Vikings. As soon as I said the word my kids faces lit up with excitement. With the increased popularity of the Vikings and the fact that we are a blacksmithing family, I knew this was going to be a popular topic in our classroom. Check out the history, STEM projects and hands on fun, we used to immerse ourselves in a Viking Unit Study for upper elementary and middle school.
VIKING UNIT STUDY
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Vikings and Norse Mythology have had a big resurgence in popularity recently, not just with adults, but with children too. This makes it an excellent choice for a unit study that is bound to get kids passionate and engaged in their studies.
As I started preparing our Viking Unit study I found it such a deep and diverse topic that I ended up changing my timeline from a week to a whole month of activities and learning. Not only could we explore history, but also languages, religion, engineering, physics, science, geography, politics and even a little geology.
Traditional Viking Horn
One of my biggest struggles is getting the kids to come and start their lessons. They are busy doing other things, things that are not schooly. They don’t feel the urge to rush to my side and start learning. Until I get creative.
The Vikings have a secret weapon. An outstanding way of making kids flock to their learning.
Introducing the traditional Viking horn. A battle cry heard throughout the ages. It ignites excitement and passions. It brings back the feeling of bygone ages with a sound vibration that can’t be ignored.
I highly recommend investing in a traditional Viking Horn for calling the kids to their Viking lessons. It’s fun and highly effective. You can then use the real horn as inspiration for the kids make their own horns out of card stock. Ragnar the Trader is the creator of the pictured Viking Horn and I highly recommend him. His horns are amazing!
Vikings BBC Documentary
I found this DVD from the BBC on the Vikings at my local library and it was an interesting documentary on the Viking era. What this offered that the online video clips didn’t seem to offer, was actual footage from many historical Viking sites. I heard my kids exclaim many times how they would love to see the sites in person one day. It is long though, so I found it best to break it up and watch it a little bit at a time during our unit study.
Viking Runes – Old Norse Language
The Vikings left behind a wealth of material written in Old Norse, a runic alphabet language that predates the adoption of the Latin alphabet. The Vikings believed that their words could have great powers for healing, protection and more and specially trained Rune Masters wielded that power.
To learn more about runes, I developed a set of rune cards with meanings. Now, there is some debate over the meanings and runes can have many different meanings. I used meanings that appeared to be quite commonly accepted.
You can use the rune cards in a number of ways such as memory games or story starters (randomly select 3 runes and have the child use the meaning of those runes in a story), but in the next section I share our favourite way for using runes.
Want to delve even deeper into the study of Viking runes? Here is a great resource.
Viking Oath Bracelet
An oath bracelet was used by the Norse as powerful symbols as they entered into agreements, swore oaths, during rituals and as a signal of commitment in marriages and business.
We are fortunate to have some traditionally hand forged oath bracelets that we made in our blacksmith shop. So we used those to discuss the traditions behind the pieces and how we do similar things in our modern society (such as exchanging wedding rings).
For an activity we created our own oath bracelets (no fire or hammer required!). We used card stock and decorated them with Viking Runes. The kids spent lots of time looking through the runes. Then they chose the ones they felt were most important to them to include on their oath bracelets.
You can’t talk about the Vikings and not think about weapons and warfare. Often that image is what dominates when people talk about the Vikings, causing people to miss the many important contributions Vikings made in history. For our weapons and warfare study, we read some of our books (listed below), then using images from the books and our online research, the kids used cardboard to make their own swords, battle axes and shields. For the shields, we learned that Vikings designed their shields with imagery that was important to the warrior. With that in mind they made their shields and even added messages by incorporating runes from our previous lessons.
This is a fun printable pack all about Vikings. It is free for all members of the STEAM Powered Family mailing list. Joining is free and you will get weekly emails packed full of educational ideas, activities and resources, plus even more free printables.
Online Resources For Viking Unit Study
To kick things off, this is a quick 2 minute video on the Vikings.
When getting started in our studies, I found History to be a great resource for videos and materials suitable for upper elementary and middle school.
National Geographic Kids has 10 interesting facts on the Vikings and a video.
I reference the book version below, but you can also learn a lot from DK Find Out! about the Vikings.
Learn how the vikings used crystals, known as Sunstones, to create a highly sophisticated method of navigation on the open seas. You can even try your hand at navigating the way the Vikings did, with your own rhomboidal calcite crystals. Explore how these crystals polarize light and add a little physics to your Viking study.
The BBC has some wonderful educational video clips on the Vikings that help to bring the whole concept alive.
Learn where in the world the Vikings traveled as they changed the course of world history in this detailed map from the British Museum.
The British Museum has an interactive illustration of the engineering behind the Viking Longboat, it includes lots of fantastic new vocabulary words. After watching, why not try your hand at building your own Viking Longboat with this tutorial from Teach Beside Me
For fun, this is a long list of 101 quick facts about the Vikings.
Now throughout our unit study a lot of questions came up and more often than not, I found the best answers at The Viking Network.
BOOKS ABOUT VIKINGS FOR TWEENS AND TEENS
With all of our unit studies the books form the most important part of our learning. For our Viking Unit Study, I wanted a combination of nonfiction reference books and inspired fiction that would really bring the history to life. I find books the best way to ignite discussions and create activities that bring about greater understanding based on my children’s current interests. There is a wide range of books here (and even more available, this is a popular subject!), some may only be suitable for young adults. Do your research to ensure the books are appropriate for your children.
For getting started I recommend you try D’Aulaires Book of Norse Myths, it makes a wonderful introduction to the mythology of the Vikings and pair it with Everything Vikings for a non-fiction counterpart. And for your Percy Jackson fans, Rick Rioran’s new series Magnus Chase is perfect.
Click on the book cover for more information on any of these titles.
Even More Viking Activities
Eat like a Viking with this delicious homemade Viking Bread recipe from Rainy Day Mum. Soooooo yum! And baking bread is a fantastic learning activity for kids.
This Viking Tent for the backyard from Adventure in a Box is amazing!
For a taste of Viking life, trying making this Viking Bread from Raising Life Long Learners