Primary 6 from St Peter’s RC Primary School visited us for three afternoons in January as part of a Scottish Council for Archives (SCA) project that we are taking part in. The project will highlight ways in which archives (like us) and schools (like St Peter’s) can work together using the archive collections. Douglas Roberts, who is running the project for the SCA, came all the way up to Aberdeen from Peebles to help us run the project.
Day 1 – This book belongs to…
As Primary 6 had never visited us before we thought we should start with an introduction to what the Special Collections Centre is about. Our This Book Belongs to… workshop was great for this, although we added an extra archive twist so that the pupils could begin to understand what archives are compared to printed books. As always the pupils had a behind the scenes look at where we keep our collections, and made a book plate for their own books.
Day 2 – Robert and Maggie in Africa
This is when we started really getting into the archives. Through discussion with Douglas and our colleagues at the Special Collections, we had chosen to use a collection of letters which we thought would interest Primary 6 and inspire lots of activities. The letters were written by two 19th-century missionaries at Livingstonia in Malawi, Robert and Maggie Laws, to their young daughter Amelia (or Amy), who lived in Edinburgh with an aunt.
Primary 6 explored the letters and began to build up a picture of what life was like for Robert and Maggie in Malawi (then called Nyasaland). Through reading and acting out extracts from the letters they discovered just how dangerous (and exciting) it would have been for Amy’s parents, and began to understand why they might have have thought it a good idea to send Amy away to live in Edinburgh. From lion attacks to rats in the organ, Primary 6 used their bodies to create fantastic freeze frames of scenes from the mission station.
As well as animal encounters the Laws’ letters describe their daily life. The pupils used extracts about Robert’s Sunday chores, relationships with the native Ngoni people and events on the mission to create articles, advertisements and images for the “Livingstonia News”. Headlines from this include:
- “Scottish man here to help.”
- “Church can’t hold many people.”
- “Oops Fire!”
Here are some images from the “Livingstonia News”.
We finished off the workshop by looking at the letters themselves. In groups the pupils examined a letter from Maggie and one from Robert, thinking about how different they were from our letters today. We don’t have any of Amy’s letters and we discussed why that might be. Many answers were suggested, but we suspect that they may have been nibbled by those pesky rats!
Day 3 – Amy in Edinburgh
On day 3 we moved away from Maggie and Robert and travelled all the way over from Africa with Amy to live with her aunt in Edinburgh. The class hadn’t heard much about Amy on Day 2 so we started off by writing up what they did know on a diagram on the wall. Primary 6 came up with facts such as her full name, her age and where she lived. We left the diagram up to be added to later.
Then Primary 6 put themselves in Amy’s shoes and tried to imagine what it was like for her, leaving the mission at the age of seven to live with her aunt in Edinburgh. Some of the pupils had first hand experience of moving to Scotland from other countries, such as Poland and Nigeria. They helped Amy to pack her suitcase, thinking about what was really important for her, such as photograph albums and special toys. They thought about the voyage itself, how long it would have taken and how far away from home she was going. We added these events to a timeline on the wall.
Although we have none of Amy’s own words, we can tell a lot about her life from what her parents wrote in their letters. Using extracts from the letters Primary 6 repeated the freeze frame activity, this time acting out events in Amy’s life. We saw Amy bicycling with her aunts, starting a new school and learning to milk a cow.
The pupils placed their scenes onto the timeline and added these new facts to the diagram on the wall. Look at the image below to see what other information they got from Robert and Maggie’s letters. As well as factual, ‘external’ information, they gathered a lot of detail about who Amy was as a person and what she might have felt and thought.
Primary 6 then began their hardest task of all. They had to imagine what it was like for Amy, being separated from her parents and really put themselves in her place. They started to think about what Amy might have written in a letter to her parents, and then they wrote it down. They selected the most important line of this letter to share with everybody. Here are some of these lines:
- I really wish you were here with me. Today was my first day at school, at first I was very shy but as I came into the playground other children came to me and were awfully nice to me.
- Aunt Mary is very kind to me when I am with her. So kind, in fact, that she bought me a bicicle!
- I started school today the rush of blood circulated in my body I could Feel birds fluttering in my stomach, but the strange thing was I Felt Suddenly at home when I Settled in dissapeared into the crowd
I was really sad to move away from you and Dad. But writing these letters are keeping me going.
- Today [my friend] Elizabeth was killed in a car accident we went to the scene but they wouldn’t let us past a certain point. I wish I could of said goodbye. I feel so sorry for her Parents I wish I could see them but Aunt Mary said they need time by themselves.
- I was shocked when I found out that the parrot had died I was griev struck!
We were very impressed by the lovely letters that Primary 6 wrote to Robert and Maggie. Douglas is going to write a report about our project and we hope that other archives will feel inspired by it to try using some of their collection in a similar way. Primary 6 are back in school now and hopefully they are carrying on with the Laws theme in the classroom. Thanks for coming in and helping us to explore the letters Primary 6! Look out for more from the Laws family in future workshops and Family Fun events.
Posted by: Lynsey & Sarah