Sign In
Sign In
Register for Free
PrimaryHistory

Home learning activity – Celebrate Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday

Use these six activity ideas and our free resources to learn all about Florence Nightingale…

Bev Forrest
by Bev Forrest
DOWNLOAD A FREE RESOURCE! KS1 History Medium-Term Plan – Significant People
PrimaryHistory

Written by history expert Bev Forrest, this is an adapted version of our six-week series of lessons, designed especially for use at home during the coronavirus lockdown. The activities are suitable for KS1 children (age 5-7) and focus on this key question: who deserves to be remembered; Nellie Spindler or Florence Nightingale?

Do you remember learning about Florence Nightingale during your school days? Perhaps all you can now recall is her being known as the lady with the lamp or that she had a pet owl called Athena.

This series of six activities is a great opportunity for you to find out more about Florence and to discover how she was a true pioneer in so many ways.

2020 is a special time for Florence as it marks 200 years since her birth. Her name is very much in the news at the moment as it has been chosen as the name for the huge makeshift hospitals created to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

During these activities, children will compare Florence’s life and achievements with that of Nellie Spindler, a nurse from the first world war.

Children will begin to make connections between different time periods and also gain a better understanding of why we remember different people.

The activity ideas are accompanied by all the resources and links you need. Your child may want to keep all their work from the activities in a small book that they can share with their teacher when they return to school.

Space the activities out or complete more than one a day – it’s entirely up to you. Why not plan to complete the final activity on Florence’s birthday?


Download the resources you’ll need for these activities here!

Download your free accompanying resources above


Activity 1

Key question: Who were Florence Nightingale and Nellie Spindler?

What they’ll discover:

  • What a nurse is and what they do
  • When Florence and Nellie lived and which wars they served in

Key words to use: Nurse, famous, significant, nationally, locally, Crimean war, first world war, allies

This activity supports your child in recognising the diversity of people within the nursing profession.

Discuss the range of work that nurses do both in hospitals and in the community.

Together look at the photographs of Nellie Spindler and Florence Nightingale (resource 2) and explain to your child that they are going to travel back in time to find out more about them in the following activities.

With your child place the illustrated information cards (resource 3) in order. As you do so, briefly explain about the Crimean war and the first world war and look at the images for each (resource 4).

Explain who was fighting and where the wars took place: the Crimean War (1853-1856) saw Russia against Britain, France and the Turkish in the Crimea; the first world war was between Britain, France and Russia against Germany and Austria/Hungary in 1914-18 and took place in many areas including France and Belgium.

Use a map to find these areas. It is not necessary for your child to know about the wars in any detail as this not part of the school work for this age group.

Explain to your child that both nurses are significant people but only one of them is famous nationally.

Ask your child for the names of famous people and share ideas about what makes someone famous (children will usually think of sportspeople, musicians, TV personalities or perhaps people like Captain Tom Moore or Boris Johnson.

Will these people be remembered in 100 or 200 years from now? Why? There are no right or wrong answers here. What is important is that your child has a good reason for their answer. You may want to look at the criteria for significance for help here (resource 5).

Can someone be famous and significant? The answer is yes, but the key is that they can be famous without being significant – think carefully about whether they have done something of lasting importance that people will remember in future generations. It could be that someone continues to be significant or famous locally without ever becoming well-known or recognised nationally.

Explain to your child that they will need to decide if the two nurses are both equally significant or if one is more significant than the other at the end of the series of activities.

Optional task Ask your child to write a brief description of both Nellie and Florence underneath their pictures. They should include what they can see and also what they think the person is like from looking at the picture.


Activity 2

Key question: What makes Florence Nightingale so special?

What they’ll discover:

  • What Florence Nightingale achieved and why it is so important
  • What the most important information about Florence is

Key words to use: Scutari, emotion, important, achievement

Tell your child the story of Florence Nightingale using resource 6 for support.

Look at pictures of the hospital in Scutari before and after Florence arrived.

Ask your child to find the differences in the second image and draw a circle round it. From the clues in the picture ask them what they think Florence achieved in the hospital.

Ask your child what they think is the most important event in Florence’s life. Ask them why they chose that event. They could choose any event, but they must be able to give a valid reason for making it.

Optional task Write a list of reasons why they think Florence Nightingale was a special person.


Activity 3

Key question: What makes Nellie Spindler so special?

What they’ll discover:

  • What Nellie Spindler achieved and why it is so important
  • Valid reasons for why Nellie Spindler did the things she did

Key words to use: Brave, sequence, battlefront

Together look at the story of Nellie Spindler in resource 7. Discuss why Nellie decided to go and help the soldiers so near the battlefield.

Do you think Nellie was brave? Your child may need some support regarding what it means to be brave – they will need to make connections between their own idea of being brave, acts of bravery today and what Nellie did in the past. Do they think Nellie should have gone to serve in the war?

Give your child the jumbled up cards featuring events from Nellie’s life (resource 8). Ask them to put the events in the order in which they happened. The most recent event will be on the right and the furthest back in time on the left.

Ask your child to take away half of the cards, leaving only what they consider to be ones showing the most important events in Nellie’s life. Then ask them to choose which card shows the most important event in Nellie’s life. Ask them why they think this is the most important event.

Optional task Stick the selected card on a piece of paper. Underneath, your child can write one or more sentences about why this is the most important event.


Activity 4

Key question: Did Florence and Nellie have anything in common?

What they’ll discover:

  • Similarities and differences between Nellie Spindler and Florence Nightingale
  • Links between nurses in the past and nurses today

Key words to use: Equality, change, impact

Look again at the pictures of Nellie and Florence (resource 2). Ask your child about ways in which the two nurses are similar and different. They could think about when and where they lived, their background, what they did, the reasons for their actions and their personal qualities, including bravery, knowledge, kindness and willingness to take risks.

Explain to your child that although Florence’s work can be considered to have a much bigger impact as it resulted in lots of improvements in nursing, Nellie had an immediate impact on all the soldiers she helped.

It is important to appreciate women’s contribution in wars and recognise that it would be hard for countries to fight and win without them. The efforts of nurses like Nellie in the first world war helped to change people’s views on what women could and couldn’t do and helped them to be treated more equally and gain the vote.

Optional task Make a list of the similarities and differences between Nellie and Florence.


Activity 5

Key question: Should we still remember Nellie and Florence?

What they’ll discover:

  • The meaning of significance
  • Valid reasons why Florence and Nellie are both significant and should be remembered

Key words to use: Memorial, significance, plaque, remembrance

Look at photographs of memorials to Florence and explain what a memorial is (something used to remind people of a person or event).

Ask your child why they think people wanted memorials to Florence. Do they think Florence’s memorials are still important today?

Explain that Nellie’s hometown of Wakefield recently put up a memorial to her and also named a road after her. There is also a memorial at the hospital in Leeds.

Ask your child why they think the people of Wakefield chose to remember someone who died so long ago. Why do they think Nellie has fewer memorials than Florence?

Watch this film of the song Clean White Sheets. Your child may want to learn the words to the song and add some actions of their own.

Recap your ideas about significance in activity 1 (resource 5 could help). Discuss whether Nellie or Florence is the most significant and why. Remind your child that people can have national or local significance, or be significant to individual people.

It is equally valid for your child to choose either nurse, as long as they have good reasons for their choice. It is important for them to understand that they both should be remembered for what they achieved and that we can remember people in different ways.

Optional task Ask your child to complete this sentence: ‘I think that Florence/Nellie is the most significant because… But Florence/Nellie is also significant because…’. Encourage your child to offer a range of reasons.


Activity 6

Key question: How should we celebrate Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday?

What they’ll discover:

  • The range of ways in which we can remember someone’s achievements
  • Use their knowledge to select an appropriate way to celebrate Florence’s birthday

Key words to use: Commemorate, anniversary, bi-centenary, symbol, inscription, statue, plaque, frieze

With your child discuss the different ways in which we celebrate our birthdays (cakes, cards, presents, parties, etc). Explain that Florence’s birthday (12th May 1820) was chosen to be International Nurses Day and this helps to show just how important she is to nurses everywhere.

Does your child notice anything special about Florence’s birth date? They should spot that it is 200 years since she was born. Explain this is called a bi-centenary – if it was 100 years it would be a centenary. Ask your child how they think we should remember Florence’s special birthday this year. Prompt them by showing them some of the ways in which people had planned to mark it (before coronavirus put some plans on hold). For instance, every year there is a big church service in Westminster Abbey to celebrate Florence’s work; there are lots of special exhibitions about Florence in museums; there has even been a Florence Nightingale Barbie Doll made.

Ask your child to design a memorial to commemorate Florence’s special birthday. To help with ideas you may want to look again at some of the memorials already made to Florence.

Will your child choose a statue, plaque, frieze, stained glass window or something different? Think about where it will be located to support them in making choices.

Introduce the idea of commemorative stamps, plates and coins too. Which information do they think needs to appear on the memorial? They should understand that an inscription can involve much more than factual information.

Remind them that it needs to contain information about the bi-centenary and they may want it to be a much happier memorial as it is really celebrating her life and achievements. Your child may decide to do something quite different to celebrate her life, such as writing a poem or the words to a song.


Optional task

Together, turn the design idea into a model of Florence’s memorial made from junk materials.


Bev Forrest is a primary teacher trainer, educational consultant, history quality mark assessor and chair of the Historical Association Primary Committee. She is also a member of the editorial board for Primary History and recently qualified as a Chartered Teacher of History. Find out more about Florence Nightingale here and watch a short cartoon film on BBC Bitesize here.

You might also be interested in...