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Starting School: Part 1

. . . in Victorian times

by Janice Ross

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To inspire an appreciation of school and education.

Preparation and materials


  1. Hands up those of you who are four or five years old. Welcome to school – we hope that this will be a place where you will be very happy and enjoy learning lots of new things.

    Did you know that five-year-olds didn’t always go to school?

    Not very many years ago, many five-year-olds went out to work.

    What do you think of that idea?

    What jobs do you think the children might have done?

  2. These children had some of the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs around.

    Some worked in dirty, noisy factories where the machines went clackety-clack all day long and where dust got in their throats.

    Show image of a Victorian factory, if using.

    Some worked hard way down under the ground in coal mines. These children hardly ever saw the daylight.

    Show image of a child down a mine, if using.

    Others were chimney sweeps. This meant they had to climb high up inside chimneys and brush down all the soot.

    Show image of a chimney sweep, if using.

    Which job would you choose I wonder?

  3. Some people thought it was very wrong that children had to go to work at five years old. These people worked long and hard to convince the government and the owners of the factories and mines that it was wrong. 

    'Children should be allowed to go to school and to learn. All children in our country should have the chance to go to school even if they come from very poor families', they said.

    It took a long time to change this, but, eventually, schools called ‘ragged schools’ were set up. These don’t sound very exciting to us, but they were wonderful to the children in those days. They learned to read and write and to do sums, just like you will learn to do. Some things were very different, though. Let’s see if you can spot any differences in this picture.

    Show image of a Victorian classroom, if using

  4. We are very grateful for the lovely classrooms we have today and for all the resources we have to enjoy and help us to learn.

Time for reflection

Let the children know that you are going to read out the following poem and they are welcome to join in the last line of every verse, which is, ‘We thank you God’.

For pencils, paper, crayons and books
For lovely things wherever we look
We thank you God.

For teachers and carers to welcome us each day
For tables and chairs and places to play
We thank you God.

For things to learn and for work to be done,
For toys and games, for a whole lot of fun
We thank you God.

Now let’s take a few moments to think about other good things in school that we might want to add to our ‘thankful’ list.

Follow up

  1. The poem could be written on a large display board and the children could add their drawings to it during the following week. 
Publication date: August 2015   (Vol.17 No.8)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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