Category: Children


The summer is over. The jumpers are out and the kettle is working overtime. In school, we’ve re-arranged the classroom, sourced some new equipment and settled into some new routines with a fresh bunch of children. The summer is a distant memory.

I like this time of year. I love any excuse to have a shift around and get the classroom looking fresh, and September is perfect for all of that. We’ve evaluated every aspect of our day and practice, and tweaked anything that didn’t work. We’re jumping on the latest trend of milk as a continuous provision area, which the children can access at any point throughout the day. Of course, it has had its teething problems but on the whole it seems to be working out well. It’s freed up more time for us to use with focus tasks and provision area activities.

Another reason I like September is the chance to meet your new class. So far, they’ve shown themselves to be a well-mannered and fun bunch, and I’m looking to getting stuck into our topic, ‘Famous Faces’, this term. The children shared some fantastic ideas for who we could study (ranging from Neil Armstrong, Ariana Grande and Florence Nightingale…..to the local binman). I’m keen to move away from the traditional figures of study. When I was in primary school I can only remember learning about Florence Nightingale and Emmeline Pankhurst in terms of significant women in history. I want to provide opportunities for the children to learn about a range of famous people, of different genders, race, and abilities. I remember thinking as a child how weird it was that only men seemed to do anything important. I want my class to know that this is absolutely not the case, as I started to learn in secondary school.

Of course September isn’t easy. Our first week back has already been a rollercoaster, from the joy of seeing everyone after the break, to the excitement of the new start, to the hideous anxiety of looking at the calendar for the next term! By Thursday I had managed to convince myself that I can handle the demands the autumn term makes as they arrive, and that over-thinking and over-prepping weeks in advance is unnecessary and draining. Whether or not this continues, we shall see.

What I definitely hope for this year is a year of calm enjoyment. I do believe that whatever I’m feeling effects the children, and as the pressures of the job don’t seem to be easing any time soon, I need to take control of my responses to those pressures and ensure that I approach every challenge with cool composure. I mostly want to show them the spectrum of ability and talent within the world, and have a lot of fun doing it. I’ll get back to you in July!

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This summer I tasked myself with a secret mission. Well, several, actually, but first and foremost I wanted to do the impossible and unwind. I’m not very good at relaxing. I used to be, but I seem to have picked up an annoying habit of filling any ‘empty’ time with jobs. (This is not evident in the current state of my flat….or classroom.) I wanted to make the most of my time off, as I know, (and have been reminded many times this summer!) that I am very bloody lucky to have it. Secondly, I wanted to learn to become my own best friend. I can be hard on myself and I’m working on a bit of self-forgiveness and care. On the back of my travels last year, I wanted to continue exploring and take myself off to somewhere I hadn’t been before (…..in the UK. I’m not financially sound enough to stretch to over-seas travel this year).  I spent the weeks building up to 20th July making sure I had a balance of fun, pre-planned activities but also time at home, to recuperate and breathe. I think I’ve been quite successful in having a holiday that has included the compulsory theatre trips, catch ups with friends, lots of yoga, gym visits, handiwork around the flat, a re-write of a story I wrote three years ago, family time, some amazing food and plenty of laughing. Here are some of the things I learnt.

  • I can drive – OK, I may have passed my test five years ago but I’ve not had much practise at long distance driving and the terrifying motorways. I drove to Cambridge and Cardiff this summer and lived to tell the tale.
  • Comparing yourself to others is a no-no – I am guilty of this. It’s a bad habit. I look at Instagram and I can’t help but think ‘God, why can’t I have that?’ (this is usually directed at someone’s abs) but I am working on not doing this. We never put the negatives on social media, so everything is filtered. Also, I’m very fortunate in my own life, so I should take more time to appreciate all the cool things I get to do and the awesome people I spend my time with.
  • It’s OK to remember the past, but more important to focus on the future – Alright, I know, this one is cheese on toast, but it’s still important. Another guilty trait of mine is being over-nostalgic or dwelling over things that have happened ages ago. I’ve definitely learnt this summer that we move away from places and people as we get older, and that’s OK. It’s not necessarily a reason to be sad. It should be a chance to appreciate the good times spent and then move on. Go. Get over it. Run into the next phase of your life. (Parmesan everywhere!).
  • I’m brave – This summer I spent a week in Cambridge alone. It was awesome. I saw lots of sights, went to a hot yoga class, met some interesting people, bought some cool things – totally took myself out of my comfort zone – and thought nothing of it until I got home. That whole trip would not have happened a few years ago. This ticks the ‘unwind’ box too as I spent plenty of time in parks, reading a book in the sunshine. Bliss.
  • Seeing theatre is improved when you go in unprepared – I saw booked a few shows at the last minute this summer, without knowing much about them beforehand. Watching shows first-hand with no prior impressions or knowledge gives for a more goose-bumpy (new word) experience.
  • And finally, time out is important, but it’s also important to get back on the treadmill. This last week has been difficult as I’ve been itching to get back to school. We get a lot of flak for our holidays but, honestly, they are needed. It can get so intense that it’s easy to start doubting yourself. I think most teachers will agree that once they’ve taken themselves out of that pressurised environment, where both adult and children’s emotions are stretched, and taken time to relax, we start to feel that excitement again. I’m really looking forward to going back tomorrow, with a new class, and getting back into the swing of things.

So there we go, self-indulgent, cheesey summer post done. To all the teachers, good luck for tomorrow. I’ve made a habit of reminding myself this time of year that it’s important for the children to learn, but it’s equally (if not more) important that they have fun, happy, meaningful experiences.  Let’s start September with a smile and positivity.

I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of theatre over the last few weeks, but this week I get to talk about a production far closer to home. It’s that time of year in school where my classroom is full of random props, bags of costumes litter the hall and I’m forever finding various annotated scripts with my initials scribbled on the top. Yes,  it’s time for the performing arts club production.

This year we opted to buy in a script and perform ‘The Mystery of Magpie Manor’, a mini-mystery surrounding a wealthy family in the 1920s and a missing family heirloom.

Now, it’s normal for any production to take a slump towards the end of rehearsals but this one hit a dip like no other. Just two weeks before the children were due to perform, three dropped out, some still didn’t know their lines and the music system was so unreliable it was difficult to rehearse any songs.

However, after three glorious year 5s came to our rescue and stepped into roles at the last minute without any fuss, we found ourselves finally prepared for opening night.

They were brilliant! Everyone performed with fizzing energy. Every song was a joy and every punch line smacked the audience perfectly. I’m learning to have faith in these children and not to underestimate them because of their age. Some of our younger cast have smashed barriers no one thought they would. From the renowned drama queen who pulled off a terrific comedy performance, to the more reserved sisters who remained in character throughout the whole show and confidently sang solo! It was one of those nights that, as their teacher, I couldn’t stop smiling. I left feeling super proud, went straight home to my laptop, and began working on next year’s production….

A miracle has happened. We were plagued with the familiar panic-stricken reports of impending snowmaggedon but, as usual, we took notice and prepared for normal, dreary British weather. On Friday morning, I arrived to work with a just a small enough dusting of the white stuff to inconvenience my school shoes but by 8.15am the Head was flapping around the school spreading news of a possible closure. The yard was blanketed, teachers and pupils were stranded in their homes and the I ended up with a small handful of breakfast club children taking shelter in my classroom.

Everyone was home by 11am and, as is procedure, staff were encouraged to take work home. It was a nice change to catch up with my incerts and mark my books in front of the TV with the heating on full blast and a cup of hot chocolate on the table.

Our school doesn’t close easily, but we were one of 56 schools in the area to close Friday and Monday. I’ve seen and heard a lot of grumbling online about it being ‘pathetic’ that the schools chose to close up. I don’t envy Heads who have to make that decision. At 8.15am on Friday the snow was coming thick and fast but by 9am, when parents were leaving with their children, it had typically stopped. The Headteacher had to trust the forecasts and think ahead to later heavy flurries (which continued not only throughout Friday but across the weekend). Many cynical comments followed the school closures in our area, with one person asking me ‘Is it a safety thing, or something?’.

Well….of course it is! Believe it or not, the snow isn’t some conspiracy theory constructed by teachers so they can have a sneaky day off (we all took work home and were told not to go out!). Many factors contribute towards a school closure but the main focus of whole decision is obviously pupil safety. The Head not only had to consider staff ratios but judge whether it was worth asking parents to make the treacherous journey to school along icy roads with their children in the car.

Thankfully our parents were very understanding but online comments afterwards did bug me. I remember several snow days when I was younger. They’re memory makers. It might be a pain for adults who need to get to work but, remember, for a child it’s exciting! Going out and sledging with the family or even just staying inside and keeping cosy. It all adds a little bit of magic to the impending festive season.

To put my teacher hat on – think of the learning! Measuring the snow, discussing temperature, forming shapes and letters in the snow, the melting process – the list is endless!

Despite the temptation to cling to the central heating with a cup of tea, I forced myself to venture to the shop yesterday with my friend. It took us way longer than usual but it was hilarious. And it made the warm flat and hot mulled wine even more luxurious. Yes, it’s a bit of an inconvenience, but if you’re able to enjoy it then do so! We rarely get snow days so my advice is to just make the most of it, stop complaining and take a leave out of the childrens’ book – be excited!

Christmas has arrived in Blwyddyn Un.

On the first of December, our elf arrived with instructions to ‘Christmas-up’ the classroom, and the festive season erupted into our classroom.

So far, we’ve built a toy workshop in the role play, rescued snowmen from a tuff spot and written letters for Father Christmas. It feels like Christmas has been a long time coming, with concert rehearsals being in full swing for three or four weeks now.

Speaking of concerts, we had our first full run through today. The children are working hard at learning their lines and remembering where they need to stand but I think we’ll all be breathing a sigh of relief next Monday after the final performance. I think that is when the Christmas fun will really begin, when all the official business is done and the concerts have finished and we can all relax.

I was thinking about a very special part of the job. It’s lovely to spend Christmas with children. It’s easy to forget how magical Christmas is for children and seeing their excitement every day is bringing back memories from my own childhood. I think that being in the classroom, no matter how rubbish your feeling, can have such an uplifting effect, especially at Christmas. The children’s excitement and wonder at Christmas is infectious. It’s lovely to share their joy when they come in to see which challenge the elf has set them, or listen to their questions for Father Christmas.

No matter how stressful it gets, how exhausted we are or how much we complain, it’s definitely a perk of the job to share the children’s magical memories of the season.

It was the first week back after half term so the usual ‘stepping back on the treadmill’ stuff was happening. Planning, prepping, panicking, etc.

Then on Thursday, I was sent on a course at the last minute. It meant driving through picturesque Wales to Llanrwst, taking part in a drama workshop and, the clincher, a free lunch so, of course, I was on board immediately.

The focus of the course was Dorothy Heathcote’s Mantle of the Expert strategy. Having spent a lot of time researching this particular area of Heathcote’s work as part of my PGCE dissertation, I was really excited to see how a school in Brecon had put the strategy and pedagogy into practice. Mantle of the Expert is all about engaging pupils in a task by adding a sense of theatre. Obviously, this was my jam. After some hands-on examples of how this can be implemented, I certainly left Llanrwst feeling motivated and re-energised. It was a much-welcome boost.

The teachers leading the training were inspirational and it was refreshing to hear their realistic opinions and experiences. These were everyday teachers who experienced the same ups and downs as the rest of us, but were enjoying lots of success after taking a risk with their teaching. ‘Mantle’ involves putting the pupil in charge, whilst the teacher takes more of a directorial role. The pupil is given the freedom to explore and lead their own learning, whist in a role as an ‘expert’. For example, their role could be a leader of an expedition to the Titanic wreckage, or a recruitment agent for a Superhero agency. The trainers shared countless examples of how they have used Mantle in the classroom and I was pleased to see some of the techniques were already being touched on in my class. This term I’ve already asked year one to be wedding planners and party organisers, so I felt like a lot of the ideas shared would fit in with my teaching.

So, on Friday I bounced into class with a new idea. I needed to teach ‘Light and Dark’ to the children and I had an idea of how to introduce it. Using a pop up tent, some leaves and plenty of fabric, I built a cave in the corner of my classroom and set up the laptop to play soft snoring sounds into the class. When the children came in I greeted them with lots of ssssh-ing and gesturing to the cave. Straight away they were in total awe and began questioning what could be inside the cave, all through careful whispers so as not to wake our visitor up. I of course feigned ignorance and conjured up a story of how I’d found this cave when I arrived at school and wanted to wait for the children before I went inside as I wasn’t quite brave enough to risk it alone.

I left them hanging for a bit whilst we carried out our usual morning rituals, then got them all riled up by asking them if they’d like to see what was inside. The answer was, of course, ‘YES!’. So, in my most Olivier-worthy performance, I crept over into the tent and performed my side of a conversation. When I emerged, the children were rapt with interest. I explained that inside the cave was a very friendly bear and the reason he was sleeping was because he had such a terrible night’s rest due to his fear of the dark. The children were very sympathetic and before I could explain further they were suggesting ways we could help. Which is exactly what I wanted them to do. So, following ‘their’ suggestions, we researched light sources on the internet and watched a video clip, dismissing sources which we couldn’t use, such as as the sun or car headlights, and made a list of possibilities. We tested a candle in the classroom, but the children were quick to point out that might not be a safe option for the bear. I then gave the children time to, in groups, test out some objects we’d found in the classroom (some handily placed) by taking them into the cave. If the objects helped them see the bear then they were light sources, but if they didn’t then they were not.

I can’t tell you how excited they were. Most notably, the children who are usually less focused and engaged were fizzing with energy and excitement. One boy was so animated, it was lovely to see him dashing around the classroom and testing things out in the cave, keen to find a solution for the bear. He was also using complex, topic-appropriate language within his investigation. It was fab!

The course trainers had shared how Mantle had not only improved standards of work and behaviour in their school but it had also given the children a sense of value. They knew they were being trusted with their learning so they made sure they didn’t abuse that trust. Differing to our usual Topic-based work, which change termly, Mantles can run for any length of time. In this particular school they stressed the importance of allowing a Mantle to run its course and not feel pressured to squeeze as many in as possible. Some Mantles can last for weeks whilst some can run their natural course in just a few days. It all depends on the children’s responses and the ideas they want to explore.

From my initial experiences with Mantle of the Expert I can already see that it is a powerful tool to enhance learning and self-confidence. After last week’s brief session, I’m going to try to develop the ‘bear cave’ idea to incorporate natural and man-made light, shadows and transparent and opaque materials. It was a huge hit in blwyddyn un and from the responses of the children it is definitely something I’ll be implementing more often in the future.

It’s that time of the term again. Just a few days left and we’re all slogging away with the last of our energy, dragging ourselves towards Friday (and I include the children in this. We’re all exhausted.). With the end of term being typically hectic, it’s been hard to pin down any kind of thoughts to blog about. However, there is one thing I’ve been thinking about over the last week or so.

Beliefs. What we believe in is important to us. For a lot of people it gets them through their day. Some have more beliefs than others. Some think it causes a lot of problems. Regardless, what we believe in is an important human trait.

In education, we’re expected to be a whitewashed, stripped down version of ourselves. We’re not allowed to appear to have any kind of life outside the classroom at risk of appearing ‘unprofessional’. In most other aspects, this makes me cross, as I think sharing our true selves is part of being a role model of diversity and reality for young children. However, when it comes to religion, I think there’s a thin line we need to tread.

It’s important for us to get the balance right. It’s OK for us to talk about religion, after all it has been around for a very long time and will continue to be around long after any of us have shuffled off, but to impose a view on others is definite no-no. We wouldn’t do it to an adult, so to push a religious view point on a child is to take advantage of their impressionable position.

My Grandad always says ‘Never talk about religion or politics’ and as I’ve grown up I’ve realised this is excellent advice (unfortunately, a couple of times, I’ve learned this the hard way). It’s a road that can easily lead to trouble. Whether we’re the teacher or the parent, we should be opening doors for children, not closing them. Our role is to present the world with an open mind and allow the child to make their choice. We must only educate. There should come a time when each child should be allowed to explore their own thoughts.

Religion can be a fantastic gateway into exploring other cultures and whether you’re Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Agnostic…whatever, it’s a subject that should be respected and used to educate.  I know lots of people who are agnostic but wouldn’t dream of pushing those opinions on the children. I know some people with strong religious beliefs who wouldn’t do so either. I know some people who are less likely to follow that road. There are even more people whose religion I don’t even know because….I don’t need to! It’s a personal choice that doesn’t necessarily need to be worn on a sleeve.

This might seem like a strange stream of consciousness but the position we’re in, as adults, and the way it can effect children, for better and worse, has crossed my mind a lot this week. It’s a powerful position and one that should never be abused.

Image result for halloween craftWe’ve got a bit of a dilemma in Blwyddyn Un at the moment. Our topic is ‘Celebrations’ and at the start of the term I asked the children what kind of things we celebrate. We had the usuals – Birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Weddings etc….

But then came the word we’d been dreading: Halloween. I managed to brush the suggestion off but it kept creeping up.

‘In the craft area, I’d like you to draw something to do with a celebration that we can put on display, please,’ I announced the following week, expecting an influx of birthday cakes and Christmas trees. One boy drew a spider. Another a pumpkin. Another child drew a ghost! ‘What’s this?’ I asked with annoying faux-ignorance. ‘For Halloween!’ they all chirped excitedly. ‘Oh, great,’ was my reply through a very forced smile.

See, personally, I don’t have a problem with Halloween. I love it. And I’m all for any celebration that breaks up the monotony of everyday life. I’m not a horror kind of person but in October I just want to watch American Horror Story, eat lots of chocolate (OK, that’s a constant urge) and dress as a vampire. It just comes naturally this time of year. But, professionally, I’m stuck.

When I first started working in schools I was surprised that the H-word had become so taboo. I’ve got a lot of fun memories of Halloween as a child and a teenager (well, from about 14 onwards. Before that I was actually scared of Halloween, much to my mother’s embarrassment, but I realise I was a minority). I get that the roots of Halloween have connotations to paganism and I’m not saying we should making any sacrificial offerings or anything, but I believe Halloween is a different celebration to what it used to be centuries ago. It’s part of our culture now, whether we like it or not. It’s something that we do. And if it’s true that Halloween stems from Celtic festivals, then shouldn’t we, as descendants of Welsh Celts, be using it as a point of education?

The most obvious change is that it’s now commercialised. Children are unaware of its original meanings and enjoy Halloween just because it’s a bit of fun! We all like a good scare to get the adrenaline going and on these winter nights there’s nothing better than curling up with some sweets and Hocus Pocus. It’s become bigger, even since I was a child. Chances are they’ll be trick or treating with their parents so why should we pretend like it doesn’t exist and ban it from the classroom? I’m not saying we spend weeks preparing for it, like we would Christmas, but I don’t see why we can’t treat it like Bonfire Night and have a couple of Halloween-themed numeracy or literacy sessions. We could base some work on Funnybones or Winnie the Witch. We could design a costume. We could be developing our fine and gross motor skills by pumpkin carving! Oh my goodness, think of the scope for craft activities! Further up the school we could touch on the historical links, more so to the Welsh and Celtic side of things. We’re encouraged to bring the children’s interests into our teaching so it seems ridiculous to just ignore Halloween. I understand it would have to be watered down to suit the age group but, come on, it’s just a bit of hocus pocus! Children learn most when they’re interested and having fun, and I think Halloween ticks both those boxes.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a strong believer in bringing drama in whenever possible when it comes to teaching (and also, when it comes to life). After all, teaching is very much a performance.

Our topic this term is ‘Celebrations’ so, before we hit the traditional up-coming festivities, we’ve been looking at ‘family celebrations’.

Last week, we threw a birthday party for Hilda the Hippo.  The children were visibly excited about Hilda’s birthday and even made cards and presents for her at home. We had a problem solving activity which involved planning the party and dividing party items between the guests. We even wrote a recipe (which linked nicely into our ICT work on algorithms!) for a birthday cake. As a special treat on a Friday afternoon we threw the party for Hilda, which included lots of music, party games, balloons and, of course, pass the parcel.

This week, we moved on to Weddings. Earlier in the week the children received a wedding invitation from Candy and Kevin (two characters we had in the role play area). The children were so excited to be invited to a wedding that they didn’t need much encouragement to get working. First we ‘helped’ Candy and Kevin by designing our own wedding invitations. Then they designed their own wedding cakes and delivered the invitations (using algorithms to find the correct address – It’s all linking in!). On Friday, drama took centre stage in Blwyddyn Un, as we staged a wedding for Candy and  Kevin. Then children took turns sharing roles in the ceremony. We had some super-eager ushers and a very nervous father of the bride. Complete with costumes and traditional music, the wedding was a success and one of those rare moments where you think ‘everything is going brilliantly!’. The children were engrossed in their role play, taking their parts very seriously and needing very little encouragement from the adults in the room. We had loom bands for wedding rings and we even had a wedding cake to cut! (And a couple of guests who were eager to skip the ceremony and get to the reception to eat cake. It was all very true to life.) I felt that by bringing elements of role play and performance into our topic work and actually re-enacting a wedding ceremony, the children really got a feel for the experience and it was an opportunity for some rich learning.

Next week, we’re having a christening in Blwyddyn Un, so let’s hope it’s just as successful!

One thing I just cannot handle is bad manners. It might make me sound like a complete ancient person but I’ve been brought up to be respectful and polite, and aside from that I don’t see any reason to be anything other than nice to people.

So, coming home from a gym class on Friday morning, I open the door to my apartment block and there’s an older bloke in a suit standing right in front of me. He’s got this lofty, annoying expression, like I’ve just rolled out of the recycling area, and keeps his eyes fixed on the door frame. As an act of habit, I smile politely, say ‘good morning’ and step to the side to hold the door open for him. I then watched as, in what I can only describe as arrogant slow motion, the man walked straight through the door without muttering a word. As stereotypical Brit, that makes my blood boil. And as a stereotypical Brit, I then fumed ‘Thank you!’ and took my frustration out on the stairs.

To grind my gears even further, I was leaving the flat later that night, and as I reached the electronic gate at the side of the apartments, I could see this young couple heading my way. Incidentally, they were a beautiful couple – they had style and looks that made me, dressed in shorts and old top, feel like something from Fraggle Rock.  Regardless, the politeness gene kicked in once more and I stood there for a few seconds holding the gate for them.  Instead of reaching out to take the gate from me, the couple walked straight past and I suddenly understood what it must feel like to be invisible. It was like I wasn’t even there.

My fury aside, it reminded me that good manners is a dying art form. I live in a town that has a reputation for hostility. Sadly, it’s all true. You only have to walk down the main street and, unless you conform to the town’s ideas of normal, you’re guaranteed to have some snide comment spat at you. I often have to nip down to the local co-op and, despite being a regular smiling face, I’m still grunted at and have to catch my change. I’ve been on the other side, working behind the till in a petrol station whilst I was at University, and that was just as bad. I could never bring myself to enjoy the seven hours stationary behind a till, facing toothless demands for fags, regular arguments and abuse about the price of petrol and just enough pleases and thank yous to count on both hands. It costs nothing to say ‘Hello’ and smile, and to most people working in retail, a friendly face is rare treat.

Being polite is learned behaviour, and it’s something I certainly push in the classroom. I’ll go above and beyond to praise the child who holds the door open for me (whilst I’m carrying a tray of fruit and the rest of the class stampede past, often causing fruity avalanches), or the child who thanks you after waiting patiently for their carton of milk, because they need to see just how important being polite, respectful and kind is. I feel like we’re living in age where it’s more natural to be hateful than kind. A few months ago, after teaching a performing arts class, one of the year six pupils came over and thanked me. I was so taken aback and surprised. How lovely! To be thanked, out of the blue. But isn’t it sad that something as simple as a thank you was rare enough to shock me?

If you look around it’s surprising how rare manners are. I’ve worked in schools where, in the morning as I greet the children and their parents, the children walk past without even acknowledging the teachers on the door. But instead of calling the children out on their rudeness and modelling how to behave, the parents do exactly the same. I know life is busy and parents just want to drop their kids off and get to work but, it takes seconds to say ‘good morning’, but in those seconds your teaching your child basic respect.

These values might seem a bit old fashioned but it’s so important that they are instilled in children and they are taught respect. Good manners and respects comes in hand in hand with kindness and imagine a world without that! It’s not a world I’d like to live in, so, regardless of how rubbish a day we’ve had, it’s always important to be polite and a positive role model to any little eyes nearby.