Outreach Project at The Museum of English Rural Life

By Lisa Berry Waite

If you read my previous blog post before Christmas, you will of read about the outreach anniversary project commemorating a 100 years of remembrance that Dr Jacqui Turner organised, involving several History students from the university going into local primary schools to teach about animals in World War One. After the success of the primary school visits, the MERL event followed which proved to be a huge success, with a lot of the university students that had taken part in the teaching aspect of this project helping out at the MERL event too. The winners of the Animals in World War One poster competition from each school won the chance to visit MERL and had the opportunity to learn more about the First World War from a hands on approach, as well as getting to meet all the winners from the other neighbouring schools.

The day started off with a mini bus full of exciting children arriving, eager to find out what was planned for them. They filed into the museum and through to the room where all their posters were displayed, everyone searching for their own poster and explaining to us more about their creations and why they had chosen to feature their particular animals on their poster. This was followed by a talk in the Westminster Lecture Room given by one of the staff about the war itself, asking the children what they knew about it and touching on issues such as rationing, farming, women in the work place, and of course the animals that were involved in the war.

We then moved on to the first activity for the children to do involving different objects and models that would have involved animals during the time of the First World War. They ranged from models of certain farm machinery that animals would have pulled to a milk pale. Quizzes were handed out and the children chose their favourite object on the table to write about, answering questions on it. This got the children to engage with each other, as well as us university students, encouraging them to discuss their ideas and answering any questions that they had thought of. Pamphlets and articles from around the time of the war were also laid out for everyone to look at which were interesting to look through and helped the children to understand what life would have been like at the time.

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Later on came in my view the highlight of most children’s day at MERL which was the craft activity. They got the chance to make their own little sheep, decorating them with the huge range of different coloured wool that was in the middle of the craft table. From bright pink to multi coloured, there were all sorts of decorated sheep, with even some of us joining in on the fun and letting out our inner child to create our own decorated sheep, colour coordinating it to our liking. Everyone greatly enjoyed this part of the day, with the children laughing and smiling, excited to show their friends back at school their masterpieces.

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A photographer from the one of the local newspapers joined us for the day at MERL too, taking photos throughout the day, and as the day came to an end, a group photo was of course needed with all the children and their posters at the front, as well as us Reading students behind, with me finding out that some of the Year 5 and 6’s were nearly the same height as me! After this, it was time for individual photos, with each child holding their poster in front of the museum, with one girl saying afterwards that she didn’t want to leave as she had had such a good day.

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Once again I would like to thank Dr Jacqui Turner for organising this project, as well as Harriet Evans who ensured that the day was a success, and finally MERL for hosting this event. I know everyone who was part of this project had a great time, as well as the children too which was a great way to end last term.


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