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Local history

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This week’s assembly is about local history and how the environment around us provides a rich source of information about the past.

Main assembly

By John Davisteacher and freelance writer

In this assembly…

Key ideas

  • To introduce the idea that an investigation of the area immediately around the school and children’s homes can tell us much about the past and how people used to live.
  • To suggest that there is much visual historical evidence to be found in local buildings and monuments, and so on.
  • To emphasise the abundance of visual historical evidence to be found in posters, photographs, postcards, drawings, and so on, and, in more recent times, 8mm and video camera film.
  • To encourage children to find, handle, examine and speculate about artefacts from the past.
  • To recognise the richness of past experiences that can be related orally by parents, grandparents and friends of the school.

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Ideas for music

  • Pomp and Circumstance (Land of Hope and Glory), Elgar
  • Crown Imperial March, Walton
  • Greensleeves, Vaughan Williams
  • Scarborough Fayre, Simon and Garfunkel
  • Streets of London, Ralph McTell
  • Our House, Madness

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Introduction

  • Tell the children they are going to play detectives. Ask them if they know what detectives do. They look for clues and talk to witnesses in order to help them solve crimes.
  • Tell the children that they are going to be history detectives. They, too, are going to look for clues and talk to witnesses, but in this case it will help them to find out more about what life was like in the past in the local environment.
  • Talk about the school the children attend. Discuss what materials the school has been made from. Ask children to list examples of stone, brick, glass, metal, plastic, and so on.
  • Ask children if they know the age of the school building. When was it first built? Was it all built at the same time? What parts have been added later? Is there any writing on the building that may be a clue to its age? If possible, show a timeline at this point giving important dates in the school’s history.
  • Explain that the school building is a good place to start when studying local history. Like other parts of the immediate local environment, it provides much evidence about the past and how things have developed and changed.

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Presentation

Have a selection of visual resources available and show these to the children as points arise in the presentation. These could include: photographs showing local buildings, monuments of historical interest and so on; maps showing changes made to the local environment; enlarged versions of written resources like logbooks, registers, census returns, and so on; artefacts including household implements, tools, items made by local industry, and so on.

  • Explain that, apart from the school, other buildings in the local area may also provide clues about life in the past. Ask children for suggestions. These might include churches, chapels, factories, cottages/houses with date markings on them, and so on.
  • Tell the children that there are other things in the street that can also provide historical information at both a local and a national level. Ask for suggestions (telephone and post boxes, street lighting, street names, and so on).
  • Display examples of local maps that will show what the area was like in the past. Point out particularly where green field sites have become housing developments and where road systems have changed and watercourses been bridged because of increases in traffic.
  • Show children a selection of photographs, postcards, posters, paintings and newspaper articles, and so on that depict scenes of the local environment in the past. Ask children how long ago they think the pictures were taken. How have things changed between then and now? Why are some pictures only in black and white?
  • Display some interesting local artefacts from the past. How should the object be held? What is it made of? What might it have been used for? Who might have used it? Can children suggest what it is? Would the object still be useful today or has it been replaced by something else?
  • Invite a parent, grandparent or friend of the school to join you as an oral witness. What do they remember about the local area in the past? Where did they live? How did they travel around? What clothes did they wear? What was it like at school? How have things changed over the last ten, 20, 30 years?
  • Finally, ask children for suggestions on the following topics. What important items of local history do they think should be included in a local guidebook? Can they give reasons for their choice? Or can they outline a route, complete with important stopping places, if they were asked to develop a local history trail?

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Concluding thoughts

  • Ask children to give reasons why they think finding out about the history of the area in which they live is important. What new information have they discovered?
  • Would they liked to have lived in this area in a period in the past and, if so, which one?
  • From what they know of the local environment, which things have changed a great deal and which things do not seem to have changed at all?
  • Ask them if they feel the changes made have been for the better or the worse. Can they explain their response?
  • Can they predict what changes are likely to happen in the future? Are these changes inevitable? What things would they like to preserve?

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Closing thoughts

Ask children to sit quietly and share some closing thoughts with you.

  • Focus on having a sense of belonging and pride in the school and other organisations in the local environment that children are associated with.
  • Focus on how a knowledge and understanding of the past can help influence and shape the people we are today.
  • Focus on the people who have lived in the local environment before us, especially those who had to make important decisions about how it was to develop.
  • Focus on the responsibility we all have as individuals for protecting and preserving aspects of the local environment and not making changes to it just for its own sake.

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