Sunday, 3 June 2012

History in the Making - Teaching Our Children Values and a Sense of Past and Belonging

I have just witnessed history in the making. I have never before seen a pageant quite like it - over 1000 boats of all shapes and sizes sailing down the Thames in salute to The Queen.

Now I'm not particularly royalist, but I do have huge admiration and respect for The Queen, for the job she does and for sticking it out for over 60 years. I absolutely hate being on a boat - just the smell makes me physically ill. But I have to say - what a marvellous way to celebrate. I would have loved to have been in London today, just to be part of it, and regret now that I didn't book up. Watching on TV, it was still a marvellous sight to behold. I loved watching the historic boats, especially the Little Boats that played an invaluable part in evacuating the British Army from the French shores at Dunkirk in 1940, allowing them to literally live to fight another day. Amazing stories. And even better was the sight of 91 year old Prince Philip and The Queen bopping along to the music of the London Philharmonic as it sailed past...

Today was a wonderful opportunity to teach our children about the past, how we got to where we are today, and to give them a feeling of community and belonging. I have been lucky enough to have spent the last three weeks in the same school, and during that time got to know the children very well. It amazed me that, in a Year 6 (G5) class, very few of them were aware of the depth of what was going on and why they should be part of it. Yes, they knew it was a time for partying, but few knew much about The Queen, her "job", or the extent of what she had done in 60 years.  I had a wonderful time teaching them, and when I left the school on Friday I knew they were enthralled with their history and took away an appreciation of what The Lady was all about.

It is so important that children are given a sense of belonging. It is easy to forget that the extent of their understanding is often confined to their very short lives - how often do we stop to consider that many of the children who pass through our doors have only been around for a decade or less...? Giving them a sense of place, values and a feeling of belonging to a community relies heavily on giving them an appreciation of why things are the way they are today. For example, we have mobile phones because Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone - an instrument they would barely recognise compared to the ones they use today. How many of us have chuckled to ourselves at their aghast unbelieving looks when they realise that we didn't have DVDs or laptops, that as children we didn't play with Nintendos or PS3s, had no social networking, and that our mobile phones were the size of house bricks!

It goes deeper than this. Children (and many adults too..) need to understand that the present and the future is heavily reliant on what has already gone on in the past. The past shapes us in a way that many fail to realise. As teachers, it is our job to give children an appreciation of this - no mean feat I admit. Getting the children to build a timeline is all well and good - provided they understand what each key event represents. It's not good placing something like the Roman Invasion of Britain on the timeline if they have no concept of the fact that it happened before and after the birth of Christ. Or that the Moon Landing happened fairly recently when recent to them means yesterday or last week but probably only as far back as last Christmas...

So how do we do it?

Personally I love to bring the past to life for the children. They cannot be expected to understand something if they do not experience it first hand, especially if the event you are trying to convey happened so long ago that the era bears absolutely no resemblance to what they know.

Here are a few suggestions, but the list is endless:

  • Take your classroom back in time. Give them the full experience of sounds, smells, tastes etc.
  • Dress up in period clothing - Roman togas are really easy
  • Take them on visits - a few years ago I had the class from hell. I wanted to show them first hand that expectations of their behaviour at school were very different a hundred years ago. So I took them to a living history museum, where they had reconstructed stone by stone a rural Victorian school. I had to have special training to be a Victorian teacher, and had to explain to them very carefully that as soon as we changed into our Victorian clothing I would be Miss Price the School teacher and not Miss Powell. It was a very scary experience, for me just as much as for them, but they came away, not only having thoroughly enjoyed the day, but also with a deep understanding of how Victorian children were expected to behave at school.
  • Get them to interview people (recent history...). It's amazing how they react to other people who were actually there.

I hope in some way that I managed to have an impact, however small, on the children I met in this school, and that they go on to love history as much as I do. We rounded off this half term in true Jubilee style with a "street party" which they thoroughly enjoyed. Here are some pics:

The children made bunting and some wonderful posters to celebrate the Jubilee...
This is one of my favourite depictions of The Queen... Not sure she would like it as much...
Keep calm and love the Queen

Wow...! This picture of The Queen would be considered as treasonous in an earlier era.. This lad came up to me and told me that he was rubbish at drawing hands and could he copy his. Little did I know that he meant REALLY copy his by tracing around them...

Queens and corgis

I love this picture of the Queen...

We had a few Royal visitors... (I'm Prince William..!)

The children had a special Jubilee buffet lunch

Putting up bunting and balloons

Street Party

Instead of the egg and spoon race, we had the "head and spoon race"...

Parachute games
I hope you've all had chance to catch up with what's been going on here through your news channels. We are on our half term break, so I for one will be enjoying a week off. Wherever you are, enjoy your weekend!

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