Explore the unique lifestyle of medieval castle dwellers through these creative activities
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8
During Europe's Middle Ages, castles were built for one primary purpose: protecting people and property. As you begin your unit, ask students to share what they think they know about medieval life, and record their responses on a chart.
The Castle Community
Explain that there existed inside the castle walls a complex community of people who worked, feasted, and played together. Distribute the Medieval Castle Reproducible (PDF) and invite students to take a "crayon walk" through a medieval castle by coloring each numbered part as you discuss it. Then have them brainstorm what the structure reveals about how castle dwellers lived. For example, there was little privacy, the community was always prepared for war, animals were kept inside the walls, etc. What do they think it smelled like? Sounded like? Have students write a list of questions like these that they would most like to explore, then break the class into groups, each to research a topic in depth.
Castle Facts Bulletin Board
As students learn additional details about the Middle Ages, display their research on a clever "Castle Facts" bulletin board. Draw a large stone-castle outline as a guide and graph the towers and walls into rectangles. Cut shapes to match out of construction paper, then keep these colored-paper "building stones" on hand so that each time a student discovers a new fact, he or she can add it to the wall. In no time your class will have built its own medieval castle!
Song and Story
When not engaged in warfare, castle residents enjoyed activities such as feasting, games, crafts, music, songs, and storytelling. The songs and stories of the medieval period often told of great accomplishments, courageous acts, or historical events. Characters such as King Arthur and Robin Hood and stories such as The Canterbury Tales were very popular. After inspiring students by sharing some of these stories, ask them to write their own, using what they've learned about the time period and the people that lived in it. Then gather in the great hall of your castle classroom and invite them to read, tell, or sing their stories to the class.
A noble family lived in a castle keep. Talk with students about why they think this structure was so named, then have them build their own. For each, you'll need an empty square tissue box and two paper towel tubes. Guide students to first cut the tops off their boxes, then cover the sides with construction paper, leaving a few inches of paper extending past the tops of the boxes. To make towers, cover tubes with paper and glue to the sides of the boxes. Add colored-paper doors and windows, and personalized flags on craft-stick poles. Students then can make crenellations in their keeps by cutting notches on the top of the walls and towers.
—Maggie Samudio, Cumberland Elementary, West Lafayette, IN
Student Study Chambers
Because most areas in a castle were shared by all, dwellers often used screens to create private spaces. Let students transform their desks into quiet places to read and take tests with their own privacy screens. For each screen, fold a half-length of 22" by 28" poster board into three panels and have students decorate the outsides. To customize the interiors, copy reference sheets onto colored paper for students to choose from, such as a hundreds counting chart, manuscript or cursive-alphabet reminders, a vowel-and-consonant sound chart, or multiplication tables. If desired, students also can add the Medieval Castle Reproducible (PDF) to their screens for reference.
—Maggie Samudio, Cumberland Elementary, West Lafayette, IN
During the Middle Ages, each job in a castle community filled a specific need. But before a young person could get a job, he or she completed an apprenticeship—rigorous training by an expert in the field. As children research the period, have them list some different medieval jobs and the training required to do them. Talk about how the jobs compare with some modern occupations. Then take a vote to find out for which jobs students would most like to have apprenticed. Plot the results on a castle-shaped graph. For older students, invite one or more guests who are experts in a specific trade to demonstrate their crafts for the class.
Page-to-Knight Time Lines
Of all medieval professions, knighthood was one of the most important, as knights defended the castle household. Have students create time lines to illustrate the long and involved process of becoming a knight in medieval times. Typically, a boy of seven moved to a relative's castle and became a page. At 15, he became a squire. He would be dubbed a knight around his 21st birthday. Have small groups of students each research a stage in this process for its time line. What would a boy learn in each stage?
Middle Ages Helmets
To protect their bodies and heads, medieval knights wore suits of armor, with helmets that weighed as much as 25 pounds! Invite students to make their own cardboard versions to wear during your unit. For each helmet, you will need a sheet or poster board. Then guide students through the following steps: Turn poster board horizontally, and make 3" cuts spaced 2" apart. Hold the sheet in front of your face and bend the strips so that they rest on the top of your head. Mark the location of your eyes, mouth, and chin with a light pencil mark. Then lay the board flat and cut eye slits, using the pencil marks as a guide. Poke breathing holes in the mouth area. Fold strips over and staple together at the top to form the top of the helmet, and add a feather from a piece of colored construction paper. Then cut slices out of the bottom to allow the helmet to rest on your shoulders.
A medieval knight was expected to behave a certain way. For example, he was expected to be loyal, to help his companions, to be honest, to defend the weak, and to show generosity. These standards were known as the Code of Chivalry. Invite students to create their own codes in this fun scroll activity. After discussing parts of the knights' code, challenge students to brainstorm other aspects of chivalry, then compare with today's expectations of conduct. Are they different? Similar? For students' codes, give each a strip of 11" by 17" paper.. Have students divide their strips into six sections, and label the first "_____'s Code of Chivalry." Students can name and illustrate a different ideal of conduct on each section, then decorate and add a border. After students share their personal codes, give each a fancy seal to make it "official." Then roll up each scroll and tie with fancy ribbon.