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Kitting out your granny

Nowadays, grannies come in all shapes and sizes. Making it fun for children to cut out and mix 'n' match everything from their clothes to hairstyles encourages children to challenge stereotypes of all kinds. Dinah Starkey looks beyond the knitting needles.

Illustrated by John Taylor

If your history topic is about the recent past, you may have encountered the granny problem. At first sight, grannies are the ideal resource for such a study. They are free, child-friendly and a rich source of oral history.

There's a whole genre of pictures in which grandmothers sit in rocking-chairs, sharing their memories with attentive grandchildren. Hoops and spinning tops, black-and-white photographs and rationing tend to feature in these stories, which are used by infant teachers all over the country to introduce the concept of change in people's everyday lives.

It's when you start searching for your own real-life examples that the troubles begin. Requests for early memories must be drafted with exquisite care, because the grannies of many primary-aged children grew up in the Sixties and references to magic lantern shows and flat irons can only offend. It's a rare granny who will acknowledge memories of rock 'n' roll, let alone the music hall, and an active 45-year-old with a demanding job and a weekly aerobics class may not see herself as a living history resource.

The image of grannies is more than just a social dilemma. There's a valuable teaching point here too. Children tend to accept stereotypes uncritically. That's why Enid Blyton remains so popular. Unpicking a stereotype and testing it agains reality helps to move their understanding forward and develops a more discriminating approach to characterisation. Our handy dress-a-granny kit, with its mix 'n' match versions of three popular models, is just the resource that you need for getting started.

Look at how grandmothers are depicted in a variety of picture-books. Some examples for further reading are given later.

Compare the stories and original pictures with our three state-of-the-art models. Which features are the same and which are different? Older children could write a character sketch for each, or assemble details from the three models to make a composite granny whose adventures could feature in a story.

Power Gran Hair: red.

Style: high fashion.

Accessories: mobile phone and laptop.

Favourite outfit: designer suit and blouse.

Hobby: who needs a hobby?

Favourite food: smoked salmon.

Recommended Christmas present: Forget it - she's got everything.

Transport: Porsche.

Sports Gran

Hair: black.

Style: short, straight, easy to style after the early morning swim.

Accessories: personal stereo.

Favourite outfit: track suit, trainers.

Hobby: line dancing.

Favourite food: tofu stir-fry.

Recommended Christmas present: pedometer.

Transport: mountain bike.

Traditional Gran

Hair: white.

Style: bun.

Accessories: cat, cup of tea.

Favourite outfit: dress, shawl, walking stick, large handbag.

Hobby: knitting.

Favourite food: steak and kidney pudding.

Recommended Christmas present: handkerchiefs.

Transport: bus.

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