history,  homeschooling

Medieval History, Robin Hood & Homeschooling Ideas

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homeschooling ideas for studying medieval history

We’ve been working on learning about Medieval History. Of course I’m interested in the intrigues of European royalty, but I know if I start my children off with that their eyes will glaze over. So I start with what they are interested in: longbows. We watch a video about weapons that made Britian, which introduces them to the mention of Henry III (who apparently passed a law requiring all British youth of a certain age to spend part of Sunday practicing the longbow, although I haven’t been able to find any other references to it) and Edward III whose longbow many proved invaluable in the attack in France. It also introduces good questions about the strength of the longbows, so I make notes about science experiments to do, testing the flexibility of different woods in mock long-bows. In the show we watched them test the strength required to pull back a longbow. We can test the strength of rough homemade bow using a little spring scale. We reviewed the meanings of compression and tension, using a stick of glue meant for a glue-gun as a flexible rod which we could mark with equal stripes and then watch the distances grow and shrink as the rod was bent.

From that we moved on to reading a number of different library books and doing Medieval related crafts. We drew fancy illustrations for the first letter of a word and we talk about the amount of time and effort that went into copying books by hand. We made miniature mosaics out of Plaster of Paris and craft stones  because one of the books on medieval life mentioned those too.

We read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales retold by Marcia Williams. The crude illustrations of that book keep the boisterious spirit of the stories and one son informs me that of the stories told he thinks the Summoners Tale should win. I like that my older son recognizes the setting of the Knights Tale as being the same as the setting of Shakespeare’s Mid Summer’s Night Dream.

The book Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices From a Medieval Village contains monologues and a few dialogues about medieval life. The children enjoyed seeing which stories overlapped with other stories and it was a good review of the different roles people had and some of the challenges they faced.

Next I wrote up a collection of brief notes about the five British kings I want to focus on, with the choice of the five being that they are featured in  the book Robin Hood by David Baldwin. (See my review of David Baldwin’s book here.)  Two of them the children are already familiar with: Richard the Lionheart and his brother John Lackland. I try to think about what I want the children to learn. I want them to learn just a few basic details about each king so as to be able to keep them straight. Henry III was crowned as a child and eventually angered his barons by favoring his foreign relatives and just generally being ineffective. Edward I invaded Wales and had many new castles built to keep control of Wales. Edward II was forced to give up his kingdom in favor of his son, after his wife joined the forces against him.

Since the Robin Hood book is focused on one particular topic, I need more information and I turn to the book Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe by Nancy Goldstone. The book is a very quick readable book, just one step away from a novel, and it provides more of the details of the royal intrigue. Most of it I’m not sure will interest the children but for a few days they hear me telling details to their dad. I tell stories about how the title King of Rome is an elected position, but requires only 4 of the 7 votes and thus only four people to be bribed. Buying the title allows Richard, the younger son of John Lackland, to claim to be a king but his next step is to try to conquer the land (Germany) and he fails at that. Imagine if our elections went like that – one person winning the title and then having to use the military to enforce it. I guess there’s still countries that work like that, though the elections are no longer just seven dignitaries voting.

I talked to the children about what it means to try to learn about the origins of Robin Hood. There were, after all, lots of robbers. What would be required to say “this one was the original Robin Hood?” I talked about how the book by David Baldwin is concerned with finding who the first six songs of Robin Hood are based off of, and how there is no mention in them of Richard the Lionheart. In fact, there’s mention instead of a different king. I read excerpts of the songs.

I explain that there are five possible kings under which Robin Hood could have lived, and I present them with my notes on the five kings. We read through them, and turn to a pile of cards. With each card the children have to tell me if the hint on the card is relevant or irrelevant to finding out the origins of Robin Hood, and if so, towards which king’s lifetime does the clue point?  The point is to explore the relevancy of different bits of information and to feel like a detective.


Read a later post about learning about medieval theatre and religion.

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