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Learning activities

The kitchen in our homes is a valuable source of objects that can tell much about the stories and histories of families.

The activities below are designed to provide students with a range of skills that will help them 'unlock' the family stories and histories in kitchens and their objects, and to understand how these stories and histories relate to their own lives.

The learning activities in this resource teach students to:

The images on this page show three generations of kitchens for preparing food.

A kitchen in 2010. At the left of the kitchen is a long bench top that has a sink recessed into it. Beyond the sink is a row of containers neatly set out against the bottom of a large window above the bench top. At the far wall of the kitchen is a modern glass-topped, multi-element electric cooktop. Above it, at just about head height, is an extractor fan in a covered installation. Either side of the cooktop are kitchen electric appliances and a knife set. A small shelf to the left of the extractor fan holds an assortment of containers. Cupboards and drawers can be seen under the cooktop. To the right of the cooktop is a doorway leading  into another room. On the right side of the kitchen is a tall double door, glass-fronted pantry. Next to the pantry is a refrigerator. The front of the refrigerator is adorned with notices, pictures and other documents. To the right of the refrigerator is a wall-mounted oven with a microwave oven in a recessed space above it.
A kitchen in Canberra, 2010

A3 printouts

1. Observe and sequence


  • images of kitchens


Introduce the concept of kitchens by facilitating a class discussion.

  • Why do we have kitchens?
  • What happens in them?
  • How does it happen?

Invite students to consider whether kitchens have always been like theirs at home, or whether the kitchens that their parents and grandparents grew up with were different. Prompt students to consider various kinds of change:

  • supply of water, electricity and gas
  • tools for preparing food — electrical appliances, other gadgets
  • methods for preparing food — frozen food, takeaway and home-delivered meals
  • range of available food — off-season fruit and vegetables, packaged desserts.

Introduce the images from the digital collection, in no particular order. Examine each one individually and encourage the students to look closely and describe the features of that kitchen.

  • What are the familiar features?
  • What features are new or unknown to them?

Suggest that those features may help them determine whether the kitchen is from today, their parents' childhood or their grandparents' childhood.

Present all examples from the collection, and invite the students to arrange them in order from oldest to newest. Encourage the students to justify their arrangement by referring to features of each kitchen.

A kitchen from the 1980s. At the left is a tall cupboard with two doors, one on top of the other. To the right of the cupboard is an electric stove, with a four element cooktop at bench level, and an oven mounted above the cooktop. In the corner of the kitchen, to the right of the stove, is a large brown ceramic pot on the kitchen bench. A corner cupboard unit is above the pot. To the right of the pot is the kitchen sink. Further right is more bench space with a vase containing flowers sitting on the bench. Above the vase is another wall-mounted cupboard unit. There are many storage areas with separate doors under the bench. The wall at the back of the kitchen is covered in brown tiles, each about the size of a medium block of chocolate. Large white ceiling tiles can be seen overhead the kitchen.
A kitchen in Western Australia, 1980

2. Research and contextualise


  • poster sheets/large sheets of paper
  • pencils (plain graphite and coloured)
  • coloured paper
  • glue
  • scissors
  • magazines (optional).


Introduce the concept that the students' parents and grandparents have their own experiences of kitchens when they were children. Suggest to the students that they will be able to find out what those kitchens were like by talking to their parents and grandparents, and by writing down the answers to questions that the students will compile.

Lead the students in a class 'brain surf' on the topics they need to research and what questions they will need to get this information.

Ask the students to make a list of questions to ask their parents and/or grandparents on the topic of kitchens in the past. Encourage the students to make sure they cover topics such as:

  • appliances
  • storage
  • utensils
  • food preparation areas
  • colour schemes
  • size
  • recycling
  • waste disposal
  • food types (canned and frozen versus fresh etc)
  • recipes.

Ask the students to interview their parents and/or grandparents and record the answers, perhaps with the help of their parents and/or grandparents.

When students bring their answers back to class, ask them to work in small groups of around five students to create a poster that sets out the findings of their research.

Alternatively have the students work on individual posters if this better suits the class. The students may like to use headings on their posters that relate to various topics, or they may like to use major headings such as 'Mum and Dad's kitchen from the past' and so on. Students could embellish their posters with drawings, designs and perhaps cut-outs from magazines to add to the imagery of their posters.

Invite each group to present their poster to the rest of the class, and summarise the similarities and differences they have discovered in their oral history research.

A kitchen from the 1950s. The image of the kitchen is in black and white. In the foreground of the kitchen is a four-legged table, with a thick slab top. The top has a mottled pattern on it. Behind the table is a multi-drawer kitchen cupboard, with glass-panelled sliding doors in the top section. Flowers in a vase, an oil-burning lamp and some books are on top of the cupboard. To the left of the cupboard is a refrigerator with rounded edges. To the right of the table, in the corner of the kitchen is a wood-burning stove built into a recess. There are pots and pans on the stove. A shelf above the recess holds cylindrical containers. At the far right of the image is a wooden chair. Part of a curtain is visible above the chair.
A kitchen in Mount Gambier, South Australia, 1950

3. Empathise and speculate


  • writing materials
  • drawing paper and pencils
  • image of 1950s kitchen (above)
  • supplementary images of old style appliances eg meat grinders
  • space for physical interpretations and performance.


Introduce the concept that kitchens in the past were perhaps scenes of more work than modern kitchens. Discuss with them why this was so, and what it meant for those who used them (parents and grandparents, or perhaps mothers and grandmothers).

Using the image of the oldest kitchen, encourage the students to identify how it would have made cooking and food preparation more of a challenge compared to a modern kitchen.

Ask the students to think about the range of tasks undertaken in this kitchen, and what body movements may have been involved in those tasks.

Ask the students to express these movements physically, perhaps individually or in small groups, and to share their thoughts in regard to what it would have been like to have to perform these movements frequently in the cooking of food.

Have the students discuss the range of labour-saving appliances available in a modern kitchen, and how these appliances make cooking easier (or maybe harder). Ask them to make a list of these appliances, with a simple description of what they do and how they reduce labour (the students may perhaps work in small groups or individually).

Have the students compare their lists and see if there are any appliances they haven't identified in their lists.

Ask the students to think about what a kitchen of the future (when they are adults) might contain in regard to labour-saving appliances. Have the students draw what they think the appliances might look like, and ask them to add a simple description of their functions and how they might make preparing a meal easier in the future kitchen.

Encourage the students to also consider the sounds these appliances might make, and to suggest what these sounds might be and verbalise them.

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