Teaching the First World War in the primary school

Steven Jolly, last updated: 27th October 2016

This is no ordinary story…this is our story …

The current commemorations of the First World War have opened the door to some real opportunities for those teaching primary history – perhaps even considering taking children to the battlefields. Although this is customarily a secondary-school experience, this article outlines the opportunities for primary-age children. The suggestions here are based on work undertaken with trainee teachers from Leeds Trinity University and the University of Cumbria visiting a range of battlefield sites across Belgium and Northern France, for example, Tyne Cot and Vimy Ridge.

Taking children out of the classroom and placing them  in an environment that they can purposefully explore has many benefits. Experiences like this encourage pupils to connect with the past, ask questions, gather knowledge, develop a deeper understanding of life and grow emotionally. The Somme can certainly provide an emotional experience. With 60,000 dead or wounded within the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916 has gone down in history as one of the worst days ever in the history of the British army. By  November 1916 when the battle was suspended the combined casualties for both sides had almost reached a million. For the British, the impact was profound, as many of those killed  or wounded  had come from the Pals Battalions, the new armies formed when men enlisted and volunteered in their droves from the same community or workplace. These men often went to work together and now went to war together. As one veteran of the Somme, Private Pearson of the Leeds Pals said ‘we were two years in the making and 10 minutes in destroying...

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