Gary Hayden finds the Beatles are up there with Dickens and Shakespeare when he joins pupils on a day out in Merseyside
A group of Year 56 pupils crowds around a glass exhibition case. It contains a solitary pair of wire-framed, orange-tinted spectacles. One pupil positions himself so that he can peer through the lenses and exclaims: "Wow - I'm looking through John Lennon's actual glasses!"
The children, from St Peter's Catholic Primary School in Warrington, are visiting the Beatles Story exhibition in Liverpool's Albert Dock. This award-winning museum traces the story of the Fab Four from their humble beginnings to the pinnacle of global success.
The Beatles are now an established part of our history - and that's official. Handwritten LennonMcCartney lyrics rub shoulders with manuscripts by Dickens and Shakespeare in the British Library; the childhood homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney have become National Trust properties, and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority suggests that key stage 2 pupils learn about recent history by studying John Lennon.
Class teacher Sharon Wilkinson has brought her pupils to the Beatles Story for a class project about John Lennon. The museum offers a unique opportunity for them to experience the world of the Beatles with its sights, sounds, and even smells. It is organised into more than a dozen themed areas that recreate the places where the Beatles' legend was forged.
Pupils can stroll down the cobbled streets of Hamburg, visit Liverpool's Cavern club, explore the psychedelic kingdom of the Yellow Submarine, and enjoy the serenity of the White Room where John Lennon recorded Imagine.
They can also view historic and valuable artefacts, including George Harrison's first guitar, John Lennon's tinted specs, and the handwritten lyrics to All You Need is Love.
A recently introduced "Living History" audio tour features accounts of the Beatles from those who knew them best: Sir George Martin, Cynthia Lennon, Brian Epstein, and others.
The audio tour shows the effect the Beatles had on friends, family, fellow musicians and fans. The anecdotes are full of warmth, humour and affection.
For example, fan Jean Catherall tells how she attended the premiere of A Hard Day's Night, but didn't see the movie: she spent the entire evening looking up at her idols seated in the balcony.
New this year is a Teacher and Student Resource Pack to help with preparation and follow-up for school visits. For teachers there's information about the Beatles and the national curriculum, a summary of the audio guide and a map of the exhibition. For students, there's a Beatles timeline, fact sheets, a UK discography and song lyrics.
A visit to the Beatles Story can support other areas of the curriculum besides history. The museum occupies a central location on Liverpool's regenerated Albert Dock, making it a popular destination for students studying leisure and tourism. It's an obvious choice for music departments.
"The Beatles composed well-structured songs, with set verses, bridges and choruses," explains Janine Ross, the museum's marketing manager.
Not surprisingly, it's the music that is the museum's star attraction. As they walk through the galleries, the children from St Peter's sing along to tunes they've heard in class. Some of them gather together in the White Room, and join in with John Lennon's best-loved song, Imagine.
"It's an old song," explains Year 5 pupil Lauren Bush, "but we still like it, because it's a good song. I like Britney Spears and Girls Aloud, but I think the Beatles are even better."
ON THE MAP
The Beatles Story
Britannia Vaults, Albert Dock, Liverpool L3 4AD. pound;3.95 per pupil. Tel: Janine Ross, 0151 709 1963. Email: Janine@beatlesstory.com