A feast of ideas

6th June 1997 at 01:00
Were there dinosaurs when you were a little girl, Miss?" Now, I may be no spring chicken . . .

How many times have you been asked this, or something similar? Amusing but frustrating when you've spent the last few weeks trying to teach the time scale of your history-based topic. History can be a pesky one to get across to young minds, and there is no better way than to let them experience it for themselves. This can give the whole topic a focus, something to work towards, and it's amazing how much more will be digested.

I have held a castle banquet with a Year 1 class to great effect. The banquet, part of a topic on castles, took place in the Great Hall (a.k.a our lower hall), decorated with coats of arms, torches (no electricity), and a great fire for cooking and warmth. There was a corner section of the hall which proved very popular: the dungeons. Some sporting juniors volunteered to be the unfortunate prisoners, complete with paper manacles and chains. A band of suitably attired wandering minstrels came to entertain (more junior children with recorders, playing "Greensleeves", of course).

Much research had been conducted into appropriate food and clothing, an exercise with far more meaning since children were aiming for a particular day. Menus were written, table manners drawn up and discussed. We were fortunate in having very supportive parents who provided imaginative food - one even baked and iced a "hog's-head cake"; another provided a massive and stunning papier-mache boar's head on a platter. But the food does not need to be as sophisticated as this; ask the children to bring in assorted pies, sliced bread to serve as "trenchers" (there were no plates in castle times), drumsticks and lots of fruit. (You will need to keep a vigil on special dietary requirements. ) Clothes can also be simple. Some children appeared in the most incredible outfits, which I am sure had their parents cursing my name into the early hours of the morning. Some turned up empty-handed, but this can be quickly remedied: a piece of card rolled into a cone and a piece of wafty material attached, or a piece of card rolled into a cylinder (with sufficient diameter to go around the entire head) and a slit cut for the eyes. It's very simple and very quick, and can be done while other children are changing into their outfits (older children can make their own).

The construction of the props and scenery can be part of the wider curriculum. The organisation of the food and clothing element can be presented as a problem-solving activity. The possibilities are numerous.

The afternoon was a tremendous success. The children (and staff) loved it. The banquet provided us with a definite focus for other classwork and research. It brought the whole topic to life.

Rosalind Walford teaches at St Peter's School in the London borough of Westminster

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