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Curiosity begins at home

David Short on exploring local sources

Local history has an important place in the national curriculum. It is only in key stage 2 that there is a specified local history unit, but the subject is central to the teaching of history at key stage 1 - an age when children relate best to what is around them - and at all key stages using local history examples is a good way to ensure the key elements are covered, especially those on historical enquiry.

How local history can be used to bring units of the history curriculum alive is shown by a few examples from our Field Studies Centre at Ashwell, Hertfordshire that can be replicated in many other places.

In Ashwell at key stage 1 children can go out into a village rich in building styles and materials and record what is there. They can also look at old photographs and stand close to where the photographer stood to note the differences.

The unit on the Tudors at key stage 2 directs teachers to teach about everyday life. This can be done by finding out more about the houses that ordinary people lived in at that time. In Ashwell that means timber-framed buildings. Having gone out and recorded a house by making a drawing and filling in a record card the pupils, who by then have seen the outside of a house which would have been standing in the 16th century, can tackle a probate inventory to find out more about the interior and the use of the rooms. A visit to the local museum allows children to handle artefacts mentioned in the inventory.

The study of the Victorians gives the opportunity to record buildings of the period, use census returns, a rate survey which describes the building materials and the rooms of each house, the graveyard and enclosure. The Victorian classroom at the centre gives the opportunity to role-play a Victorian school day as well as studying changes to education and the building.

At key stage 3 pupils can search for the medieval market place referred to in Domesday Book but which had gone out of use by the late l8th century. The church, with its graffiti referring to the Black Death of 1350, is an ideal place for a role-play on the Black Death. The pre-enclosure tithe map of 1841 gives a view of farming when there were still strips in open fields.

Each settlement or parish has its own historical strengths and weaknesses and it is by the finding those strengths and getting pupils to research those areas that makes it possible for them to become experts and so raise their enthusiasm and curiosity. Local records offices and local studies libraries and advisers can help direct teachers to fruitful areas of study.

Besides those with local knowledge the British Association for Local History is keen to give as much support as possible to teachers. It holds an annual conference on Local History in the Curriculum, the next one on March 4 at the Museum of London. They are also publishing a new series of leaflets, which, will using local examples, will draw attention to resources found in most parts of England.

* For more information on local history in the curriculum or the conference, contact David Short, director, Ashwell Education Services, Merchant Taylors' Centre, Ashwell, Baldock, Herts SG7 SLY or tel: 01462 742385.

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