History - In their footsteps

Recreating the Victorian world of an orphanage brings it to life

Elaine Sutton

When two classes of eight-year-olds began a pilot project to research the history of Blackburn Orphanage, it was viewed as something of an experiment. But the cross-curricular scheme, funded by the Heritage Lottery and devised by charity Child Action Northwest (CANW) and Dimensions Curriculum, a company that develops teaching resources, has proved a triumph.

The aim was to take history off the page and transform it into a resource that could be adapted for use by other schools. The result is a website and film footage that are due to be launched on 24 June, on the anniversary of the first Pound Day in 1892, a fundraising event for Blackburn Orphanage when it opened.

Dimensions Curriculum used storyboards to help the children think about and depict the lives of the orphans. The favourite scenes were selected - girls working in the laundry, boys digging the allotment - and then scripted and acted out by the children in Victorian period costume, using the language, songs and behaviours they had learned during visits to the orphanage.

CANW also organised a history walk for the children, following in the footsteps of the orphans as they walked the six miles from the orphanage to their school. Original photographs were re-created by taking pictures of today's children, in Victorian costume, lining up outside the orphanage.

Literacy, numeracy and geography were covered seamlessly, without the children realising how much they were learning. Teachers noted that they also developed their skills in music, drama and IT, particularly when building the website.

"They used a handbell to wake you up. If you didn't wake up you got tipped out of bed ... They had to walk six miles each day when they went to school," says Hannah Fowler.

Libby Patel adds: "At the orphanage they had lots of jobs to do like lighting the fire or cleaning the stairs. They had to slice their own bread with a bread slicer. They kept hens and as a treat they had boiled eggs for Sunday breakfast."

Alison Yarwood, a class teacher at Salesbury Primary, says: "We are sure the children will remember this all their lives. It's been an amazing opportunity and they have gained significantly more than we imagined possible at the beginning."

Elaine Sutton is creative director and founder of Dimensions Curriculum

What else?

Explore the history of child poverty in a resource from the children's charity Barnardo.

How did children live in the Victorian age? See the differences between rich and poor in choo's presentation.

In the forums

In the TES Resources history forum, teachers are trying to persuade key stage 3 students of the delights of history by sharing exciting lesson ideas.

Find all links and resources at www.tes.co.ukresources039.

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Elaine Sutton

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