Textbook-Free Medieval History

Homeschool Middle Ages History

The medieval era is a delight to study.  While there certainly were periods and places of darkness, the Medieval world should never be categorized as a grim wasteland in between two more glorious epochs of civilization, and the Middle Ages should be studied as more than a mere transition period.

Of course, studying Medieval history provides many fun opportunities to dress up in costume and build castles out of wooden blocks.  Beyond that, however, it is also a period of rich literature both in original source documents and in modern thematic literature.   Our family just finished a lovely semester reading about and memorizing poetry from the Middle Ages.  I am so excited to share some of our resource ideas with you all!

This is where it gets a tiny bit complicated.

Some people might call it my super power.

Some people (my husband?) might view it as my biggest weakness.

But when I start recommending books, it is really hard for me to stop!  I will do my best to limit this list.

I’ll try. Maybe.

Medieval History Homeschool

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75+ Textbook-free Resources for Medieval History

My desire is always to focus first on our core resources.  These are the books that will give us our biographical and chronological framework for the time period we are studying (in this case, the Middle Ages).  Many of these books I read aloud, although there are necessarily several I pass off to older kids for independent study (my voice and the toddler’s patience can only last so long).

There are also a few historical fiction resources that I love so dearly I am unwilling to leave them to chance on the supplemental-reading shelf.  Some of these I read aloud and some the children read on their own.

What follows are my own essentials.  These are of course not the only good books to teach and study the Middle Ages.  But this is my home and my school so I get to pick what I want;  my position has to come with at least this one privilege, right?

Check out my Textbook-Free History post for a bit more about how and why we study history the way we do.  And please let me know of any other books, documentaries, or projects I should incorporate the next time we cycle through this period of medieval history!

Also be sure to watch and read about how we incorporate reading journals for our younger and older children!

This post is full of so many amazing resources! Be sure you scroll thru the whole post so you don’t miss: Essential Books for Elementary and Beyond, Essential Books for 7th grade and beyond, Art Study, Lazy Mom’s Guide to Hands-On Medieval Crafts, Even MORE Supplemental Books, Audio-Visual Resources, and Memory Work Suggestions!

Middle Ages: Essential Books

Spine Titles for Elementary and Beyond:

These are perfect to give the big-picture context of the time period and make lovely read-alouds for all ages.

Our Favorite Supplemental Titles:

  • Beowulf, Seamus Heaney’s translation; illustrated edition
  • Beowulf, James Rumford
    It is totally worth it to seek out this children’s retelling.  The author only uses words derived from pre-1066 English! (For those of you wondering, that is when William the Conqueror invaded England and our language changed dramatically through the influence of French.)  The illustrations are also magnificent.

Spine Titles for 7th grade and beyond:

We use an older edition of Dr. George Grant’s humanities lectures and curriculum to guide our older students through their history studies.  You can see a sample lecture here.

There are several additional resources, however, that I have already have or plan to incorporate in our upper level years:

Middle Ages: Art

Chalk Pastel Middle Ages Art Course

Chalkpastel.com has an amazing Middle Ages themed video art lessons course!  You can see an example of what they have to offer for FREE on their YouTube channel:

The Lazy Mom’s Guide to Medieval Crafts

In my imagination, we are building elaborate to-scale castle models, trebuchets in the back yard, and intricately illuminated manuscripts.  In reality, the castles are built from lego and playmobile, the trebuchet is the fork shooting food across the table, and the illuminations happen in a coloring book.

If you, like me, are a mom of many children or many responsibilities, or even just a mom who doesn’t want to clean up an extra mess, these low-key art resources are simple and fun.

  • To learn about the printing press, which played a huge role in the transition period between medievalism and the renaissance, you could just use literal alphabet stamps and printer paper you have lying around the house.  If you wanted to take it a step further, you could make block prints from potatoes or sponges.
  • Although I have not yet discovered a local resource like this in my area that allows children to visit, when I was a child studying the Middle Ages we went to a local stained-glass shop.  There we actually were allowed to make our own stained glass art with real tools! I still have my sailboat today, more than two decades later.

Supplemental Medieval Books

You didn’t think I was done suggesting books, did you? 🤣 Often, I strew these supplemental books strategically around the house hoping to pique a child’s interest.  Also, because I teach chronologically, we cycle back through historical time periods when children are at varying ages.  So a title they enjoyed the last time around they may not want to read again.

Since I have 5 children that means today you get the benefit of a very large list of supplemental titles.  These are all actual books we have read over the past 2 cycles through the Middle Ages; every child did not read every title on this list both times, however!

Aside from the strewing, there have also been times when a child’s weekly assignment sheet has said something like, “read 1 supplemental title this week” or “read a supplemental book of your choice for 20 minutes each day” or “pick 3 of the following 5 titles to read this term.”  I do like for them to have some personal ownership and interest in the books they are reading!

Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Cultural Atlas of the Middle Ages
  • Arabs in the Golden Age
  • Augustine Came to Kent
  • Knights, Gail Gibbons
  • Medieval Feast, Aliki
  • Light Beyond the Forest, Sutcliff
  • The Apple and the Arrow, Buff
  • Golden Tales from the Arabian Nights, Tenggren
  • Odd and the Frost Giants, Neil Gaiman
  • You Wouldn’t Want to be in a Medieval Dungeon
  • Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!
  • St. Patrick- Pioneer Missionary in Ireland, McHugh
  • 100 Things You Should Know about Knights and Castles
  • Kitchen Knight, Margaret Hodges
  • Merlin and the Making of the King, Margaret Hodges
  • Saint George and the Dragon, Margaret Hodges
  • Seven Daughters and Seven Sons, Cohen
  • The Emperor’s Silent Army, Jane O’Connor
    We got to visit the Virginia Museum of Fine Art this winter and see some of the actual terracotta warriors from China.  It was epic!  If you’re within driving distance, it is worth the effort and expense.
  • Viking Adventure, Bulla
  • Book of Dragons, E. Nesbit
  • Time Trekkers visit the Middle Ages
  • Boy Knight, Henty
  • Discovery of New Worlds, Synge
  • Children of Odin, Padraic Colum
  • Adam of the Road, Elizabeth Gray

Middle Ages: Audio, Video, and Beyond

  • The Anglo-Saxon World is an engaging collection of lectures of Dr. Drout.  We actually incorporated a mnemonic from one of these lectures into our morningtime memory work last fall.
  • Masterpieces of Medieval Literature is an intriguing collection of lectures by Dr. Shutt.
  • I was blessed to have a local friend willing to share her experience with the Arabic language the last time we cycled through Medieval history.  She came to our home and taught us a bit of the basics of the Arabic alphabet.  We learned how to write our names in Arabic and a few numbers.  There is likely someone in your area who would be equally glad to share their knowledge.
  • I won’t apologize for loving the animated Robin Hood.  I have decided it “counts,” at least for the littles.
  • This fall, the kids and I loved watching the “Medieval Siege” episode from Secrets of Lost Empires.  The historians in the episode actually built a trebuchet to try to replicate Medieval warfare.  It was incredibly fascinating.
  • Great Kings of England: William the Conqueror was another documentary we enjoyed in our previous cycle through studying the Middle Ages.
  • This title is completely silly, but I do want to include it for the sake of moms who already have some history knowledge as well as older highschool students with a good grasp of history.  1066 and All That is a complete inside-joke for history students.  My brother gave this to me many years ago, and I still laugh whenever I open it to read a few pages!

Medieval Memory Work

I have found the Middle Ages to be an apropos time to copy maps of both Medieval Europe and modern Europe.  After all, the topography has not changed.  However, we can learn a lot from examining how the geo-political borders have shifted over time.  It is also helpful to gain a perspective on a time that was, in many ways, pre-national.  Medieval people were incredibly connected to their families, their communities, and their local region.  During the Middle Ages there was not a sense of belonging to a large nation or country the way we think of them today.  Map studies can help illuminate this issue.

This is a great resource for “blog mapping”!

Here is a helpful video demonstrating how to do a simple geography drill.

Along with drawing, copying, or labeling maps of Europe, we absolutely love puzzle maps.  This can be a useful task to keep hands occupied during read-aloud time.

Other things we have incorporated into our memory work during morning time include:

  • The 12 Chivalric Virtues
  • Nicene Creed
  • Caedmon’s Hymn
  • Patrick’s Breastplate
  • King Alfred’s War Song (one of my favorite hymns!)
  • A simple poem summarizing the English kings and queens after the conquest
  • Prologue to the Canterbury Tales in Middle English
  • Excerpts from Macbeth, Henry V, or any of Shakespeare’s other English history plays
    Any excuse to memorize Shakespeare with the kids is good enough for me! How to Teach Your Child Shakespeare is a good resource if you feel unsure about picking passages from Shakespeare by yourself.

What are your favorite Medieval resources? Please share in the comments below!

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8 thoughts on “Textbook-Free Medieval History”

    1. lol. Aren’t there so many fun things to learn and read and watch and listen and enjoy?! 🙂 But you are in such a fun stage now, too! Read all the picture books and go for long nature walks and talk to your precious kids and pray with them and love on them…that is such a valuable and delightful stage to be in! And bookmark this page for many years down the road. 😉

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