pages first.

A nice sharp needle and some sturdy thread made short work of that.  But the kids did observe that they were glad they were only sewing together two pages because any more than that would have been a challenge.  If you use regular paper rather than cardstock you might be able to sew more together at a time.

Now, we have our parchment book.  All ready to pull out the homemade store-bought ink and try it out with our fresh quill pens.

The kids took to these pens remarkably easily, I thought.  They were surprised at how often they were required to dip their pens into the ink in order to complete just one letter, though.

But then it became business as usual, "Dip - Write - Dip - Write".  But the learning moment was expressed out loud by this memorable quote:

And there, you have it:  why we do these crazy things.  I mean, aside from the fact that it is oodles of fun to try out things and experience them for ourselves.  Because you cannot impress something like that on a young mind better than letting them discover it personally.

Maybe, I should pull out our Medieval Illuminations quotes one more time and let the kids try inking those letters in one more time, but with a quill pen...

Nah, let's keep it all fun.

And speaking of fun, don't forget to read about the very fun Medieval Feast we experienced last time.

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Medieval Feast fit for a Monk

We are diving into a second year of classical history.  This year's study will begin with the Fall of Ancient Rome and travel all the way through the Renaissance, the Reformation and up to the beginnings of Colonization.  At the moment, we've been taking a little time with the early Christian monks.

We began by reading our chapter in Story of the World, Volume 2, which tells us of the noble aspirations with which the monasteries were begun.  We took a listen to some Gregorian Chant.

Not all Gregorian Chant is created equal.  It should be made up of just men's voices, and no instruments.  Because that is the point, of course: it's the music you get when a bunch of guys are stuck together with few creative outlets and a pious belief system which said the only channel for pleasing God was by singing for your supper.   "Chant" has a pretty, though melancholy sound, and will give your young listeners an idea of the primitive nature of good music in that era.  You can almost feel the dank, cool halls of stone. 

We even tried walking across the hardwood floors on our knees, like the monks sometimes did when they were serving their penance.  This was the kids' idea, actually.  Because it's fun if you don't have to do it and if you can get up once your knees get sore.   The very serious look is part of the pretend play. 

We also took some time to look at various Medieval Illuminations, that other channel for the monks to let loose their creativity.  And using this latest product from our store, we took some actual quotes from monks and illuminated the copied scripts ourselves.

There are three quote options to choose from in our "Medieval Illuminations" Packet.  On each one, there is room for added illustrations, and coloring in the letters.

First, the kids drew images like they had observed in the Illuminations we looked at in advance: small animals, vines, leaves, and flowers.

And then, they colored them in.  To take it up another notch, we could highlight parts with gold paint, like the monks did.  But this was a pretty good beginning.

But let's get onto the feast, shall we?   Now, I know you're going to ask the question, "What's with the robes and blankets?" 

This was another child-inspired plan.  When they heard that the monks would wear simple brown robes and walk slowly and piously around their monastery, nothing would do but that my kids had to run off and grab blankets and robes that would give them the same monastic look.  I was allowed to snap one photo of them pacing slowly across the living room, but only from the back.

Here it is, for your viewing pleasure.  You can see our cat was thoroughly confused at their slow tread and bowed heads, but the kids were loving this monastic pretend.

But let's talk about this Medieval Feast we enjoyed, shall we?  First, the main course:

You can vary your root vegetables.  You could throw in a turnip or a parsnip, but I would definitely keep the onion for flavor.  This was an easy recipe and borrowed from many recipes online.  As BrandNewVegan explains here, this humble stew was the standard fare for most peasants in the Dark Ages.

Now, about those Honey Cakes, which were the favorite of this meal, I owe the recipe to the free online PDF found on "The Circle of Ceridwen Cookery", which has some other delectable looking middle age recipes I'd love to try out.    

They taste a bit like a rough biscuit, slightly flavored with honey.  I would definitely recommend letting your students flavor them up with a bit of butter and additional honey.

Next, some sides we included which were probably reserved for very special occasions, were the slice of pear and bit of hard cheese.

There are a variety of cheeses you could allow your kids to sample.  Some cheeses you could use are Cheddar (first recorded use is in 1500), Gorgonzola (first recorded use is in 879), or Gouda (first recorded use is in 1697).

Now, about our Mead.  Monks are known for making mead.  This is not their actual recipe in its fermented version, because for obvious reasons, I'm not suggesting alcohol for kids.   This is the un-fermented recipe before it ferments.  But, you can make the actual version, from a 17th century monk recipe right here.  It takes a good 9 months to ferment properly, and to be honest, I don't think I have the patience to wait around for it.  But I'd still personally like to try out real mead,(I have always wondered about it during the reading of almost every slightly historical fantasy book out there) and I found a version that can be purchased here on Amazon.  (It has great reviews!)

In the meantime, you can get the gist of the taste of mead, by brewing up a starter batch of the un-fermented brew:

And that's it, that's our Medieval Feast in a nutshell.  If you have additional medieval recipes you would like to share, please post a link in the comments.  We love to add to the information gathering!  And thanks for reading.