My primary school is at the museum – the teacher’s perspective

Laura Luxton is a teacher at St Thomas Community Primary School, Swansea. Laura and her pupils have been part of a series of pilot projects that test the hypothesis that there may be beneficial learning and social outcomes for primary school children and their families if their primary school is located in a museum. One of the pilots situated a Year 1 and a Key Stage 2 class from St Thomas Community Primary School at the National Waterfront Museum. Here, Laura writes about her experience of the pilot and how it has impacted on the school life of her pupils.

On the first day back at school following the Christmas Holidays, we had an ‘in service training day’. After a busy Christmas term and an even more manic fortnight off, I was grateful at the prospect of being eased in gently to returning to the classroom. The morning progressed with statistics and action plans and a casual mention of being asked to participate in a project called My Primary School at the Museum. It was explained that one year group would visit the National Waterfront Museum on a coach, each day for a five week period and teach from there. The room fell silent as every teacher considered how daunting this would be; all of the children, every day for five weeks! We eagerly waited to see who would be chosen to go down and, despite avoiding eye contact; I was called in to the office to say I was first up with my lovely class of four-year-old reception children, twenty seven of them to be exact.

With that many children of that age group, there was no doubt that this would need to be executed with the organisation skills used in military operations. Myself, and the three Teaching Assistants in the class, spent every break time chatting about how exciting it was going to be and the opportunities we would all be given during the project. The more we spoke about it, the more we fell in love with the idea – we had no idea just how much we would end up enjoying ourselves and seeing such a huge impact on the children.

I developed a lovely working relationship (and ongoing friendship) with Leisa, our point of contact at the museum, who provided me with a list of activities and workshops the children could participate in. This worked out as once or twice a week, I then planned relevant activities within literacy and numeracy around the theme of these activities. The timetable was action-packed,including;

  • aircraft and transport – with museum workshops and a morning with an award-winning author (that the museum has links with)
  • pirates – a fancy dress day and a museum-facilitated workshop with artefacts,
    seaside – the local area and a journey through history with a visit to the beach,
    toys – a workshop led by a curator where parents could join us for the day and learn with their children, and;
  • creatures of the sea – where a team of marine biologists from Swansea University brought starfish, fish, snails and crabs from their trawl that morning and the children were allowed to handle them and were encouraged to talk about their features and enhance their vocabulary.

This was all accompanied by the same format of reading, writing and numeracy that would take place in school. Within the themes, the children were more engaged and confident in their work. We also visited the Leisure Centre opposite the museum for our physical education lessons and the local art gallery provided a facilitated day for the children to embrace their creative side.

The children progressed beautifully and absolutely flourished in the five weeks in a way we had never seen since the start of the year. They became more independent with their personal skills; toileting, organisation, preparation and separation from their parents in the morning. They grew closer as a team, it was as if they felt more dependent on each other now they weren’t surrounded by other children – they bonded and looked after each other and were working together far more. The children also became more socially adept to life in a public place; respecting elderly people, respecting strangers and the need for safety, and, most obviously improved were their manners – I don’t think we could walk past people without them commenting on how small but well behaved the children were! We saw children who had barely spoken in school become animated and vocal, challenging themselves, communicating with their peers and displaying such a fabulous range of emotions.

We grew to love the museum in a way we never anticipated. We used the classroom offered to us in the same way we would in school but the children were reading and writing for purpose in a real-life setting. You could see the benefits of them reading words on displays, talking about exhibitions whilst learning about their heritage. It became a second home and although it was tiring (mentally and physically) the clear benefits to all of the children has shown that this fabulous concept of joining a museum and their wealth of experience, artefacts and links, with a school – really does work!

Find out more about the series of pilot projects on the King’s website

Words by Laura Luxton