I was watching one of those ‘Become a Teacher’ ads the other day and it was full of drama productions, explosions and pumping lungs.
If you haven’t seen them, this is one of the ads I’m talking about…
Wow! Who wouldn’t want to do all that with bright eyed children hanging off your every word…
But we all know that the reality is a little bit different.
With every good intention, the emphasis in Primary schools is most certainly on English and Maths and of course rightly so.
However the shift to pretty much only focussing on these areas in a very structured way is alarming and so let us explore some of the other ways that we can enthuse our children’s young minds for the future.
Here is the rest of the alphabet and what it can offer us in a Primary setting.
A is for Artists
Resident artists linked to the school or a year group can complement any theme and have fantastic ideas that you would never have even thought of. Parents or ex staff members are a great source.
Use the Artists in Schools web site to see if you can find a good match.
If a resident artist is not a possibility then one off projects to brighten up the playground or have an end of year carnival can make the world of difference.
Also use illustrators as part of an Arts week as well as getting in authors. There’s nothing more exciting than seeing a familiar character appear before your eyes on a piece of flip chart paper.
B is for Breakfast Club
Having a space for children to come and settle into school prior to the start of the day has so many benefits, it’s hard to know when to start.
Clearly it gives some children much needed breakfast – it will not only get them ready for the day, it may well just simply get them in school.
Free breakfast for Pupil Premium children also holds a multitude of benefits. The social side of sitting at a table with an adult who is engaging with you and has time to listen to what you are saying, learning how to use a knife to spread butter, pouring cereal and milk without adult help, sitting at a table… the list goes on.
All for a few pieces of toast.
I have heard of schools using breakfast clubs to grill more literacy into low achieving pupils. What a shame. There are so many more benefits to be had.
C is for Cooking
A weekly club gives the children a range of recipes and foodstuffs to discover. Getting an expert in can make this even better.
Making sure that everybody does some cooking though could turn a few young minds towards a healthier lifestyle or just knowledge about food.
We cannot assume that children are at home making cakes with their parents at the weekend. There’s a pretty good chance that this is not happening.
Take opportunities to build this into Healthy Schools Week and keep it in mind when teaching any type of measures.
Building cooking into themes on a regular basis is easy if you include in your initial planning session.
D is for Drama
Aside from the inaugural ‘plays’ at the end of term, within the classroom and using the children’s talents, this can take the form of ‘freeze framing’ with ‘thought bubbles’ to bring a literacy lesson alive through to role play and ‘hot-seating’ a character or even a full on re-enactment of the sheep show in Katie Morag or The Great Fire of London.
Outside groups coming in can add that extra umph when starting a topic.
There are some amazing groups that can come into schools and role play alongside the kids and of course groups that will perform a play with the children as audiences.
All these opportunities fuel children’s imaginations and tap into learning through play.
E is for Experts
These can take many forms. One of your children may be an expert in an area so let them lead a lesson on it.
Equally, parents and other members of staff can enhance a subject much more than you or YouTube.
Using the school secretary to explain formal letter writing or using your site manager to give a Health and Safety talk uses their natural expertise and shows the school community in a different light.
F is for First-hand Experiences
In the age of Google and Interactive Whiteboards, sometimes firsthand experiences are superseded, but nothing quite beats getting your hands dirty and doing something for yourself.
The tactile element is part of our human makeup and indeed going back ten years, including Kinaesthetic opportunities was essential in your planning.
Some children learn best when using their bodies to learn and all for all us, doing is part of the process that concretes learning.
So bring in things from home for them to touch, use materials for them to feel and get children doing rather than sitting.
G is for Grounds
All schools have some sort of outside area and most have been made to be much more interesting than just a tarmac desert these days. But using them aside from playtimes is still something that we find tricky.
Spend some time getting out in the space that is available to you when the kids aren’t there and look at the options.
Look at markings on the playground; can you hang anything up – poetry, nonsense words, challenges; are there places to grow plants – tyres, tubs; can the children write on surfaces with chalk or pens?; are there opportunities for maths, geography or art outside as well as science.
A good place to get inspiration is your Early Years outside space. What can be adapted for older children?
Boys really benefit from being in a less constricted area and to be able to write lying on their bellies.
Get some wellies and raincoats on your school uniform list and the field is also open all year.
Imagine the possibilities!
H is for Headteacher
It’s easy to forget that your Head teacher was once a classroom teacher just like you.
They will have also been a team leader and a deputy head and have a wealth of experience in a range of areas.
Busy though they are, sometimes they just love to be part of your lessons, so ask them.
Reading stories, part of an art project, expert on data handling, guitar player, 60’s music expert – if you ask they might just say yes!
I is for Interests
Children do all sorts of things out of school and can be passionate and really good at something.
Swimming, scouts, a musical instrument – I had one child once who was a budding geologist.
Having a space in the classroom or a dedicated time each week would celebrate achievements aside from the academic and could change how a shy child is perceived by their classmates.
Don’t forget you and your teaching assistant’s interests too.
J is for Juggling
Juggling, other circus skills or anything challenging for the children will help to nudge them out of their comfort zone and catapult their neurons.
Changing children’s mindset from ‘I can’t do that’ to ‘I can’t do that yet’ is a powerful learning process and will alter their perceptions of challenges as something to be excited about rather than defeatist about.
Seeing how they can improve with something such as juggling can help them learn this lesson quickly and safely.
K is for Kitchen
Your kitchen staff are a wealth of knowledge. Every day they cook and cater to a time schedule and with a range of ingredients.
Including children in this process will open their eyes to both food and help them to appreciate what people’s roles are in school.
Inviting the catering manager to School Council can give pupil voice real meaning.
Inviting the kitchen staff to work in the classrooms alongside cooking lessons or standing at the hatch while the kitchen staff work can both have benefits.
Equally, watching as the produce from the veg harvest in the school grounds being cooked for them helps reinforce the whole soil to plate process.
L is for Lottery
Lottery Funding can be obtained fairly readily for projects in school. They require a bit of paperwork, but the benefits can be great.
If you can assure the givers of money that the community will benefit in some way from the project, you can procure quite large amounts of money.
There are other companies too who like to give money away to schools and the community. The supermarkets, local airports and locally based large companies are all possibilities if you can find time, or someone who has time, to make the calls and do the paperwork.
The extra money can greatly enhance the children’s experiences that a school budget would never be able to cover.
M is for Musicians
Live music is something that a lot of children are not exposed to, so opportunities to have musicians in can at least make for an exciting experience, but for some children it will change their lives as they are driven to take up an instrument.
There will be local organisations that would be happy to come in, but again, try to work something into your theme work so that children get a range of musical experiences.
N is for Neighbours
The school’s neighbours and anything within walking distance can be a useful and enriching resource from going to the shops to buy a stamp to studying science in the local park.
Old folk’s homes to visit, traffic surveys, house types, the library – any number of ideas are possible but are scarcely used.
Make sure that you have permission to leave and you have the correct adult to child ratio and the world is your oyster.
O is for Old Folk
Retired people have an amazing amount of skills and time available and are often more than happy to give it to schools.
Running or supporting clubs, hearing readers, general volunteering in class, going on trips or maybe a spot of gardening – you never know if you don’t ask and you can always do with another pair of hands.
Our local WI started coming into school to play games and chat to our poorest attenders. It worked wonders.
This year they are working to improve the speech of the EAL children through dedicated conversation time.
As well as a massive voluntary help, children who do not have access to grandparents can greatly benefit from regular contact with an elderly figure.
P is for Poets and Storytellers
As with a resident artist, having a school poet, author or storyteller can engage the children at a greater level than a one off.
However, being able to keep in contact through email or skype can monopolise on any visit.
Poetry is a great medium that can be copied by children much more easily than story writing and sites such as The Poetry Zone created by Roger Stevens, allow children to publish their own work as well as read more well known poetry.
Poetry figures very heavily in the New National Curriculum and so what would be better than to have someone in to get them excited about it?
Find someone close to you at http://www.authorsalouduk.co.uk/ .
And remember to include Dads and other men as storytellers/readers. It send a very powerful message to the children about gender roles and reading.
Q is for Quirky Clubs
Children are pretty quirky at the best of times and given a choice as to what clubs they would choose to go to, you might be surprised.
Opportunities to do things a bit out of the ordinary appeal to children, especially if they have come up with the idea.
Extreme Poetry, Thinking Club, comics and Paper Aeroplane Making are some clubs in my school that that have enjoyed full membership.
Use school council to ask about what clubs children would like and go with it.
S is for Super Starters
These (along with Marvellous Middles and Fab Finishers) are a great opportunity to get parents in and working alongside the children.
With so many adults around, pretty amazing things can happen that you would never normally consider.
Taking apart old electrical equipment, building huge sculptures, large scale treasure hunts can be done with a much higher adult to child ratio.
T is for Thinking and Philosophy
When I have asked Year 1 and 2 children previously what questions they have regarding a topic we were about to cover, the amount of philosophical and existential questions was amazing.
Yet we would have stuck to questions with factual answers if we hadn’t asked.
The fact is that children are very curious and are full of and open to much deeper thinking than we give them credit for.
Use ‘What if’ questions in your planning at the very least e.g. ‘What if humans shed their skins like reptiles?’ or ‘What if the letter ‘e’ didn’t exist?’ etc.
Keeping children’s natural inquisitiveness alive for as long as possible and allowing them to contemplate can serve them with life skills that will last with them for a life.
U is for Under
Anyone who has given children (particularly boys) free reign as to where to read or work will inevitably find that some go underneath the table.
Under sheets, under tables, under stairs, dens, secret corners.
One school I heard about had a Secret Poetry Society who met in the boiler room.
A Writing Shack that we received Lottery Funding for purposely had a tunnel entry as well as a door.
Finding different ways to work can have a remarkable effect on the quantity of work that they are willing and able to produce.
Going underground could be one of them.
V is for Visitors
As well as experts or talented people coming into your classroom, other visitors can make a huge difference to some children.
Relatives from Australia, newly born siblings, Polish grandmas, uncles in the army etc. etc. can all give an insight into the wider world and open up new possibilities for the children as well as providing new confidence for the child in your class who has the connection with them.
W is for Wildlife
Some of you may have a fair few animals, plants and trees on your site, some of you may have just a few.
Either way, making the most of them for educational purposes is fairly easy with bird box cameras and webcams.
Even if the local foxes mess up the playground (literally) you can capture them on film like your very own Springwatch.
Researching and presenting on the school wildlife can provide a wealth of opportunities that are real. Sending this to local wildlife groups or newspapers can provide real reasons for writing.
One Year 3/4 teacher I know got her children to write to our local fox cubs and hang the letters on the trees on the field. When the cubs replied, her class suspended belief and continued the dialogue for a fair few weeks, with even the most reluctant writers eagerly penning replies.
Putting up bird feeders and nesting boxes, bee and bug hotels and creating spaces for hedgehogs will soon have all manner of beasties turning up on a regular basis for the children to discover.
X is for X Factor
Love it or hate it, X Factor and similar shows are watched by many of your children and families.
Incorporating quiz type elements in your lessons and assemblies can make a point and make even the most challenging of content interesting. Spellings in the form of Who Wants to be a Millionaire for example.
We had a Poetry Factor judged by a panel of judges including a famous poet, the Headteacher and the School Secretary. The children were voted in and out in the usual way as per the show. We had finalists, music – the lot!
With only a little effort, the whole school became poetry mad and won’t forget the day for a while!
Y is for You
Your class will adore you and are likely to hang on your every word.
Use this to your advantage in your teaching and use ‘you’ as an example. Circle Time is a good time for this.
Give the kids examples using your experiences and life. Use photos of your travels and stories about your pets.
Their eyes light up and there can be a new found spark in their work to know that it has some connection to you.
Z is for Zoo
In fact any animals that can be brought to the children and enrich their education.
Newly born lambs, pets from home, exotic pet supplies, mobile farms.
All of these can bring new experiences to children and give them those precious first hand experiences that excite them into learning.
Visits to zoos are fab, but nothing beats having a springy two day lamb in the hall or your mum bring in your pet snake.
I hope that you find inspiration in some of these ideas.
Absolutely every one of them I have direct experience of so if you have any questions, just ask.
Enjoy enjoying Education!