By THLady Maggie Rue
The Society is a place for children of all ages to take on a myriad of project in the arts and sciences, and certainly there is a number of places online and in books, magazines, and handouts where I’ve found projects galore.
But where does a caregiver go to find projects that are worthy of entering in an A&S competition, without creating too much stress for all participants, while successfully obtaining materials readily and cheaply?
The good news is there are plenty of places from which to get ideas without breaking the bank; the better news is that there is such variety within those categories that no one has to repeat anything that’s been done before. With an open mind and ready sources of inspiration, all kids can enter an A&S competition and bring new information to the table for everyone to enjoy.
One of the easiest methods of creating patterns, block printing uses a shape created from some carveable/cuttable material and transfers ink or paint onto fabric, paper, or other material like a stamp. The block, made of wood, linoleum, rubber, foam or even a potato, creates the stamp from which the ink will transfer the design. Block printing is traditionally Asian with the concept predating paper. In India, block printing is used to transfer patterns onto fabric which is then made into clothing. By the 1300s, it would appear that block printing reached Europe and, according to one paper, block print designs were used for children’s clothes, thereby making clothing, linens for household, wall hangings, and paper products all appropriate entries for any child to put into an A&S competition.
Designs for repeated patterns can be simple: Circles, plus signs or Xs, flowers, spirals or geometric designs, stars, and so on. For singular stamps, more intricate designs can help create book pages, fabric art for tablecloths or napkins, or designs for art squares to display on walls. Another useful project is to place single printed pieces on cardstock for holidays or birthdays, or as largess for thank-yous from the Crown.
Quite possible one of the easiest mediums for most hands large and small, there are also a lot of different ideas that clay can accommodate. Pottery is a popular way to go, and certainly the number of pieces from all regions of the world can allow a budding young artist to pick and choose their subject matter. All cups, bowls, and saucers are useful and can be put together for a child’s first feast gear, or as gifts to give to others.
When it comes to period styles, a little Google can go a long way. For example: one can start here for English Medieval pottery examples, and then they can move on to more specific shapes, sizes, and mixes. In the Middle East and Eastern traditions, there are a number of varieties of bowls, tea cups, and jars to peruse and copy. Or one can research tiles.
With a couple of squares of clay hardening, a kid can let their imagination run wild with this resource that connects to several books all about different styles of tiles of the Middle Ages. Tiles are also not only pretty and decorative, but lovely gifts and great ways of showing techniques and styles in a competition.
But clay can be used for so much more. One key use is as game pieces for a variety of medieval games. Roman Dux and even chess pieces can be created with clay. Also, rather than allowing a child to play with real bones, clay can be manipulated to create a set of knucklebones, the first dice. Dice themselves came in a wide variety of materials.
In addition, runestones are popular, as well as Chinese dominos. Clay tablets were used for writing as well as for creating prayers that were left at temples as offerings. The abacus can be created using small clay donuts as the counters. For other projects, clay can be broken down into pieces to make safe mosaic tiles, and clay can also be used as the material base into which the child presses mosaic tiles. Finally, clay makes for great counterweights for scales, construction projects, and STEM experiments that are medieval or ancient in nature, like the groma or a scale.
Clay can help make masks used in theater performances such as what’s seen in
Roman times or in Asian cultures. If not making the mask itself, clay is a great mold for applying papier-mâché (also period) in order to make funerary molds, coffins, death masks, helmets, doll heads, and so on.
This is more for the older kids, especially when it comes to knives and other sharp implements of destruction, but can be very rewarding—leather was used for all sorts of containers, accessories, with a number of household applications.
Wood was used for everything at one point in Europe, so much so that entire forests were denuded. Pieces of balsa can also be used to make fans, in miniatures and model making (see later), and for containers of all sorts. Sticks and reeds from out in the wild are useful for everything from measurements, to weapons, to hats and baskets. Larger pieces of wood can be used to carve dolls.
Cooking is one of the great ways to get a kid involved with history. When I was
homeschooling my first child, we got a great book from the library that was all about cuisine from other countries, called “Cooking Up World History.” None of the recipes are particularly complicated or involve hard-to-find ingredients. I’ve seen other historical/cultural recipes in other books about history and highly recommend you look around.
In addition, there are a number of “medicinal” recipes for external remedies that kids can redact and show others, such as soapmaking. Another example would be “cold cream” for which Galen was said to invent one of the first recipes. Even henna requires a recipe.
Other examples include honeyed or syrupy dates, butter, hummus varieties, red bean soup, Roman sweet cakes, or handmade soap. Seriously, anything can be turned into a recipe redaction, and Google is your friend for reading ancient recipes by Nostradamus, Pliny the Elder, or Henricus Institor. Through information from Wikipedia and Google, you can find digitized copies of the very first printed cookbook, De honesta voluptate, from 1480.
Loom weaving can be achieved using sticks (set up as an open frame) or cardboard for a frame while the warp and weft is created with yarn, thread, or fabric strips. Reeds and sticks can help create basketry of all sorts. Cardboard can also be used for Kumihimo, a Japanese form of weaving that creates fantastic woven ropes for all sorts of projects. Fingerloop weaving is still a valid project. Although tablet weaving requires a more intricate set-up, it isn’t difficult, according to Coblaith Muimnech, who talks about it and many other kid-related activities in detail with complete instructions here.
Sewing and Embroidery
Young children of old were taught to embroider at a young age and it seems that those ideas still work well today. Whether sewing up a stuffie of some sort to decorating a napkin or piece of linen as a favor, there are many patterns that look great and are relatively easy for most kids. In addition, thrift stores can supply an endless cheap supply of cotton squares and other pieces of fabric and sewing notions. Other easy projects include a pillow, a chemise or T-tunic, or maybe a Jorvik cap, with or without embroidery.
Although making Galen’s cold cream or an herbal tisane used for coughs is in some kids’ wheelhouses, most won’t be as interested in medicines. Thankfully, my research in plants and apothecaries has opened a whole other rabbit hole: aromatherapy. Medieval society was totally into the idea that certain scents created medicinal or magical responses, as well as an entire trade for herbs and spices from all over to excite the senses. I first started making little herbal pillows based on Cunningham’s magical herbs texts, but then applied the same ideas to in-period concepts, helping kids make their own scented sachets using whatever made them feel good. Herbal sachets can be readily made by taking a square or circle of cloth and adding in whatever herbs and spices you have lying around the house. Add a bit of pillow stuffing, tie it up, and you have a wearable or carry-able herbal sachet just like days of old.
In addition, there is a load of traditions in medieval culture involving household (i.e. stuff you can obtain in any grocery or discount store) herbs and spices such as gift-giving, containers, scented pomanders and linen ideas, and other projects that are readily researched and reproduced, some of which I discuss further in my Herbal and Apothecary Newsletters, found here.
The one aspect of A&S that I feel kids would love is making models—these could be either miniature buildings or small models of devices that once existed. I got this idea from a book I picked up called “The Encyclopedia of Ancient History”, which has a number of projects throughout on different cultures. One of them is a cardboard replica of a Chinese wheelbarrow invented about 100 AD. It is fascinating, easily replicated in miniature, and such projects open up a whole world of ideas for A&S competition.
I’ve seen reproductions in miniature of the Parthenon, Pyramids, Japanese structures and gardens, and so on. In addition, recreating such interesting devices as boats and ships, Archimedes screws and bronze cannons, water or candle clocks, or siege towers and merchant wagons is about as awesome as any miniature catapult or trebuchet. There has been some great miniature work on creating single rooms, such as the parlor or dining room of a Victorian house, and it makes sense that a kid can attempt to recreate a scene from any number of illuminated sources. For example, I took the idea of the apothecary from a source:
And reproduced it here:
Art and Illumination
Paintings are everywhere and there are numerous in-period styles that can be
examined and replicated, and all caretakers need is a visit to a local craft store or big-box store for a pack of gouache paints, some brushes, and a couple of stretched canvases or pieces of nice paper. Should the child become more involved, then more involved supplies can be obtained through the internet.
When it comes to a project, the sky’s the limit: a young person can do calligraphy & illumination for scrolls, a modern song or an illuminated letter, or perhaps their name in calligraphy. I picked up a number of in-period pieces to copy by googling “medieval illumination” and the subject in which I was interested, so “winter”, “queen”, “the letter P”, for example.
Kids can start fighting in heavy weapons and rapier combat when they turn six. They can certainly start working on their own kits, decorating them any way they want, and it is absolutely an arts and science worthy of competition. Examples include painting their own shields, designing their own armor, or creating a period fencing buckler.
In addition, archery and thrown weapons can be started as soon as they show safety on the range—my five-year-old was allowed to try her hand throwing an axe, although she wasn’t really safe enough to continue. She’ll learn. At any rate, hand-fletching arrows, making a quiver or even an axe sheath would be a great project.
I highly encourage folks to let kids be noisy, either playing music on instruments or singing at the tops of their lungs. Same goes for the SCA. We should be encouraging music and dance every chance we get for kids because they’re the ones that most freely enjoy it. Back in medieval times, people danced and sang because it was an expression of freedom; today’s peeps (yes, not all, but a large portion) have so many venues of entertainment that we’ve put our own dancing and singing on pause. Through the kids we can get a little of that excitement back.
Reading music is a little more difficult for little ones, but Youtube is your friend for listening and copying singers until they have all the words down to any number of in-period songs. Sure, that seems vague, but I’ve watched my five-year-old pick up an entire folk song, in a completely different language, that she liked simply by watching it on repeat. Kids are ridiculous.
This goes for cheap instruments. I’ve gotten my daughter two doumbeks, two recorders, one tin whistle, a ukulele, and we borrowed/stole an electronic keyboard from my brother. Most pieces I found for cheap/free. There’s a guitar waiting for her when she gets a little bigger.
Competitions should overlook modern instruments, especially for children, as long as they are a modern version of an old one. Given the use for “filk” as an SCA experience, it’s easy enough to create music for kids to play and sing based off of modern songs in tablature. Nursery rhymes that are considered in-period include “To Market, To Market” and “Ding Dong Bell.”
Æthelmearc has a pretty good Rubric for judging all participants on an equal scale, but some conversations with Midrealm’s Vigilant SæhildR barngóðR (aka Baroness Silly), Kingdom A&S Minister and creator of the It Takes My Child to Raze a Village event, show that there are many ways of creating competitions for children.
“The current Age Divisions for competition are: Duckling (6 years and Under), I (7-9 years), II (10-12 years), III (13-17 years), and Adult (18+). Participants of all ages fill out a form to share about their entry and learn some basics of SCA A&S documentation.
The first time we held the A&S Competition, a five-year-old stole the show with his “Tun-ip Soup” and the populace only got three beans for voting. Now we have a chart that rewards people who have been recognized in the Arts and Sciences with more beans (trusting their expertise!).”
Certainly, children should be encouraged to enter A&S more often, which leads to:
The Order of the Silver Sycamore
I have seen ONE of these awards given out. We should be giving these out like candy. Children should be given awards, because once they hit a certain age, they’re done. So, there’s no reason to hold these in reserve. Give ‘em to all the kids!
Links to more ideas: