I’m really excited to be working with Year 5 & 6 and their teacher Emma at a primary school in Llanrumney. Over the next four weeks, we’ll be developing a story set in Victorian times through the mediums of role pay, script writing, story writing, and painting and printing. One aim is for the children to write and illustrate their own books and have a go at printmaking for the covers.
This week, I asked the children to tell me what they had learnt already about the Victorians. A trip they went on to St Fagans National Museum of History meant that they got to spend time in an actual Victorian school and compare the lives of children living in 19th century Wales with their own lives. One fascination for them was how different the teaching methods were. It was observed that punishments like the use of a cane and wooden finger stock would thankfully be considered abusive and detrimental to development now. They were surprised to learn that a ruler was still being used as punishment when I was in school! We also discussed how a lot of children would have been working at a young age, would likely come from a very big family, and the difference between the lives of children from rich and poor families. As they have been reading the book Street Child by Berlie Doherty, they knew about the terrible conditions in the workhouses and how a lot of children would die from accidents and disease.
I asked them to think of some ideas for characters and stories in groups. Then each group presented their ideas to the whole class and we voted on which to include in the final class story. We made a rough plan ready for them to do some improvisation and dialogue writing next week.
Brainstorming ideas in groups
After break, they watched the excellent BBC short film about Elizabeth Fry, an English prison reformer, social reformer, philanthropist and Quaker. Fry was a major driving force behind new legislation to improve the treatment of prisoners, especially female inmates and children. This gave them an idea for a character who might help the children to escape from the workhouse in their story, as well as insight into how society can be changed for the better by courage and determination to do good.