We don’t do preschool. Manic Pixie Boy does learn – and learn a lot – but we rarely do anything formal. Lately, he’s been super into knights and dragons; this probably started when Bear put on The Sword in the Stone in a moment of panic-driven desperation (to review: sick wife, fussy kids, need for food and clean clothes all around). I have mostly forbidden all things Mouse-related, but he must have figured that since it’s un-merchandized, based on an actual book, and from the dark ages of Disney animation, I wouldn’t totally lose it and smash up the HDTV. MPB went absolutely bonkers for Arthur and Merlin, which led to this:
Pretty soon, Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table had replaced Obi-Wan and Fireman Sam as the Most Awesome People of All Time. As we slowly accumulated various knight-related stuff, and read various knight-related stuff, and drew various knight-related stuff, we ended up with a fairly decent unit study. This made me feel good, because preschooling like this feels super lazy even if it’s learning-intensive.
- The Sword in the Stone – Disney’s animated version of the T.E. White’s The Once and Future King. This got MPB into Arthur in the first place, and introduced Arthurian legend in general. We found this on Amazon instant view.
- The Story of King Arthur and His Knights, Howard Pyle, ed. Tania Zamorsky (this is the abridged kids’ version of Pyle’s orginal). It’s a chapter book, but the chapters are super short, and it’s pitched low enough to keep small children interested. Yes, MPB now knows who Sir Gawain and Sit Lancelot are, which is more than lots of high school freshmen.
- Take Care, Good Knight, Shelly More Thomas. This is a lovely picture book about a knight and three little dragons who need to learn good manners. Not preachy or moralistic at all; MPB enjoyed it. According to most Montessori stuff, preschoolers are really into learning manners, so we talked a lot about knightly conduct (being chivalrous to ladies and all that jazz). Thomas has several other of the Good Knight series, but this is the one we liked the best.
- Knights and Castles (Insider), Phillip Dixon. We bought this as a treat for MPB, because we promised him a book about knights and this was the only one we could find. I figured it would suck, because it’s all computer-generated illustrations, but the information is sound – lots of information about the feudal system, castles, parts of armor, etc.
Costumes – The Manic Pixie family is a dress-up family. When can you go out in public dressed as a knight, if not when you’re three?
- a plastic knight costume, with breastplate, helmet, and sword. An old belt serves as a belt for the scabbard.
- a dragon costume:
Various toys and manipulatives-
- Many, many cheap containers of plastic knights. These were named Gawain and Lancelot and whatever, used to make battle lines, etc. Even MP Toddler loves these and likes to spend time making them stand up and yelling at us to see that he made them stand in a line. Fine motor skills FTW!
- A Toob of plastic knights and horses, for super special potty treats (yes, this is coinciding with potty training).
- a Melissa and Doug castle I scored at a consignment shop for twenty-five bucks – this provided a background for aforementioned knights.
- a rocking horse
- plastic swords
- cardboard armor: using the info in the Dixon book, we learned a little about heraldry, including the symbols of countries and cities that our family lived in. Then Bear drew one on MBP’s shield (MPB asked for the Arthurian dragon) and MPB colored it. We could have done the cut and paste thing as well for scissors practice.
- We printed out various heraldic symbols for MBP to color.
- Bear taped butcher block paper to the floor, added the Melissa and Doug castle, and let the boys draw scenery, set up battles, and all kinds of whatever. It was a hit with both MPB and MPT.
- Using red felt and fabric markers, we cut out armor for the rocking horse. Dixon helped us with the names of various parts of the horse armor, and MPB had a great time coloring it. Then he and MPT fought about who got to ride. Conflict resolution?
- Block castles! Again, we used Dixon to help us name the different parts of the castle and set up siege warfare. You’re never to young to learn how to conduct a proper siege.
- If you’re so inclined, the shields can be labeled by name. We are just barely working on writing MPB’s name.
From here, it’s easy to go to How to Train Your Dragon and The Secret of Kells – Vikings! This lends itself to Norse mythology, Viking helmets, black metal, ships and sailing, exploration, etc.
I want to emphasize that this has been totally organic. We do stuff when MPB is interested. MPT plays along with most of it. Librarians have helped us find a bunch of other books about knights and dragons, which the kids enjoyed, but which we didn’t use as much as the ones mentioned here. This stuff gave MPB a basic knowledge of some history, some art, some religion, some reading, some social graces. It reflects the manic pixies’ needs to play outside a lot, run around a lot, hit things with stick-like objects, dress up, color, and move. Mostly we had fun and drew a lot.