KNIGHTS OF THE RING:
How to Build an Enthusiastic Junior Friends of Libraries Group in Six Weeks, and Make it Last
Founder, Knights of the Ring
A Lowell SUN photographer captures a knighting event (Pelham, NH)
Forward from the author, about this publication:
In 1983 I started what I thought was a simple six week summer reading program designed to amuse eleven young people during some hot summer days. Little did I dream that the 'Medieval' program I'd concocted on-the-fly that year would grow into a huge organization with thousands of participants.
I'm not sure how the evolution began exactly, but my recollection is that what I was doing began to get around by word of mouth. Librarians of all kinds were excited by the sheer numbers of regular young adult participants I had coming to my library year-round (hundreds), and the fact that they not only came, they also actively supported the library through fundraising events and elbow grease.
Knights of the Ring washing cars to raise money for their library (Pelham, NH).
After the program had been around a number of years and had been adopted by the statewide summer reading program in New Hampshire, and later others, I was urged by several colleagues to write about my methods. In May of 1997, School Library Journal featured a brief synopsis of the program. Editor-in-Chief Lillian Gerhardt took pains to write positively about the program in her editorial that month.
Imagine that you're a pretty typical librarian in a small town, and then suddenly you're elevated into the national limelight. All the eyes of your esteemed colleagues are upon you. If the thought of that gives you vertigo, that was my reaction too when suddenly hundreds of emails began filling my inbox every day.
I realized right away that I had to get the word out in its entirety, that my brief article in SLJ wasn't going to get me off the hook in terms of the nitty gritty details. And so this manual was created. Originally published in booklet form, it is still listed in OCLC and a copy is held by my graduate school library at Simmons College.
Fortunately, technology has evolved to the point that I am now able to offer the Knights of the Ring program to librarians and educators on the web.
Before you jump in, know that what you're about to embark on will have a lifelong impact on the young people you work with and inspire. Some of my 'original' Knights still communicate with me though they're now established professionals themselves. Many, at the drop of a hat, will clear busy schedules to attend a 'knighting' of new members. The seeds you sow will have deep, wonderful roots!
So enjoy your foray into the Knights of the Ring. May you have good success and may your library grow and prosper under the care of the 'knights' who defend and cherish it.
Donna L. Beales
INCEPTION-- MAGIC HAPPENS
"To always do the best we can in any situation; to always be the best people we can be; to do one act of community service each year, forever."
"Pax Viscom Album" (Peace of the Mistletoe)
You are about to embark on an adventure which will forever change the lives of everyone it touches. As in the days of old when Knights were bold, this adventure will be a quest, a sort of real-life epic saga with all of the positive attributes and risks an excellent quest story requires; first impossible odds, then courage, challenge, valor, chivalry, courtesy, and perseverance. This quest will also take you on a journey both within your library and outside of it. Your journey will have a specific destination in mind, a Junior Friends of the Library organization, and yet as in all quest journeys you may not end up exactly where you expected nor quite when. However, you will travel, you will most certainly enjoy the trip, and rest assured that you will not be the same person you were at the journey's inception, personally or professionally, by the time you arrive.
Pelham (NH) Knights of the Ring participants had an engraved 'Knights' brick laid into the library building memorial walkway.
In 1983 I was a rookie Children's Librarian in a public library in Massachusetts, The Moses Greeley Parker Library (Dracut, MA). My library was a library with a small budget, a library which of necessity required a creative approach to programming and a low cost/ no cost style. Paying attention to marketing trends for children and young adults-- librarians can benefit by keeping abreast of popular interest, which can strengthen offerings for kids-- I became aware that certain themes are perennial favorites. One of the themes played over and over again in the mass media-- in books, in computer games, in comics and movies-- was the epic quest.
While the idea was neither especially inspired nor very original, I decided to incorporate a 'quest' theme into my summer reading program. I was preparing a roster of summer activities and I was looking to provide a more educational activity than the then current rage among junior high children, fantasy role-playing games. Pressed for time, not thinking of anything more than a six week summer program which would give young people something to do at the library, something enjoyable to keep them out of the heat, I formulated some brief notes. "Become a Knight!" I wrote in flourishing script. "Live the adventure!" The idea had promise. It would certainly attract a few children for what child doesn't want to have adventures? What adult doesn't, for that matter?
The idea began to take shape. Each week, the program would have to have a specific activity, for kids need to move, think, see and do if they're to be fully engaged in an event. I researched a bit, and the stages of knighthood lent themselves to the six week plan. Those of no rank sought at first to be pages. (Week One). Pages spent time learning the value of service, (Week Two) after which they progressed to the rank of Squire, (Week Three) at which point they studied the skills a knight needed to possess. After a time, Squires were required to demonstrate capability (Week Four) and they were tested (Week Five). If deemed proficient and worthy, they were subsequently dubbed Knights. (Week Six).
I made very sketchy notes, playing it fast and loose for the main thrust of my summer program was elsewhere, in performers and in a more traditional summer reading itinerary. The 'Knights' program (as it was called then) was on my part a lark, a little something extra for junior high kids, but not something in which a lot of preparation time and materials were invested.
Little did I know the impact it would have.
Eleven children signed up for the program and with the help of two community volunteers who donated their time, we kicked off. We decided that a bit of good-natured hamming would fit in well, and we adopted a touch of 'Medievalspeak,' substituting 'thees' and 'thous' and requiring the participants to refer to all library staff members as "M'Lord" or "M'Lady." We set up a series of 'information quests,' questions about the Medieval period which could be found in the reference section of the library, and sent children off in search of answers. When they reported back to us, they were required to kneel on one knee to the 'court,' (librarians and adult volunteers) and recite their findings.
Early on, we discovered how much the kids really enjoyed the touch of silly frippery from the Age of Chivalry. It wasn't long before we'd improvised a ready answer to mildly disruptive behavior, bound to happen in an atmosphere of high excitement. A quick summons to kneel and repeat 'begging your pardon, M'Lord (or M'Lady)' was usually more than sufficient to redirect 'knaves' and 'scoundrels.' The kids reveled in it.
The participants were told at the beginning of the program how things would progress, what materials they would need to bring, and times, dates, and places. A sheet was also handed out to outline the six week schedule and to emphasize that one of most important things a young person questing after Knighthood would be required to do would be to demonstrate proficiency in a Medieval craft or skill.
The 'Skill' was designed as a serious commitment to research. Simply describing a skill or reciting from a text was not enough. Each participant would be required to demonstrate a hands-on ability to the whole group during the fourth week, plus to tie that ability back to research by citing whatever sources they'd used to learn the skill. It was further underscored that by researching a skill well and demonstrating it, participants would be teaching others, including the adult participants, and thus each had a responsibility to the group so that all could become 'good knights.' Some children had difficulty with the concept for many had never participated in research at a more rigorous level, but most quickly found ways to rise to the challenge, and those with difficulties received encouragement and support from library staff members and volunteers. Additionally, we provided a list of examples of skills to draw from in order to get them started, skills such as book-binding, calligraphy, music, courtly manners, leatherwork, armoring, making illuminated manuscripts, cooking, etc. etc.
Squires study the skill of the padded sword. (Westford, MA)
The kids were insatiable. By the end of the second week, I, the Library Director and my adult volunteers began to get an inkling that something was afoot, something we hadn't anticipated, something large and potentially significant. We were creating a strange beast, a beast with no name, but a massive and powerful beast of decidedly chivalrous disposition. The concept of Knighthood and the dynamic of the individual and collective quest brought into play the whole concept of the defender of the castle-- and in our case, the 'castle' was the library. While all of the children who joined the group were already positively disposed toward the library, the experience transformed their positive feeling into a deeper sort of loyalty, that of belonging. Suddenly, they were connected to their library in a very tangible way, for they were bound to be its 'Knights' and ipso facto its protectors and defenders.
Previous to the program I would not have seriously entertained the idea that larger concepts librarians wrestle with such as censorship issues, the core purpose of libraries, First Amendment freedoms and meager library budgets would hold much interest for most junior high students. But the role of protector and defender, the role of Knight opened lively discussion about all of these things and more. What had begun for both myself and the young participants as a bit of fun suddenly began to take on seriousness, import, and practical application. The young participants expressed shock and disbelief when they learned about the lack of sufficient funds in libraries nationwide. They wanted to help, at very least in their own library.
Before the third week was completed, there was already talk among the kids about what they would do 'after' the Knights program ended.
It was an exciting development, but not one I dwelled on. My hands were full with preparing reading certificates, keeping track of my other activities, and doing day-to-day routine tasks. I pushed the thought to the back of my mind wondering vaguely if I could maintain the level of high intensity the Knights program seemed to be generating once the summer faded into Fall.
Meanwhile, the program marched forward. We thrived on scavenger hunts, tee-shirt painting, a movie or two on the Medieval period, spirited debate about a number of issues, guest speakers on a host of topics (all donated), and a growing feeling of unity. When 'Skill Day' finally arrived, it was a wonderful success. The range of ability varied with the age of the participants, but every young person had grasped the concept of in-depth research, and each was able to connect what had been learned to something significant in their own lives.
It was time for a testing of sorts.
It deserves to be mentioned that I have been a member of various clubs and organizations as a young person and as an adult. Certain basic ideas are common to all such groups. Groups have a motto or slogan and characteristics shared by all members. Groups challenge their participants mentally and sometimes physically to facilitate bonding. The best groups stretch participants beyond their perceived limitations.
We adopted the term "Pax Viscom Album,' meaning 'the peace of mistletoe' after the tradition of knights hanging mistletoe in the rafters of their homes denoting safe haven to all comers. We felt such a slogan was most appropriate to libraries, which also welcome all to the haven of enlightenment and knowledge.
We also devised a pledge, "To always do the best we can in any situation. To always be the best people we can be. To do one act of community service each year forever."
We also added a third element-- mental and physical challenge.
The movie 'An Officer and a Gentleman' best sums up an actual experience of mine, an experience I incorporated into the 'test,' one which cemented the Knights of the Ring program permanently during our first year. During the course of the film a rookie female military cadet struggles to get all the way through a grueling obstacle course. Each time, she is halted by a high, flat wooden wall with a rope. Though she tries and tries to scale the wall, her arms give way each time and she repeatedly fails.
At first she breaks down. But she bolsters her courage and perseveres, training and conditioning herself until her examination falls. That day, she arrives at a turning point, a point where climbing the wall or failing will make or break her career. Just at the pinnacle of despair, she finds the strength and courage within herself to make the climb. It's a cinematic high point, and a metaphor for human struggle.
When I was seventeen years old, in the woods of my hometown Ashland, MA, I too faced such a wall, a sheer wooden barrier approximately twelve feet in height. I was training as a camp counselor. Like the protagonist in the movie, I too didn't have the strength or confidence to scale the structure. It loomed dauntingly in my path and though I tried and tried, I failed miserably. However, with applied teamwork and a little guts, I made it. The world looked glorious from my high vantage as I straddled the top, and I discovered that my own limitations had bound me more so than my abilities or lack thereof. I never forgot the experience-- it left an indelible impression. For the Knights, my experience could also serve. Elements of challenge and risk could also apply to library programs, and I resolved to incorporate similar ideas into the 'test.'
Puzzles, riddles, and research questions were part and parcel of the test, which was cryptically dubbed 'The Ordeal' to give it a slightly-scary and formidable feel. For the young participants, the very mention of 'The Ordeal' sent delighted shivers up spines and provoked much bravado. They did not know what it would entail. Additionally, because of some physical risk as we decided to incorporate the 'group wall climb' into the program, we required signed permission slips from parents, upping the anxiety factor immensely and adding to the popularity of the program. We were acutely aware of the need for safety and strict standards even then in the early eighties. (Later for liability reasons, we omitted the wall climb, finding safer but equally effective means to achieve the same goal).
'The Ordeal' was a significant event in the lives of the young people who 'survived' it. It fully transformed an ephemeral program into a permanent one and had the effect of unifying the entire group.
When the Ordeal was through at the end of the day, I well remember myself, my boss, then Library Director Dave Davis, and my adult volunteers Mary Ann Woodman and Bill Conlon III staring at each other in delight and shock as the last young person left for home. The commitment of the kids was now unwavering. We could see it in their eyes. "I think we've created a Frankenstein," Mary Ann Woodman quipped with sparkling eyes.
We had. We held out Knighting Ceremony that first year in the candle-lit library multi-purpose room without parents, for in our first year we still hadn't quite grasped how deeply significant the program would be. Subsequently, every year since we've invited guests and made the Knighting a media event, drawing positive PR for the library.
We devised the ceremony from books available in our library. We required that each participant 'make an effort to dress in Medieval garb,' but permitting for varying finances, we left that statement open to the interpretation of the child. We photocopied scrolls (see 'Program Certificate' on the main home page) and gave them out as we doffed each 'Knight' with a red-tipped fencing foil. On another whim, I researched the names of the participants in one of many name origin books in our collection and as we called each child forward, I bestowed each child's 'real' name whenever possible. An example of one of the most memorable is founding member Martin Luther Carter, whose name translates whimsically to "Warlike Warrior Cart-Driver."
When we finished, we had eleven Knights, but beyond a field trip to a local museum, the John Woodman Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, MA, we had no further plans for the program. We rented a bus one bright afternoon in August and spent the day there among professional Medievalists, nicely capping our activity.
Volunteer Mary Ann Woodman and I were standing in the museum gift shop when she spied the rings. The bore helmeted Knights, and were sturdy, shiny, and very in keeping with our theme. Mary Ann's son had been one of the participants, and Mrs. Woodman was an ardent supporter. In a moment of serendipity, without speaking we both came to the same conclusion. "Can you afford to go in and buy half if I spring for the other half?" she said to me as we counted to see if the museum had enough rings to go around for all. I nodded. We purchased one for everyone, adults included, out of pocket.
We waited until all the kids had been collected and we were back on the bus before we surprised them with our purchase. Whoops and cheers went up from the ranks, and magic happened then.
"Like Tolkien!" someone roared. "No, like Madeleine L'Engle, 'A Ring of Endless Light!'" called another voice.
"A circle!" spoke a third child. "Something with no beginning and no end!"
"Knights! Knights! Knights!" came the chant.
"Knights of the Ring!" someone shouted, and there was a pause, a pause which spoke volumes followed by a collective roar. "Knights of the Ring!" was echoed over and over until the bus windows practically shattered from the din of cheering.
The beast now had a name, and it was us.
The rest, as they say, is history. Library history. The Knights of the Ring program has been run in public libraries, schools, and State-wide in New Hampshire. It boasts hundreds of members in New England, some of them now adults.
But we're not big enough yet. We have some growing to do.
WHY IT WORKS
Many miles have been traveled since I took the first step of the Knights of the Ring journey in 1983, and so I have had enough time to assess why the program has been so successful in large and small public libraries and schools, and why it works.
I initially thought my preparation had been rushed and in some ways sloppy-- I'm usually more detail-oriented and organized, and prefer to have sufficient time to prepare for activities, as most librarians and educators do. However, my hasty preparation served me well, for right off the bat it weeded out a lot of extraneous factors and forced me to come up with a quick, clean, and surprisingly easily replicated program.
What happened next at the Moses Greeley Parker Library, getting back to the story in the first chapter, was that the Knights declared themselves a permanent fixture in the library. At first they met weekly, but without a focus weekly meetings proved to be untenable. To keep their interest and to maintain some sort of connection, it was decided that they would collect dues to cover the cost of mailings and form a committee to get a newsletter going. Meetings were cut back to one per month, and a monthly newsletter reminded members of scheduled meetings and included crossword puzzles, artworks, and 'Knight jokes,' a popular addition.
The idea worked, and regular meetings were established.
A SPIRIT OF UNITY AND COOPERATION
The Knights of the Ring program establishes the kind of community spirit necessary to run a successful Junior Friends of the Library organization. That kind of spirit is essential for any endeavor with a group of committed young people. In a period as short as six weeks, children learn and assimilate many lessons about the way the real world works. Medieval culture is the 'hook,' but organizational ability, public speaking, writing, research, and social development are some of the covert benefits. By the time the program finishes, the groundwork has already been laid for a more permanent structure-- an organized Junior Friends.
On the part of librarians and educators, an earnest attempt to recruit young participants, a sincere enthusiasm for young adult activity and a commitment to follow the steps outlined in the program plan of this manual are all that is necessary to germinate an eager core of young adult volunteers.
This cannot be said emphatically enough. It is not a difficult process.
As trite as it may sound, an intensive six week effort to establish a permanent group (or longer, if curriculum permits) can be considered akin to cultivating a strong, healthy young plant. Once the plant has sprouted and has rooted a hold in the soil, it requires less care and will thrive with minimal continued attention, minor pruning, and a little fertilizer now and then.
Knights-in-Training demonstrate the skill of shield and helm making and review the history of each.
KNIGHTS AND JUNIOR FRIENDS-- WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?
In the following paragraphs I will refer to both Knights and Junior Friends of the Library. Once a Knights of the Ring six week program has been completed and regular meetings have been established, activities and events will begin to occur. Events will in turn attract other children. Also, the Knights themselves are your best advertisement for new participants, for by word of mouth they'll attract other kids. These newcomers should be welcomed and encouraged to participate. Since your purpose in forming a Knights group is to build a Junior Friends of the Library organization, you must make it known to the initial group that you want to get more children involved.
The Knights will be more than happy to comply. If the Knights program is run as an annual event, for which it is designed, the initial participants have the fun of planning the program for the new participants. They will enjoy their 'Knightly' status, and will gladly lend a hand to assist with enjoyable tasks like preparing an 'Ordeal' or test for new members.
Too, they will help look for likely candidates and won't strenuously object to new faces. Still, it needs to be clearly stated that anyone can join the umbrella 'Junior Friends' organization. But conversely, only those who participate in the 'Knights' program are Knights.
Some children will happily remain Junior Friends and will
have no interest in the Knights program at all. That's fine too. What counts is
that they remain involved in the library. The Knights program is an effective
kick-off and recruiting tool, but it's not the only draw once a larger group
gets off the ground.
GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
Junior high age young people are just beginning to think in more abstract terms than the more concrete thinking of middle childhood. According to Elizabeth M. Ellis in her book Raising a Responsible Child (Birch Lane Press, 1995) early adolescents "are capable of arguing an issue from several points of view," and "adolescence is a time when values are being formed in a more independent way and when moral concepts become interesting." The shift in focus from the concrete to the abstract makes a group like the Knights of the Ring an ideal vehicle for social growth and development.
However, because the ability to reason abstractly is new and exciting and relatively untried, it's a good idea to encourage critical thinking skills in the pursuit of a group goal or objective as well as to provide a more specific focus. An abstract ideal like 'helping the library' is a viable objective and a logical extension of the Knights program. But a more concrete goal or a series of goals will focus the group into a productive unit.
Goals and objectives can vary widely. The goal of most Friends of the Library organizations is fundraising. Junior Friends can also be significant fundraisers, but fundraising is only one aspect of their purpose. Junior Friends can also provide assistance with programs, such as story times, book discussion groups, etc. and can serve as volunteers on many levels. The objective 'helping the library' dovetails with a concrete goal such as 'raising $1,000 during the course of a year,' or 'building a puppet theater for the children's room' or 'getting 100 CD's donated' or 'building a World Wide Web site.'
Once a goal is established, the goal can be broken down
into a series of manageable steps. With the assistance of adult input and some
direction and patient listening, a librarian or educator can then help establish
what those steps will entail. Remember that this may be the first time some
middle graders have been exposed to the concept of community service on a large
scale, therefore their ideas may be wide of the mark of actual reality. However,
the entire process is a valuable learning experience, and even a disappointment
can be instructive. Within the limits of safety, let the kids brainstorm and
enact their ideas. Some unorthodox suggestions can lead to fantastic results.
STEPS-- THE PR SIX
The six questions of public relations are an easy way to get kids thinking about the particulars involved in reaching their goals, who, what, when, where, why, and how?
Fortunately, the library is the perfect place to research any endeavor.
Who are 'The Knights of the Ring?' The question can be answered by establishing the objective-- 'the Knights help the library.' Or 'the Knights of the Ring are the recruiting members of the Junior Friends of the Library.' If the goal is raising $1,000 in a year, who is going to raise it? Will it be raised by small committees who each select a project? All members? Who will be 'in charge?'
What will the money go for? Another goal-setting discussion may be necessary- the goal of raising money may not be concrete enough. What will the group need in resources to accomplish the goal? What help is available from the community?
When will fundraising events be held? Will there be one large event planned, such as a 'Haunted House,' or a book sale, or will several events be necessary? When will additional meetings be scheduled?
Where will events be held? Will they always remain at the library, or will some be held off site? Where will money raised go? Will it be deposited in a bank? Where are addressed and telephone numbers of individuals and businesses who can help make an event successful?
Why is the group raising the money? The public will need to know the intent of each fundraiser.
How? The group will need to have a clear idea of how events will work. If the idea is to sell popcorn during weekly video showings for adults, how will the popcorn get purchased and by whom? How will it be popped? Is there a microwave available? A popper? Are their outlets and extension cords in accessible places? Details like these may be overlooked by enthusiastic young people.
The PR Six are a good way to get the group thinking about complexities. Write each word on a blackboard or on large sheets of paper, and let them work out the process.
FUN IS IMPORTANT
Whatever the goal is, a librarian or educator must always keep in mind that the underlying purpose of the Knights of the Ring has been from its inception a way to equate enjoyable experiences with libraries.
Because of the nature of a program like the Knights, a sense of belonging is instilled in young library users. Remember, the Knights take their role as protectors and defenders of the library seriously on some level. Some children openly display such seriousness. Others will joke and even scoff, but they too acknowledge it internally even if their commitment isn't overtly displayed.
It is therefore crucial that participation be enjoyable. Children will carry whatever experiences they've had in libraries as kids into their adult years, and ultimately into their politics and their voting habits. Of all the children librarians and educators directly influence, Junior Friends of the Library -- i.e. Knights-- are impacted most of all.
The reason is obvious. The library becomes for them a focal point of socialization and an important part of their formative development as mature young people. Also, the librarian or educator's role becomes more personalized though it remains professional.
The Knights of the Ring experience is a lasting one. The actions of adult library supporters who were once participants bears this out.
YOUR UNDERLYING GOAL
Your underlying goal then is simple. Your goal is to establish for young people a deep and lasting connection with libraries of all types. In the beginning years of the Knights program I did not voice this goal to young participants. However, having witnessed swift changes in technology and misguided budget cutting, having heard that libraries of all types are becoming 'obsolete,' I now openly discuss my concerns with young people. "If you go away from the Knights program and you bring with you a few fond memories of some good times but you don't help libraries as an adult, then the Knights of the Ring program has no meaning," I now state during each Knighting Ceremony. The message often gets through, and at very least it's heard.
Your goal is not always easy. Children get discouraged, and children sometimes form exclusive cliques within larger groups. But with sincere attention to their concerns and strong direction from you, pitfalls can be overcome.
HOW DO YOU SPELL SUCCESS?
If you have a core group of children who come back to the library month after month and who are eager to have an active role, even if that core is small count yourself a success!
As in any group, there will be those who are more committed than others. A certain amount of attrition is to be expected, so don't be discouraged if you lose a few members over time. Children who participate in activities like the Knights program are often achievers pulled in many directions, having diverse interests. Give them space. Sometimes they'll return to your program after an absence. But sometimes they won't. Focus on the ones who stay. But by all means, drop a personal note- even a simple postcard saying 'Hi! We've missed you!" Sometimes a personal touch can reestablish a connection when one has been severed.
KEEP IN TOUCH!
Attrition is held at bay by contact, either through phone calls or through correspondence. Good adult leaders are good PRists. If you don't want your kids to forget about your library, keep it before their eyes. Send a 'Librarian's Letter' in with their newsletter if they have one (and if they don't have one, consider creating a monthly correspondence yourself just to maintain some degree of contact). Create a telephone tree or an email list and keep the phone lines buzzing with activities both large and small. Make a list of daily volunteers and rotate them around so everyone gets a chance to help. Out of sight is out of mind-- so be visible and accessible.
NOW YOU'RE READY
With a clear understand of what the Knights program is designed to do and some basic ideas about what happens once you've established follow-up regular meetings, it's time to get down to details. The following chapters will outline The Knights of the Ring program and will help you launch a successful and enduring Junior Friends of the Library.
BEGINNINGS-- PREPARATION AND THE FIRST WEEK
In the first chapter I touched upon a few details of the six week program design. Chapters three through seven will give more specific details about each step of the program and how it is run.
As stated earlier, the Knights program is designed to meet once a week for six weeks, but the program can and has been adapted to fit school curriculum. Educators may want to focus on week-long units. The Knights program fits into almost any schedule and can be adapted at will.
SETTING THE STAGE-- PROPS
You will need to begin to think in terms of the Medieval theme. For diverse populations, see the chapter entitled SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS, which gives a few ideas for adapting the program to fit most needs.
Medieval props can be very expensive, but you needn't go to any great expense. Even a plastic sword from a local toy store can be an effective attention getter. The sight of you carrying such a prop will be unusual enough to focus the group. They will want to know why you're carrying it. Perhaps the sword makes silent everyone it touches, or has some other imaginary property. Maybe only the person holding the sword has the right to speak. Use whatever suits your style-- your own expertise and imagination will serve.
Medieval props are wonderful. The sight of an eight pound broadsword never fails to elicit the question 'Is that a real sword?' and opens up an effortless flow of discussion. If you have access to such equipment, it is wonderfully educational.
However if you don't have access, there are a few options you might try. First, your local Knights of Columbus or Masonic organization may be able to help you. These organizations use ceremonial swords, and you may find a member willing to loan one for a day or even for the duration of the program.
If there is a fencing school in your area or a college fencing team, you may have success borrowing a foil. This holds for theatrical groups as well.
The Society for Creative Anachronism is another viable option and may also be a good source of guest speakers. The SCA has chapters all over the continental US, and its members specialize in historical reenactment of the Medieval period. They will gladly come to your library for feasting and jousting demonstrations given enough notice.
You will need to familiarize yourself with Medieval history. You needn't spend hours in copious research (unless you enjoy it!) but you should pull out the Medieval section of your library and set it aside, perhaps even establish a reference shelf. Cruise the internet for Medieval sites. Get familiar with your Medieval collection-- you'll be able to help your kids research well if you're well-prepared.
One of the books I recommend is Knights by Julek Heller and Deirdre Headon (Schocken Books, 1982, o.p.). This book is broken down into sections and has paragraphs devoted to pages, squires, and knighting ceremonies. I use this book to reinforce the book/research connection by reading a few paragraphs about each stage at the start of each session. I'm always greeted by groans when I read the section entitled 'Pages.' Most participants aren't delighted to learn that they've suddenly become seven years old-- the age a page would begin training for the honor of knighthood.
You'll want to get your PR out early. Use whatever works. Television and radio stations will read brief public service announcements providing they receive them in plenty of time. Take a prop and do school visitation if you're a public librarian. Also, target regular library users you know. There are always a number of potential customers-- and talking up the program to them is often the best means of building a list of great kids.
Unless you have an adult volunteer, limit the number of participants to fifteen but keep a waiting list to fill slots for no-shows and dropouts. Set an age limit. I've found that ages 10-17 work well. Older children are surprisingly tolerant of younger participants especially because the program focuses on team building. Children under ten are not usually ready for the research part of the program-- but there are always exceptions. Use your discretion when it comes to age.
If you're unlikely to attract fifteen participants, you can still run a successful core program with a minimum of five participants.
WEEK ONE-- 'SO YOU WANT TO BE A KNIGHT!'
Once you've recruited enough participants and set a date, the moment arrives. You now have twelve or so pairs of expectant eyes gazing at you. Visions of computer games dance in their heads-- remember, they're of the sound byte generation and they're going to be looking for the excitement and adventure you've promised in your press.
GROUND RULES AND SCHEDULE OF EVENTS
You will need to establish the ground rules of the program. The ground rules will include whatever standard of conduct your facility adheres to-- and if possible, provide these rules in written form so that everyone clearly understands them. Introduce the Motto and the Pledge.
Also include whatever Medieval touches you deem appropriate. Some of the touches I have used include:
â€¢ Addressing staff members as M'Lord and M'Lady
â€¢ Kneeling on one knee to make presentations of information, to request permission to do something, and for minor infractions
â€¢ Learning courtly bows and curtsies
The possibilities are limitless, but again, each group is slightly different. You will best be able to assess what works in your group.
During the first week you should hand out a schedule of dates, times, and places of all six meetings. This one is typical:
Week Two-- Pages-- bring a bucket, some soap and a sponge or some other means to do a good library deed.
Week Three- Squires-- We will focus on heraldry. Bring a white tee-shirt and tee-shirt paint.
Week Four-- SKILL DAY. You will need to bring your Medieval craft or skill for demonstration to your fellow squires.
Week Five-- THE ORDEAL-- bring comfortable clothes and sneakers, and some courage... Lots of it!
Week Six-- KNIGHTING CEREMONY-- You will need to make an effort to wear some kind of Medieval garb (the tee-shirt you make when we study Heraldry is acceptable). Your parents, friends and family may attend.
You might also want to include a list of potential skills for use on Skill Day. You can best devise a list from looking at what you have available in your collection.
WEEK ONE-- A SIMPLE QUEST-- A SCAVENGER HUNT
Open the program by explaining that those questing after knighthood must first prove themselves earnest. At this point in the program, no participant has any rank or standing with 'the Court.' Therefore they must embark on a quest and retrieve certain items the Court (you) demands as proof of worthy commitment.
The scavenger hunt is always fun for middle graders. I have included here a list of items used since the inception of the program. Some of the items are real research questions. Some are plain foolishness. Some require some quick thinking (ex.- ten identified herbs or leaves could mean ten different leaves, or ten leave from the same tree). Note that in the second year of the program, Knights enjoy 'competing' with newcomers. The winners get to request a service done by the losing group. But if the service they request is too outrageous, the winners have to perform it!
So it be ye try your hand at
Knighthood and the ring
With meikle braw at your command (with much bravery)
To mine hand these things ye must bring.
(Use this section during your
Other Knights who've tried and won
can request a service done
of Pages, lest they better the score
of those ring Knights wha' gone before
(each item is weighted according to how hard it is to find-- keep the score of your first group to challenge groups who come after)
Pass owre this the first of tests
afore the brand (sword) be held aloft,
afore weel far'd (well favored) be yon quest
and as True Knights ye be doff'd.
1 acorne (2 points)
1 medieval troubador's song (10 points)
1 pine cone ( 2 points)
recount a story of a famous Knight from a booke (5 points-- more for unusual books)
a shining stone, pleasing to the eye to be presented to the realm (2 points)
1 Latin phrase and its translation (10 points)
minute spherical object used in games, perfectly round (3 points)
draw one Celtic cross (5 points)
scrap of leather (2 points)
name three famous swords (10 points)
1 LIVING winged beastie (2 points)
a scrap of wood and its kind (5 points)
a bauble (2 points)
The Latin name for mistletoe (15 points)
1 coin of strange mark (2 points)
a bird's feather (2 points)
a link of chain (2 points)
a drinking goblet suitable for Knights (2 points)
ten identified leaves or herbs (15 points)
an olde book, the older the better (5 points)
a medieval dance (15 points)
name a Medieval author (5 points)
GOODE LUCK! BUT ONE MAIR (MORE) THING...
The Knights that gone before ye
now a certain pledge did swear
a service two-fold did avow and hold this to them dear...
WHAT WAS THEIR PLEDGE?
The trick or twist to this scavenger hunt is that every item listed here could be found on the pages of a book somewhere in your library. If your knights-in-training are clever enough to bring you illustrations or information, praise them for their ingenuity and resourcefulness!
The scavenger hunt takes about forty-five minutes. Kids can work in groups or separately, but the group as a whole will present all of the items. Have children synchronize watches and report back on time. Stragglers may suffer the wrath of the Court!
A page presents her group's scavenger hunt findings to librarian Lesley Gaudreau at the Pelham Public Library (NH).
Once the hunt is through, have the finder of each item come forward to 'present the item to the Court.' At first, having kids kneel to present items may provoke giggles and red faces, but soon everyone gets caught up in the act and it becomes a matter of course.
When all items have been presented, praise the 'offerings' and the kids. Take a few minutes to share any aspect of the time period you find interesting.
Remember to discuss 'Skill Day' with everyone and to answer any questions raised about what will be required. If you require any items to be brought for Week Two, be sure to remind participants. Yet keep in mind that responsibility is one of the attributes of a Knight-- and let them know it.
Congratulations! Once you've successfully completed Week One, you're well on your way to a successful endeavor.
WEEK TWO-- THE PAGE TURNS
You're now in the second week of the Knights of the Ring program. Your participants, having proved themselves sufficiently 'worthy' by their willingness to undertake a quest, are now officially Pages. The job of a Medieval page was to assist in the duties of the castle or court.
Knighthood by its very definition involves service. Service gives knight purpose and direction, without which they would have no real function.
Service is an important aspect of the Knights of the Ring program. Even the Pledge itself commits each participant to 'one act of community service each year forever.'
Service to the Library is a good way to concretely emphasize its importance. Therefore, be prepared to have something for your young knights-in-training to accomplish, something which would benefit your library.
BUCKETS AND SPONGES
Probably the simplest of all library 'good deeds' is to dust shelves, straighten books and perform light housekeeping chores. Buckets and sponges and many pairs of hands make fast work and keep things moving. While not an elegant activity, it's often a needed one and it's simple to direct.
There are, of course, thousands of jobs in a library which might qualify as good deeds. Service does not have to be drudgery. Young people are surprisingly adept at assisting with programs, perhaps ushering, pouring soda, or setting up and breaking down meetings.
If you're organized, have your Pages read pages! Plan to let them host a story hour and read stories to younger children. Reward them by having the press cover the event.
Anything that qualifies as service is acceptable.
I DARE YOU!
Service should be a constant striving. While the library is a focal point, challenge your participants to excel in all areas of community service. 'Dare' them to do good deeds outside of the library. Encourage them to 'top' one another in good deeds. By doing so you will be instilling in them lifelong habits of good citizenship.
Whatever service you require your kids to perform during Week Two, don't forget to reward them in some way. Rewards can be as simple as ice cream sundaes or as complex as a special guest speaker.
If you choose a guest speaker, pick someone who performs an interesting job in the public service sector, perhaps your local police or fire chief, maybe your State Librarian if you have one, or a hospice worker.
One year I selected a veteran of Desert Storm as a guest speaker. He discussed how his experience in the military was similar to the Knights program.
Whoever you select, try to choose someone familiar with kids and who can speak to them, not at them.
SKILL DAY RESEARCH
It's important to make sure participants launch their research for the upcoming Skill Day. They will have only two weeks to complete or at least begin a skill. Invite them to set up appointments with you to receive help in their investigation. Many kids will already have a clear idea of what they want to accomplish, but others will procrastinate. It doesn't matter as long as an honest effort is made.
At the end of the day, call the Pages back to a single group. Remind them that they will need to bring a white tee-shirt and some fabric paint to the next session. Then, 'officially' pronounce them 'Squires.' Your announcement will be cause for celebration.
Enjoy the exuberance.
WEEK THREE-- SQUIRE FOR HIRE
A squire served a knight from the age of fourteen until he (or she) became eligible for knighthood at approximately age twenty-one.
Squires went from performing mundane tasks to learning the skills necessary for becoming a proficient knight, skills like tilting at the quintain, caring for armor, and studying.
A squire learned self-awareness by tending to these tasks.
Week Three focuses on the skills a knight would learn, and because Heraldry is something most young people know little about, it's an interesting example of a skill. This is a chance for you to demonstrate what you expect from them at Skill Day.
To learn something of Heraldry, you'll have to do a little reading. You needn't go into great detail, but you will want to touch upon a few simple aspects of Heralds, for instance why elaborate banners became important (so that opposing forces could tell each other apart) and what significance colors and shapes have.
Your group may want to design their own Herald. If you have an artist and a sewing enthusiast in your group, invite them to work together to come up with and execute a design. If you do make a banner, it's something that can be displayed prominently in the library and used during subsequent Knighting Ceremonies.
An enjoyable and potentially cost-free activity, tee-shirt making is a great way to compliment a Heraldry discussion.
Depending on funding, a library can purchase large plain white tee-shirts and glitter fabric paint relatively inexpensively. Better still, children can bring their own shirts and paints, in which case there is no cost to the participating library. You will also need a stack of old newspapers and pencils.
Inevitably, children will 'forget' their shirts and paints, and/or may not be able to afford them. It's wise to have a few tubes of paint and a pack of tees on hand, particularly if you think a child might miss out on the activity due to lack of funds. In the case of both a 'forgetful Squire' and a child who cannot provide for herself, suggest an extra 'good deed' as recompense. Trust me, your investment will be worth it.
FOUR VALUES OF IMPORTANCE
The tee-shirt 'Four Values' idea was adapted from a values clarification exercise taught at the Ashland (MA) High School by educator Kenneth Hayes. Hayes had his students focus on the values most important to them by presenting them with a scenario of winning a million dollars, then asking what they would do with the money if they found out they were going to die in ten years, five years, one year, six months, one month, one week, and one day. As time decreased, students' priorities often shifted.
You can try this exercise with your Squires, but allow them to keep their answers confidential.
Even without the exercise most children will be able to narrow down four things in their lives that are most important to them. Ask them to come up with four paramount ideals.
Take the tee-shirts and insert several sections of old newspaper inside, enough to give the kids something sturdy to write on, and also enough to keep the paint from bleeding through the fabric onto the back of the shirt.
In pencil, have the kids draw a shield design and section the design into quarters:
This is a banner a knight-in-training created for 'Skill Day.' Note the shield shape. For tee-shirts, use the same shape, but section it into four equal quarters.
Once completed, ask the kids to illustrate their four most important values by using symbols, also in pencil. Note that they needn't explain their symbols to others unless they want to share.
Once they have their design complete, let them use fabric paints to go over the pencil lines. The paints can also be applied with a brush for solid areas of color. If you're not confident with crafts, contact a local craft store or guild and ask if someone would be willing to spend an hour assisting with shirt making.
Children will have varying levels of ability and patience, but overall, they will enjoy creating the shirts, and when finished, belted at the waist the shirts can also serve as ready-made costumes for the upcoming Knighting Ceremony, the culmination of the program.
MEDIEVAL SKILLS-- PROFESSIONAL STYLE
Now is a good time to invite a guest speaker who specializes in the Medieval period. But where to find one? Some ideas have already been discussed, such as the Society for Creative Anachronism, fencing academies, and museums. But other groups not specifically focused on Medieval history can give impressive displays of related skills.
Most communities have a karate school somewhere nearby. Many blackbelt instructors are more than happy to share their expertise in Eastern martial arts and Samurai codes with interested groups. I highly recommend contacting a reputable school in your area. Karate demonstrations are exciting events, and some instructors will willingly demonstrate sword katas, intricately choreographed maneuvers done with actual weaponry.
Invite a blacksmith or veterinarian to talk about horses. Invite a falconer to discuss birding if there's one in your area .
Community resources can be had by contacting the history department of a local college. If you're stumped for ideas about finding a speaker, historical societies may offer information.
If your library has sufficient resources, try national organizations listed in the Encyclopedia of Associations.
At the end of the day, your Squires will have had ample opportunity to ask any questions they might have about the next part of the program-- and hopefully will have enough information to prepare for Skill Day.
SKILLS-- SHOWING, NOT TELLING
Skill Day is an exciting and nerve-wracking time for your knights-in-training. If everything has gone well and children have been well-instructed in what is required of them, they will be anxious to succeed, particularly in front of their peers.
Two Westford, (MA) Knights-in-Training demonstrate one of the games pages of old once participated in to test their strength and balance.
Skill Day was designed as an effort to move away from oral and written reporting, yet still involve research and critical thinking skills. What should be avoided is what I term 'parroting,' that is, simply quoting from a source or sources by reading a prepared script.
SHOW-- DON'T TELL!
The idea of Skill Day is for a young person to actually learn a skill by hands-on participation. Many kids already have a skill they can apply to historic interpretation, such as sewing, playing a musical instrument, etc. By exploring a child's interests, sometimes a connection can be made between such interests and a Medieval activity.
Skills will vary from child to child. Some children will excel and reach beyond your expectations, as in the case of some teens who in 1991 made ring mail armor shirts. Other will simply present uncomplicated skills. Difficulty shouldn't matter, but effort should.
Pay attention, though. During the Knighting Ceremony you may want to single out for a special award an individual who has gone above and beyond expectations in both behavior and skill .
Before Skill Day, make it clear to your participants that reading from cards or from a report is not a skill demonstration. Remind them, however, that they should cite whatever sources they use to learn their skill.
A young marksman shows his mettle at archery (Dracut, MA)
Skill Day usually takes up all the time allotted, and since it's an anxiety-provoking event for most participants, you might end the session with 'drinking and feasting.'
Be sure to praise each child's effort. Unlike required school assignments, this activity receives no grade and cannot be failed unless a child has nothing to show whatsoever, or if no real effort has been made at all.
AT LONG LAST-- THE ORDEAL TESTS METTLE
The 'Ordeal' or testing is one of the most amusing aspects of the Knights of the Ring program. Once your Squires have completed Skill Day, which is in actuality the most difficult part of the program, the 'Ordeal' is pure camp and should be enjoyed by all.
I have never planned an 'Ordeal' indoors, but that is not to say that it couldn't be. I simply prefer taking groups outside where they can participate without disturbing other patrons.
An 'Ordeal' can be a very simple event, or as complex as you can manage. Having tried many things I have discovered that the best approach is to combine two factors-- imagination and challenge.
Imagination involves some aspect of storytelling, fortunately something most librarians and educators do well. To run a good 'Ordeal' a story or plot is needed to drive the activity and make seemingly unconnected events into a cohesive whole.
The 'plot' of an 'Ordeal' doesn't have to be very complex. A single directive such as, 'You must make a perilous journey, suffering treacherous conditions and unpuzzling unsolvable riddles if you are to grasp the ring and be a Knight' is enough to fuel most tests.
Are the conditions really treacherous, perilous or unsolvable? No... But with a little push from the land of make-believe, imagination has a way of filling in any rough spots and yawning plot holes, at least enough to allow Squires to enjoy the experience. The humbuggery will be so obvious that it will add to the fun.
Having your participants scale the outer wall of your library might not be in the cards for your Ordeal. But that's exactly what Knights did during the first few years of the program in Dracut, MA.
In Dracut, MA, knights faced 'The Wall' as part of their training. Certified instructors guided the event.
Dracut participants thought they had it rough! The Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School at Fort Devens, Massachusetts scaled a sixty foot cliff face as part of their 'Ordeal' under the direction of a trained climber.
There are, of course, other ways to challenge your participants and push them to their limits and beyond.
Mental challenge is the most obvious. Present your Squires with ancient riddles such as the Riddle of the Sphinx and other ancient word puzzles.
Introduce advanced word games and let them work out the answers as a group. Making the Alphabet Dance by Ross Eckler (St Martins, 1996) has some intriguing and difficult word plays suitable for bright middle graders.
Don't forget the 'information quest'-- the plain, unvarnished research question.
But don't stop at mental puzzles. Give them physical tests as well.
Footraces in which the group tries to beat the clock work well as a non-competitive, team-building exercise.
An ordinary egg can become the 'last dragon egg,' and an egg-toss suddenly gains new meaning when embellished with a little detail.
A hill, a single person and a bunch of inflatable beach balls take on added sparkle when introduced as a giant's lair in which 'treasure' (chocolate coins perhaps) is cached.
If you can get someone to help you, fill up a trash barrel with water balloons, which become magic grenades. We once told participants they had to cross the ocean on a raft, avoiding the evil magic grenades of the resident bad guys. The 'ocean,' was a strip of grass, the 'raft' a blanket everyone had to keep hold of, and the balloons served as 'grenades.' The volunteers and I were the 'bad guys.' A wet but happy group survived that peril, and those who had been hit by grenades had a chance to be 'revived' by the good deeds of their fellow Squires.
Use what's around you. A simple roll of string made a fabulous 'giant spider web' when woven through a nearby swing set. Some Squires managed to make their way through the web without touching it, while others became entrapped in it and had to be 'rescued' by their companions.
Spongy swords can be bought at toy shops. Create a 'duel' between the 'most stalwart squire' and a 'formidable' member of the community.
Try tree tag if you have trees in your area. Participants have to form a connected human chain to go from tree to tree in order to reach a specific destination.
A version of the 'wall climb' can be done by stringing a rope between two trees about neck high, and seeing how the group solves getting everyone over the obstacle without touching it or going under it, and without using 'equipment'. Often a member will have to 'sacrifice' herself by remaining behind so her companions can go on. Think of appropriate rewards for valiant actions.
Modified 'wall climb'-- still a challenge, but with less risk to participants.
Take a child's wooden puzzle and award a piece of the puzzle for every successful event. When the pieces of the puzzle have all been collected and assembled, the group has 'passed' the 'test.'
There are books available detailing non-competitive games. By locating these books and spending some time with them, you will come up with more ideas than you can execute.
Of course if you should desire activities like 'The Wall,' you may have success using the obstacle course and expertise of your local police department or military base-- but check thoroughly with your local legal expert before exposing your library to any unnecessary risk.
The 'Ordeal' should be a memorable creative experience both for the participants and for you. During the first year of the Knights of the Ring program you will have to rely on yourself and outside volunteers to get it off the ground. However each successive year will grow easier and easier-- your original Knights will come up with ideas of their own, and you'll have plenty of hands to make the event propitious year after year.
KNIGHT NIGHT-- THE KNIGHTING CEREMONY
Up until the Knighting Ceremony, the mood of the Knights program is light and jovial. But the Ceremony is something else again. Knighting is a solemn occasion, and it should be made clear to everyone that a serious demeanor will be required.
The presence of parents, friends, and relatives usually has the effect of deepening the mood of even your sharpest resident 'court jester.' Invite parents or guardians to attend the Knighting Ceremony by mailing a letter to their attention just after Skill Day. Detail the date, place, time etc. Evenings or weekends are optimal for most working families. Explain that children are encouraged to 'dress Medieval,' for kids don't always tell their parents what's needed in time. Put the letter on your formal stationery to make it more official.
Contact the press. Your ceremony should be unusual enough to attract attention. After all, people don't get 'knighted' every day.
If possible, you should try to 'dress Medieval' too. It adds to the flavor of the day. You may want to prepare a speech including a description of the program, what the children accomplished during its course, and why the program is important to your library. Or you may want to have the kids themselves do the honors while you act as host.
You will need chairs, a small table on which to place rings and scrolls, a tablecloth, a sword of some sort, rings (Please see the main home page for more details) and scroll certificates ('Program Certificate' has been included on the main home page).
THE NAME GAME
As mentioned previously, it's possible to research most names of European origin in name books available within your library. However, for children of non-European ancestry, research may be more difficult. If you have the resources to do the research, by all means proceed. However, it is better to omit the entire idea than to embarrass one or two children by excluding them due to national origin.
Program certificates have been included in our web site. The original certificate offered here was created long before the days of computer generated fonts, and was crafted by hand, one letter at a time. They look Medieval when printed on stationery paper and rolled and tied with a bit of gold string. Fill out a certificate for each participant, then turn the scroll over and write on the outside edge the child's full name and any translation. In this manner, you can pick up a scroll and call each child up to be 'dubbed' with ease.
The use of candles or electric candles helps to set the mood, and Medieval music playing softly also adds ambience. Have someone be in charge of turning on and shutting off music at appropriate times.
It's helpful to have books on hand which explain why certain practices are done, and reading from them during the ceremony ties the program back to the library. The Julek Heller book Knights is again recommended. You will now be educating your audience as well as your candidates.
Knights-in-Waiting should process in once guests are seated. They should practice at least once before the event, learning where and when to walk, stand, and sit and how to be seated in unison. Strive for a dignified event-- but go with the flow. Solemn shouldn't mean joyless!
Children should sit in chairs facing the audience until called forward to be knighted.
At this time, all candidates (not parents) should be asked to rise, raise the right hand and repeat the pledge:
"To always do the best we can in any situation; to always be the best people we can be; to do one act of community service each year forever."
New Knights take the pledge. (Photo courtesy of the Stadtmiller family)
Once the Pledge has been administered, the Knights can be seated again.
MOMENT OF SILENCE
Call for a moment of silence to signify the Vigil, the period of time a Knight spent in contemplation before receiving a title.
Having another set of hands is exceedingly useful when dubbing Knights. If you can get a volunteer to hand out scrolls and rings, do so-- it will make handling the sword easier for you.
Each Knight is called forward. If you have a cape or a small fancy pillow, spread it out on the ground in front of you. You should stand center stage, profile to the audience, and the Knight should kneel on one knee facing you. This will give the audience a clear view.
Founder Donna Beales dubs a new Knight of the Ring.
If you have a name translation, give it when the Knight kneels.
Ask the Knight by name, "John Smith, do you swear to uphold the pledge?"
The answer is "I will," or "I do."
Taking the sword, touch the flat of the blade to the right shoulder, then to the top of the head, then the left shoulder. As you draw the sword vertically, say, "Rise and be a Knight!"
Hand the sword off to a volunteer and help the child up. Shake hands. Don't forget to issue the scroll and the ring. Offer your congratulations.
Repeat the above steps until all rings and scrolls have been issued.
You may want to issue a special award or awards for exemplary conduct. It's nice to include some special token, or to issue a special scroll.
CONCLUDING REMARKS-- CLOSING
Once the dubbing is complete, end the program with a few concluding remarks, and make sure to thank volunteers and staff members who may have assisted your efforts. Praise your new Knights to their parents, who may not realize the degree of effort their children have put into the program. Invite parents to become involved.
Close the program with a round of applause-- your Knights deserve it, and so do you.
This chapter will focus on some situations not planned for in the regular course of the program. They are things to think about when planning.
VACATIONS (AND ILLNESSES)
Many children go on vacation or even become ill during the summer months. It's still possible for them to participate in the program, although they will miss out on some of the fun. Do a 'make-up' schedule for weeks missed and include them anyway. It's the commitment that counts, not the physical absence.
KNIGHTS FROM ALL PLACES
Although the Knights program focuses on Medieval European history, it needn't be confined to Europe. Almost every culture has some kind of 'knight,' that is, a group that works nobly for just causes. Study world events during the same time period. The Samurai of Japan come readily to mind, and there will be information to discover about other like cultures. If your group is culturally mixed, you will be rewarded by learning a wide array of customs and the group will be exposed to a broader world view.
The same applies to young women. There are examples of female knights and Knightly Orders. Joan of Arc is the most famous of them, but others existed too, particularly in the East. Female Orders can be found even in the present day. Challenge your young women to ferret out these valiant role-models and encourage them to share what they learn with the group at large.
Brother and Sister Act-- Keith
and Dawn Berube, who have been with the Knights program since its debut in
INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES
Be sensitive to the possibility that you may have a participant who requires modification of the program. Since abilities vary so widely with kids particularly when they require additional assistance, it's wise to discuss with parents or guardians how best to make the program exciting. Parents are the best experts, and they can make suggestions about how to tailor specific activities when warranted.
ARE WE THERE YET?
Once the Knights program has concluded, plan to have a few ideas in your bag of tricks to spark interest and keep the momentum going.
Over time, your kids will come up with ideas of their own, but in the meanwhile, do a little sleuthing in your community to see what other groups and organizations do to raise funds and provide services. You want to try to avoid duplicating the efforts of already fully developed groups who will have more expertise and more members. Plus, it's good public relations not to 'steal anyone else's thunder.' You may want to join forces with such groups at a later date. Most warmly support Junior Friends activities.
When most people picture groups of children performing fundraising or service activities, they tend to think in traditional terms.
There's nothing wrong with such thinking, but don't stop there. By all means plan bakesales, booksales, lemonade stands, car washes, haunted libraries, and like activities. These are staples of the middle years and deserve their place. But reach beyond them. Use your imagination. Is there something you desperately want for your library but do not have the means to achieve? Your Knights/ Junior Friends can help facilitate just about anything you can imagine.
THE MOUSE THAT ROARED CONCEPT
For the most part, the lives of children are relatively powerless. Children cannot vote and are often a silent population, ignored by people in power.
This isn't news to most of us. But librarians and educators have the ability to give focus and power to the collective voices of children and allow those voices to be heard within the community.
Occasionally, children can use the power of their combined voices to be the 'the mouse that roared.' That is to say, focused children can garner support from the media and the community if their energies are directed toward a high level of achievement, a higher level than most adults believe them capable of.
THERE BE DRAGONS
In my annual speech during the Knighting Ceremony, one of the things I like to include is a discussion of dragons. Traditionally, Western dragons are what knights quest after and are symbolic of malevolence. 'Dragons' abound in our world in the form of injustice, illiteracy, poverty, drugs, and crime. Children are as concerned and as affected by these 'dragons' as are adults, and in some cases more so. Pick a 'dragon,' any 'dragon,' and assist children in attempting to 'slay' it.
Lest you think such causes go too far afield of what a library should focus upon, remember that whatever topic is chosen, research abilities and critical thinking skills will come into play during every aspect of dealing with a particular concern.
Children often fail to make a connection between research skills and real-world impact. You are in a perfect position to allow them to explore that connection, and by supporting such endeavors you will be bringing to fruition the American Library Association slogan "Libraries Change Lives."
In 1990, the Junior Friends of the Pelham (NH) Public Library made a sixty second public service announcement supporting libraries by pointing out all of the things libraries offer young people. Using their local access cable station and available expertise, the children put together a fast-moving exciting commercial spot targeting children their own age-- particularly because they'd noticed all of the PSA's about libraries were geared to small children or adults.
Creating, then videotaping and producing the spot was an all-summer experience involving a wide number of skills including writing skills, artistic ability, thinking in sequential order, creativity, not to mention learning about deadlines and being responsible to others for completing work on-time.
The finished product received support at the State level by CHILIS, the Children's Librarians of New Hampshire. CHILIS members were so impressed with the final version that they voted to support the video's duplication and distribution to all television affiliates in three states. The video was then picked up by E! Entertainment Television and beamed nation-wide to cable subscribers. School Library Journal followed the story, as well as all of the major newspapers including The Boston Globe.
The children in the program never had any doubt about what they could achieve. Because they were allowed to make the effort without negative thinking or doubt in their way, their effort was a lot of fun and touched a great number of kids across the country.
Don Quixote had nothing on the Knights, who dream impossible dreams as a matter of course. Is there an illiteracy problem in your community? Put the Knights on it. Get them in touch with the right supporting agencies, give them guidance, then stand back and watch them move.
THE PEN IS MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD
A single letter, passionately written by a concerned young person can have a tremendous impact. Using 'address book' resources for celebrities and powerful business people, one Junior Friend I know mounted a letter writing campaign to fund the building of a new library in her community. Her reason was that she had become frustrated when year after year, the taxpayers voted down building expansion.
Equate the pen with the sword in the minds of your kids. It's wise advice and something worth carrying into adulthood.
A few years back I remember reading about a Junior Friends group which had invested money they'd raised-- in stocks! I can just imagine the look on the leader's face when the idea first presented itself-- the adult "You're Kidding! Response." They weren't kidding. When I last followed the story, they'd reaped a tidy return. No idea is too crazy-- there's usually a germ of a good idea in every unusual suggestion.
BUT I DON'T HAVE TIME!
Perhaps you're thinking you cannot undertake such intricate projects. I guarantee you can. As complex as these various ideas appear, they can be accomplished in relatively short periods of time. I know. The public service announcement in Pelham was entirely produced during a thirty-hour work week in a mid-sized library with no pages or assistants in the Children's Room. I budgeted the same amount of time per week that I allotted for storyhour preparation, letting other duties be manned by Junior Friend volunteers. Don't shortchange your middle-graders because such time focus is not traditionally placed in their age group. They deserve equal attention.
You and your library needn't want for anything if you have a group of committed young people behind you. You will be able to accomplish mighty objectives.
RINGS AND THEIR SIGNIFICANCE
The ring in the Knights of the Ring program is so much more than a simple piece of metal.
For the past seventeen years as of this writing, I have been amazed at the earnestness of children as they strive to attain the 'honor' of knighthood. The rings given to the original Knights were a pleasant afterthought during the first year. But during the second year, rings were something coveted, something more than just trinkets. They became status symbols and were recognized by a significant number of people in the community.
What I conclude is this. Rings bring closure to the program and are also visible reminders of the Knight/ Library bond.
The rings we eventually had made for the program are quite
striking and beautifully crafted. They are die-struck originals of the Knights
of the Ring logo, two down-facing (i.e. peaceful) crossed swords over an
open book. They also feature a helm and our motto 'Pax Viscom
Album.' I cannot describe the beauty of the rings themselves except to say
that their crest detail rivals the most intricate high school or college
ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS
There is more to the Dracut Knights of the Ring story. Volunteer co-founder Mary Ann Woodman-Conlon became critically ill not long after the Knights program got underway. She suffered full renal failure and underwent a kidney transplant at New England Medical Center in Boston, MA.
The knightly Pledge suddenly took on a new and powerful meaning for her sons, both of whom had earned their rings. One of them borrowed and wore the ring his mother had given me once-upon-a-time on-a-bus; it became an unspoken symbol of courage as her conditioned worsened.
I would like to say that Mrs. Woodman-Conlon recovered, but I cannot. Mrs. Woodman-Conlon, my friend and Knights co-founder, passed away in 1990 after a lengthy convalescence. Almost every Knight she had ever inspired attended her funeral, and though it was years later and they were now adults, many still sported their rings.
I can still recall clearly how often she had discussions with me about broadening the Knights of the Ring program, even in the ICU unit of N.E. Medical. "You really have something," she said more than once. "You've got to share it with others."
My vision for the Knights of the Ring program is to launch a nonprofit organization. However, this kind of effort takes time. CLICK HERE to learn about the status of our organization.
To this day, I like to challenge my Knights to live into Mrs. Woodman-Conlon's aspirations for all of them.
I also challenge you to help fulfill her
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
Knights of the Ring
82 Beacon Street
Lowell, Massachusetts 01850
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