Prep V’s Victorian history day started with a brisk surname-first register. We stood up and smartly answered our name with, “Yes ma’am!” It sounded strange not to be called by our first names! Next, we looked at photos of Victorian schools to compare past and present. We notice how dark the classrooms were, with no displays and windows deliberately high up so that children could not gaze out and be distracted. Desks were wooden and slanted with a circular hole for ink. The teacher had a raised desk on a platform, to survey the classroom for any naughty children! We noticed that Victorian classes with much bigger, and some had as many as seventy-five pupils of different ages. Unlike in Bridgewater school, the children had no uniform, although the girls all had white aprons to avoid getting their dresses inky.
Next, we compared our modern curriculum, which includes computing and PSHE, with the Victorian curriculum which focused on the three R’s: reading, (w)riting and (a)rithmetic. Luca was an excellent pupil teacher and led us in some repetitive rote learning, banging the board smartly with a cane as we chanted. We then sampled a maths lesson using our slates and scratchers (named after the squeaking noise the pens made.) We investigated Victorian coins and did sums with farthings, half pennies, pennies and shillings. The adding up was tricky, but Leo did especially well, converting pennies to shillings successfully.
We also found out about Victorian punishments and compared sanctions in our school with the most common Victorian punishment which was the cane. We listened to its distinctive swishing sound – ouch! Fidgeting and slouching meant that pupils had to hold the backboard which Lucas sampled and found it was not very comfortable! Finger stocks was the punishment for fiddling in class. Oliver found his arms aching after trying them out, while Angel bravely modelled the dunce’s cap. We decided we would not have liked life in a Victorian classroom!
A final challenge of the morning was using a dip pen to write with black ink. We practised our numbers and letters; some of us blotted our copybooks, but others were able to write beautifully.
In the afternoon, we discussed what jobs we would like to do when we grow up, and then investigated jobs that children our age would have done in Victorian times when school was not compulsory. Again, we looked at photographs to decide which jobs we would like to have done. Some of us chose working down the coal mines, while others chose mill working, being a chimney sweep or match selling. Our next activity what to look at artefacts. We tried to guess what objects were used for and thought about the dangers involved in the different jobs. We also looked at life on board a canal boat transporting coal and cotton, and realised how cramped life would be for the families on board.
By the end of the day, most of us were beginning to realise that life for twenty-first century school children is much better than it was for our Victorian ancestors, and to appreciate how lucky we are today to be able to follow our dreams and choose from so many exciting careers when we grow up. (No going down the mines or working in the cotton mills for Prep V!) Many thanks to Mrs. Bannister for leading our workshop so knowledgeably and for bringing so many exciting resources and artefacts, and to all our parents for their continued support.