Events: Great Milton School

In 2006 we spent a day at Great Milton primary school, giving years 5 and 6 a taste of Saxon and Viking life. After a display of a merchant's stall and ensuing fight, the children took part in lots of activities, including making pouches, jewellery and authentic food, playing hnefetafl and trying on our clothes and armour. We finished the day with a dramatic interpretation of Beowulf (with plenty of gory details). We had a fantastic time and our then president Emanwel gained his own fanclub who wanted to admire his shinyness.

Our timetable was broken into three sections: first we had an outdoors display of equipment followed by a skirmish, then we split off into classes and ran activities, then we came together again for an assembly.

Outdoors Display

The basic concept was that a Viking merchant and his two bodyguards was selling stuff to some Saxons.


Display of Equipment

We set up a table, covered in a fairly random selection of equipment- weaponry, armour, feasting equipment, food. There was an arc of chairs a good few metres back from the table, which all the kids were behind. The Saxons all came up to the table, picked up an item, and took it out to show the kids. Talking to the kids was vaguely in character: "so, do you think I should buy this? I could use it to " "What do you think this is for? Would it be useful for me?" "Hmm, it looks well made. Do you want to try it on and check for me?" and so on.

This worked well, especially having several people all talking to different parts of the group. It was too large for one person to talk to everyone whilst outside.


Then, a Saxon noticed a Holy Relic on the Viking's table! Shock, horror!
Most of the Saxons ran off to get ready, whilst Bunni whipped the kids up into a xenophobic fury- "These INVADERS claim they're here to trade! But are they? NO! The filthy heathens have been burning our CHURCHES! Should we kill them all? YES!"
Cue the fight. It got a bit strung out, and was in danger of spilling out behind the safety barrier. But was fun. And Bunni christened the Trader before killing him.


Then we split off into groups, and did fun things with individual classes. Each session was about 30mins. This was fine, although we could have fitted 45mins for most activities.

Jewellery making


Materials needed:
Thin wire that small hands can bend
Wire cutters/pliers
Gold and silver card, some cut into circles
Stick-on stones, sequins etc
Glitter glue pens
Pictures of jewellery to pass round
Cost for 60 kids was approx. £10

Ask school to provide:
Extra card, pens, scissors, glue, safety pins if required

The kids looked at pictures of penannular and disc brooches, necklaces and bracelets. I talked a little about the importance of bling to Vikings and Saxons then gave them a choice of making one or two of the following:

1) Disc brooches - stick stones, glue, wire onto circles of shiny card
2) penannular brooches - I cut large horseshoes of wire (make a spiral moulded round a flask then cut it into sections) which they decroated with stick on stones, coloured string, animal heads made out of card etc. Sone of them twisted the ends too. (Twist round a pencil into a spiral then flatten with pliers). Then I made the pin for them and attached it. Some of them decorated this too - some of the lads made it into a sword.
3) neck rings or bracelets - similar to penannular brooches.
4) Some of them also twisted wire into small rings (round thick marker pens) and decorated them.

30 mins for 12 kids plus teaching assistant/parent was the perfect amout of time. (might need longer with less well-behaved kids…)


The class size should not exceed 15. If the children are older (mine were 10 or 11), obviously the group can be slightly larger or if several adults are able to help out with helping the children.

The time available should be no less than half an hour in order to get anything done. I spent about half the time explaining the background, rules and strategies of the game and letting two children start a game between them (of course, all others may help), so that they become familiar with the procedures of the game. The other half was spent making their own boards from cardboard. About half the children finished their boards in that time (without any decoration, i.e. merely the squares and five crosses). Cardboard squares were already cut, which is advisable as otherwise it will take considerably longer. Especially with younger children it is important that the squares have side lengths divisible by 11, i.e. 22 cm or 33 cm as children are considerably faster and more reliable in drawing a line every 2 cm rather than every 1.8 cm (for example). Hence there will be less wrong lines, thus less frustration for the children and less stress for Wychwood. Once the basic board is finished, it is also advisable to mark the starting positions of the pieces (e.g. with runes) to avoid later confusion. Drawing the basic setup on the classroom blackboard (or something similar) helps.
For pieces, one could use coins, stones, coloured counters, chess pieces, elephants…

Having the children gathered round the central table I started by telling them about the theme of the game, e.g.
“The battle has lasted all day and the Saxon warriors defending their land are nearly all defeated. Only the king and some of his best soldiers have survived [point at the appropriate pieces on the board while telling this], yet they are surrounded by the advancing Viking forces. Will the king be able to escape?”
It might also be interesting to tell something about how the game was played, i.e. that often it would simply be drawn in the mud and stones, acorns are whatever was available were used for pieces. Only the richer members of society used proper boards.
When explaining the rules one should always illustrate examples on the actual board. I started off (after the introductory story) approximately like this: “ This game in which the battle is decided is called Hnefatafl. Everyone say it: Hnefatafl. If you can remember the word, you’ve learned the hardest bit of all. Now, how does it work? Does anyone here play chess? …”
Then I explained all the rules one after another, always illustrating it on the board. Things that should be mentioned include: aim of the two sides, basic movement, how to take a piece, how to take the king, taking by using corners/the middle, nature of corners/middle, moving in between two pieces (i.e. one is not taken).
It is also advisable to give them some idea about basic strategy, i.e.
Defender: quickly open up path for king, not to worry about losing a few pieces
Attacker: first aim to close corners before the king can escape (show them example of how to block corners effectively), not so important to take pieces, later to close in slowly from the corners
Let two children have a short game (i.e. only play first few moves, advise on good/bad moves). Then go to make on boards.
Make sure a teacher or so is present when explaining the rules to clarify problems regarding rules in the future.

Make sure the children have fun!

Social Hierarchy Dress-Up

We had a bunch of random kit. So described the way the social hierarchy worked, and then dressed kids up as specific members of society.


"So, the basic person was a ceorl. They were mainly farmers, but sometimes would have to fight. They'd just wear a simple tunic (put kid in tunic), and carry a spear and shield (give kid weapons). They may have a helmet. If he was married, his wife would have had a plain dress like this (put a different kid in a dress).
"The more important people were the thegns. They were mainly warriors, and looked after their ceorls. They would be richer, and would have nicer tunics (put next kid in tunic), wear chainmail and a helmet (put kid in chainmail & tin), and carry a sword and shield (give kid weapons). If he was married, his wife would have had a nice dress like this (put another kid in a dress).
"The more important people were the huscarls. They were the personal warriors of the king. They would have nice tunics (put random kid in tunic), wear chainmail and a helmet (put kid in chainmail & tin), and carry a daneaxe (give kid huge axe).
"The most important person was the king. He'd wear a really nice tunic, possibly even a purple one. Purple was a very expensive dye (put kid in purple tunic). His wife would also have had a very nice dress, with lots of decoration (put a kid in a dress).
"But who was even more important than the king? The Church! The Church was only ruled by the Pope, in Rome. They could even tell kings what to do, and the kings would pay lots of money to build them new churches. A monk might have worn something like this (put kid in a hood)."

Kids trying to wear full chainmail = funny!

It worked well, the teaching assistants helped up keep control and made sure no-one killed anyone else. Giving out weapons with less well-behaved kids might not have worked so well!

Other Activities

Pouch making: round circle of fabric, make holes, add string.
Cooking: stuffed mushrooms.

Final Assembly


Freya abridged a kids' version of the story to 10 mins (text file attached - see below). One person can read it while the others mime out the story behind/in front them. The kids sat in a horseshoe around the stage area which made a nice 'round the fire' atmosphere.

Worked very well with dramatic acting and the kids seemed to stay interested the whole time!

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 License.