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Morton Schools Project – Social Sciences (ages 5–8)

We suggest that these activities would be most suitable for pupils aged 5–8, but please feel free to explore all the articles in this series.

The activities are inspired by several photographs of schools and schoolchildren from our historical collections. We’ve included a selection of these photographs here, but you can also view the full gallery. You’re welcome to use any of the photographs from the gallery as inspiration for these activities.

The times suggested beside each activity are intended to be a guideline; you’re welcome to spend as much time on each activity as you like.

A black and white photograph of a group of 14 schoolboys (of mixed ages) standing in front of a corrugated schoolhouse and a white-framed window. Most of the boys are wearing a tie.
American folklorist Margaret Fay Shaw photographed the pupils of Glendale School, South Uist (Uibhist a Deas) in the 1930s. © National Trust for Scotland, Canna House

Activity 1

(5–20 minutes)

For children in the past, having your photograph taken would be quite a special thing – perhaps happening only once a year.

If you could only keep one photograph of yourself taken over the past year, which would it be and why? Take a few minutes to think, and perhaps find the photograph you’d choose, then write a few sentences about why you’ve chosen it.

If you’d like to think a little bit more about this, imagine what it would be like if somebody found this photograph of you 50 or 100 years in the future. What would they be able to learn about you and the time you grew up in from the photograph? Write down a few ideas.

A sepia photograph of a large group of schoolchildren (over 100), standing or sitting on a set of steps outside a school building. Many of the girls wear white smocks or blouses; most boys wear a darker wool jacket. Teachers line the steps at the edge of the group. A tree branch with new buds is in the foreground.
This photograph shows the pupils and teachers of Miss Sanders’ School in Glenshaw, Pennsylvania, c1907–14. © National Trust for Scotland, Canna House

Activity 2

(20–30 minutes)

Look carefully at one of the old photographs. Based on what you can see, write down what you think a school day might have been like for the pupils studying in this time and place. See if you can think of the answers to some of the questions below, and any others you can come up with:

  • What sort of things do you think these children would have been learning about?
  • What would their classrooms look like?
  • What would the children do during lunchtime? Where and what would they eat? What games would they play?
  • How would the children get to school? How close do you think they would live to their school?
  • What might these children want to be when they grow up?
  • How much time would these children spend at school?
  • What would they do when they were at home?

Activity 3

(20–30 minutes)

Once you’ve thought of the answers to some of these questions, pick one area you’d like to explore further. See what you can find out about this topic online or using books. Once you’ve done some research, look again at your chosen photograph and think about the following questions:

  • Does what you have learnt through your research change your opinion of what you can see in the photograph?
  • What did you get right?
  • What did you get wrong?

Activity 4

(30–60 minutes)

Imagine that you’re going on a school trip, but instead of visiting another place, you’re visiting another time! For one whole school day, you’ll be travelling into your chosen photograph. Who would you talk to? What would you learn about? What games would you play and who would you play them with? What would you eat at lunchtime? Think about these questions, and then choose one of the three activities below:

  • Write a story or a poem about your day in a school in the past.
  • Draw a comic strip, showing your day in a series of pictures.
  • Design a poster advertising the time-travelling school trip. Tell people what they’ll see and learn, and include some handy tips such as do’s and don’ts.

Or, if you want to think about this a little bit differently, imagine what it might be like if one of the children in your photograph came on a trip from their time to ours. Think about what that would be like, and then choose one of the three activities below:

  • Write a letter to the pupil from the past, explaining how school in the 21st century is different to their school experience.
  • Design a poster for the pupils of the past, advertising the trip to your school as a ‘trip to the future’. Tell them what they’ll see and learn, and include handy tips such as do’s and don’ts.
  • If you were given the choice, would you rather carry on going to your usual school, or switch to one of the schools in the photographs? Think about the reasons ‘for’ and ‘against’ each choice, and then write a letter to your teacher, arguing either that you should stay in your school in 2020, or that you should be allowed to switch to a school in the past!

We’d love to see what you come up with! Feel free to send them to us at @NTSCollections on Twitter or @nationaltrustforscotland on Instagram.