Friday, February 1, 2013

Elementary Activities: Storming the Castle with a Catapult

By: Deborah Pace Rowley

We have been having loads of fun in my elementary school class. One of my favorite units of study is the Middle Ages. It is fun to learn about knights, crusades and castles. I have been reading aloud the book Crispin: Cross of Lead by Avi. My students love it and it is a book I would highly recommend for kids 10 and above. It does get a little gory. It is set in the middle ages, for goodness sake. I also love the book Voices from a Medieval Village. It contains poems from the perspective of about 15 different young people who lived during that time period. I have used this book as a choral reading and my students have loved each poem.

For a fun activity to end the unit, we made paper castle towers. Then we built simple catapults and had a competition to see who could hit their castles with their catapults. Of course, after a day of digging marshmallows out of my classroom carpet, I had to bring the catapults home for Cameron, Brooklyn and Katie to try!

They were just as big of a hit at home. The catapults are super easy and simple to make. All you need are nine craft sticks, 5 to 8 rubber bands, and a plastic spoon. Popsicles sticks might work but the thicker, wider craft sticks are more sturdier and provide a stronger base. You can find the terrific tutorial here.

The catapult works great with mini marshmallows as well as regular size marshmallows but my students experimented with just about everything, including marbles, bouncy balls, and crumpled paper balls. The catapult is fun to use on its own, but if you want to make a simple castle tower, you can find the free printables here.

There are more medieval creations at this link that you can explore. We just used the first four pages. Page 1 and 2 for the castle walls. Page 3 and 4 for the crenelated top. It doesn't seem to contain the page with the tower base anymore. I printed these out for my files several years ago but you can glue the tower onto any piece of paper and it will work just fine. We used just regular printer paper and not card stock. I let my students use glue sticks and tape, but the goal was to knock the towers down, so I didn't worry about them being too sturdy.


My students were excited about denting their towers and proceeded to bombard them with every kind of ballistic balls to take the towers down. Cameron, on the other hand, took the top off the tower and turned it into a makeshift basket. Then he spent a good thirty minutes shooting the marshmallows off the catapult so that they would land inside the tower. It was so much fun to watch.
However your kids choose to play, they are sure to have lots of fun.

Good luck storming the castle!

Simple Marshmallow Catapult

Castle Tower

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