The Middle Ages were the era of knights and ladies and castles. Bring this exciting time period to life with these hands-on activities.

Craft a Coat of Arms
What you need: Cardboard, paint, duct tape, felt or other fabric, scissors, fabric glue, odds and ends for decoration

What to do: Explain that coats of arms were used to identify knights in battle and that coats of arms came to represent entire families. Designs were symbolic: a lion or eagle meant courage, the colors silver or white meant peace and sincerity. The book Medieval Projects You Can Do!, by Marsha Groves, includes a great guide to coat of arms symbolism. Encourage each child to design a personal coat of arms. Students can then display their coat of arms either on a cardboard shield or tapestry.

Build a Castle
What you need: Empty cereal boxes, cardboard, toilet-paper and paper-towel tubes, heavy paper, scissors, tape, glue

What to do: After reading Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures: Medieval Castle, by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen, discuss the parts of a typical castle, including the drawbridge, portcullis (heavy grilled gate), battlement (a rampart built around the top, with protected areas for firing arrows), and keep (a tower at the most protected part of the castle). Separate children in groups of two or three and have them construct a medieval castle. Encourage creativity. Students may wish to add a moat, castle garden, or courtyard. You might also separate students into teams, with some working on castles while others design the land, villages, and fields surrounding the castle.

Create a Catapult
What you need: Popsicle sticks (at least 10 per catapult), ruler, rubber band, tape

What to do: Odds are, your students already know that catapults fling things. This is their chance to throw paper around the room! Show them a picture of a catapult and explain that soldiers used catapults in battle to fire large objects, such as boulders, at heavy castle walls to knock them down. Give them supplies and let them work in small groups to design a catapult. You may be surprised at what they come up with. A step-by-step plan (including pictures) can be found by clicking on “Catapults” and then “Teeny-Tiny Popsicle Stick Catapult” at stormthecastle.com.

Eat Like a King
What you need: Roast chicken, green salad, applesauce with cinnamon, grapes, dried fruit, spiced cider, simple tableware and mugs, cookbook such as Maggie Black’s The Medieval Cookbook

What to do: Read Aliki’s A Medieval Feast to the children, then plan and implement your own classroom feast. While some medieval food is a bit out of reach (roasted peacock, anyone?), much of it is highly accessible (roast chicken and applesauce). Divide students into groups and decide which groups will be responsible for drinks, main dishes, appetizers, and dessert. Send a note home and include simple medieval recipes; encourage each family to prepare something for the feast. Discuss medieval table manners as well. Your students will get a kick out of rules such as “Eat with your hands, knives, and spoons.” (Forks hadn’t been invented yet.) On the day of the feast, let students reenact the roles of nobility and servants.

Play Like a Pauper
What you need: Chess or checkers pieces and boards, blindfold
What to do: Children in the Middle Ages enjoyed many games that are still played today. Divide students into pairs and hand out chess/checkers boards and pieces. Have a simple chess book or two on hand for students who want to know more about “The Royal Game.” (Chess for Kids, by Michael Basman, is a very visual primer.) Introduce the pieces—queen, king, knight, rook (the “castle”), bishop, and pawn—and their various moves. Explain that the goal of the game, like the goal of many medieval battles, is to capture the king. After children have played a few games, head outside to play blindman’s bluff. Blindfold one child and have the other children scatter. The blindfolded child calls “blindman,” and the other children respond with “bluff.” The “blindman” must find and identify the others using verbal cues alone. Or, for a real challenge, try playing with no sound at all. —Jennifer L. W. Fink