Unit Study: The Middle Ages

Attentions Lords, Ladies, peasants, arch bishops and the like – we are going to be stepping back in time to uncover just “how things worked” during the Middle Ages. This is a fascinating topic spanning about 1,000 years of life in Europe. Get ready to wade through the Black Plague and scale castle walls.

Each month I’m going to give our readers a few tips, helps, ideas and so on – (which I teach in my book Everything You Need to Know About Homeschool Unit Studies), and are also part of the instruction I present in my workshops. These tips are the “things” I have found to help streamline all aspects of conducting unit studies, make them easy and successful and just generally help folks to understand MORE about this delightful method!

Here comes a UNIT STUDY “word of encouragement” from The Unit Study Queen – me!

Have you ever been guilty of saying these nasty words? “I like the idea of unit studies and I think my children would learn so much more and benefit from them BUT…I’m afraid there will be holes and they will miss something important.”Well if you have…you’re not alone! Tons of people have this fear, so my tip or, you might call it a word of encouragement this month is to say “Never Fear”. So many times our own fears keep us from doing things that would be so beneficial. I want you all to know there WILL be holes, after all you are not God! I giggle when I think of the holes in my education. There was one big one…I went to public school and I didn’t get one…an education that is. But the Lord has been filling in the holes ever since and I am getting by just fine and haven’t ruined my kids in the least because of my “holes.”

So, here’s Big News for this month: You ALWAYS do a more thorough job with a unit study. I hear this concern so much that I finally conducted my own little test. I wanted to see just how much my textbook said about a given topic so I chose the one we were currently studying which was Westward Movement. I learned that this time period covered from 1803 / Louisiana Purchase…Lewis & Clark Expediction…Mountain Men / trappers …Wagons Ho West TO the Transcontinental Railroad (when this came to an end because folks had a faster way to move west). My textbook contained a whopping 14 pages on this time period. This would take a 5th grade student about a week to cover.


On the flip side, we conducted a 6 week study, read tons of books, made tons of different kinds of maps (rivers, Indian tribes, landmarks, the Lewis & Clark route, The Louisiana Territory etc.), churned butter which we spread on our cornbread / beans, learned about the invention of photography, the buffalo on the prairie and how the Indians used every part of the buffalo, sang songs (Home on the Range), marked various trails, learned about stocking a wagon, dangers on the trail, starting a fire (using buffalo chips for fuel), made a quilt square, shared wonderful times reading books together AND filled a notebook with all our schoolwork (spelling, vocabulary, writing, maps etc) AND enjoyed learning together immensely. Are you getting the picture? Have I convinced you yet?

Now, on to our topic! Hark all knights and fair maidens! Tis time to take a peek into the past as we discover the world of Medieval Times. The time is 500 A.D. to 1500 A.D. The place is Europe. The people are those ranking in social position on the feudal ladder from kings, lords, and bishops to knights, merchants and peasants.

Before the Middle Ages (the time between the Dark Ages and Modern Times), rough barbarian tribes swarmed the Roman empire, burning and plundering its cities. After centuries of feuding, the tribes began to settle down and form kingdoms. Kings gave to land to their chieftains (who lived in fortified castles) in exchange for support in war. These lords protected the local people who worked the lands and gave him part of the crops in exchange for protection. People lived in villages near the castle so they could rush within the walls for safety if attacked. These are the times we refer to as Knights and Castles! I don’t know why, but kids are fascinated with this topic! This topic spans 1000 years so there’s a lot here to study, but here’s a few ideas to get you started. Have fun!

Areas to Study:
~ The Feudal System
~ Barbarian Tribes – who they were The Crusades
~ Kings and Queens
~ Life in a Castle
~ Life in a Village
~ The Power of the Church
~ Monks and Monasteries
~ Lords and Ladies
~ Castles – design, fortification, siege weapons
~ Knights – tournaments, jousting, armor
~ Sport – falconry, fencing
~ Merchants / guilds / street fairs /
~ Entertainment / dancing bears / court jester / music
~ Art / Mosaics / Cathedrals / Tapestry

~ Research key people of the Middle Ages (Charlemagne, William the Conqueror, Joan of Arc etc.)
~ Research The Bayeux Tapestry, its importance, the “event” it depicts etc.

~ Study the Bayeux Tapestry and draw your own scenes from your life
~ Design your own “illuminated letter” Check out this site: retrokat.com/medieval/le.htm
~ Use these letters to design your notebook cover!
~ Design your own coat of arms. Find out about your family background and try to be authentic

~ Find out about the plaque – the Black Death
~ Find out about sanitation during Medieval Times

~ Look up Scripture related to God’s kingdom and discuss what the “kingdom” is.

~ Learn the knights “Code of Chivalry” and write it out. Decorate a sheet of lined paper with knight stickers around the border.
~ Write a letter to home as if you were a knight away at a crusade or war. Use old English (thou, thee, thy)
~ Read the Magna Carta and write out a few lines
~ Do a book report on one of the books we’ve suggested for reading

~ This is a great time to learn to play chess – a way to exercise
your mind!
~ Make a “sketch” by placing a picture of a page, squire, and knight in the center of a blank sheet, then write facts about them in the field.
~ Build a castle from blocks ??? whatever you have!
~ Find pictures of different people in society and make a “feudal ladder” diagram depicting people according to their status
~ Prepare a Medieval Feast – Hey! You have to eat anyway, you might as well cook according to the time period!

~ Life in a Medieval Castle and Village / Dover Publications ( a must have!)
~ Knights Activity Book (Younger students) Dover Publications
~ Hands-On Heritage: Medieval Times (Information and simple activities)
~ Adam of the Road by by Elizabeth Janet Gray and Robert Lawson
~ A Door in the Wall by Marguerite De Angeli
~ The Knight at Dawn (Magic Tree House #2) by Mary Pope Osborne
~ The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman
~ Castle Diary by by Richard Platt and Chris Riddell
~ How Castles Were Built (Age of Castles) by Peter Hicks
~ How Would You Survive in the Middle Ages (How Would You Survive Ser) by Fiona MacDonald, David Salariya, and Mark Peppe
~ Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (adapted by Barbara Cohen)
~ The Making of a Knight by Patrick O’Brien
~ Illuminations by Jonathan Hunt
~ If You Were There…Medieval Times by Antony Mason

From Our Readers:
Lisa from Washington…thanks for the following contribution!
We studied Medieval Times in (06-07) so here are a few great resources we used. Online links:


Tapestry of Grace year 2 links page History:

Tapestry of grace year 2 geography:

Tapestry of grace literature:

TOG Church History:

TOG Government:

TOG Art/Activites:

If you feel you can’t use these… no problem, but you’ll find a wealth of information!

Lisa (Morning Rose) adds:
“Two years ago, we did a unit study on knights using various Usborne books. We read Knights by Stephanie Turnbull and Knight’s Handbook by Sam Taplin.

A good book for younger children and a cute story – The Tournament by Heather Amery and Stephen Cartwright.

For art: Knights and Castles: Things to Make and Do by Leonie Pratt (contains lots of activities, stickers, and ideas that go along with a study of knights and castles)

Here’s a link to Dawn’s blog and her entry about teaching a co-op this “semester” on the Middle Ages… (Be sure to check out her lapbook pics, too!) http://myhomesweethomeonline.net/2008/01/11/unit-study-for-medieval-history-the-middle-ages/

At this link, you can build a medieval castle — complete with instructions on printing out and assembling the “pieces” of the castle… http://www.yourchildlearns.com/castle.htm

And thank you, Mia Faber, who offered these ideas for us!
This is such a fun time period to learn about, with so many great activities that it would be a shame just to learn dates, names and battles. Might as well have a great time with it!
We do medieval reenactment so I have tons of links-

http://www.yourchildlearns.com/castle.htm – build a medieval castle
http://www.knowledgequestmaps.com/article11.htm St. Patrick Unit study
http://homepage.ntlworld.com/trevor.barker/farisles/begin/costume1.htm – how to make medieval clothes
http://www.reddawn.net/costume/patterns.htm – more typesof clothes and how to make them. http://www.pantherprimitives.com/medieval.html – examples of cool medieval tents.

When we did a viking unit I had the kids try authentic foods, make clothes, read sagas (or have them read out-loud), so when we do Middle ages we will do the same things and add in jousting (riding hobby horses and wacking each other with pool noodles). Other activities to try: designing heraldry, learning how interconnected the royals were at the time (king’s cousin in England is the Queen of France and such as that). Make some illuminated scrolls, learn how to weave and embrodier, study the Battle of Hastings (depicted on the Bayeux tapestry) and create a replica. Learn some Latin. Learn some of the Saints’ stories especially the odd ones (patron Saint of boils? Anyone?)

Also field trips to an SCA event ( SCA.ORG medieval re-enactors, you can watch people fight with “swords”, talk with artisians, maybe see a King or Queen)

Also we will build a siege wea
pon Catapult or trebuchet (mini sized) and attack block castles.

A cool book suggestion: Take a thousand Eggs or More by Cindy Renfrow – A Medieval cookbook with authentic recipies http://www.thousandeggs.com/ttemsample.html

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