Beverley Mathias offers some advice on how to cope with a Viking invasion.
Any major exhibition offers the prospect of teaching a subject in a way that’s interesting, informative, non-boring and creative. But without the resources of the British Museum it also offers the prospect of considerable frustration. The Vikings exhibition is going to cause ulcers and sick headaches all over the country. How do you, the teacher or librarian, cope? How do you stretch the use of the limited material available so that the children are encouraged to work, to be creative, to do research and to be accurate in what they do? Who can help?
The Schools Library Service in your local authority will have books – if there are enough to go around. The public library may have something left. The museum service may be able to help. Your local authority may have a resource centre; but that too will be coping with the problem of supply and demand.
After these you fall back on your own resources. You cut out every article and picture from newspapers, magazines and colour supplements. Have you checked the fiction collection for material for an imaginative approach? Have you checked the myths and legends for stories of the Norsemen? Could your local bookseller provide a couple of useful inexpensive titles to supplement what you have without breaking the budget?
Some suggestions to help you on your way. Age range generally 10-12 but includes material for younger children and for teacher’s reference.
Ruth M. Arthur
On the Wasteland
Gollancz, 1975, 0 575 02038 5, £2.40
The story of a girl who finds the remains of a Viking ship, and then becomes involved in dream-like sequences involving the long vanished Viking settlement.
The Silver Hoard
Blackie, 1980, 0 216 90874 4, £3.95
Set in Denmark during the Viking period, this is the story of the treasure of Hedeby.
Oxford University Press, 1976, 0 192 71392 2,£3.50; Puffin, 1978, 0 14 03.1085 1, 60p
An English boy becomes the slave of a Viking and returns with him to become unwillingly involved in a blood feud.
Voyage to Valhalla
Hodder and Stoughton, 1976, 0 340 20695 0, £3.50
A time fantasy concerning a boy of the present who has visions of a Viking past.
Swords from the North
Faber, 1967, 0 571 08136 3, £2.25 Puffin, 1979, 0 14 03.1138 6, 75p
In 1066 Harald the Stern landed in England. This is his story for the years 1034 to 1044 and is based on the Sagas of the Norse Kings.
Puffin, 1967, 0 14 03.0320 0, 60p
The Road to Miklagard
Puffin, 1967, 0 14 03.0321 9,95p
Puffin, 1967. 0 14 03.0322 7, 40p
Vinland the Good
Puffin, 1971, 0 14 03.0475
0 14 03.0475 4, 50p
Based on the Greenland Saga and Erik’s Saga, this is a collection of loosely connected stories.
J. R. L. Anderson
Kestrel, 1974. 0 582 15379 4, £1.30
One of the Explorer titles. Well illustrated with a clearly read text. This doesn’t play down the warring nature of the Vikings, and also gives details of daily life, agriculture, food provision, and wood skills.
Thames and Hudson, 1961, 0 500 02018 3, £7.50
An overall survey of the Viking period based on historical and archaeological research. Clearly divided into geographic areas of study. A valuable reference tool for the teacher.
S. C. George
David and Charles, 1973, 0 715 36297 6, £2.75
Indexed and illustrated with good detail of the type to appeal to the children. It gives dimensions of Viking ships, shows maps of journeys, and layout of settlements. Major archaeological studies are covered and evidence and surmise offered as a basis for discussion.
Macdonald Education, 1976, 0 356 05109 9, £2.75
Divided into well-illustrated sections, each one giving details of one aspect of Viking life. It includes what children did each day which would make it a good study programme for younger children. Also includes a date line of important events.
Stig Hadenius and Birgit Janrup
How They Lived in a Viking Settlement
Lutterworth Press, 1976, 0 718 82199 8,£1.50
A simple text written in story fashion incorporating daily life, games and sport, shipping and war. It gives a brief description of the origin of the Vikings, their major journeys and also includes a map. Very useful for younger children.
Jackdaw No. 133, 1976, 0 305 62073 8, £1.50
As with others in this series, this is a collection of broadsheets for use as information sources and to promote general enthusiasm for the topic. The cover sheet includes a bibliography.
Growing Up with the Vikings
Wayland, 1978, 0 85 340544 1, £3.25
This is laid out as a glossary. Each term is given a full explanation plus an illustration. It covers a wide range of subjects within the general topic, including gods, entertainment, family and seafaring. Very good for use with less skilled readers.
R. J. Unstead
From Cavemen to Vikings A & C Black, 1974, 0 7136 1416 1, Hb, £2.50
0 7136 1420 X, Pb, £1.25
This is one of a well-known series. Only Chapter 8 is directly applicable, but the whole book is useful for helping to place the Vikings within the perspective of English history.
David M. Wilson
The Vikings and Their Origins
Thames and Hudson, 1970, 0 500 29014 8, £1.50
Very informative, profusely illustrated, indexed. It is written at adult level and would be valuable as a reference source for teachers.
Prices were current and all books in print when compiled (March 1980).
The official publication for the British Museum exhibition is:
A Closer Look at Vikings
Hamish Hamilton in association with the British Museum, 1979, 0 241 10119 0, £2.25
This is part of an existing series of books. It is laid out in sections which may relate to the layout of the exhibition. There is a brief index at the end.
So you have a few books and 35 eager children; but you can’t go to the exhibition because it’s too far away; it costs too much; there is no money left for school trips.
Why not bring the exhibition to the school?
Now, don’t get too excited, the British Museum is not going to dismantle the entire thing and ship it to wherever you happen to be! But why not build your own? Don’t discount the idea if you are able to take the children to the exhibition; it can still be fun to do-it-yourself.
You can make maximum use of the limited amount of material available in the school, involve the maximum number of pupils, and have a minimum amount of duplicated work. Even the infants can become involved. It sounds like a major upheaval but it need not be. Work can be done in individual classrooms to a pre-organised programme and prepared for a predetermined exhibition opening date. If the school gets really enthusiastic, you may be able to hold a Viking Day and invite the parents and local community in to take part. The children have a lot of fun and learn in a way that will probably stay with them, and you have something which becomes a community event. After all, there may be others in your area who can’t go to the exhibition in London either, and they may be glad of the opportunity to visit yours.
How do you do it?
Among the books listed are many with clear illustrations of the type of everyday equipment used by the Vikings. Art groups can make pots and containers out of clay, the woodwork enthusiasts can do some carving. Those interested in large-scale work can make a Viking ship out of cardboard and paint it. Boys always enjoy the warring aspect of the Vikings so set them to work to check on the weapons used, and then to make them.
Teach the infants some of the outdoor games played by Viking children and have them dress in Viking clothes for the special day.
Make a model village, model longships, a landscape out of the sand tray, anything that can be backed up with evidence to prove that it existed at the time.
Jewellery can be made from fine wire and the beads the infants use. Older children with creative abilities will enjoy doing this.
The children who can draw and paint might decorate the school with runic stones and put inscriptions on the doors.
The older children might like to use a map of Britain to track down places whose names have a Viking origin. They might like to plot the various Viking settlements on the map. They could use a dictionary to find words which have a Viking origin.
Do a broadsheet giving daily news of your Viking village, write stories, poems, plays, give a performance on the Viking Day.
The more the whole school becomes involved, the more the children will willingly seek information, as the whole learning process becomes one of enjoyment. Books become something really useful and not just something to look at because the work must be done.
Sceptics may ask what happens to the normal lessons and the disrupted curriculum. So the children don’t have formal lessons, but in order to do the research they must be able to measure, to design, use craft materials, count, and organise material. Their reading skill will be taxed by unfamiliar words, and their general skills in dissemination of information will develop far more rapidly than you might have believed possible.
This sort of activity is perhaps most easily set up in the primary school; but it should also work well in the first two years of the secondary school particularly where subjects are integrated.
Through all of this, the books remain the key but do not overwhelm the work itself. By showing that books can be used as a basis for an enjoyable cycle of study, perhaps the children will become a little less apprehensive about using them. If by having one major programme in the school which involves most of the staff and the children you have also encouraged those children to use the library and the classroom collection of books, then the whole exercise will have been worthwhile. Too often we tend to regard books as being something you read and make notes from, not something to be enjoyed and from which a great deal of pleasure can emanate.
Try something. Start with the `Vikings’ and see what happens next.