Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Norwich Cathedral: School Visits

May 7, 2011 · No Comments

At the Cathedral, I’m a School Teams Volunteer; usually, this means I get to help out with school visits, but sometimes it means I help out with special programmes (I’ll talk about these later). Normally, I go in around half 9 and finish about 2 or 3, depending on the school’s chosen programme. I’m almost always greeted by my boss Juliet with a big smile and a question about how things are going. I’ve done everything from helping kids make clay animals to colouring animals to banging on empty milk cartons with knitting needles. Oh, and I’ve talked way too in-depth about the art and architecture to both kids and chaperones who find it interesting, or so I’d like to think…

My favourite programme is by far the Noah Days. Half of the students go around the cathedral with one of the guides who tells them about monastic life and points out the Noah roof boss while the other half is told the Noah story by Maggie, another one of the volunteers. Then, depending on the age group, they either make clay animals/arks or draw animals to put on a giant mural that they can then take back to their schools. The murals almost always end up with more than two of each animal and sometimes they end up with more than one Noah, depending on the creativity of the kids. And, finally, they have a drama session which usually consists of acting out the Noah story in some fashion, ie they pretend to be animals & Noah’s family, and have Junk Percussion. Junk Percussion is great, unless you’ve been up until 2 or 3am writing an essay and are really tired. Basically, we’ve got a bunch of empty milk cartons, water bottles, tins with beans & metal bits, and knitting needles (drumsticks) that the kids get to pick out and use as percussion instruments. The teachers, Juliet, & I usually read the parts and the students provide the background noises- everything from animal noises to the rain to a la-la singing effect when the rainbow appears. It’s always funny when the teachers start cringing because they would NEVER let the students act that out of hand; and by out of hand, I mean being loud and having fun. The best part of these days are hearing the kids talk about how they would feel if they were stuck inside an ark for 40 days and seeing them having way too much fun on the junk percussion.

Student Sheep

The second programme we do is the Good Shepherd Day, which is all about well, the Good Shepherd and feeling cared for. Maggie usually does the story (we have a couple of wooden sets of animals and such that are used for these story-telling sessions) while another group is shown around the cathedral, with the Good Shepherd window highlighted on their tour. After the story, they talk about where there “sanctuary” is and who cares for them. We always try to bring them around to the point that they are cared for and such. They then make sheep (from clay, which I usually have the wonderful task of dividing rolling into little balls before the students get there) and position them in the little area that is set up for them- complete with sheep pen and wooden shepherd. We then talk about who made what sheep and why they chose to put them either in or outside of the pen, which is sometimes illuminating; most of the time the kids were really proud of their sheep and wanted it to stand out. Occasionally, there would be one student who wasn’t sure how to make a sheep and then I’d have to help them. There was one (particularly silly) girl who wanted me to make it for her so she could ask me sort of personal questions about my friends, if I’m seeing anyone, why I have a funny accent, etc.

The third programme I’ve helped out with is probably my favourite: Monks’ Day. The kids get dressed up in black habits, which are supposed to be reflective of the Benedictine habits the monks wore, but looks more like Death Eater costumes. (Seriously, I could barely keep a straight face the first day I did this programme because I was surrounded by little Death Eaters). Terry (who was once a monk) and Peter then take the kids around the cathedral, highlighting the daily duties of the novice in particular. Then, the kids have plainsong in the choir stalls (usually a funny experience that results in one kid getting called out to lead the rest of the group, much to their embarrassment) before going back to the classroom to do some form of activity before they go upstairs and “interview” Brother Terry and Agnes (usually played by Juliet), the cathedral servant, about life at the cathedral in the 1390s. At the end of the day, the kids get to vote on whether they’d like to be a monk/nun. It’s normally a mix between yes and no; usually, they say yes if they were in the 14th century because the lifestyle was better for the average monk than for the average peasant and no for if they were in the 21st century because they’d want their technology. These are usually my favourite days because they get the kids out into the cathedral the most and take them back to the monastery days.

Finally, there’s the Christian Encounters Day where the students are given a tour of the cathedral, which highlights the bits based on their importance to Christianity. This is usually a short visit, whereas the other days are all day, and introduces the kids to a cathedral and Christianity, which some are unfamiliar with. The last group I had was really knowledgeable about the cathedral and would have spent hours asking questions about different bits, especially the roof bosses, which was fine with me because I love seeing kids engage with the art and try to figure out the stories, but their teachers were a bit too concerned with time and getting through everything.

Working with the schools and getting to share what I know about medieval art has been my favourite bit of volunteering at the cathedral. There’s something awesome about showing a kid a misericord with a dragon and seeing their imagination take off that makes rolling balls of clay and putting up with the craziness that often comes along with Junk Percussion worth it. If I’m going to have any withdrawals from this year (and I’m guessing there will be several), the hardest to cope with will be not working with young kids in the cathedral and inspiring them to not only get interested in history, but art as well.

14/2: 9:30-2:30 (5)

7/4: 9:30-2:30 (5)

14/4: 9:30-2:30 (5)

28/4: 9:30-3 (5.5)

6/5: 9:30-12 (2.5)

Hours: 23

Supervisor: Juliet Corbett

Categories: 2010 Stephenie

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