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Activity 2.1: A musical lesson

This activity explores a scene from Venus and Adonis in which the Little Cupids are taught to read. Children will learn music from the scene, and consider what it teaches us about life in a Restoration school.

  1. Begin with a discussion about school through the ages.  Was primary school always like it is today?  How might school have been different in the past?  What might primary school have been like, for example, during the time of Samuel Pepys?
  1. Make a list of the subjects that children study at primary school today.  Ask children which of these they think the seventeenth-century children might have learned at primary school.  Were there any subjects that the children learned in the seventeenth century that we do not usually learn today?
  1. Explain that, in the seventeenth century, primary school was called 'petty school', which means 'little school'.  At petty school, children learned to speak clearly, to read, write and to 'cast accounts' (simple arithmetic for bookkeeping).  Sometimes, the children began to learn Latin at petty school, but usually this did not happen until they went to grammar school, aged about 7 or 8.  They also had to learn many things off by heart; usually, the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Catechism.  Not every child went to school.  Wealthy children were educated at home; although there were some free school places, very poor children might not have gone to school at all.  Some children would have gone to petty school, but not to grammar school, which means that they would have left school by the time they were about 9 years old.
  1. Listen to 'the Cupids' Lesson' from Venus and Adonis.  Explain that this is a playful scene with Cupid pretending to be the teacher and the little Cupids pretending to be his pupils.  Ask the children to describe the lesson: what is Cupid doing?  What do the children do?  They will probably point out that the children simply repeat what Cupid sings.
Play the Cupids' Lesson:

Download the music as a PDF file: M2 Cupids Lesson.pdf
  1. If the children have not already worked it out, explain that the little Cupids are learning to read the word 'mercenary'.  Write the word on the board.  Then write it again, like this: mer - ce - na - ry.  Explain that children were taught to read by splitting up the word into different syllables and 'spelling out' the syllables (or reading them out loud) one by one, before putting the word together.  Have a go at doing this in the class, first speaking it, then singing it, as it appears in Venus and Adonis (link to music).
  1. Although children did not usually sing their letters, it is quite likely that their lessons in petty school were very similar to this.  We know this from books printed at the time that explained how teachers should teach.

Return to Activity Pack 2: School Life in Restoration England

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