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Happening History – KS1 Pirate & Navigation workshop

Pirates arghh here! This fun & hands-on workshop has been created to teach 5-7 year olds about pirates in a fun & engaging way. Jack & Mary are recruiting a new crew for their ship. Young pirates can learn about life as a pirate, what they wore, ate, how a sailing ship was powered, how they navigated the seas, how they fought. There’s a treasure ship to attack and treasure to capture!

Age Group: Keystage 1, 5-7 year olds.

Workshop time: 1 hour (can be adjusted slightly to suit).

Max number of students: 30 per workshop

Number of workshops per school day: 3 maximum

Workshop area: School hall, dining room, gym or other large indoor space. Display items can be moved to the side during lunchtime if required.

Teacher requirement: 2 adults one of whom must be a teacher. Teaching assistants are great.  But the more the merrier!  Parents are also welcomed.

We start in the pirate’s tavern, where Jack & Mary are looking for new recruits for their pirate crew. The new young recruits need to be dressed for life on ship, so all are given shirts & hats such as tricorns in preparation for working on board. We learn about what food pirates ate including ships biscuits crawling with weevils, turtle eggs & rum!

Pirate Code

There are rules for being a pirate and we go through our pirate code:

  • Every man has a vote.
  • No stealing from other pirates
  • Lights out at 8. O’ Clock
  • No hitting another pirate
  • Keep your weapons clean
  • Treasure stolen will be shared equally

We take a look at our beautiful 3ft high model sail ship. And talk about how ships would move across the oceans. To better help them understand how sail power worked we have some simple wind-powered boats to sale in races across the floor. The boats are on wheels for safety reasons (we didn’t want to mix water & electrics!). The boats are named after various real pirates such as Blackbeard, and are propelled across the floor by small bellows.  We will run up to 3 or 4 races, depending on the size of the hall and the group.  This part of the workshop is great fun and a brilliant way to help understand the power of the wind.

In this section of the workshop, the crew is split into 2 smaller groups.  Navigation is run at the same time as the weapons section, which allows for a more manageable hands-on experience.

Within the navigation part of the workshop, they will learn how pirates found their ways around the sea.  We look at globes and very simplified maps.  Young pirates will work in groups to learn what a compass is and how it worked to point pirates in the right direction.  They’ll learn about north, south, east and west and how a compass could be used with a map to find our way.  Year 1’s will become a human compass as we learn which direction is which.

They’ll then be asked in groups to look through our telescopes to see what things they can see at sea in each direction.  There will be various images on the wall to spot such as sea beasts and other ships. If your room is particularly full of windows with no curtains it would be helpful to know this information in advance.

Pirate weapons
The young rascals have various pirate weapons explained to them.  Each child is given a small (round-edged) wooden sword and scabbard to help them learn about the pirate’s sword and how it was used.  Pirates are reminded of the rule of no hitting other pirates or else they’ll be sent to maroon island on their own.  We go through some simple sword movements.  We then look at grenadoes.  Grenadoes were like an early iron grenade.  A fuse was lit and they would be thrown.  Wel demonstrates how this might be done, then they have a practice at throwing our fake grenadoes (actually foam PE balls painted black with a rope fuse).  This knowledge will come in useful later.  Both groups swap till they’ve both completed each section.

Attacking the ship!
We have built a 7ft long wooden ship for the young scallywags to attack, with real sails, knockdown pirates, flag and gun ports.  The crew lines up to attack the ship.  We have some repro grenadoes (foam balls made to look the part).  They have to throw them at the ship to attack it and knock down as many pirates as possible.  Once the ship’s flag goes down, the pirates have surrendered.

Sharing the treasure
As promised, the treasure is shared equally among all pirates.  The options for what the reward is will depend on your school budget.  The simplest reward is an acrylic gem, which look spectacular.  For those on a bigger budget, we have also sourced someone who produces replica silver 2 Reale coins of Philip V of Spain, who ruled during the golden age of piracy.  This will work out at £1.00 per child.    They really are fantastic replica, though sadly not real silver!   It is also possible to obtain replica gold doubloons or pieces of eight but they will cost more, please ask if you are interested.  If you are on a tight budget, we are happy for the school themselves to provide whatever treasure they’d like to put in our treasure chest.  Jelly beans make quite a good jewel-like treat but food allergies, such as gluten, dairy and also buying kosher and halal beans needs to be taken into account.  Costs may vary from this web page as prices of these items are based on the current cost we can purchase them for (2019).

Final reward  – Going out with a bang!
As a final reward for their good pirating, we fire our replica gun.  It is an accurate replica of an 18th-century gun that fires caps.  It’s like the big brother to the cap guns that some of them have.  The gun makes a reasonable bang, louder than a child’s cap gun and a small amount of smoke. A fittingly piratical end to the workshop!

Please note:   A little residue does come out from the gun, so children are kept back at a safe distance and it is never pointed in their direction.  In the video, the smoke has been enhanced by adding WD40, it does smoke less than this in reality but if you have extra sensitive fire alarms, we can either skip this part or are happy to be advised by you on what you think the best way of including it might be.  We are aware that some children do not like loud bangs so please provide ear defenders for them if you wish, warn them of what will happen or take them out a little early from the workshop, whatever works best for you.

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