Introducing Early Years children to archives

Summary of the project

Following the success of some trial sessions to introduce young children (three to five years old) to archives, Berwick-Upon-Tweed Record Office worked with Early Years Providers (nursery and reception) in the Berwick area to develop topics and resources, based on archives, to help children grasp the 'then and now' concept in an enjoyable and accessible way.

The aim was to encourage a new group of young users, and their teachers, to use the archive service and to test whether it was possible to use archives as a suitable learning medium for such a young age group. The project was mainly delivered using visual material from the archives, such as photographs and postcards.

The project included:

  • pilot lessons in Early Years units to test the theory in practice
  • pilot visit by an Early Years class to the archives to test and establish a format for future visits
  • development of a bank of resources, including lesson plans, for schools and teachers to support key areas of Early Years development
  • digitisation of new Early Years resources to make them accessible via the Learning Zone of the Northumberland Archives Service website

How were people encouraged to use the archive service and have access to new ways of engaging with archives?

In consultation with Early Years providers, and using feedback from the children themselves, the Record Office developed new archive based lesson plans and sessions and a bank of resource topics including All About Me/Family; Transport; At the Seaside and Local History of the area.

These new sessions were delivered to around 95 Early Years children ranging between the ages of three and five. At all sessions the children looked at archive material, photographs or film, and were encouraged to think about the concept of 'then and now', as well as what they saw in the photographs. A class of 15 nursery to Key Stage One children (aged three to six) was also taken to the archive on a pilot visit so that the archive could establish a standard format for future visits. In total, over 100 children took part in the project.

Some of the Early Years teachers had worked with archives before but others had not. Those who had not used archives before now saw how they could be used and incorporated into topics being covered. Schools that participated have all been given digital and laminated copies of the archive sources used so that they can re-use them in future years. Schools appreciated being provided with the resources free of charge and having them in a format which can be used with children as part of their core curriculum based work.

How did the project demonstrate good practice in relation to project planning, management and evaluation?

The project was well planned and executed, with a dedicated member of staff from the archive service planning, delivering and evaluating the project using an Evaluation Toolkit produced for the Woodhorn Trust. This was the first time that the Berwick Record Office had used the Evaluation Toolkit to collect evidence of the success and impact of a project. The evaluation focused on assessing the impact of the work on the children and teachers, and to judge how the sessions could be improved and topics developed further. It therefore informed future planning, future session structure, and ways of working as well as reporting.

Before this project, staff had done some informal evaluation but never actually analysed or used it. The project provided the opportunity to use the Evaluation Toolkit... and analyse the results. It also helped to see that the evaluation process was also very valuable for the teachers as well as they are required to produce so much evidence to chart the children's development.

How did the project help staff and any volunteers improve their skills and knowledge?

The Record Officer has developed her skills working with younger children, work which requires a different language and creative approach than that required for working with older children - as younger age groups learn informally and through play. As children in this age group can be very unpredictable, project planning was challenging as sessions have to be very fluid and flexible. Although this was daunting to start with, practical experience, observation and evaluation meant that the Project Manager felt more confident and able to plan and deliver similar projects in the future.

How is expertise and learning gained in the project being shared within the service?

As a result of this project, the Project Manager has improved her skills, knowledge and confidence in:

  • collections interpretation
  • creating tailored learning resources
  • building partnerships with other organisations
  • consulting with and understanding the needs of target audiences
  • training and evaluation

She also feels more confident about sharing this learning with others and has done so through a CPD event to all education and archive staff at Woodhorn; through one-to-one discussions with Archive and Education staff; through the Learning Arc (North East Group of Archive Education staff) and through mentoring an archivist in Durham starting work with a Surestart Centre.

Has the project resulted in any longer term partnerships?

Berwick Record Office intends to continue the work with Early Years children, and leading on from this project MLA has given the Northumberland Archives Service additional Strategic Commissioning Funding to continue the work on Family Learning, including Early Years.

This, in tandem with a Learning Links Project with a local Early Years Unit, will enable Berwick to create resource boxes to enhance their offer to this age group and develop new links with Early Years Units in both North Northumberland as well as the rest of the county through Woodhorn. It has also helped the Record Office make contact with the County Council's advisors for Early Years and make them aware of the work the Record Office is doing. It is hoped to continue developing these partnerships in the future.

What has been the value of the project to your organisation?

The project has helped to highlight the importance of working in partnership, and in ensuring that projects have the right mix of expertise involved from the start:

'You can create wonderful archive resources but if they don't meet the needs and capabilities of the children they are targeted at or use the experience of those who work with this group on a daily basis, we are all wasting our time. Flexibility and an openness to new ideas and approaches are key.'

It has also opened up a whole new area of work for the Record Office with an age group that they would not have predicted would be able to appreciate or understand archives:

'When I started the project, I did not anticipate that I would find it so enjoyable and would become intrigued with how this age group can work with archives… This project has shown that the more work you undertake with an age group, the more opportunities you can see to develop this and use it in other contexts. Although the initial project was specifically aimed at Early Years Units in formal settings, the archives resources we have put together and particularly the resource boxes we are creating can be used in less formal learning contexts by ourselves or other organisations, e.g. family learning activities or open days. This is how it should be.'