katherine kerr of the Hermitage, her site

For the Children

[Demos for Children and Youth Groups]
[Page School] [My Good Page]
Games: [Baronial Shell Game] [Heraldic Twister] [Tierce] [Marienbad] [Cards and Dice Games] [Baronial Noughts and Crosses] [Boffer Fighting]
For the Little Ones: [ABCDeary] [Incey Wincey Fighter] [Baby Sling]

A lot of the things I have done over the years have been to keep my own children amused or educated, and to help amuse or educate others. Here is a selection of what we've done together, ranging from rhymes for the very young to the more organised activities such as page school, reflecting the changing ages of my children. They're now considerably bigger than the shots below, but I like to remember back then.




Page School itself has a separate section, as it's grown to be something reasonably significant in our lives. So if you want to see the sorts of things we've organised for Canterbury Faire and the youngsters who attend, take a look here. I've also included there Baron Callum MacLeod's delightful instructions on how to be a good page, along with Dickon's response.

Heraldic Twister

Dickon makes hard work of heraldic twister with his younger brother Pippin.

Back in 1996 I mooted the idea of taking an old plain blanket and appliquing simple shields on it, with the idea of making up bean bags to toss onto it. I never got around to it until the children got large enough for it to be appropriate for them to know their heraldry. (A certain visiting Queen from Lochac sparked their interest by handing out sweetmeats to any child who could name heraldic colours.) And then I saw Dame Alys mercilessly drilling her Darton folk, using the shields from a Kingmaker set, so I figured there had to be a way to make this fun...

The heraldic twister set was surprisingly tricky to construct, as I wanted the colours, charges, divisions et al reasonably well spread across the board. Having multiple combinations in a four by four matrix meant that it turned into something like the famous four-colour problem in mapping, but I muddled on through. It had its first outing at the AS38 Christmas Revel. There we learned it needed pegging on the corners, and that more shields were needed as it quickly became too intimate for adults to play (actually I think cloaks and voluminous garb got in the way more than body parts). So another row and column were added.

We now play it by calling suitable combinations of manus/pedis and dexter/sinister, and then calling a colour (the metals aren't used), charges, divisions etc. It's usually played until someone falls over or can't figure out where they're supposed to go. Oddly enough, it's not the colours et al that seem to give the players the most problem, but identifying their left hand from their right!

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This game is sometimes known as cat and mouse. I have no idea of its provenance, just that it's been played in Southron Gaard since Time Immemorial and has been very popular with children and adults alike, especially when played at dusk.

Set up a circle of, say, 4-5 people. Any extras then line up behind anyone in the circle so that the lines are roughly even.

One person is designated as cat and one as mouse. Cat chases the mouse around and through the circle. Mouse gets away by joining the end of a line whereby the front person in the line becomes the mouse and the chase continues until it be enow or dinner is called.

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Marienbad is a very simple game, great for playing over meals or as a quick filler. Some people may know it by the more modern name of "nim".

There are lots of games similar to this, from many places and times. I have references (currently buried in my archives) to a version of marienbad being banned in Bavaria in 1122, and to it being played by "dissolute friars" in Geneva in 1243 to the "great shame and scandal' of the city. Apparently it was a big gambling game; there are stories of abbeys being lost in such games!

The layout I use is the one I have found to be most common.

There are 16 sticks or counters, laid out in four rows of 1, 3, 5 and 7 respectively. Two players alternate picking up any number of counters from any one of the rows. The one who is forced to take the last counter is the loser. It's a good quick game that can be very evenly matched between adults and children. There are apparently lots of fairly fiendish mathematical strategies inherent in the game. (You can see some of the maths discussion under the more modern name of Nim here).

I had a large bag of coloured sticks I'd picked up at a school fair years ago on the premise that they might prove useful for something. As it happened a decade or so later, that something finally arrived and I was able to make up a whole bunch of these games for largesse and market.

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Boffer Fighting

Now that my children are older, they are keen to take up arms and whack anyone in sight, so we are developing our own style of boffer combat for them.

I've been making boffer swords out of pool noodles (aka aqua-stix) and dowelling, and these seem to work reasonably well. Not as inclined to flick and wobble as basic foam, not heavy enough to hurt, reasonably rigid but difficult to actually get hurt by.

The legal way to kill your sister...Dickon, Grace and Baron Callum.

Boffer Sword/Dagger Recipe

Take one pool noodle (aka aqua-stick).
Cut to suitable length for sword or dagger (usually about a metre for the former).
Take 18-cm dowelling and insert in noodle (should be reasonably tight fit in the internal hole of the noodle).
Leave approx 10 cm protruding at one end for hilt (shorter if you don't want adults able to use it!), and leave one-third of the noodle length empty from the other end for a thrusting tip.
Cut dowel to size and glue firmly in place.
Bind hilt with tape or soft foam (Aeroflex refrigerator tubing is great).
Lay on!

We did try at one stage to add a knuckle guard using a small, soft (ie non-brittle) plastic bowl or tub but found they were more hassle than they were worth. These swords can be used vigorously without any major problems, though you'd want them to avoid thrusting to the face. They are far less "whippy" than thin foam cutouts, and look a lot more like the adult swords, which appeals to small fry.

Boffer Tourney Guidelines

We're still experimenting with these, most notably with whether to allow head blows with or without helmets or padded coifs. Here is what we're using at the moment:

The Most Important Things to Remember:

  • always participate with courtesy, respect and chivalry
  • fight honourably and die well
  • have fun and help others to enjoy it too

Be ready to arm and take the field when you are called.
Remember to salute your opponent, patron, parent and/or the throne when called upon to do so.
Wait until the marshal calls LAY ON before you begin to fight.
A blow can be counted as GOOD if it connects and is "purposely-delivered, in a fair and legal manner". (That means you don't have to hit hard or whack your opponent.)
If you feel a legal blow to a target area (head, arm, leg or body), then call out GOOD. If you don't call it yourself, the marshal will call it for you.
Any legal blow to the arm means you can't use it, and you should put your hand behind your back.
Any legal blow to your leg means you can't use it, and you should drop to that knee.
Any legal blow to the head or body, and you're dead. Die gracefully!

Never too young to start.
No blows will count at or below the knee or wrist, or at the groin.
No hitting from behind, or when your noble opponent is not ready.
No grappling or wrestling, tripping, pushing, or touching the opponent in any manner except with legal boffers in a legal blow.
Stop when you hear HOLD called, and when you hear WARE EDGE.
The marshal has the final say. They may issue a warning, particularly if you are hitting too hard. Three such warnings and you'll be sent from the field.
Demonstrate behaviour that is both chivalrous and respectful towards your noble opponent, the marshals and anyone else participating, and you will be thought a winner regardless of how well you do in the bouts or melee.

We found that although the children had been to umpteen tourneys, none of them were aware of what made a blow "good" or had the concept of calibration. So we've run some fighter's practice for them, specifically to talk about this and to get them used to blow combinations, instead of simply waving the boffer sword at each other from a distance of ten paces.

Between that, and a talk on chivalry on the field and the concept of honour, courtesy of Sir Vitale and Sir Tycho, and we had a huge improvement in both fighting styles and general behaviour.

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I put together a laminated book for Dickon, my firstborn, using photos to illustrate various aspects of SCA life. Duncan Kerr and Lwelleyn sat down one day with it, and put the ABC terms into verse. So this is not my work but theirs (and they are immortalised in their youth as the Young Pup Underlings under the letter U).

A is for Archer, with Arrows they fight
B is for bow, the arms of a light
C is for chainmail, Rowena's first version
D is for dance, a delightful diversion
E's for encampment, for stars and for sun
F is for feast, for food and for fun
G is for garb, for tunics and hose
H is for helm, protects you from blows
I's for illumin of words, fine to see
J is for juggle, with balls one, two, three
K is for king, who wears a big crown

J is for Juggle.

K is for King.

L is for lacing, so your pants don't fall down
M is for marshal, takes charge if you're dead
N is for needlework, fine work with thread
O's for oath-taking, your word you do swear
P's for pavilion, to dress up the fayre
Q is for quiver, to hold all your blunts
R is for rabbit, the object of hunts
S is for shield, protects you in need
T is for tankard, for holding your mead
U is for Underlings, who do all the work
V is for vambrace, so the arm blows don't hurt
W's for whistle, for playing a tune
X is the date, inscribed as a rune
Y is for surcoat, in yellow and black
Z is for zig-zag, going forward and back.

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Incey Wincey Fighter

Incey wincey fighter climbs the castle wall
Down comes the oil
Watch the fighter fall
Out come the archers
Stringing up their bows
Poor incey winceys on the ground
They've filled him full of holes

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Building a Baby Sling

This has nothing to do with missile combat so you can get that gleam out of your eye *right now*! This covers is how to produce a comfortable means of carrying your baby or toddler around events without having to resort to a modern backpack or stroller.

Slings can be made out of any closely woven fabric. Cotton is fine; make sure to pick plain period colours. It needs to be something that's strong enough to bear weight without ripping, but soft enough to drape reasonably well.

The slings are basically a rectangle: about one metre wide and two metres long. Cut two and sew together for extra strength, hem. One end is pleated and sewn flat (pleats about 5cm wide; sew it down in a square shape at the end so it's sturdy). The other end is looped through two rings (the ones I have are large wooden curtain rings, internal diameter 5cm) and pulled about 30 cm. It's then laid out flat on the main piece and sewn across.

To make things more comfortable and to help keep the rings at the end, you can put a rectangle/ellipse of light foam inside the space between the two layers of fabric (the fabric will bunch up around the rings, but there's usually room to manoeuvre).

To use the sling, the pleated end is passed through, under and over the rings. That should be enough to hold it. You then sling it across your shoulder. Adjusting the tightness affects how much cavity you have in front of you to fit your baby in. I've found that it's most comfortable when you fan the material across your back so that your whole back and shoulder are sharing the load -- letting the material bunch up into a tight grouping is a bit hard on the collarbone after a while. Experiment.

You can carry a newborn or even a three-year-old in this. The newborn will lie tucked right up inside, keeps them warm and makes it easy to breastfeed with no-one the wiser; a 12-month-old will enjoy sitting up facing away from you with their feet tucked in; a 3-year-old can have his/her bottom supported by the sling with their legs outside it.

People really do a double-take when they see a sling, but they can see how comfy the baby is and how convenient it is to have both hands free.

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Demonstrations for Children, Schools, Youth Groups

We are regularly called on to provide demonstrations for schools, Scout groups and other organisations. Here are some tips and approaches I have developed over the years to help get people engaged.


Don't forget to ensure you - and anyone working with you - knows the following:

Where is it being held?
From when and until when?
Is there a particular theme or focus they want covered?
If a school, what is the age group?
Has a fee been agreed on or offered?

Typically we don't ask school or Scout groups or other educational non-profit groups for anything, though often they will provide koha. People contacting us for commercial demos are usually told there is an appearance fee depending on what they want us to do.

Performance Demos


These Include lots of bureaucratic stuff, but also general advice handy for people new to demos:

Antir demo handbook
Drachenwald's Display, Appendix 1
East Kingdom Chatelaine Handout

This is the most common kind of demo we give. The heavy fighters and fencers demonstrate their styles of fighting, usually with a introduction to the types of weaponry, armour etc. Occasionally we'll also have demonstrations of other activities such as dance or singing, but everyone usually wants to see the fighting. We haven't tried the "dress a lady" approach, though it might be a useful one for media.

Ideally it should have an intro where the Barony is mentioned, the aims of chivalry and courtesy are stressed, the international nature and longevity of the SCA is noted.

The more interaction with the crowd you can get, the better.

Pick people out of the audience to act as "pages" and "squires", to help carry kit, hold shields and helms, buckle up straps etc. Have someone hold a banner or standard.

Kids like to be on sides so split them up to cheer for the different fighters. Emphasise that they should be cheering their fighter, not booing the opponent - stress that this is different to boorish rugby behaviour.

Have a herald or marshal explain what the general approach to fighting is. Pass around a sword while the fighters are gearing up, and talk about the reason why there are no edged weapons in this combat.

It's not usually worth getting into too much detail regarding SCA fighting rules. And probably not worth taking legs or arm blows as that can look very Monty Pythonesque.

Station Demo

This tends to be more static - a booth or set of tables with lots of different items on display or, for schools, a set of SCAdians rotating through a series of classrooms or class syndicates to talk on different topics.

You need to have people who know what they are talking about for the individual topics, whether its leather-working, woodcraft, armouring, everyday life, illumination, embroidery. Having something physical to pass around or demonstrate is useful (eg drop spindling, armour, juggling etc ), as is giving them something they can do or take away (eg braiding, illuminated page to colour in etc).


If you can, get a poster-sized copy of Young Folk at Play, a painting by Peter Brueghel from 1560. It has 80 play activities, 200 children; 20 games. Or just talk about the games that it shows such as:

  • Knuckle Bones
  • Hoops
  • Blind Man's Buff
  • Tug of War
  • Leap Frog
  • windmills
  • Follow the Leader
  • Tag
  • Nine Pins/Skittles/Bowling
  • Battling Tops
  • King of the Hill
  • Dwyle Flunking

What do you play? Any of these? (No, I don't know what Dwyle Flunking is!)

Why do you think these games are still known and played?
Easy to do, suit kids, minimal or simple equipment required


Take along some kid's garb if you have access to some and it's good period style and materials. There may be some in loaner garb you can use.

How is it different to what is worn now?

Colours - mostly plain and dark, no neons
Materials - wool, cotton, linen (nothing synthetic)
Length - how long are the skirts/tunics?
Type of clothes for boys and girls -- in the 1500s, boys wore girls' clothes until they were 7-8; how would they feel about that?

Take a look at this site for some info and ideas on kid's clothes and see if you have some suitable pictures in whatever books you might have:

Even something simple like hoods can be interesting. Learn how to demonstrate the many and varied silly ways of wearing hoods and talk about how fashion makes us do odd things!

Persona Stories

If appropriate and you can carry it off, tell your persona's story. Here's an example from Avacal's demo handbook:

Good day, my name is Natal'ia Volkovicha. My mother says I was born the year before my father, Prince Vladimir of Kiev, converted to Christianity. Papa expected that all citizens would also convert, but when he deserted his concubines in favour of his new Christian wife, my mother vowed I would learn the traditions of our past as well as the new religion from Byzantium. I was married at fifteen, and widowed when my husband died less than 4 winters later. My father has just passed away, and left his vast holdings to many of my brothers, and I am now under pressure to remarry.

A little racy perhaps, but be sure you pitch the story for the audience. This can sometimes be a good way to get people to ask you questions about what your life is like, what you eat, etc but you have to be prepared for that! Kids are fascinated by the idea that you might have married young, drunk beer instead of water, not be able to read.


Divide the class according to medieval class patterns:

  • 90-95% peasants
  • 1-5% townspeople
  • 1-5% nobles
  • 1-5% churchmen

Split them into two groups and "kill" one group, explaining they didn't make it through childhood because of the child mortality rate. Pick out the remaining girls and "kill" half to three-quarters of them "in childbirth". Pick out the remaining boys and "kill" half to three-quarters of them in a war, and so on, until only about 10% of the original group is left. This visual example of mortality rates is far more effective than a class discussion of the same facts. (From Avancal demo ideas.)

For a quicker approach, kill off one-third as the Black Death has hit their area.

Setting the Table

Lay out a typical feast setting. What's on the table?

  • wooden/pottery bowl
  • pewter plate
  • candlestick and candle
  • dagger or eating knife (keep an eye on it!)
  • spoon (a medieval one with the broad bowl shape, or a horn spoon)
  • drinking vessel (metal tankard, leather jack, silver goblet, drinking horn)
  • trencher (cut a loaf in half horizontally)
  • napkin (should be a big Perugia towel style, or a white tea towel if you don't have one)

What is missing?
What's used then that isn't now? Why?
Fork - strange idea from Italy that took a long time to catch on; at first with only 2-3 tines like a modern roasting fork or toast fork
A plate - if you've got a bread trencher, leave the plate out; trenchers were given to the poor to eat afterwards
What's the dagger for? Hint: not for poking your dinner companion!
What is different and how? Look at the materials used. No plastic, crockery of a different kind.

What kinds of food would you have eaten 500 years ago, 1000 years ago?
No potatoes, no tomatoes, no sweet corn, no pineapple, no bananas - wny?
Lots of meat, but not on certain days or at certain times of the year - why?
Catholic schools understand about Lent, others are likely to need educating about non-meat days. Seasonal variability is probably a safer topic - how do you keep meat fresh? What if you had no fridge?

Rules for the Dinner table

Here are some rules from a period book of manners. There were lots of books written from around the 12th century on to tell people how to behave, how to write letters, how to ask nicely for favours etc. These ones concern things you should and shouldn't do at the dinner table:

At dinner, press not thyself too high; sit in the place appointed thee.
Sup not loud of thy pottage. (Pottage is like a soup or stew - no slurping!)
Dip not thy meat in the salt cellar, but take it with a knife. (Got a salt cellar at home?)
Belch near no man's face with a corrupt fumosity.
Eat small morsels of meat; eat softly, and drink mannerly.
Corrupt not thy lips with eating, as a pig doth.
Scratch not thy head with thy fingers, nor spit you over the table.
If your teeth be putrefied, it is not right to touch meat that others eat. (Bad teeth were a real problem before dentists. Queen Elizabeth's teeth were black because she ate too much sugar and they rotted!)
Wipe thy mouth when thou shalt drink ale or wine on thy napkin only, not on the table cloth.
Blow not your nose in the napkin where ye wipe your hand.
Chew with your mouth closed.

Go through the list -- explain them if you have to!
Have they heard any of these rules before from their own Mum or Dad? (Let's hope so!)

A Day in the Life of a 16th-Century Boy and Girl

Say you're going to call the roll and work your way down the list of names. It's unlikely you'll have any takers for the first 2-3 names (and lots of giggles), but by the time you get to the bottom you should have identified at least one boy and/or girl that have Ancient and Royal names that have been in use for 1,000 years or more. It's good if you can mention something about the king or queen with whom they share their name.


You can stand your selected kids in front of the class and then talk about what their life would be like. Here are a couple of approaches:

You're a merchant's son. You're father is a glover and a member of the town council. You're quite well off - everyone wants gloves, especially nice embroidered perfumed ones (and that's just the sales to the gentlemen of the town!) Shakespeare's dad was a glover.

You have six brothers and sisters, though three have died already; one older son had the same name as you.

Your morning routine:

5am: get up, say prayers, wash face and hands, comb your hair, brush your teeth with a twig (yes, a twig!). Your servant brushes your clothing to make sure it's clean,and makes your bed.

6am: School begins. What time do you start school now? Do you learn any of these languages/subjects now? Latin and Greek. Grammar, rhetoric and logic arithmetic, astronomy, geometry and music

9am: stop for breakfast (15 minutes): bread, beer (maximum of three glasses!)

11am: dinner for 1-2 hours, go home for that as it's the main meal of the day why is it the main meal? then back to school

3.30: break (15 minutes)

5.30pm: school finishes

You're the Duke of Norfolk's daughter. You have one brother, aged 9 - he has lessons, also practices combat, but you don't see him much as he has been sent to be fostered by another noble household.

You're getting ready to be married next month, though you won't live with your husband - he's 11 - until you're much older. Your parents think it's a useful way to combine some lands the families own up north.

You are being taught embroidery and herbal medicine and singing by your mother. Like most of your friends, you can write your name, but nothing else, and you haven't been taught to read.

While you practice your stitching , one of the ladies reads out from the Bible, or from some of the French romances which are much more fun with their tales of King Arthur and Sir Lancelot..

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