Teaching primary was animal magic, compared with secondary

This travelling teacher, swapping secondary for primary, recalls how Year 1 were inspired by a giraffe called Dave

Hywel Roberts

Hywel Roberts' primary school class were thrilled by a story about a giraffe called Dave

The fog clears and here we are.

Year 1 are feeling funky and are dead excited that they have a visitor. Me.

I have learned much about Year 1 since flying the security of my secondary school nest. Year 1 mean business. When you ask them something, they react as excitable humans rather than the likeable lethargic teenagers I’m used to. Year 1, if you don’t know, are around five and six years old. They take no prisoners, say what they think when they want to, and, to be fair, they will give you a few minutes' grace to win them over.

And they sit on the carpet, shuffling and poking, picking and wiping. They are great because there is no guard to have up. The guard is down, and the streams-of-consciousness replies to any enquiry can be joyful, confusing and, occasionally, bizarre. And sometimes, you know, they’ve just got to let it out.

And this class are no different.

In a key stage 1 classroom, I often feel like the lost Yank, Mac, in that brilliant film Local Hero, bewildered by locals. Or the tragic titular Withnail from Withnail and I, who has gone on holiday by mistake. I sometimes feel like I’m in Year 1 by mistake.

We are doing ANIMALS as a topic, and it’s all very open. The lovely class teacher, Bianca, has assured me that the class will be enthusiastic and fun. She is not wrong.

The enthusiasm of primary pupils

I draw a giraffe on the flipchart and ask the children to talk about what it is.

"Is it a horse?" asks a jocular young fellow. Everyone laughs and I double-check my drawing. To be fair, you do have to be careful when drawing things for kids. Who can forget my attempt at drawing a lighthouse and adjacent abodes? I can’t, that’s for sure.

After a bit of cajoling, we all agree it’s a giraffe.

Behind bars.

"That’s right! In a zoo!!!!!"

I eyeball the class and ask them how we might know that the giraffe is happy.

They ponder and I ask them to share their ideas. The giraffe is happy because:

  • He eats leaves
  • He likes getting his tail brushed (with a giromb – a specialist giraffe comb)
  • He drinks water
  • He smiles

We start to think about the sign that is in front of the giraffe’s enclosure. Should we give the giraffe a name?

A girl, Lucy, shouts out "DAVE!" I love this. A giraffe called Dave. What more could you want? The younger teacher in me winces, but I’ve learned to ignore him.

On the front row sits Harry, with his horn-rimmed Krays-style specs. He has his hand up.

"Go on, what do you want to say?" I cajole once more.

"Dave Magoo!" he cries out, beaming.

‘Dave Magoo?" I echo, my mind filling with cartoons from my own childhood.

Tall tales about zoo animals

All the kids find this hilarious. Bianca is shaking her head, smiling.

"Dave Magoo!" Harry repeats, sending the class into more fits. I’m finding it funny as well. Everyone is. I’m not sure why.

Then Lucy nails it. She declares:

"Dave Magoo! The happiest animal in the zoo!"

This is delightful and will definitely be what goes up on the sign in front of Dave’s cage.

We are all, to use a non-educational term, buzzing.

But what do the other animals in the zoo say about Dave? The children are up and find their partners. After a few moments, the children are ready to speak as the other animals using the sentence starter "We think Dave the giraffe is special because…".

I move a metaphorical spotlight around the room, and we hear all the great things about Dave Magoo, the happiest animal in the zoo. The zoo’s other occupants give him great reviews.

(I need to move things on. To amp up a little healthy tension on these lovely kids).

It’s an old trick for me but it’s one I use a lot. I’m going to do some expectation-shifting. I tell the class that I am going to talk as Dave Magoo, and this is what I say:

(No funny voices. No acting. Just delivery of information)

"I am so unhappy here in the zoo. The people are kind, but I haven’t any space. There is no room for me to roam. To pace. I feel trapped. I am so unhappy."

The children look on at me. I wait for a response.

Eventually, a serious young cove, Ned, whispers: "We need to move you, Dave Magoo."

I’ll just leave that there, dear reader.

And the fog descends.

You can’t plan magic. You just need to believe in it.

Hywel Roberts is a travelling teacher and curriculum imaginer. He tweets as @hywel_roberts. Read his back catalogue and follow him on Facebook

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