The power of imagination is very liberating, and a wonderful teaching tool. It keeps children usefully occupied, brightening up long, dull journeys and visits to relatives. Children aren't required to have much of an imagination these days, with a diet of television, computer games and organised after-school activities. When we ask children to write imaginatively, do we consider how hard this may be, without some practice of daydreaming?
It all started with one of those drama lessons we all use from time to time: each child names something they would take on holiday and mimes putting it in an imaginary suitcase. I decided to take it a little bit further, loading the case on to a bus and getting the children to pair up for a journey to Portsmouth and across to the Isle of Wight.
We sat on the deck of the ferry - in the middle of the hall - watching and listening to seagulls and feeling the motion of the boat. Remembering other journeys, one or two felt a bit sick, but most loved it. We talked about feeling the spray from the waves and the children were offered coats if the wind was too chilly for them. We all looked out eagerly for the first sign of land on the other side of the Solent.
We walked carefully down the gangplank in twos and voted on whether we should walk down the pier or take the train. The train won, so we arranged ourselves in compartments and soon arrived at Ryde.
Before I let the children loose on the beach, they were reminded of the rules, not to go out of sight and to remember the signal for getting back together. They could paddle or swim, build sandcastles, collect shells or sunbathe. Some children formed groups and went off to splash each other in the sea, some spread towels and donned sunglasses and sunblock and others wandered off on their own.
The parent helper and I interacted with the groups, asking about their activities and joining in. We splashed with the swimmers, warning them not to go too deep, and we spent some time building tunnels and turrets, adding shells or seaweed, and suggested what the one or two who were at a loose end might find to do. After a short while, they were called back to get their packed lunches, each child describing what they had to eat and holding out a "cup" for blackcurrant or lemonade. I was generous enough to buy them all ice creams (a choice of cone or lolly) before we gathered up our belongings and then caught the bus to the guest house where they chose roommates, rooms and beds.
At no time were the words "imagine" or "pretend" used. Occasionally, someone would ask: "Really?" and I'd answer: "No, not really," and carry on. There were plenty of opportunities to get the children to make choices and decisions within a broad and flexible framework.
Children who weren't so imaginative would learn from those who were. Rules were as strict as on a real trip, in the interests of safety. Negotiation and "speaking and listening" were practised throughout. The places visited included geographically interesting sites - different types of beaches, the dinosaur museum, Alum Bay - and historically interesting sites - Carisbrooke Castle (with donkey wheel) and the Roman Villa.
We had lots of fun. It was a real bonding experience. The headteacher came in while we were at Alum Bay and was presented with a "bag" for collecting coloured sand.The youngest pupil was delighted when her family decided to have a holiday on the Isle of Wight. After all, she had been there before!
Margaret Sahin is a teacher at Bardwell Special School, Oxfordshire