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Ted's teaching tips

According to the German dramatist Friedrich Schiller, we are only completely human at play. This strikingly natural picture shows how much fun children can have with their friends. But, of course, play has its serious side.

Play What do you and your friends enjoy most when playing? How do animals play (kittens chase string, otters slide into rivers, puppies fetch sticks)? Is there a serious side (preparation for hunting, self-defence, killing, swimming, tracking, home-building)? What about children's play (sport keeps you fit and co-ordinated, games such as Scrabble teach you spelling, computer games help IT skills)? Is there any learning at school through play-type activities (simulations, quizzes, role-plays, sports, competitions)? Is play only for children (adults like sports, games with others; elderly people enjoy cards and other such pastimes)?

Friends What does this picture tell you about friendship (look at faces, body language)? Who are your closest friends, and why (similar, different, complementary)? Are you friendly with the same people as a year or more ago (some childhood friendships persist, many fluctuate)? What would you do for your best friends (lend money, look after them if they were ill, donate blood, give them your last Rolo)? Drawing up a class sociogram (everyone chooses who they most like to sit with and a chart with arrows is compiled) can be interesting if everyone has friends, but it may expose children who are isolated. Friends Reunited is a popular website, connecting old schoolfriends (mostly in their 20s and 30s): why do you think this is?

Childhood How long is "childhood" (depends on definition: reaching adult height, starting first job, leaving home)? When does adolescence begin and end (when growth spurt occurs; girls' periods start about 12-13, boys' voices break at 14-ish; end of growth about age 21)? Is childhood longer nowadays (children used to leave education at 14, now most quit between 18 and 21)? When do you regard people as being "grown up"? What might people do to show they have left childhood (smoke, drink, wear adult clothes, show off)?

Writing (a) Describe your favourite game to a Martian, saying how it works and who plays it;(b) compose speech bubbles for boys in the picture ("I'll throw you to the trolls", "Homework? What homework?"); (c) imagine you meet two or three of your current best friends in 30 years' time: what are they doing and how do you get on?

Talking points

Childhood is the best time of our lives, isn't it?

For When you are a child you are free from adult responsibilities, so you can have lots of fun without worrying over money, mortgages, getting or holding down a job. There will be no other period when you can be so carefree, with good health, lots of energy and enough spare time to enjoy yourself.

Against Children have far more pressure on them now than they used to, expected to pass exams, spend hours on homework, do better than their parents. They often experience childhood fears and anxieties: scared of monsters when they are little, tormented in adolescence. Retired people are best off, with time and money to indulge themselves.

Ted Wragg is professor of education a Exeter University

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