Life-changing encounters with the past

Published on Friday 03 November 2023

Naomi Manning has worked in the Learning team at MHNSW for many years. She explains that visits from teachers who first visited our sites as children themselves have become increasingly common, revealing the lifelong impact of place-based learning.

At MHNSW, we always love welcoming new visitors, but we also take great satisfaction from the sometimes lifelong connections visitors make with our properties. We’ve seen at first hand that early learning experiences can inspire students to develop a deeper love of history and historic places that stays with them throughout their lives.

One delightful example happened earlier this year when we were delivering a Learning program for teacher Sam Taylor and her Year 2 class from Arden Anglican School in Beecroft, NSW. As her students participated in a range of hands-on activities that reveal the daily lives of the Macarthur family and their convict servants at Elizabeth Farm in the 19th century, Sam told me that she herself had come to Elizabeth Farm with her grandmother when she was her students’ age. 

I remembered the farm as being a great place to visit with many authentic artefacts, and so when it fitted in so well with the History unit that [my class was] doing at school, it seemed the perfect place to visit.

The learning activities – such as playing 19th-century games, dressing up in replica clothes from the time, doing the laundry by hand and writing in ink – provide students with meaningful and tangible learning experiences that bring our historic places to life. As Sam told us later, her own students ‘each expressed how much they valued these moments … being able to actually do [the activities] makes the learning part so much more memorable’.

This deep connection with history is what MHNSW strives to develop for all of our visitors. Seeing the long-term impact of learning experiences also reminds us of the power of our sites for students studying history and starting to understand their place in the world. Sam said, ‘The students had the most wonderful time and as we returned to school, they each loved sharing their memory of the things that they had seen and learnt about. This experience has helped them to deepen their understanding of what life in the past was like’.

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Student carrying convict bricks in the courtyard at Hyde Park Barracks


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Naomi Manning

Naomi Manning

Senior Producer, Learning

Naomi is passionate about teaching history and has worked in different contexts to do this over the years. At Museums of History NSW she develops and runs education programs for school students. Before working in museums Naomi worked in schools for over 15 years as a history teacher and IT integrator.