Ethan, who is in Year 1, has been learning all about Victorian Schools and in a “bringing history to life” exercise his school organised a trip to a real Victorian school – Wilderspin National, located in Barton upon Humber, North Lincolnshire. I went along as a parent helper, how lucky am I!?
The children, teachers and helpers all had to dress in Victorian dress as would have been worn at the time. We were greeted from the bus by the teacher, Mr Wolseley and led to a modern classroom at the rear of the playground to the school where we were given a history lesson on the school.
The school was built in 1844 and its founder Samuel Wilderspin was one of the pioneers of modern schooling. He didn’t believe in the stern discipline and corporal punishment that was used in many other schools. His school was aimed at children from two to six years (with older children acting as “Monitors” to assist him). The children learnt basic mathematics, reading, colours and shapes and about nature and the world we live. Probably not dissimilar to what our children of this age learn today (but no doubt without any of the pressures!).
The school had closed 30 years ago and had been left empty until fairly recently when it had been restored to its former glory. There had been opposition in the town as some people had wanted it pulled down and turned into a car park!
Back to modern day and Ethan and his classmates were all given aprons to wear as they would have in Victorian times and also an old penny each which the children had to pay each week to Mr Wilderspin which went towards the running of the school.
We were then led across the playground and were told that the children spent a large part of their day outside. Here they were taught about how to look after the plants and sometimes animals. We then went into the school room and the children paid their penny into a box and sat neatly around the edge of the classroom on the benches. Mr Wolseley talked to them about the differences between their classroom and the Victorian classroom which included..
- There were no tables and chairs (the children would have sat on the floor or on tiered benches).
- The windows were high (so the children wouldn’t be distracted with what was happening outside).
- The floors were wooden (not carpeted) and there were no dispays of children’s work adorning the walls.
- There was no interactive whiteboard and instead the children learnt in groups from a easel type board onto which the different lessons could be attached. The lessons were all hung around the walls.
- The children didn’t have workbooks or pens and instead used a slate and chalk.
- Music played a big part in the school day.
- They started school at 8.30 finishing at noon for lunch then back again from 2.00 till 5.30pm,
It gave the children a real flavour of what life would have been like in the Victorian school.
Next the children went outside again to the playground and Mr Wolseley showed them what sorts of games the children played such as quoits, hoop and stick, skipping etc.
After lunch, the children split into small groups to undertake a series of tasks focused around the archaeological findings when the school underwent restoration. After a short lesson from Mr Wolseley on using things like a metal detector and the best way to preserve findings (using a brush to unearth them) the children looked at:
- what types of material would withstand time and wear and tear ie paper wouldnt last as long as wood
- guessing what things are from fragments that were found
- sorting out findings into their use
- looking at items placed in a jar of sawdust to try and guess what they were from the small bits they could see.
It was a fantastic day with the activities pitched just at the right level. I am sure that what the children took from that day would take weeks of teaching in a classroom to give them the same essence. They learnt not only some history but also about historical findings and archaeological digs.
I did wonder if it would help me decide one way or the other if I want to do a teaching course. I did really enjoy the day and the children were great fun. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, particularly working in the small groups with the children in the 2nd part of the day. I know however that teaching is more than that, especially these days, and I am still not sure if it is the right thing for me.
The school offers courses for schools in Keystage 1 and 2. You can also visit for free and there is a coffee shop and restaurant on site.