Let the teapot do the talking

Children can get a feel for the past from picking up a tin of Liptons, says Carolyn O'Grady

The pupils from St Francis CE voluntary-aided primary school, in Chandler's Ford, Hampshire, are having a great time. In one corner a group dress up in clothes once worn by their grandparents' generation; another plays at shops with aged tins of Liptons and jars of Marmite. Elsewhere children lay the table for tea, carefully putting out the cake stand, the china teapot and cups, and wonder what to do with the tea strainer.

But today their play has a serious purpose. The class is taking part in a workshop organised by SEARCH, Hampshire mu-seum service's hands-on education centre in Gosport, which aims to take them back to the time of their grandmothers.

Faced with the fact that its scattered museum service couldn't always meet teachers' needs - "The museum collections don't usually reflect the national curriculum specifically enough for schools," says Ann Nicol, SEARCH's director - Hampshire has worked hard to deliver a service that does.

"We wanted to provide a service that teachers couldn't provide themselves. And we wanted to use the collection to get across a number of teaching points - all linked in to the national curriculum."

The resulting two-hour workshops have been attracting an increasing number of schools from Hampshire and neighbouring counties since they were introduced three years ago.

SEARCH education officer Janet Wildman introduces the key stage 1 workshop "When Granny was a girl" with a series of photographs of her grandmother, her mother, herself and her children. The session is devoted to exploring and investigating in groups certain set-pieces - a grocer's shop, a kitchen and "granny's wardrobe" - and other activities which involve touching and identifying historical objects. There is no bar on handling these, all of which are museum pieces, though Janet Wildman explains carefully how to carry them. At each activity children answer questions listed on laminated cards.

How labour intensive kitchens were in those days soon becomes apparent as children investigate washing tubs and pastry cutters.

Also taking place in a full-size reconstruction of a kitchen and parlour is the workshop Upstairs, Downstairs (Victorian Britain) for key stages 1 and 2. This is St Francis's second visit to the museum: "The class was buzzing for weeks after," says teacher Jean Percival of the first trip, and she is confident of the same reaction this time.

SEARCH, 50 Clarence Road, Gosport, Hampshire PO12 1BU. Tel: 01705 501957. All sessions cost Pounds 60 per class. Schools arranging a visit receive a resource pack and teachers can attend a free pre-visit in-service training session which takes place out of school hours. Further workshops include Archaeology in Action: the Romans (KS2); Victorian Christmas (KS1 and KS2), and natural history sessions

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