Turn them Victorian

1st November 2002 at 00:00
Children may read and write about a servant's life (chosen extracts from Kazuo Ishiguro's novel The Remains of the Day may provide useful background), but there is nothing better than a "hands-on" experience to give them an understanding of what Victorian life was like.

l Provide the tools so that children can try out everyday domestic tasks (these can be set-up in the home corner).

* Laminate cards with pictures of the tasks on them. Old advertisements (available on postcards) are good for this because they show washing clothes, using Brasso, polishing shoes and so on. Work cards can also be constructed from pictures on birthday cards and even wrapping paper showing Victorian images.

* Dressing-up, even in a small way, helps children to "feel the part". A white apron and a mob cap are easy to come by. (If you make mob caps they need to be about the size of a dustbin lid before you draw them up with elastic!) Cuffs were worn to protect clothes and to save on washing (cardboard tubes with elastic bands at the ends will do).

* Washing and cleaning were key tasks. Let children hang out washing on a line using dolly pegs. Let them experience what it was like to scrub floors; polish brass; clean windows (vinegar and newspaper); use a scrubbing board and a wash tub; get out stains using lemon juice; what it was like to draw water from a well.

* The fireplace was a major centre for servant toil. Create a facsimile for children to work around. They might clean, sweep and polish; lay a fire using sticks; or make a natural brush to clean the lower part of the chimney (really holly branches tied together, but children could try making a safer brush using branches from the hedgerow).

* Work was hard - let children beat a piece of carpet using a carpet beater, polish using beeswax (no sprays) and sweep using a besom broom.

* Make and mend: make jelly and blancmange; darn socks using a darning mushroom; use a thimble to sew on a patch or make a patchwork; make a lavender bag (to keep moths away); make a pincushion, sewing kit or a rag-bag (pincushions were stuffed with wool and sand; the oil in the wool stopped pins going rusty and the sand kept them sharp).

Health and safety A few of these activities will require close supervision and some others (for instance, using a candle snuffer) might be demonstrated by the teacher. Check and consider the risks involved before using polishes and pins.

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