Christmas in school is always a busy time and when I came out of the classroom the first time, Christmas really did not feel like Christmas. I loved the decorations, the play, the singing and the excitement. That is still there and there have been some really magic moments during the last couple of weeks.
Some of these had nothing to do with Christmas at all! For two consecutive Friday afternoons we have had parents and relatives in the classroom; the first time is was MAGs (Mums, aunts and grandmas) and the second time it was DUGs (Dads, uncles and granddads). The mums came in at the end of an RE lesson – we have been exploring the theme of ‘Our wonderful world’ and the children had written prayers. The MAGs sat with the children to illustrate these and it was wonderful to see adults and children sitting next to each other drawing, colouring and talking. When the DUGs came in it was a beautiful cold but sunny day and I gave them a list of things they had to find and sent them all out into the playground. Again it was great to see adults and children digging the earth to look for ants, peering in crevices to look for spider webs and working out why there was not a cloud to be seen in the blue sky. At the end of the afternoon, they all came back into the classroom and I read them all a story and I hope modelled to them how to talk about a story with children.
I loved this and saw it as a really valuable exercise – I would love to do it more often. Some of my colleagues did not enjoy it so much – they were anxious about parents looking at books and, in one case, dads making and throwing paper aeroplanes around the classroom. It might be because I have more experience of and so am more confident at talking to adults but I had no such problems. I organised the adults in the same way as the children and they seemed very happy with this!
The tree trimming assembly was lovely. Every child made a tree decoration and parents came into the hall while each child went up and hung their decoration on the Christmas tree while singing Christmas songs. It was very atmospheric and a delightful experience. It was simple but effective.
We then had somebody coming to do poetry and yoga with the children. This was not good and I am not sure what the children gained from it. There has also been the Christmas fair and a visit to the school by reindeer. The latter two were good. We have had a group of parents come in to decorate cup cakes with the children and three non-uniform days to collect things for the fair. The Christmas party, lunch and production are still to come.
I agree completely with the headteacher that these ‘Wow’ experiences are important. I do feel however that you can have too many of them – too many means that the ‘wowness’ of each is minimised. These experiences are like anything that happens in school – the purpose of them has to be explicit. That means that, as a teacher I want time in my classroom to prepare the children for them and to reflect on them afterwards. When there are so many of them and they also happen at a very busy time of year it is not possible to do this and so each loses some of its effect and, maybe more importantly its impact on the children’s learning. Is it enough to offer these experiences or should we use them as ways in to learning? I think the latter but then, as a classroom teacher, I need to have good notice of things happening and what is involved in them so that I can build them into my planning.
And then there is the Christmas production! Of course it is stressful and time consuming but great fun. Why do we do it and what purpose does it serve? Time is spent learning songs, words, dances, movements, etc. etc. and worrying about costumes. Tempers get frayed; children get bored; space is fought over and the tissue and crepe paper is used up. Of course it always comes together brilliantly and parents beam with pride. Is this worth it? Or is there another way of achieving the same end? I think there is – but that’s another issue!
Where is this taking us? I think I am reiterating my point about the need for ‘wholeness’ in what we offer the children. I believe learning happens best when it is embedded in children’s experiences and surrounded by talk. Children (and adults) need to reflect on experiences and be enabled to use them to extend knowledge and understanding of the world. Every experience we offer children should have an element of ‘Wow’ to it. We have been exploring the book by John Burningham Harvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Present. We were looking at the last double page spread which has lots of pictures of Father Christmas’s journey home. We decided we needed to write some more words to go on that page because probably John Burningham had run out of time! I wrote a story saying, ‘Father Christmas went on a horse, then he went on a boat, then he went on a helicopter…’. We discussed how boring this was and thought of lots of different words we could use. The children were each given different pictures to write about; I told them that if they used the word ‘went’ something so awful would happen that I couldn’t bear to talk about I!. The children thought it was not worth the risk and wrote some wonderful stories. I would describe that as a ‘Wow’ experience and it came from a brilliant book, a shared purpose and a collaborative making of meaning.
As a classroom teacher I want to use every experience in the classroom to create opportunities like that but am not able to do so because of events and expectations imposed externally. Do other teachers feel like this or am I just a control freak?!