All our yesterdays

14th June 1996 at 01:00
Menu for Year 1's HISTORY lesson you need peepo (Janet Allen Ahlberg, Puffin)

washtub dolly scrubbing board posser soapsoap powder clothes pegs line flat iron electric steam iron ironing board MANGLE (if possible) In an infant class work grows from the children's interests: one phrase sets something going and the teachers just try to keep up with it. So please don't call this my best lesson - it's one Year 1 class's best lessons!

It was part of a history topic that developed from Janet and Allan Ahlberg's book, Peepo, a lovely picture book about a family in the years after the Second World War. The illustrations were a great starting point for looking at differences between life then and now - and as some of the children's grandparents had been tiny in those days there were personal links too.

As usual, things soon started coming in from home - family photos, ration books, clothes and so on - and some grandparents came in to be interviewed. We followed the children's interests, and learned all about schooldays, playing out, games in the playground . . . but the best bit was Washing Day.

Doing the washing, and drying and ironing it, is featured through the Ahlberg book. It was something the children could identify with because they'd all experienced washing days at home or at the launderette. So they could spot the differences - where were the washing machines, the tumble dryer, the steam iron?

We managed to get an old dolly tub, scrubbing board and other equipment to have an old-fashioned washing day in school. Actually seeing and handling these objects made a great impression on the children. I mean, if you see a flat iron and an electric iron side by side, and can pick them up and try them out, you can really appreciate the contrast. For little children it makes a real difference to hold things and touch them.

The best thing was the posser. It was like a broom-handle with a brass trumpet shape at the bottom, with beautifully patterned holes in it. You put it in the tub and swooshed it about to move the washing around, and the holes helped slosh the water about. The children loved using it, and they could see how it worked - and relate it to the drum in a modern washing machine.

Washing day was a history lesson, with lots of concrete evidence of the past. But it was also a technology lesson, because they explored how all the equipment worked. And it was a drama lesson, because they dressed up and got stuck in to the washing, using the historical evidence as props!

It also generated a huge amount of talk and writing which went on for long after the day, leading to lots of other areas to explore. And when we next looked at the washday illustration in the Ahlberg book, we found something we'd missed before - in a corner of the room there's a posser, leaning against the sink!

Claire Garner is Year 1 Team Leader at District Primary School, Newton-le-Willows, near Warrington

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