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The tent of tranquillity

Our Quiet Place grew out of the theme of light which we had for Diwali last October. We hung long strips of material from a corner of the room and made a kind of Bedouin tent. Inside we had a big, thick rug, Diwali lamps and pictures on the walls of special places abroad - mainly quiet places, including some mosques.

We had picture albums showing people in other countries doing ordinary things, like sitting in the street making bread or weaving, which are slower and quieter processes than in this country.

The atmosphere was contemplative. We didn't set out to give it an entirely Asian theme, but that's what happened, because tranquillity is part of Asian culture and so are bright, shiny things which children love to handle.

The parents, tired after work or not, were dragged in by their children. One mother brought in saris - some of which were just to look at; others were for cutting up for the children to wear - bracelets and necklaces, and silver shoes with curled-up toes.

We had dried fruits such as pineapple and dates in the tent for them to nibble, and spices and curry powders for them to taste and smell. Outside the tent we had tea with rice, curry and chapattis.

We called it Our Quiet Place from then on. Each child brought in one special thing. The English children usually brought in a toy or an ornament; the Asian children tended to bring in something pretty and exciting such as saris, shiny dishes and bowls, and jewelled boxes.

We played quiet, soothing music - not the sort of music they usually hear. Some would listen and say they liked that tune, or didn't like another one.

We burned incense in there, too. The children just wandered in all day long, during the month the theme lasted. We only allowed a couple in at a time, but they would wait, and as soon as one came out another one would go in. We took them to a Hindu temple as well.

They gained an understanding of other people, and learned about taste and smell and touch. They talked about the different music they heard - the beginnings of musical discernment - and they gained a sense of geography and history. There was even an opportunity for maths in the Diwali patterns we made for the tent and for greetings cards. And, above all, they learned how good it is to go and be quiet somewhere.

They thought it was wonderful. We've done similar tent-type things since - including a jungle scene - but it's Our Quiet Place that they still talk about. We'll be doing it again.

Doreen Sharp teaches three and four-year-olds from various ethnic backgrounds at Portland House Day Nursery in Huddersfield

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