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The secret life of the big hand and the little hand

Kevin Harcombe finds an alarm call for the imagination in a picture story that makes time fly

My Grandmother's Clock

By Geraldine McCaughrean Illustrated by Stephen Lambert

Collins Picture Lions pound;9.99

What it's about

A young girl finds out about the imaginative ways her grandmother measures time "just too big to fit inside any watch or clock" in this warm and witty story which raises big themes in an accessible way.

Learning how we learn

Grandmother says that seconds go much quicker when life is exciting. Ask children to make a time log of the school day. How much time is spent writing, talking, listening, thinking, playing? When does time drag? When does it fly? What do these peaks and troughs tell us about children's preferred learning styles? How can we adapt our teaching accordingly?


* Learn the rhyme "30 days hath September" (with a prize for the best attempt to improve the ending).

* Mental and oral starters: multiply the number of days in a week by the number of months in a year. Subtract the number of hours in a day from the number of days in July. Let children devise their own questions.

* Make candle clocks, water clocks, sundials and sand-timers. What weight of sand runs through a hole in a yoghurt pot in one minute? How much sand would you need to measure, eg five minutes, 30 seconds. What happens when you make the hole bigger or smaller?

* Look at the relationship between speed and distance travelled. Measure 100m. How quickly can children run or walk that distance? Time it with a stopwatch. Measure pulse at rest and after exercise.

* Make a graph of class birthdays. Is there any seasonal pattern? Compare with other classes or, by email, with other schools.

* How long does it take ice to melt in a selection of containers?

* Work out how many hours sleep you get in a week. Express this as a percentage of the hours in the week.


* Following on from the sleep calculation, discuss how much sleep is enough or too much.

* Discuss astrology: is there any correlation between individuals in the class and the supposed characteristics of their star signs?


* Make an illustrated family timeline and relate it to national and international events.


* Study the illustrations with their well-observed shadows. Cast your head's shadow on to black sugar paper using an OHP and cut out the shape to make silhouette portraits.

* Use a digital camera to take portraits with the subject lit from above, below and the sides. How does this alter the appearance of facial features?

* Look at Stephen Lambert's sunflowers representing summer in the book. Compare with Van Gogh's sunflowers and paint some from life.


* Play "Just a Minute" (as on Radio 4, 60 seconds to speak on a given topic without hesitation, deviation or repetition).

* List and learn time proverbs: "Time and tideI"; "A stitch in timeI", "A watched potI". Write a one-page playscript exemplifying one of them.


Choose a double-page illustration and ask groups of children to use percussion instruments to give each part of the picture (eg grandmother, the Moon, the horse, the sea) a theme. One child acts as "conductor" - as she points to each part of the picture the appropriate theme is played.

Vary the sequence, tempo and dynamics until you have a satisfactory musical interpretation of the illustration. Tape the resulting pieces. The music could be used for a dramatised version of the book.

Kevin Harcombe is headteacher of Redlands Primary School, Fareham, Hampshire

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