22 August 2014


We sometimes focus on a topic round these parts.  It hasn't happened so much in recent months but in our early days of home education it was quite a focus of our learning.  One of the first was Castles, it all started with a book, a charity shop find, See Inside Castles published by Usborne Books.  At the time my eldest was probably about five or six and was reading but still liked to read books with me as often there were words he could not yet work out.  That one book triggered quite a journey.

We don't follow a curriculum, I believe in learning rather than teaching. I realised that my eldest was really interested not only in the book but also the subject matter, he wanted to learn more about Castles.  So we went on a journey, one that took us all over the place physically as well as mentally, this is a record of that journey, recorded by subjects as I felt this would be most useful for anyone wanting to do the same.

History it goes without saying that this was the main focus of his learning.  In fact it opened up a new world to him, the past.  Remembering that he was only around six at the time although he was aware of the past, a time before he was born when I was a child and his grandparents were children, it was not a concept he had grasped a good understanding of.  One of the first things we did was to create a time line showing the present day at the right hand end and going back to the time most castles were built.  As he read and learnt about different eras of castles we added them to the line along with other periods of history that he leant about through this topic.  We started with the castles themselves why they had been built, we looked at what was happening in the world at that time, we discussed, in basic terms, conflicts.  He moved onto Knights and reading all about them, which led to looking at the structure of society then and now.  We learnt about what people were wearing, what they ate, I wanted to have a go at cooking some of the recipes we found but he wasn't keen, the tools and transport they were using which led us on to technology and its development through time.

Geography our main focus of learning was about the world.  Before this he wasn't really aware of the world beyond our village apart from the places he had thus far visited.  He learnt that we live on a island and where that it is in the world, about northern and southern hemispheres, seasons, day and night, revolving round the sun and the year.  We looked at atlases, we stuck a map of the world on the wall, which is still there and often looked at.  We found a really old atlas, that I inherited from my granma, published in late 1920s (there is no date in it sadly) and it was interesting to compare that to one from the 1970s and one from now to see how borders had move and countries renamed.  The building materials for castles changed over time, ending with rock.  We looked into rocks and geology, investigating the castles we visited to work out what they were built with and where that might have come from.  We considered how it might have got there, what the roads might have looked like and were there maps.

English our focus for this was entirely with reading, he showed no desire (and still doesn't really now) to write.  I have never wanted to force him to do something he really doesn't appear to enjoy or be ready for.  My mum, a primary school teacher for twenty five years, keeps reassuring me to just wait writing will happen one day when he is ready pushing him will only lead him to reject wanting to do it at all.  So we bought a few books on the subject, The Story of Castles another Usborne book was a perfect book for improving reading skills, Medieval Castle by Gillian Clements was a great second hand book find as was the Horrible History Handbook, Knights in a charity shop.  We also borrowed every book from the local library on Castles, Knights and the Medieval Period.  A particularly good one was the Little Book of Castles another Usborne book.  If we were to be studying this topic now I think we would turn to the DK Eyewitness series (my son is now nine).

Maths there is the potential for all sorts of maths to be introduced when looking at castles.  In our case they were not taught but talked about as concepts and how they were and could be applied in life.  Living maths if you will.  To build a castle you need to understand maths even if you don't realise that this is the skills you are using, the best way to apply maths in my book far less onerous and scary.  I am always sadden by people saying they don't like maths.  It is usually because they felt they were such a failure at it at school, I cannot understand why we do that to our children.  You cannot learn anything if you feel you are going to fail at it.  I digress where was I, castles and maths.  We learnt about circles (towers) and the aspects of those such as circumferences, radius etc.  We learnt about angles (walls) and measuring them.  We talked about 2D and 3D shapes which he already knew about and how you measure their area and volume.  The Sir Cumference series of books is good for this age group (six), we have now moved onto the Murderous Maths series which my eldest loves to read.  We also touched on maps and scale.

Art most of what we did was drawing as that was my eldest's favourite at the time and still is.  He hates having his hands dirty or touching things that are not firm so many artist's mediums are not accessible to him.  He drew castles from many different angles, learning in the process about birds eye views, which moved us from there on to maps, about perspective particularly backgrounds and foregrounds but most of all as he was fairly new to controlled pencil skills it did wonders for his drawing skills.  We bought him some good quality paper, a sketchbook so all this drawings were kept together, and some good quality pencils.  He used scrap paper to practice some of this pictures.  It was at this time that I put together pots of drawing materials that were easily accessible so that he could sit and draw whenever he chose to.

Physical I know that the focus of physical education in a school environment is centred on playing sport or games often in teams but that doesn't mean that has to be how you define a physical education, for me it is about being active in whatever form that takes.  We visited many castles as part of learning about them, it was surprising (or perhaps not given where I live, near the Scottish border) how many we found locally to us when we started to look for them.  I searched for Castles in my area on the Internet, looked at local OS maps at scale of 1:25000 (they are usually marked), English Heritage and the National Trust are good websites to look at too.  A visit to a castle usually involves a bit, or sometimes a lot, of walking.  We played games in the grounds, storming the battlements, bit of jousting or plain old tig or hide and seek.  At home we also had a go at learning how to use the implements a knight would have used properly finding out about the moves, how to hold them etc.

Crafts  I wasn't sure what to call these as this is all the bits that don't fit under any of the other headings, it is also not generally a school subject in itself but may come into other parts of the curriculum or be something you want to try at home!  We made a few bits and pieces from wood learning some skills along the way, a sword or five and some shields which were both decorated.  Then we needed some way of carrying the sword so a leather scabbard was sewn, a new skill to all of us.

One other resource we acquired was a puzzle (ours has 96 pieces) which comes with a accompanying notes.

Although it was some time ago that we started on this particular journey it is not one that has come to an end.  We still continue to read about, visit and learn more about the world through this wonderful topic.


  1. Lucky boy - he will remember and be interested in all this so much more than some stuffy text book learning I am sure. This is real learning rather than being taught.

  2. Castles was a huge project for my two when they were at primary school, and again when they went up to secondary school. We have lots of castles nearby so there were school trips to see different types of castles and we've been to many ourselves outside of school. I think it's always very difficult for children to grasp time when we're talking about history so a timeline is a brilliant idea, especially fitting other things on to it as you learn about it. I suppose what you call crafts would come under Design and Technology at school, woodwork, metalwork, technical drawing, textiles etc.

  3. What stunning photos! Isn't it just wonderful when something captures our (or our children's) imagination and all of sudden we are learning about everything - and happy about it?! what a journey you and your family are on together, it's inspiring. xoxo

  4. This looks like a fabulous project, and all sparked by a chance find in a charity shop - marvellous!

  5. Who knew visiting castles could cover so many facets of education! I love castles - they're something so very magical and fairy-tale like with them for me. There were no castles where I grew up in Canada, so to visit them here is a truly wonderful experience for me. My eldest, 14, still shows no interest in writing. He has plenty of ideas but refuses to put pen to paper. It's a struggle.

  6. You are lucky to live where there are still so many castles about! I visited so many castles in my travels overseas. I find them fascinating (as we don't really have castles here)!


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