What lies within

10th February 2006 at 00:00
From 1930s streets to Victorian toys, pupils can take a walk back in time, and all under one roof, writes Martin Whittaker

Basingstoke is renowned for its roundabouts, so it seems fitting that its biggest showcase of local history should be in what looks like a warehouse on a leisure park just off the town's ring road.

But don't let its location fool you. Milestones is an impressive living history museum which faithfully recreates Victorian and 1930s streets, complete with real bricks and mortar houses, shops and workplaces all under a giant curved roof.

Look down from the entrance gallery and this museum resembles a giant film set. But down in its cobbled streets and alleyways it brings history to life with faithful recreations of Hampshire buildings, hands-on displays and costumed characters.

Milestones is a valuable and increasingly popular resource for schools - each year 12,000 primary pupils spill through its doors. On the morning The TES visits, 30 children from Romsey Abbey CE primary school in Romsey are taking part in a programme for key stage 1 called "Toys Discovery".

In a replica 1930s town square, specially-designed mats are laid out next to boxes of toys. Part of Hampshire Museum Service's collection, they range from a 150-year-old puzzle to a Tellytubby doll. Pupils are split into groups for a different activity on each mat before moving on to the next.

In one they examine a range of toys including doll's house furniture, old racing cars, Lego Duplo, and a piece of Scalextric track, and place them on a 100-year timeline. In another game they examine how toys have changed by matching new with old.

In the second part of the programme, the class divides into three groups who rotate around activities - they do an "I-Spy Trail" around the street, explore household objects and dress up in Thirties costume.

Another school, West Tytherley primary in Salisbury, is taking part in the museum's Victorian Britain programme, complete with digital commentary.

Children are given a listening device - they key in a number related to their position on a street map and hear narration, sound effects and music.

Using different themes such as "houses and homes", or "transport", they can wander around authentic shop fronts in the High Street, or recreated workplaces such as the sawmill or the gasworks. The exhibits target different audiences. Pupils giggle at a mannequin on the loo, and there's a belching postbox, while for adults there's a working pub.

West Tytherley school has brought all its 62 children here at the end of a Victorian week, held to mark the school's 150th anniversary. Senior teacher Michael Bateman says: "This caps everything we have been doing throughout the week. I think the place is absolutely great - it's so authentic."

But his pupils' reactions to the digital guide are mixed. "The children are really interested in some parts of it, and with other parts they get bored fairly quickly. I would like them to have a guide as well because, while these are good for older children, for the younger ones you need to keep their interest."

Milestones runs free twilight pre-visits for teachers. It also offers hour-long pre-school programmes involving storytelling and play activities in its post office. The museum, run by Hampshire County Council and Basingstoke Deane Borough Council, is also aiming to develop programmes for key stage 3. It also offers new programmes for primary pupils in social history and science. The history activities are led by a guide and will give children more opportunities to handle items in the collection.

The new science sessions use the museum's collection to look at steam power, heat and the expansion and contraction of gases through a series of interactive demonstrations.

www.milestones-museum.com has downloadable session plans and activity sheets. Admission: pound;3.50 each. Bookings Tuesdays to Fridays in term times

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