113: magic carpet ride, anyone?

This week was my first day out with the Imagination Playground big blue blocks since last summer – as is now traditional whenever I’m down for delivery, it rained, but fortunately not enough to put the children off their play! This booking came as a result of one of my teacher training sessions, where I used the tabletop version of the blocks as part of a DT session.

The school, Children’s House, is one I have visited before briefly: it has a very beautiful but sadly at risk mural by the artist and writer Eve Garnett whose One End Street books I loved as a child. It’s an interesting place – designed by architect Charles Cowles-Voysey based on Maria Montessori’s vision of an ideal learning environment for young children, opened by the author H.G. Wells in 1923 and visited by Gandhi when he stayed at Kingsley Hall as a guest of Muriel Lester. It’s a nursery school, so filled with tiny, curious little under fives who love to play.

Planned as an opportunity for parents to join their children for a play session, we kicked off with a small group of adults and children but it quickly grew as more kids decided to join in. We had our blue blocks, swathes of fabric in different textures and colours, marker cones and plastic play balls, and piles of shiny crinkly emergency foil blankets, and laminate floor underlay cut into strips and shapes. Kids adore these last two things for some reason!

Way back in the mists of time I trained as an early years teacher so am a big supporter of open-ended play and loose parts as part of child development. The big blue blocks were designed by Cas Holman for just this purpose. We have the largest version – just over 100 pieces, from long ‘pool noodles’ to chunky rectangles which were bigger than the children. We have added various other bits (see above) to the kit to bring more colour and what we have ended up with is a bright, pop-up experience that works for all ages.

I had a great day, and so did the children and adults: the headteacher was unable to resist appearing in the sessions to get down on the floor and play, which is always a good sign, and we’re going to visit their federated school in a few weeks as well. The channels in some of the blocks inspire creations like marble runs which work with the plastic balls, and the size of these runs mean a group of children can all join in. Once one child starts, the others join in, adding to structures and building on ideas to make them bigger and better. The sheer size of some of the blocks means co-operation is necessary to manoeuvre them into position. With the aid of adults, dens were created using fabric and the playground structures, allowing all sorts of imaginative play.

With the younger groups (the three year olds) there was a high level of additional need in the form of hearing impairments so the bright colours and textures of the kit became sensory experiences. The wonderful thing about open-ended play is that it’s impossible to get it wrong and the possibilities are endless.

The older children – four year olds – brought their story telling powers out to play with them. We built the tallest tower in the world so we could reach the teachers’ biscuits, and we built a boat to go on the sea with. At one point I got taken on a magic carpet ride to the seaside where we had ice creams and went for a paddle before going on a rollercoaster and then flying back home. All around me I could hear other adults discussing what was happening around them and making plans to buy fabrics and other things to add to their own blocks. I was quite sad to leave at the end of the day!

This week I am working with Key Stage one and two children as well, which is a less open-ended but just as creative session. Let’s just hope (for my team’s sake!) that the rain holds off.

Hope your week was as much fun as mine!

Kirsty x

I also…

What I’ve been reading:

Abbatoir Blues/When the Music’s Over/Sleeping in the Ground – Peter Robinson

104: Happy second birthday, WKDN!

Well, here we are with post 104 and that means I’ve been knocking these weekly rambles out for a whole two years.

And what an odd two years they have been. I have just looked back at week one, where I made a list of projects I was going to finish and some of them did get done, but several didn’t. Let’s mark them as ongoing (all the best action lists do this) and move on to the next item. We are still in the grip of Covid-19, despite the prime idiot’s best efforts to convince us otherwise by throwing parties and stuff: once again, this week more of my friends and family have tested positive at the same time than at any other point. It’s the second time round for one friend’s daughter, and the first time was less than six weeks ago. The tube is ridiculously busy and so many people aren’t wearing masks (I forgot mine a week ago and felt quite reckless, but after the person I was with tested positive two days later I have remembered it every day). It almost feels as if Covid is ‘soooo 2021’ and now we have to get on with worrying about nuclear buttons and Putin’s ‘special military operations’ instead.

This week I worked at an awards event – a black tie do, hosted by the fabulous Robert Llewellyn (aka Kryten from Red Dwarf). He was very professional and a thoroughly nice chap, and I got to be a glamorous assistant and hand awards to the presenting sponsors as they came up to announce the winners. One of the speakers has since tested positive for Covid, so I am still testing daily as I’m out and about in schools a lot at the moment and I don’t really want to be the one that carries it back in with me! I wore a red velvet M&S dress that I had grabbed in a charity shop without even trying it on as the last time I had to dress up was for this same event in 2019, and – quite honestly – who still fits into anything from back then?? Luckily it fit like a dream, and for £6.50 it was definitely worth it.

I finally got home at just before 1am, in a cab with a lovely driver who talked to me all the way home which meant I at least stayed awake! Back in London for teaching the next morning, I was so tired that I had a proper senior moment with my brain on autopilot: I got off the DLR three stops early, and had to get on a bus to get to the school I was working at. The sessions – Imagine This, delivered by artist, writer, facilitator and all round fabulous person Julia Deering – were a good way to spend a morning. Designed to get kids thinking about set and costume design, they are an explosion of colour and imagination with the end result of amazing jungles, ice caves, castles, restaurants, game worlds and seasides peopled by heroes, magical characters and (on this occasion) Sonic the Hedgehog. I’m back at the school this week with the ‘Think Small’ session. I always think you get the measure of a school as you walk through the door, and this one is so welcoming and friendly. The pupils are confident and happy, and keen to share their ideas – we’ve really enjoyed spending time with them. I was at another school in the afternoon to cover a coding club session, and somehow I made it back home without falling asleep anywhere – two days later I’m still shattered, though I did make it out to swimming this morning and for a walk yesterday. If anything has proved I can no longer party like it’s my birthday, it’s a midweek late night….

The #8 bus to Bethnal Green, looking surprised I was still awake

And that’s been week 104 – here’s to year 3 and more weekly rambles through the life of a middle aged muddle.

Same time next week then, gang!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Influential Magic – Deanna Chase

The Mangle Street Murders – M.R.C. Kasasian

Children of the Revolution – Peter Robinson

Doctor Who: Tenth Doctor Novels vol 3 (Audible)