Viking Unit Study: Vinking Runes

Most of the Viking culture was passed down through word of mouth, however they did have an alphabet called Futhark named after the first 6 letters.  These runes, as they are known, were used by merchants, soldiers, householders and the dead.

I did a brief teaching session on runes, only to find out that the children, through all their reading, knew more than I did.  I encouraged them to compare the writing systems to those we had learnt before.  They pointed out it was most similar to the Mesopotamia cuneiform and noted that the Vikings used it only for practical reasons – marking property, buying and selling goods- rather than for self expression.

Mesopotamia, ancient writing, cuneiform, hands on activities
Their cuneiform from the Mesopotamia study

I wrote some key words on a spider diagram up on the board for the children to use to write a paragraph about runes.  This has probably been the most successful way to help my son process his thoughts onto paper.  I also photocopied some pictures for them to stick on their pages:

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I asked them to do a brief note page deciphering some runes:

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We made a stave, which is a frame the Vikings used to create the sharp, straight lines of the runes.  The frame is designed in such a way that every letter may be formed using it.  The children practiced, just to make sure this was actually the case:

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I have some hands on maths planned next week using these staves as a starting point.

We made some lovely round pepples which we painted white and etched some runes on them:

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These were made from air dry clay and left over night to dry
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L10 carefully painting them white to look like the ones the viking used
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Marked with the runes. We marked the whole alphabet and then marked the extra stones with particular letters. This was done so I could use them to teach about probability in our hands on maths

And then we made some draw string bags to place them in.  We made these from a shammy cloth you buy to clean windows.  I had wanted to get real leather ones but they were costly so I bought some fake ones from a discount store for 99p each.  I devided one into four and the children made holes and threaded the wool.   The Vikings would have carried them on a belt.  My plan is for the children to wear them at their presentation next week:

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One bag ready to be made the other is made up, containing the rune stones we made

Linking this to our Beowulf study, I asked them to write Beowulf’s name in runes and choose a kenning used to describe Beowulf in the epic and write that down in runes.  After they had done this, much to their delight, I plopped down a lump of air drying clay and asked them to make a rune stone (a memorial stone to a hero) for Beowulf using the runes they had written on their paper.  Only T10 remembered that runes read right to left:

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I also asked them to write their own Viking monogram (initials).  Viking monograms were written above and below each other rather than side to side as they are today.  I asked them to write them big.  We cut them out and stuck them on a piece of card:

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T10’s monogram

capture

They looked at designs from this book and chose some to decorate their monogram with.  I had bought some tracing paper and they were excited to learn a new skill as they traced the outlines of their chosen design and then scribbled on the back to transfer it onto paper.  They coloured these in and we cut them out and stuck them with their monogram:

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T10’s final design

I brought out the wooden spoons they had attached around their belt for the Anglo- saxon presentation and, knowing we would be reusing them as part of their Viking presentation, I asked them to monogram them as a way of showing ownership.  This is something the Vikings seemed to do with their personal posessions:

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Lastly I made a rune treasure hunt.  We were at the end of this study and at this time had the plasterers in, so I kept it very simple and only wrote two words.  I had managed to get hold of some commercially made rune stones, so this was the treasure.  Each child was given a sheet of runes to translate.  The first to do so would likely be the first to find the treasure:

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And this concluded our study of the Viking writing sytem of runes.  Messy, fiddly but fun!

21 comments

  1. My kids would love this! It appears I must pin all of your history and geography post, they are awesome. I love the Math you did teaching about coordinate pairs. Sometimes wordpress doesn’t allow me to leave comments:( Thank you so much for sharing. I love your homeschool!!!

  2. I’M SO HAPPY TO HAVE FOUND YOUR BLOGPOST! I am teaching a unit on Vikings next week. (I am a fourth grade teacher at a small private school, and can’t wait to do this with my class of eleven – girls only!)
    I love your ideas, and appreciate how you integrate across the curriculum!!! Can you tell me what you used to etch the runes in onto your stones?

    1. Thank you 🙂
      I believe we used some ordinary clay tools. The clay was wet and therefore soft so you could probably use the nib of a run out pen, a knife, a chop stick….. hope that helps!

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