Morning, noon and knights

Harford Friends School offers students a weeklong glimpse of life in Middle Ages

June 22, 2008|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

Thirteen Harford County children conjured up a week in the Middle Ages.

One day they learned about peasants and royalty, and made tunics, crowns and orbs. Another day they mixed berries to make ink, carved stone, and made a lantern from tin. And another day they made castles that included arrow loops, crenels, merlons, turrets, and a drawbridge.

The camp culminated with a feast where the children ate with their hands.

"My goal is to give the children an understanding of what life was like during medieval times," said Margaret Ann Knaub, of Elkton, who taught the program. "I tried to include hands-on activities. Children learn best when they experience something."

The children were participating in a camp called Castles, Knights and Kingdoms: A Journey through the Middle Ages. The first of eight summer learning programs being offered by the Harford Friends School, the new camp, which ran from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., gave children ages 8 to 14 a looking glass glimpse at life in the Middle Ages.

The summer programs were initiated nine years ago to introduce children to the Friends school's way of teaching, said Jonathan Huxtable, head of Harford Friends School. It's for families seeking more than a sports camp, he said.

"Our summer program is for families who want to continue the educational process throughout the summer," Huxtable said. "When children attend our camps they are explorers, discoverers, inventors and designers."

During each of the five camp days, the activities included brief lessons on medieval life, as well as crafts to demonstrate various concepts.

Stephanie Almasy was fascinated by medieval life, she said.

"It's interesting to learn things like the people in medieval times ate with their hands," said Stephanie, 12, of Bel Air. "It helps me to see how the people lived, when we do all these activities that they might have done back in those days."

On a recent morning, the children made ink and wrote messages with a quill pen.

To make the ink, Knaub, a former Darlington Elementary School teacher, filled a measuring cup with blueberries and poured them into a bowl with a strainer in it.

Then one by one, the children smashed the juice out of blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries into a strainer, using a tablespoon. Once the juice from each type of berry was strained, the children measured and added vinegar and salt, which they poured into small lids.

Knaub's daughter, Samantha, thought the berry concoction looked good, she said.

"I tasted it because it looked good," said Samantha, 13, who spent the week as a volunteer for the program. "But it was horrible."

After the ink was mixed, Knaub, who wrote the curriculum for the program, passed out turkey feathers to each of the children, who used the ink to write messages on sheets of beige paper.

"I think it's easier to use a regular ink pen," said Brian Swab, 9, of Fallston, as he swirled the tip of his feather pen in the ink. "This ink is messy and it's hard to get it to stay on the end of the feather."

Once the quill and ink lesson was completed, Knaub gathered the children on the carpet and taught them about being an apprentice.

"You're going to be masons today," Knaub told them.

When she finished the lesson, the children donned tunics that they had created the day before. Then one group went outdoors to make tin lanterns out of tin soup cans, while the other group stayed indoors to carve rock.

Using a knife, the children carved rock, made from Sculptamold, a lightweight white compound that models and casts like clay. The youngsters quickly discovered that the "rock" was not as easy as it seemed to carve.

Maxwell Wray chiseled away at the compound, making slow process.

"This is hard to do," said Maxwell, 10, of Bel Air, as he flicked a chunk of the substance onto the table. "It's hard to get it shaped into what you want it to be. I don't know how they did this stuff back in the medieval times."

Meanwhile outside, a group of about six children hammered holes into the sides of tin cans. One child held the can, while another pounded a nail into the tin.

The culmination of the camp is a medieval feast that includes apples, grapes, strawberry Jello, apricot pasta, spinach tart, cinnamon crunchies, small cakes, and wassail to drink. Knaub said the children were to help make the meat: "We're making a boar's head-shaped meatloaf. It will include olives for eyes, and an apple in its mouth."

When the program concluded Friday, Knaub said she hoped the camp made an impact on the children.

"I hope the children take away a better knowledge of medieval life, and a love of learning," she said.

Other camps being offered

*It's Not a Plane, It's a Bird! Ornithology for Everyone! A camp where children learn to identify birds in Maryland and their habitats.

* Creative Theater and Improvisation. Children will express ideas through storytelling, and building characters through improvisation.

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