It’s a fair cop.

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When your nursery is near stables you can expect to be able to arrange occasional visits from friendly horses from time to time. The one we were near happened to be the Metropolitan Police stables, so the horses that came to visit were friendly – and very, very big indeed.

On one meet and greet I had a group gathered around oohing and aahing at the horses and shouting a range of questions to the policemen towering up high above them;

“What do you do when they poo?”

“Where do they sleep?”

“What are their names?”

“What things do they eat?”

“When do you get their milk?”

?

Pardon?

“When do you get their milk?”

“You don’t get milk from horses.”

“Yes you do!”

“No, I think you are thinking of cows. You get milk from cows, not horses.”

By now the conversation between a small boy and a big policeman was starting to get a little heated, I tried to calm things down by offering to go and get the Farm Animals book from the bookshelf. Small boy was having none of it;

“YOU ARE WRONG! MILK COMES FROM UNDER HORSES – I HAVE SEEN IT ON ROSIE AND JIM.”

And having won his argument convincingly, using empirical evidence, small boy turned and headed back to play on the bikes and trikes.

FYI – Rosie and Jim is/was a children’s TV show starring 2 rag doll puppets who travelled everywhere by barge.

Now I write this is sounds even more unlikely and surreal than I remember it.

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BANG! BANG! BANG!

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Despite my best endeavours to encourage, calm non-violent play in a sharing and cooperative environment, the children in my nursery were constantly using whatever construction equipment they could find to make model guns. These were then brandished around the inside and outside of the building at an alarming volume with little or no regard to my opinions about how they ought to be playing or what they could/should be learning.

On one occasion I sat with a loud and raucous group on the mat and talked about how it might scare the other children – especially the younger ones, and went on to remind them about all the other nice things we had to do and how guns were not good things to play with.

“But my dad has a gun!” pipes up cute little girl with ringlets.

“He keeps it under his bed and takes it with him when he goes to work.”

“Does he?” I asked “how do you know that?”

“Because me and my sister play with it when he’s out.”

This being one of the rough parts of town, and her dad being one of the tougher looking parents in the playground, I felt obliged to write out a report about this.

Some paperwork later, and an assurance that I would not be identified as a source of information (a kind of witness protection scheme for teachers), things settled back to normal with the comments being relegated to staffroom banter and a running joke with the younger teachers.

I laid off telling the children how they should and shouldn’t play for a while though.

The unshakable logic of children

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We were starting a project on biodiversity. This would include studying habitats, ecosystems and learning about conservation, symbiotic relationships and the world around us. For our starting point we were going to look at the familiar area of the school playing field.

“So what do you think we might see on the field?”

“Spiders.”

“Grass.”

“Daisies.”

“Spiders.”

Pause as everybody looks at each other.

“Anything else?”

“Sheep.”

“Sheep?”

“Yes, sheep.”

“Are you sure? Have there ever been sheep on the field before?”

“Not this field, no.”

“Why might there be today?”

“Because it’s a field.”

Unable to escape this feat of logic I tried to appeal to common sense;

“If there were sheep would you be able to see them now, through the window?”

“Not if they were hiding.”

“There’s nowhere to hide though.”

“By the bins?”

“Really? Ok, so even though there have never been any sheep on the field in the seven years you have been at this school, and even though you can’t see them out there now, you want to add sheep to the list of things we might find when we go out?”

“Yes, it’s a field.”

It is going to be a loooong topic.

Poo and wee, nice!

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A couple of weeks ago I was working with one of my younger classes. Half way through the lesson, much to the hilarity of the rest of the group, one boy passed wind. Much wafting of hands, shouting ‘pheeeew’ and laughter later the boy asked if he could please go to the toilet sir?

I am not such a monster as to say no, particularly if there is a very real possibility that I may be involved in a major clean-up activity if I refuse. So off he went.

As he left the room one of the other children started a cross class conversation:

“Where’s he gone?”

“To the toilet of course.” (snigger)

“Number 1 or 2”

“2” (more sniggers)

ME – “enough thank you.”

Small voice – “or a number 3.”

The possibility had not occurred before, but now it had it needed to be explored;

“sick?”

“Diarrhoea?”

“Both?”

“No that would be a 10.” Whooping gales of laughter.

ME – “seriously – enough.”

Momentary silence, followed by a new voice;

“20!”

“Explosive diarrhoea!”

Room erupts once more into howls of hysterical laughter, followed by rapid fire volley of escalating numerical options – 50, 60, 80, 99.

ME – “This is not helping our RE work.”

Eventually the room calmed again. Work was resumed and RE was back on the agenda. Until another voice called out with wild abandon and gusto;

“100!”

Bedlam ensued and the boy who had been to the toilet walked back in right in the middle of it. Naturally he joined in and the whole sequence was repeated once again.

To be honest, I didn’t really want to teach RE that day anyway!

It’s a bacon tree (or a ham bush, I’m not sure.)

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I once took a class of children out into the nature area that ran all along the side of our school. We crashed and blundered about shouting and singing and looking at all the different colours of green and different seeds and flowers.

We stopped to look into the little pond to see if any frogs had been visiting. Just then, from the far end of the nature, area I heard another class coming out to crash and blunder through the bushes and find different seeds and flowers.

“I know” I said loudly to the 20 or so children rolling and climbing around me, “lets hide behind this bush – (pointing to small shrub) – and surprise the other class when they get here.”

So we all went around to the far side of the bush and pretended to hide.

I should add at this point that it was an infant school and the children were only 5 and 6 years old. I assumed that was obvious but…well, you know?

Anyway, the other class arrived. As they approached I heard their teacher say, in a loud clear voice, “I hope nobody is hiding behind that bush – (points at small bush with 20+ small children crowded behind it giggling and peeping over the top) – to try and scare us.”

The trap was set, the children were primed, and as the other class approached my children shook the branches, roared their terrible roars and laughed with joy.

The other class reciprocated, they screamed and pointed, they laughed and greeted their friends from my class.

Except Nathan.

Nathan had picked up on none of the hints, clues and cues he had been offered.

Nathan had not noticed the entire class of children poorly hidden behind a bush.

Nathan was duly startled and leapt away from the terrifying bush monster, straight into the pond.

He stood there with water up to his knees until I helped him out and took him in for some dry clothes.

At home time I braced myself to ‘fess up and manfully admit my part in the escapade. I walked out with him to see his mum and tried to explain. I truly did try, but she was having none of it. She did not know why he would do such a thing even if he was scared, and told him so.

To my shame I finished with a rather lame,”Well I think he’s learned his lesson now.” and skulked of to the staff room for a cup of tea.

Since then I have arranged no more ambushes of any type.

Take the long way home…

Last week I went to a party, there was a band and a bar and lots of music and I had a good time.

There were also a large number of familiar looking old men drinking beer. I stepped forward and stood there in line with my old school friends who have all suddenly reached the age of 50, which is odd as I remember us all as young things in our prime with everything still ahead of us – not just our stomachs. In fact, I still do think of myself as a young thing. If only there were no such thing as reflections (or photos) I could carry on happily deluding myself forever.

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It is hard to look at a row of respectable middle-aged men that you knew as a child and not remember what they used to be like:

Carl getting his ear pierced and his mum not noticing for several months as his hair was so long. (Now, no earring – or hair.)

Mike dressed in the sharpest threads, all straight lines and creases. (Now, mostly curves.)

Mark crashing his first motorbike, and then rebuilding it. (Actually still riding motorbikes – but not crashing as much!)

And Gary.

Gary and I were inseparable at school, always out together, doing things and having a good time. I have so many stories to tell about Gary that I was expressly forbidden from being his best man in case the speech went on too long or got out of hand.

But the story that always comes to mind when we meet up is this one;

We had been playing snooker. This was not an uncommon way for us spend time when we were in our teens the call of the snooker hall was ever present.  Clearly we struck a balance between this and school as we did not want to neglect our studies. So we were making our way back to take part in the part of the school day we felt we were most likely to be missed from, cues in hand, taking a short cut through the park.

In the distance we spied a group of younger students and their teacher on a field trip. It was still not too late to turn around and head back through the gates and around the long way without being seen: Which is exactly what I did.

But not Gary. He decided the best course of action would be to hide up a tree and wait for the group to pass, thus saving the extra time and distance involved in walking around the park.

Gary’s description of what happened went along these lines; “He (the teacher) got all the year 7’s stood around the tree and started to tell them what sort of tree it was and that sort of stuff.” Gary was not much of a botanist. “I still thought he hadn’t seen me, but then pointed up without even looking and told them that if they looked they would see Gary ****, and if they wanted to see me again they could come and look through the windows of the detention room. Bastard!”

Let’s pretend.

For a couple of weeks leading up to the Christmas break I found myself teaching mostly Nursery and Reception (the excitement of supply teaching is never quite knowing what the next phone call will bring – but more about that another time.) Anyway, I have fond memories of teaching this age group; it’s huge fun and never fails to offer its fair share of surprises and enjoyment.

It’s a bit hard sometimes, being a man in a job which is usually associated with women.  Some parents look wary at the sight of a strange man standing in their child’s Nursery greeting their children, others just look grateful that somebody is there and they can go off to wherever they need to go. The children on the other hand have no qualms about marching up to you and demanding to know who you are. What you are doing and why you are there. It is their Nursery/classroom after all; they have a right to know.

Things usually reach a status quo after a short while; they accept the change and start to let you join in with their little ‘Lord of the Flies’ type activities; re-enacting Frozen, taking toy animals to imaginary vets and reading upside down books, after all, they do  know who is in charge of the snacks. My only real gripe is that after a few days of floor level activities my knees were killing me.

On one particular day, to give my knees and back a break I braved the elements, opened the doors to the playground and offered some wintry outside play activities. Half an hour later, after doing up 27 zips and getting 54 thumbs into mittens we were out.

“Can we get out the building things?”

“Yes.”

“Can we get out the REALLY big building things?”

“Yes.”

“Can we build something REALLY big?”

“Yes.” (I am actually much more talkative than this in real life, but you can have too much detail!)

“Will you help us?”

“Of course I will, I thought you would never ask. What are we going to build and how can I help?”

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We ended up building a REALLY big box. Then we made a door to go on the front. Then we stood it up so it would be a REALLY big tower. Then we were going to knock it all down and build something else. Before we did I asked one of the children if they wanted to go inside. They did. I asked if they wanted to see what it was like if the door was closed, they were nervous – but did. Then another wanted a go. Then another.  Soon I had a queue of 27 children all rushing round to wait patiently for another go as soon as the door opened and they came out. It was fun.

Afterwards I drank tea and reflected on how many other jobs involved building brightly coloured plastic coffins that people spent whole afternoons waiting to try out. Probably not many, that’s what makes this job special.

(Photo is from the Little Tikes website who make the fabulous Waffle Blocks!)