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Primary Magazine - Issue 40: A little bit of history

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Last updated 29 November 2011 11:12 by ncetm_administrator


Primary Magazine Issue 40houses photograph by James Bowe used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) licence

A little bit of history
Houses and Homes

Some of the titles in the article below have a small boxed plus sign (+) next to them: click on this and more content will be revealed.

In this article, we will look at ways in which to link mathematics to your history topic of Houses and Homes. This is a topic traditionally covered in KS1, but some of the ideas might inspire you to spend some time looking at this theme in KS2.

Throughout the ages, people have built structures to live within; structures which provide shelter and protection from animals and invaders. These homes have included huts, castles, timber homes and villas as well as houses with multiple rooms and varying levels of comfort. Ask children what they would like to learn about Houses and Homes through the ages, some questions might include:

  • what kind of houses and homes do people live in today?
  • what is similar about these homes? What is different?
  • how can we find out how homes have changed through the years?
  • can you identify when a house was built by the way it looks?
  • what would we find in homes long ago and how have they changed from the things we use today?
  • have the ways we use our homes changed over the years?
  • I live in a house with my parents and my brother. Who lived in the houses of long ago?

Homes in the present

Discuss the type of homes the children live in. Which features are common, which are different? Children could investigate which is the most common home type in their class/year/school or local area. Ask them to:

  • make a prediction and to explain their reasons
  • consider the information they would need to gather
  • how they would gather it
  • how they would represent it clearly
  • consider what they would like to find out from their results.

How do they think the information would differ if they gathered the same information from children in a different school in, for example:

  • a neighbouring area?
  • another part of the UK?
  • a different country?
  • Victorian times or other eras?

A similar investigation could be carried out exploring the ages of local homes, giving older children the opportunity to gather and represent grouped data.

Ask children to think about their front door or the front of their home. What numbers (and letters) are on it? Depending upon the age and ability of the children ask them to:

  • order the numbers on a number line
  • decide which numbers are missing
  • sort the numbers into one-digit, two-digit numbers etc.
  • use their own criteria to sort the numbers
  • sort the house numbers into odd and evens and discuss how most streets are organised with odd numbered houses on one side of the road and even numbered houses opposite. Can the children create their own street using their house numbers and decide which side of the road they would be living?

Children can also explore the shapes they see in their homes. Ask them to photograph, draw or list items in their home and the shapes they see in them. They may include the bricks in the walls, windows, furniture, tiles etc.

Homes in the past


Bodiam Castle photograph by Neilhooting used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)  licence

The first castles were built by the Normans in the 11th century to keep control over the neighbouring countryside. The positioning of the castle was an important decision to ensure that enemies could be seen from far away and that the best use of natural barriers, such as rivers, could be used. Professor Chris Budd at the University of Bath has produced a PowerPoint presentation showing how mathematics can help to make castles easier to defend, and look good.

Explain to children that early British forts were built on hills. Each fort would want to have the shortest perimeter possible and enclose the largest area. Ask them to consider, what would be the best shape for the fort in order to keep it safe?

You may wish to provide some examples of shapes, or explore one or two shapes and then allow children to independently consider and investigate others.


Using the following additional information, ask children to reduce the list of shapes they may have selected:

In order to make sure there were no weak spots around the castle or fort, structures were symmetrical.

Any two defenders needed to be able to see each other at all times. This means that the shape of the castle would need to be convex. 

perfect line of vision within a convex shape and blocked line of vision within a concave shape

What shape/s do the children suggest and can they provide reasoned arguments to persuade their classmates?

Anglo-Saxon homes

Anglo-Saxon homes (550 - 1066) were huts made from wood with roofs thatched with straw. There was only one room, where people ate, cooked, slept, and entertained their friends.

West Stow Anglo-Saxon house photograph by The Armatura Press used under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) licence

Look at photographs of Anglo-Saxon homes and ask children to discuss the shapes they see. Can the children recreate their own Anglo-Saxon homes using the shapes they have described? Encourage the use of a range of resources including 3D shapes, construction equipment, straws, cardboard nets etc.

Architecture of houses and homes

Tudor house photograph by Neil Bird used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)  licence Tudor (1485-1603) homes had wooden frames and the spaces between were filled with small sticks and wet clay called wattle and daub. Tudor houses are often easily recognised from their black and white appearance.

Georgian house photograph by Elliott Brown used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) licenceGeorgian (1714-1830) homes were often square in shape and symmetrical. Some homes had pillars at the front of the house. Roofs sloped upwards from all the sides of a building and were often hidden behind a parapet or low wall built around the edge of the roof. Houses had paired chimneys and sash windows.

Victorian house photograph by Julian Walker used under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) licenceVictorian (1837-1901) houses had chimneys because most rooms had fireplaces. They usually had patterns in the brickwork made from coloured bricks and some had stained glass in their doorways and windows. Roofs were often made from slate, and they may have had iron railings and bay windows. Victorian houses were built without garages as Victorian people did not have cars.

More photographs and information on the architecture of houses and homes can be found at Houses and Homes Through History.

Take the children for a walk in the local area and look at the houses and homes. Ask the children to take photos of the houses and the particular features that interest them. Back in the classroom, can they sort the photographs using appropriate mathematical diagrams to show, e.g:
  • the period within which each house was built
  • which houses had Victorian and 20th century features.

Changes in settlements

Many people moved from the countryside to the cities to find work, particularly in the 1930s. Homes had to be built for workers and their families. To make good use of space, and to house many people, most of the homes were small and close together. Many houses built in the 1800s may have been replaced now by more modern housing or have changed into shops and offices.

During a local walk, children could draw a map of their route and mark down the types of homes and other buildings they see. On returning to the classroom, can they use the maps they have drawn to describe routes from one house to another? Compare the maps to a map of the area in the 1930s or 1890s. How does the area differ? Are there more homes now? Have the types of home changed? Are the buildings now used for different things?

Rooms in a home and household items


Thousands of washstands were made in Victorian times. There was often a large bowl and a jug that held around three to four litres of water. Each morning, the servant took a jug full of water to each person’s bedroom so that he or she could wash. Most houses only had one bathroom, and servants and children were only allowed to use the bathroom at certain times in the day. Poorer families, and families living in the country, often did not have a bathroom until after Victorian times.

Ask children to find out how much water they use when having a wash in the morning. Can they work out how much water is used when they have a bath (about 80 litres)? Knowing that any wash basins or baths were filled by hand using these jugs, how many jugs would they need to fill their bath at home? Can they estimate how long it would take to take to fill their bath by hand, compared to filling it by tap?


Kitchen scales photograph by Andrew Fogg used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) licence

Through the years, people have used kitchen scales to weigh out ingredients when cooking. In the early 1900s, sets of weights were placed on a tray on one side of the scales and the ingredients poured into the pan on the other side until both sides balanced and were at the same level, By the 1930s, weighing equipment had a bar with a scale. An arrow moved across the scale showing the weight of ingredients as they were added to the pan on the top. More modern scales work using batteries and often have a digital display showing the weight of ingredients.

Give children a set of 2g, 5g and 10g weights. Using as many of each weight as they need, which amounts of ingredients, from 1g to 20g, can they weigh out on a balance scale? Are there any weights that are impossible? You could, for example, use the weights to weigh 1g of ingredient by putting 5g on one side of the balance and two 2g weights on the other. The scale will then balance when 1g of the ingredient is placed with the 2g weights.

Discuss with children the differences in the imperial and metric systems and provide opportunities for older children to compare and convert from one system to the other.

Look at other household items found in the kitchen of a Victorian house and ask children to sort the items by the material from which they were made. Ask them to list items found in a modern kitchen and to sort by material. What similarities and differences do they find? Alternatively, children could create a branching database to identify household items:

Mangle photograph by Warren used under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) licencewooden Victorian refrigerator photograph by Christina B Castro used under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) licence
silver forks photograph by Julie Jordan Scott Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) licencecopper saucepans photograph by Jocelyn Durston used under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) licence



In Victorian houses, many beds had a heavy, iron frame. Instead of a duvet, people would use sheets and blankets covered by a patchwork quilt. These quilts were handmade with someone sewing together shapes of material.

Patch work quilt photograph by Cindy Funk used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) licencePatch work quilt photograph by Quiltexplorer used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) licence

Looking at pictures of these patchwork quilts, ask children to design a shape or tile that could be tessellated to create a patchwork quilt.
In 1860, the average adult was 1.52m tall and the standard length of beds was 1.82m. Today, the average height of an adult is 1.82m which means that the beds of the 1860s would have been too small, so the standard bed size was increased.

Ask children to find out the average size of a child in their class and/or the average size of an adult. Discuss what is meant by average and how the average size can be determined. Look at the differences between mean, median and mode and decide which average is the most appropriate to use in this situation. How would the sample of children or adults be chosen – would there be a mixed sample of males and females? Does age feature when considering the sample etc? How does the average size of an adult today compare with an adult of the 1860s and how have our bed sizes changed to accommodate this?


Today, we have many household items that make housework easy, such as dishwashers, washing machines and vacuum cleaners. Most housework today may be shared among all family members, but at the turn of the century, almost all housework was done by women. In working class homes, the men worked long hours trying to earn enough money to support their families, while in middle and upper class family homes, female servants would do most of the house jobs.

Today, we can buy a huge range of cleaning products and polishes to help with housework. In the early 1900s, magazines and books gave recipes for people to make their own household products. Children can use their weighing skills to measure out ingredients to make a simple moth repellent.

Place into a small cotton bag:

  • 1oz (30g) allspice berries
  • 1oz (30g) dried thyme
  • ½ oz (15g) dried mint
  • 1oz (30g) salt
  • ¼ oz (7.5g) dried cloves
  • ¼ oz (7.5g) ground caraway

Draw together the bag with a string and place into a drawer.

There are numerous ways to link mathematics into a topic such as this. We hope we have given you a taster of some of the opportunities! We would love to hear how you have made mathematical links to your topics please let us know what you have done. It would be great to share your ideas with others.

Useful sources

Image Credits
Page header - houses photograph by James Bowe some rights reserved
Castles: Bodiam Castle photograph by Neilhooting some rights reserved
Anglo-Saxon homes: West Stow Anglo-Saxon house photograph by The Armatura Press some rights reserved
Architecture of houses and homes: Tudor house photograph by Neil Bird some rights reserved
Architecture of houses and homes: Georgian house photograph by Elliott Brown some rights reserved
Architecture of houses and homes: Victorian house photograph by Julian Walker some rights reserved
Kitchens: kitchen scales photograph by Andrew Fogg some rights reserved
Kitchens:  mangle photograph by Warren some rights reserved
Kitchens:  wooden Victorian refrigerator photograph by Christina B Castro some rights reserved
Kitchens:  silver forks photograph by Julie Jordan Scott some rights reserved
Kitchens:  copper saucepans photograph by Jocelyn Durston some rights reserved
Bedrooms: quilt (on left) photograph by Cindy Funk some rights reserved
Bedrooms: quilt (on right) photograph by Quiltexplorer some rights reserved
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