1.4 Changes within living memory

The topic of Ourselves is very popular both in the Foundation stage and in Key Stage 1. A number of different approaches are utilized to encourage young children to reflect on changes which have occurred  to them in their young lives.  Photographs, stories about babies and young children, baby clothes and other equipment for babies and toddlers  all provide opportunities for children to acquire some sense of the passage of time and how time has effected their own beings. Sharing stories, pictures and artefacts about their own lives enhances children's awareness of similarities in experiences which they share with others; they also permit opportunities for children to explore differences as well.

Scott (2005) discusses  developing profile books with pre-school children. Children were encouraged to draw pictures, place photographs and  ask adults to write down important  things which had happened to them in their lives. The profile books became  important sources of information for the children who enjoyed referring to them. For some children the pictures in their profile books provided opportunities for them to reflect on difficult and challenging occurrences in their own lives,  such as one child who liked to refer to a picture of himself as a baby in a coma. In this respect,  the material which children and parents choose to include in profile books may raise some sensitive issues for particular families ( Scott:2005).  ( Similar suggestions for work with family histories  may be found in Cooper:2005; Claire:2005a; Woodhouse:2005).

Teachers however could make personal and family histories more challenging.  A case study from QCA - Respect for All  draws on children's own experiences to explore similarity and difference between different lives.  The  programme of activities is entitled, How are we different?  and provides a sequence of lessons which raise questions such as:

  • Who am I?
  • Who are you?
  • How are we the same?
  • How are we different?
  • What hurts us when we are excluded?
  • Let's celebrate our uniqueness.

Although it could be argued that these questions are essentially issues relating to PSHE, the contribution of children's own experiences and personal histories enabled them to explore some of these issues in greater depth.

In the case study  the teacher talked to the children briefly about the positive role which diversity plays in our lives and organized activities for children to investigate  diversity. The commentary for the lesson noted that the lesson provided opportunities for children to reflect on their own lives and think about other people's lives in their community. It also provided opportunities to consider imaginary lives. 

‘The children listened to each other and demonstrated mutual respect, and were careful not to do or say anything that might cause offence. The use of circle time proved to be a valuable device for promoting respect for diversity. The techniques offered opportunities to raise issues relating to anti - racism including teaching about the benefits of  the multicultural communities to which we belong.'

Several stories which have the potential for children to explore sensitive issues are outlined below. Their success is dependant on the ways in which they are developed. Teachers need to identify key themes and issues within the story for children to explore.

A friend for Farouk is  based on a true story of a refugee settling in Britain.  Its key themes include fairness and consideration of ways in which we relate to each other.

Commentary on activities linked to the story  revealed that children recognized unfair treatment in the story and were able to link the story to events in their own life when they thought they had been treated unfairly.

The approach used above which is used with  children's personal histories - might also be developed for people's histories set further back in time.

Further Resources linked to Farouk's story may be found:

The Citizenship Foundation website.

Hoffman, M. and Littlewood, K. (2002) The Colour of Home. London, Frances Lincoln is the story of Hassan adapting to life in England after fleeing from Somalia.

Using stories such as these  provide opportunities for children to explore histories which are different from their own. It also provides recognition for those children who have experienced hardship and danger.

Two stories which are based on grandmothers' recollections also introduce children to controversial issues in a sensitive way.

Cech, J. (1991) My Grandmother's Journey. New York, Bradbury Press.

The story is based on the events of Cech's mother in law who was born in Russia in 1907. She lived in Russia until the second world war when she and her husband and baby were captured by the Nazis and taken back to Germany as slave labourers. After the war she emigrated to the US.

Bridges, S.Y. ( 2002) Ruby's Wish. San Franciso, Chronicle.

This is the story of  Bridges' grandmother who describes the difficulties she surmounted to become one of the first girls to study at a Chinese university.


Claire. H. (2005a) Learning and Teaching about citizenship through history in the early years. Leading Primary History,  pp pp24-43 London, Historical Association.

Cooper, H. ( 2005) Learning and Teaching about the past in the foundation stage and key stage 1.  Leading Primary History. Pp14-23. London, Historical Association.

Scott, W. ( 2005) When we were very young: emerging historical awareness in the earliest years.  Primary History. No 39. pp 14-17.

Woodhouse, J. ( 2005)  Learning and Teaching about the past in the foundation stage.  Leading Primary History,  pp6-13. London, Historical Association.

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