Vessels sailed by ancient Vikings varied in size and style according to their purpose: Passenger ferries were small, sturdy and flat. Cargo ships were built with wide, deep hulls to accommodate heavy loads. Ships of war, known as "drakkar," or dragon ships, featured long, slender and shallow hulls built for speed and were endowed with intricate carvings at the prow and stern. Have grade-school students participate in these projects to help them better understand ancient Viking ships.
Make a Sun Compass
When Vikings had to travel across open water out of sight of land, they used the position of the sun and stars to navigate their way. During the summer, however, the sun never sets at some of the northern latitudes the Vikings travelled, so they used a sun compass to guide their direction. TeachKidsHow.com offers free instructions on how to make a sun compass, and this project is an excellent way to help grade-school children understand how sailors on Viking ships navigated in the open water.
Design a Sail
Viking sailors often decorated their sails with colours, designs and images intended to scare off potential enemies. Have grade-school students design a sail of their own by painting brown paper bags, old sheets or other canvas-like material. Coloured stripes and split-diamond and checkerboard patterns were common motifs of Viking ship sails, as were images of dragons and other protective or aggressive forces.
Sea Monster Stories
Many myths and legends began from the stories told by sailors on Viking ships, and researching the origins of these tales would be an excellent project for grade-school students. Divide students into groups and have them explore the origins of some of the sea monster stories and tales told by the Viking sailors, and then have them share what they've learnt with the class. One group could explore how tales of the mysterious narwhal inspired the hunting of unicorn horns, or how whales were sometimes mistaken for small floating islands.
Build a Viking Ship
Looledo.com offers free instructions on how to build a small Viking ship out of a cardboard milk carton, wooden skewers, a paper bag, masking tape and a little imagination. The construction of model Viking ship will give grade-school students a visual image to help them better understand what these ancient vessels were like, how they moved and how they were decorated with great detail from stern to prow.