Yesterday we managed a family day out to Capel Manor Gardens – not far away geographically but work has got in the way all summer. It took a while to get out of the house while different children threw almighty strops about being asked to go out/get dressed/brush hair/etc but eventually we made it. £20 for a family ticket, with two adults and up to three children (under 16) was quite reasonable, and Things 2 and 3 took a stamp trail each.
We started with the animal collection, which is quite small: meerkats, an invisible porcupine, rabbits, pygmy goats, fluffy rabbits, parrots and a few other crowd-pleasers. Careful peeking through small gaps by my beloved located the Scottish wildcat. A wander through the Which? garden area where they are testing different plants and flowers was interesting, and then the kids wanted to head for the very well signposted ‘Secret Faerie Garden’.
The Horde discovered an absolutely enormous fallen tree to climb, despite Thing 1 having her arm in a sling, as well as a fairy door, statuary and a ‘ruin’ which came from one of the Chelsea Flower Shows. The kids tackled the Holly Maze and the sensory garden, we wandered through the cactus garden and the succulent greenhouse, and then headed to the cafe for lunch.
Lunch had a limited menu – chicken curry and rice, chickpea falafel and rice, chicken nuggets and chips, jackets, sausage rolls, pizza – but it was quite reasonably priced for a good sized portion. We decided to make the assumption that it was the counter person’s first day, as service was a little strange and very slow. It was tasty if not very hot, and at £34 for five main meals and five drinks, it was good value. There are also lots of picnic areas around the site, so you could take your own lunch if you wanted, or the cafe also sells sandwiches and snacks.
After lunch we wandered round the demonstration gardens, mainly ex-Chelsea Flower Show designs – I loved the one filled with pumpkins and nasturtiums (so did the honey bees), and the slate garden. The kids found all the stamps, and got a medal in return, and we escaped via the gift shop. General verdict was that it was a nice day out – I’d like to have seen inside the manor, and some of the gardens need some maintenance to bring them back up to show standard, but if you’re looking for some good ideas for your garden then it’s a great place to visit.
I’ve only been on the tube one day this week, but managed to finish the dragon’s egg dice bag after several attempts to get it the right way up! The pattern is the free Dragon’s Egg lined dice bag by 12SquaredCreations, and is easy to make up as long as you pay attention to the pictures!
I also finished the succulent terrarium cross stitch, which will be a gift.
And right now my stomach is telling me it’s lunch time, so I’ll be off! See you next week,
What I’ve been reading
Equal Rites/Witches Abroad/Maskerade – Terry Pratchett
Back in 1999, when I was still a Tower Hamlets primary school teacher, I taught a year 3 class. It was a typical class, with the full range of abilities from ridiculously bright to identified levels of SEND. It being Tower Hamlets, the intake was both socially and culturally very diverse, with the usual levels of kids on free school meals, in social housing, etc. This was in the glory days of ‘education, education, education’, as Tony Blair would have it: I didn’t agree with a lot of his policies but that one I could get right behind.
One child in my class was B, a very sweet boy who these days would probably have been identified as having ADD. I tell a lot of trainee teachers about B when I am talking about the importance of museum visits, and the need to offer children a range of learning activities to meet different styles of learning. His cartoon equivalent would be The Simpsons’ Ralph Wiggum: I was never sure how much of what happened in the classroom actually went in and he was a by-word for vague in the staffroom.
Like most year 3 classes, we covered Invaders and Settlers – Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, and during the Romans topic I organised a trip to the Museum of London for an object handling session. These school trips are so important: yes, they are ‘nice to haves’ but they are also the experiences which build cultural capital for children, and what I like to call London capital. London, especially diverse and poor areas, is not a city but a connected group of small villages. People tend to stay hyperlocal, and museums are often not on a family’s agenda: a day out costs money, even when museums are free, and there is often a feeling that a museum is ‘not for them’ (that’s another rant for another day). School visits help children experience the tube, the museum, social norms and more – it’s never just about the workshop. This is particularly important with families where the children have English as an additional language, and the parents may not have any English at all.
Anyway, back to B and the handling workshop. The facilitator held up an object – a wax tablet and stylus, in fact – and asked the children if they knew what it was. My class looked at him as if they’d never even heard of Romans…. except B, who put his hand up. I braced myself for a Wiggum-style non sequitur and out of his mouth came an explanation of what the object was, how it was used and re-used, and the name of the writing implement. My jaw dropped. 29 children’s jaws dropped. And he flew for the rest of the session. He knew what things were, he was confident in sharing his knowledge, and I went away with an entirely new view of one small child. I’m not saying that the effect lasted for ever – but we had seen hidden depths and I made sure that object-based learning made more frequent appearances in the classroom.
These visits and other experiences are ‘nice to haves’, yes, but they also provide key learning experiences for children who are not auditory or visual learners. It would be nice to think that teachers could just talk at children for 13 years and they would leave school knowing all the things they need to know, but for many children that isn’t the case. They need these ‘nice to haves’ to embed their learning and to help them connect understanding and knowledge. There have been so many occasions since I left the classroom and became a museum educator where I have seen the same thing happen to other teachers: a floodgate opens in a child’s mind when the connection is made, and both teacher and learner go away with a new understanding.
This week, for example, a child with autism focused for longer than he’s ever focused before on one thing: building with the blue blocks. Over three days this week we saw every class in a primary school, working on coding, creativity and collaboration and giving children a chance for some physical play, some kinaesthetic learning. The headteacher came to see us on our last day and said that so many parents had come to her and said their children hadn’t stopped talking about their session when usually they answer ‘dunno’ or ‘can’t remember’ to the ‘what did you do today?’ question. Teachers had also raved, and would we come to their other school as well please. These sessions were a ‘nice to have’ too, as are those days when companies like Time Steps or History off the Page come into school and your kids spend the day immersed in history and come home with peg dolls or Stone Age bread.
You may well wonder what’s brought this on. Read on…
This week, Google offered up this article for my reading pleasure. I’m quite sure that inciting me to fury probably wasn’t its intention, but that was the result. The article was about how schools would tackle the issue of ‘catch up’ following last year’s closures. It talked about schools focusing on the poorest pupils, ensuring they had food (gasp!) and ‘going out visiting’ (ditto!). Apparently this meant that they weren’t providing an education offer for all children. It was acknowledged that private schools had three times as much money than state, which was nice to know if not really much of a revelation.
Who knew that children might need to eat? Who knew that their families might need to eat? Who might have suspected that the poorest families, who rely on school dinners to ensure that their kids are guaranteed a hot meal every day, might need pastoral support – especially when dealing with a government who were prepared not to feed these kids in the holidays? When their parents, if they were working at all, were furloughed on 80% of a minimum wage that wasn’t enough to live on anyway? She didn’t mention digital poverty, which meant many of these children were trying to work on their parents’ phones, or the problems with getting laptops to these children, or unreliable/non-existent broadband. I have sung the praises of Marcus Rashford before – although I haven’t mentioned Maro Itoje who campaigned for children to have access to laptops and the internet during Covid. (Gavin Williamson, the mercifully-now-ex Education Secretary, managed to confuse the two earlier this month.)
Selfishly, though – speaking as a career ‘nice to have’ – that wasn’t even the paragraph that made me most angry. It made me pretty angry, because – working in Tower Hamlets – I believe that schools made the right decision and the wellbeing of their pupils absolutely should have been their priority, especially at the beginning of lockdown. None of us had a crystal ball and could not have known that we’d still be doing lockdown learning a year later.
No, this was the one that really got me: “‘Nice to have’ things could be cut out for worst-hit pupils” to ensure that pupils are ‘catching up’.
Apparently, most catch-up would take place in pupils’ “main classrooms with their normal teachers”. They referred to a “sort of everyday magic that teachers do of really motivating children to want to learn and introducing them to the whole curriculum, taking them through in a well structured way with the minimal wastage of time…There are experiences, ‘nice to have’ things that are often built into curricular, and I suspect a lot of those will get cut out for the children who have missed the most.”
The comments follow guidance… which warned that “time is not infinite and so, alongside identifying what content from missed topics should be prioritised, careful consideration must also be given to choices of teaching activity”. “Do the pupils who spend a lesson on the Egyptians wrapping their friend in toilet roll remember the details of Egyptian religious beliefs, or do they just remember the fun activity,” the guidance said.
Well, speaking from experience, I am pretty sure they remember both….because the practical activity embeds the learning into their brains. Learning is supposed to be fun. The teachers you remember decades later (for good reasons) are the ones who made lessons memorable, and not the ones who treated you as vessels to be filled with knowledge. I think if we take away the ‘nice to haves’ we run the risk of not a lost generation of learners but a disengaged generation of non-learners. There is no one size fits all, which teachers have known for years.
Speaking as a kinaesthetic learner…
I like to keep my hands busy, as you know – and apparently so does the person who said all the things above. She knits through meetings as it helps her focus. I do wonder sometimes what goes on in people’s heads.
Anyway…as well as finishing the socks I have been working on for ages, I started a dragon scale dice bag (and then started it again when I realised I’d done it upside down) I also made these pouches which can be used for jewellery, shiny rocks, dice, sewing kits and more. They have little compartments and again were made of fabric leftovers.
The blue one is from a tutorial by Wandering Hare on Etsy and the patchwork one is from a free tutorial by Serendipity Studios, found here. Both very similar, but the second one has a padded bottom which will keep your preciouses safe from knocks!
That’s it from me then – see you next week! There’s a bacon sandwich with my name on it….
What I’ve been reading
Unseen Academicals/Going Postal/Making Money – Terry Pratchett
Thief of Time/Wyrd Sisters – Terry Pratchett (Audible)
I’ve seen a lot of posts this morning on social media headed ‘twenty years ago…’. Twenty years ago I was a nursery teacher in Hackney, and on the afternoon of the 11th of September (or 9/11 as the Americans would have it) we opened the nursery door to let the parents in.
‘Have you seen?’
‘Did you hear?’
These were the days before smart phones, before computers in everyone’s pockets, so no – we hadn’t heard, but we went to the staffroom after sending the kids home and someone had set up the portable TV. Along with the rest of the world we sat in silence and we watched and we cried. Our year 4 teacher joined us: her brother worked in the second tower. The shock and fear in her face was terrible to see. The skies were silent over City and Stansted.
As the evening unfolded we drifted home and carried on watching: there was nothing else to do but to watch the news roll out.
The next day I went into school, because life goes on. Our year 4 teacher had had no news and was with her family. When she returned the following week she was like a ghost: her brother was still among the missing when I left the school the following spring.
Far from the usual chaos and noise generated by 30 four year olds, my nursery children were subdued and thoughtful: at four they were really too young to process what was happening, but knew something important was going on in the world.
J (a small East End boy who would usually spend the morning hoovering in the home corner dressed in a wedding dress, daring anyone to comment) sat on the carpet with M, another small boy with a tendency towards boisterous play. Over and over they built two towers from blocks, and ‘flew’ their hands into them. No sound effects today, just silent building and destruction all morning. I sat on the floor with them for a while, talking to them about what they were doing and how it made them feel.
Another child, B, watched the tiny TV we had set up on top of the cupboard and said ‘I saw this on the movies last night. It made my mummy cry and I was scared.’
Many of the children needed more reassurance that day, and most of them played out – as children do – their thought processes and feelings. It was a quiet, serious morning in what was usually a space filled with noise and colour.
I talk about this day a lot when I am teaching sociology, childcare or teacher training students about the importance of play in helping not just small children but older ones to process feelings and experiences. It was a moment when theory became reality and I watched children make sense of the world through the play environment around them: small people trying to understand something that was consuming their adults and that had impacted on their lives.
I don’t know whether those four year olds remember where they were on 9/11 but that day, and the one that followed, will stay with me for ever.
Normal service resumes after the last couple of weeks! It’s September after all, with the new school year kicking off: new shoes, new bits of uniform ordered if not actually delivered thanks to the shipping delays, driver strikes and shortages that definitely aren’t anything to do with Brexit, good heavens no, timetables downloaded, last minute coursework that Thing 1 assured me all summer she’d done, and so on.
Last weekend I braved Westfield (is it only me that feels the need to shout ‘Westfield! in a bad Radio 1 DJ sort of way?) with Thing 2 in order to buy school shoes. She has very very wide feet (an I fitting) so I knew Harlow at the end of August really wasn’t going to provide what we needed. Instead we had a mum and daughter day out shopping. We also needed school trousers, as we haven’t been able to find the particular style she wants online – the Next ones came up like thick leggings, the George ones were too high waisted, the suggestion of the Banner or Trutex ones either earned me a withering look or weren’t in stock (ditto New Look, Very, Tu, Morrisons, Matalan – everywhere!).
Thing 2 has been, from a very early age, a child who knows her own mind. In many ways this makes me proud. In other ways it makes me want to slug gin in my coffee and leave her to it. Despite Westfield’s (Westfield!) many shops, we failed to find either shoes or trousers so I ended up buying shoes we could both live with online and she can either alter her thinking about the kind of trousers she wants or wear skirts for the year. I too can be stubborn. We did have a lovely lunch at Wagamama followed by bubble tea for her, and she chose some new clothes at Primark and New Look as well as some bits and bobs from Flying Tiger. I bought some more notebooks – I do love some stationery!* I took her over to the less shiny side of Stratford too, as she wanted some baskets for her bedroom: after Westfield (etc) I think the old Stratford Centre came as a bit of a shock to the system. I used to shop there when I first lived in London as it was the closest place to Forest Gate. It hasn’t changed much, really, in the last 25 years. The planners tried to make it look pretty by installing shiny leaf sculptures (or possibly fish) in front of it in 2012 in case tourists happened to glance in that direction on their way to the Olympics, but it didn’t really help. I suspect some actual investment might have been a better idea, except that just didn’t happen, and what they were left with was an island of Poundlands and Shoe Zones.**
*as it turned out I did not need to buy notebooks as I came home with many many new notebooks from the Digital Accountancy Show I worked at later in the week. Ah well. Still, you never know when you’ll need a notebook. Or ten.
**I could go on about the regeneration of Stratford for 2012 at length, but I won’t because it makes me quite annoyed.
Making and doing
I had a few days to recover from the ordeal of shopping with Thing 2, so obviously this involved fabric and leaving pins all over the floor, crochet and cross stitch. After the challenge of making Irish sister’s 1920s skirt I gave in and bought the Japanese Haori and Hapi pattern from Folkwear that I have been ogling for several years. They are not cheap patterns, but come with wonderful histories of the garments and traditional detailing information. They are also adding more and more of their paper patterns to their PDF catalogue, which makes me happy indeed.
I used a gorgeous fabric from Kanvas Studio – Moonlit Lilypads from their Moonlight Serenade collection, and for the lining some tie-dyed cotton that was sold as a star print but when it arrived the print was distinctly…. herbal. The fabric is a one way print which the pattern isn’t suitable for but I rather like how its turned out despite that.
I made the Haori option – a lined, mid-thigh length jacket which comes up quite long on me. The pattern was occasionally a bit confusing to follow, with hand drawn illustrations, but as long as I took it slowly and did a lot of pinning and tacking it wasn’t too bad to construct. My hand sewing is shocking, so if I ever decide to enter the Sewing Bee I’ll have to work on that, and I cheated by machine stitching some of the bits I should have slip stitched but hey, I’m the one wearing it. I love the sleeves, and this is quite cosy to wear so I think it should get a lot of use.
Continuing the Japanese theme, I used some of the leftover koi fabric from making a Simple Sew Lottie blouse to make this Nori Kimono bag. I lined it with some ladybird print polycotton fabric that was an ebay purchase, and it’s had a compliment or two already. I haven’t worn the blouse yet! I love this fabric, it’s so colourful.
As ever I have been cross stitching and crocheting: the temperature tree is up to date, the Hobbit Hole is finished, the Build Your Own Beehive Shawl and the socks are ongoing, and I took a break to make a chicken sweater as one of my lovely colleagues adopted some commercial laying hens (not battery ones!). These are all the bits I haven’t shared with you in my last couple of sensible weeks.
The chicken-adopting colleague, myself and two others also visited Tate Modern to see their summer activity – drawing freely in the Turbine Hall as part of the Uniqlo Tate Play programme. The artwork is amazing and it was great fun adding our little bits to it! I really want to make something out of one of those banners!
The latest thing I have been up to is dabbling in Dungeons and Dragons for the first time in about three decades – I filled in for someone who couldn’t attend a regular game on Friday and managed not to kill his character off so hopefully I’ll be allowed back! The host (Dungeon Master) and his wife have a beautiful gaming table so dice trays are very much the order of the day – I played around with an online tutorial yesterday, and using things from in the craft shed I made a collapsible fabric one and another using a shadow box frame. I’d forgotten how horribly velvet frays so I shall have to do something about the edges but it was quite quick and fun to make.
It’s been a very productive few weeks, as you can see! I’ll see you all again for week 77…now I must go and do the ironing I have been putting off for months.