Monday, February 17, 2014

Knights of the Round Table: A School-Age Program

I've had a growing number of children asking me about Arthurian legends of late, so I decided to put together a program centered around the topic. I only played a part in half of the program, as I brought in a fencing instructor from the community to share some great weapons presentations. I love being able to tap the community for outstanding and interesting program content. Here's what the school-age program looked like.

Knights of the Round Table

Traveling back in time through swordplay
     I arranged with a local fencing instructor and one of his friends/students to bring an assortment of weapons so they could demonstrate fencing at different times in history. To get the sense of traveling back in time, they opened up by briefly explaining how modern competitive fencing works: the equipment, where you're trying to stab your opponent, safety, etc. After demonstrating modern fencing, they moved back to the Renaissance period. They switched to Renaissance-style swords, talked about duels and the Three Musketeers, and did a bit more fighting. Last was a demonstration of Middle Ages fencing, with broadswords and a unique style of fighting. After the explanation and demonstration of Middle Ages swordplay, kids were invited to ask questions. Tons of hands shot up, with children interested in knowing more about the differences between weapons, excited to feel the heft of an armored gauntlet, and to hear from real swordsmen what it's like having a sword fight.

Storytelling: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
     Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one of my all-time favorite Arthurian legends, and I've found that it's a lesser known tale to children just getting interested in Camelot. I told the story as oral storytelling--out loud, from memory without a book, just as the tale might have been told in halls and at feasts in King Arthur's time. I prepped for the storytelling by reading through several books on Arthurian legend from our nonfiction stacks; there are plenty of versions and editions of these tales available, and you can find one to suit your audience and timeframe. I love storytelling in my programs, as kids always get totally engaged in the story.

Activity: Creating Armored Shields and Straw Swordplay
     When I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC last year, I stumbled upon a family art activity in the hall of armor where kids could use heavy-duty, art-quality foil sheets to create their own armor designs. I adapted that activity for this program. I had out on the craft tables sheets of aluminum foil and card stock shield-shaped templates for every child. Children cut out their shield shapes, then wrapped them in aluminum foil to create a relatively smooth shield the size of a hand. With the armor plating in place, kids used the ends of paint brushes to etch designs into their armor. Once the design was complete, a pipe cleaner put through the shield served to create a strap to keep the shield firmly in place on the hand. I handed out drinking straws to serve a swords, and kids went at it fencing with one another and defending themselves with their hand shields.

Time for Further Questions and Materials Exploration
     The fencing instructor was generous in supplying time and materials for this program. As the program was winding down, he made himself available for questions and his fencing equipment available for kids (and their just-as-interested caregivers) to touch. No children actually wielded a sword, but they got to feel how heavy they were and see their designs up close--plenty of excitement in and of itself. I also made available a bunch of books with Arthurian subjects. The Gerald Morris Knights' Tales series are a particularly easy hand sell thanks to their action and hilarity.


Have you worked with knowledgeable people in your community to put on interesting collaborative programs? Sound off in the comments.


  1. How long was this program? Would it be doable in an hour?


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