School girl looking at a model skeleton

Trumpington Meadows Primary

When inspiring curiosity shops and reading spaces of this type are used to support high quality pedagogical practices in schools, they can add a valuable new dimension to children’s learning
Sandra Leaton-Gray, Senior Lecturer in Education at the Institute of Education, University of London.

Where ‘Curiosity Shops’ bring topic-based learning to life.

Trumpington Meadows School in Cambridgeshire is a primary school with a difference. Before the school even opened its doors in 2013 to cater for a growing local community, Head Teacher Judith Osler had big plans for its pupils.

Judith as is a firm believer in pushing the boundaries of the National Curriculum and offering children first hand experiences to learn from at every opportunity. “Children’s imaginations are at the heart of what we offer” says Judith. “We offer a creative (topic) based approach to learning. We call it ‘Learning to Learn like Darwin’ whose unique way of learning by collecting, collating, sketching, questioning and scrutinising has inspired us. Essentially we want to offer every one of our pupils the chance to explore, ask questions and be inspired”.

The school was designed with this learning ethos very much in mind. At the centre of the school runs a long spacious corridor, which every classroom opens onto. This space is called the Learning Street. The vision and the brief to BookSpace was to transform this space was into an area where children could extend their learning, follow their instincts and above all, explore. Judith had previously visited Jeavons Wood School in Cambridgeshire which BookSpace had designed and knew that this approach was what they were looking for.

When BookSpace first visited Trumpington Meadows we spent time talking to staff and getting a feel for the school and how they would be using the space. As the school was keen to encourage the children to use the new space independently, we proposed building several ‘Curiosity Shops’, each one relating to a different part of the curriculum and filled with genuine artefacts relating to that subject. We then suggested interspersing this with book shelving and seating. “I really liked the idea that if a child sees something in one of the ‘shops’ that they are interested in, then they can find out more about it by using the selection of books displayed nearby” says Judith.

The school were keen that the space should be used by the all year groups from reception through to Year 6, so we proposed that one end of the corridor should have a younger feel and the other end be more appropriate for older children with desking for PCS, a coffee table and armchairs.

BookSpace developed a number of different design options for Judith and her team to consider. At the heart of each one were the ‘Curiosity Shops’ covering literacy, maths, history and science. Each plan was designed to be intriguing and enticing but at the same time the school was keen to ensure they weren’t too cluttered and too over-whelming, particularly for SEN pupils. This is a philosophy that runs through the whole school and into the classrooms. A display policy is in place that all teachers adhere to. “We try to make sure our walls and corridors aren’t too chaotic.” Says Judith. “Wherever possible, we only display something if it serves a purpose or looks attractive. This helps us to create a calm space – not silent but calm.”

BookSpace worked with Judith and the management team to make amendments and adjustment both to the plans and the content for the Curiosity Shops. The final plan sited the Literacy and Maths Curiosity Shops near to the Reception and Year 1 classrooms, along with lower height book shelving. Higher book shelving along with the Science and History Curiosity Shops and a coffee table, sofas and bespoke PC desking were built further down the ‘Street’ nearer to the classrooms for older children. “BookSpace really listened to what we wanted and how we were going to use the space” says Judith. “They were clearly prepared to work with us and give us something unique which would work for us rather than just giving us an ‘off-the-shelf’ solution which wasn’t what we wanted.”

Literacy curiosity shop - themed primary school library

When you look at the tables, you can write a story from it
Children colouring in school library
Boy typing on typewriter
Contemporary school library learning space
School library literacy area
Book wall display in library
Display area in school library

Literacy Curiosity Shop

Filled with fascinating objects to inspire children of all ages to write. The focal point is an old writing bureau which contains different materials to write on and write with. Slate boards, chunky chalks, an old typewriter, blank postcards and a giant writing book. An easel with a whiteboard and chalkboard is also included and there’s a cabinet which displays more unusual items such as quill pens, ink and a Chinese calligraphy set. The shop is sited close to Reception and Year 1 classes who enjoy investigating the objects and experimenting with first writing.

Numeracy area of school library
Weighing scales
Numeracy school library display area
Girl on calculator
Boy looking at display objects
Girl using weighing scales

Numeracy Curiosity Shop

BookSpace designed this space for pupils to role play ‘shops’ with plenty of opportunities to learn about numeracy in a play environment. The shop contained a vintage set of scales and weights together with various jars containing beads, buttons and pegs. A set of giant playing cards, an old-fashioned wooden folding ruler and measuring bowls and scoops are included to encourage pupils to count, weigh and look at sizes and shapes. A display cabinet built into the Curiosity Shop displays various alarm clocks to encourage children to learn more about time.

Library history area
Children in school library history section
Old metal cars
Old film camera in school library
Children playing in school history area
Children with library discovery chest

History Curiosity Shop

A Welsh dresser is filled with vintage wall tiles, original turn of the century pottery, silver teapots and various picture frames. A big travelling trunk contains an old film camera, black & white photographs and old metal biscuit tins and an original coat/umbrella stand houses a variety of hats, coats, walking sticks and umbrellas, all of which tell a tale about life gone by.

Children in school science area
Girl with safety glasses
School girl and skeleton
School science area
Science display objects

Science Curiosity Shop

Unusual items which pupils will probably never have had the chance to encounter before were included in the Science Curiosity Shop. By handling and investigating these objects, the idea is that pupils will be inspired to find out more. We included a life-size anatomical skeleton, a lab coat & safety goggles, an over-sized magnifying glass, a microscope, test-tubes, a giant thermometer, a bug investigation kit and a robotic arm. The Science Cuoriosity Shop is sited near to the Year 6 classrooms and older pupils are encouraged to visit, touch, explore and feed their curiosity.

The school’s vision was to inspire deep learning, slow everything down and give children permission to explore a topic from all angles. The Learning Street has allowed them to do that. Each year group uses topic boxes in the classrooms and then if children are interested in exploring a topic further, they are encouraged to visit the Learning Street. “This is always seen as a treat!” says Judith.

“Inspectors, Educational Lecturers from Cambridge and the Institute in London and also governors have been in school this week. They are completely stunned by what you have all done. Thank you so much”.

School library reading area