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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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!

Attack of the drunken grandad

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The playground, at the end of the primary school day, used to be a vibrant and exciting place to be. This of course was in ‘the old days’ before schools got locked up and locked down so tight that it’s sometimes even hard for staff to get in and out. (This is true, it recently took me nearly 10 minutes to be ‘let out’ of a school after finishing a day of supply teaching.)

Parents would stop and talk to one another, chat to staff and catch up on the day’s events while children ran around, fell over and shared sweets. On a really good day you could stop and share a smoke with a parent while you discussed their child’s progress (I did say it was ‘the old days’ – don’t judge!) you would occasionally get offered goods that parents had ‘acquired’, surreptitiously displayed in holdalls and bundled into carrier bags without ever seeing the light of day. It was a social time and a good opportunity to touch base with the community whose school it was – and maybe pick up a bargain.

On one occasion a parent stood and looked at me then said,

“I’m sure I know you from somewhere else.”

“I can’t think where” I replied.

“Have you done time?” he bounced back, “was it the Scrubs?”

Seriously? I was teaching his daughter!

Anyway, I digress.

There was this one afternoon, when I walked out of my class with the children and was stood cheerily waving them off and exchanging pleasantries with parents, that an elderly gentleman approached me.

He was a little unsteady on his feet and had obviously been ‘relaxing’. I didn’t know who he had come to collect but greeted him anyway;

“Good afternoon, who are you looking for?”

“Don’t you bleedin’ good afternoon me.”

This reply was accompanied by a resounding whack across my left shin with a walking stick.

“And don’t you go telling my Adrian off for sumfink he didn’t even do neither.”

Crack across the other shin.

At this point some of the other parents had seen what was happening. Firm but gentle hands steered him away. As he was led away I could hear a loud and distinct voice saying;

“No you daft old git, it wasn’t ‘im it was that other teacher, and you can’t go round ‘itting em 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.

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!)

Deadmouse

Way back at the start I used to teach the daughter of a close colleague and good friend of mine. My friend had been helping me through those difficult days when you are busy trying to apply all of the information, theory and essay writing from college into something that you can use on ‘actual children’ – (like people, but smaller was always my favourite description.)

Anyway, we regularly met up for coffee and social engagements and I got to know them well in and out of school. It was my first education into how different children are when they are at home compared to when they are in the classroom.

She was a dear sweet little thing who couldn’t do enough to help, listened nicely, joined in enthusiastically at tidy up time – (I have previously explained that this is a euphemism used by teachers to describe the time when children are herded into one part of the room and trapped there with a book while staff frantically put everything away.) By contrast, at home, she was loud, messy and frequently didn’t do things she was asked! I loved her.

On one visit we were met by my friend at the door;

“This may not be the best time, her pet mouse died last night, and we only just found it.”

We were invited in anyway, to commiserate with a distraught and upset little girl who was sitting forlornly on her tiny chair drawing pictures of her recently deceased pet.

“Is there anything that would make you feel better?” her dad asked. “Anything at all? What could I get you that would help you feel less sad?”

She looked up at him, big eyes starting to brim with tears again, head tilted at exactly the right angle to make her look as miserable as possible;

“I don’t know, I am very sad.”

“Do you want another pet, a new mouse?”

A slight sobbing sound and more sad looks.

“Tell me what you think would make things okay.”

“Well, maybe if I had a Gameboy….”

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