A sprinkle of magic for the summer

14th July 2006 at 01:00
Parents in Aberdeen have come up with an exciting, fun-filled recipe for their young children this holiday, writes Jean McLeish

Ten Aberdeen primary pupils are crammed into the kitchen of award-winning chef Andrew Smart, gazing up at him, mesmerised as he announces the menu he will teach them.

"Butternut squash and Amoretti tortellini, confit duck spring rolls, raspberry sorbet dipped in chocolate and thin apple tart," trips off his tongue as easily as mince and tatties.

The Airyhall Primary children are attentive as Andrew shows them how to roll out and cut fresh pasta. Some mums are here to help, no doubt having a quiet joke about how they rustle up this kind of food for their family every night, but he has the pupils eating out the palm of his hand. Soon they are piping pureed butternut squash on to discs of pasta and dipping and tasting like professionals, with just the occasional cloud of icing sugar drifting overhead.

"We help our mum make beefburgers sometimes," says 11-year-old Mark Clayton. Most of the children have helped their mothers to make tea or bake at some time, but none has ever had this level of involvement in a kitchen.

The former Gleneagles chef was invited to be part of the Airyhall summer play scheme after parents heard he had been helping his niece and nephew - who are pupils at the school - to cook.

Andrew runs Smart Cuisine, a catering business for private and corporate clients, at his kitchens in Aberdeen's Seafield Road. He has been at work since 5am, preparing lunches for clients and getting started on a buffet for 100 tonight, before he started the lesson.

This is just one of dozens of activities the children can be involved in over the first three weeks of the holidays. This summer, 140 pupils are registered to take part, trying everything from scuba diving and yoga to horse riding and ice skating.

Airyhall is a quiet, residential area of Aberdeen and some of the parents spent the winter months planning the play scheme, which has been going for about 20 years. They could probably run Nato, if their efforts with the scheme are anything to go by.

Several are involved in education and some are senior staff in businesses that have made financial contributions to the venture. This year's chairwoman is mother-of-three Alison Bruce, a road safety officer with Grampian Police and former lecturer in engineering computing. She shows an example of one day's schedule of outings and activities.

Four buses leave the school after 9am to head for diving lessons at a city centre pool, a trip to Pizza Express to learn about pizza making, a morning of sand-sliding on the dunes at Balmedie beach and an indoor playbarn 20 miles away.

If children prefer to stay at school, they can have fun on a bouncy castle, choose from dozens of craft activities, play organised games outside, darts, pool or table football and have a barbecue lunch before going home.

All the activities are under parental supervision, with qualified experts providing specialist tuition.

"The scheme is completely parent-run by a committee of the main office bearers, at the moment about 13 people," says Alison during a break from preparing the pasta and puree. "We tend to meet on a monthly basis from January onwards.

"The committee do all the organisation and administration of the whole thing, but the day-to-day running is by parents who take it in turns. So, for every week that you register at the play scheme, you have to do one day's duty."

The summer play scheme operates three mornings a week - Tuesday to Thursday - and the 50p a day registration fee allows access to all school-based activities. To take part in excursions costs, on average, pound;5.50 each.

The scheme is supported by pound;1,000 from Aberdeen City Council, which helps to cover transport costs. The Active Schools Group also receives funding from the council, which contributes to sports tuition fees.

Alison says that more funding has allowed the scheme to grow over the years. "It's got bigger and bigger and better and better. In the early years it was just in the school and kids did stuff using school equipment, because there was no cash."

Children must be 6 years old before they can take part. There is always a minimum of two adults accompanying excursions, but supervision levels are increased according to the type of activity and number of children attending.

At least one of the adult helpers - sometimes two - on each trip is disclosed, says Alison. "We are very lucky at Airyhall. We have a lot of parents who work on the education side of things, so they've got enhanced disclosures; all the childminders who are parents are disclosed; the entire committee is disclosed; and we have some parents who have young children, so we got them disclosed last year because they were going to be involved for the next five to 10 years."

Alison admits the administration of the scheme, organising parents' duty rotas, excursions and tuition, is a huge task and acknowledges it is dependent on the goodwill of parents, which clearly stems from their appreciation of the benefits the venture brings them and their children.

They value it highly. Some take time off work to take their turn on the rota and grandparents also attend. One mother was still helping out when her daughter had left school and gone to university.

"We have the odd occasion when somebody doesn't turn up to do their duty,"

she says. "We are very, very lucky that they are few and far between.

Everybody sees it as such a fantastic thing for the kids."

Everything is out of the ovens now and an aroma of freshly baked apple tarts fills the kitchen. Some enthusiastic tasting is going on, with duty parents Julie Reynolds and Michelle Law in raptures over the tortellini and the raspberry sorbet dipped in chocolate.

Michelle is having a bit of a busman's holiday, as she teaches at Elrick Primary in Westhill. "This is great, though, because there's only 10 of them and I usually have 28," she grins.

Julie is a second year midwifery student and mother of three. "Two of my daughters have come to the play scheme and have loved it."

Ten-year-old Lisa Webster admits she has enjoyed her first cookery lesson.

"I've never made any of that stuff before and it's quite easy. It wasn't difficult at all."

Coll Macrae is another masterchef in the making. "I enjoyed it. I usually help my mum with things like pasta."

The children have tell-tale chocolate around their mouths and are arguing over the last bites of spring roll and sorbet. They seem to have achieved Andrew's objectives.

"They enjoyed it and they all did really well," he says. "Obviously I had done a lot of preparation for them, so they didn't have to work with knives or do anything dangerous. But one of the things I wanted to do was to get them to eat things they wouldn't normally eat.

"If they came home and were told one night they'd got butternut squash with sage for their tea, they'd say 'Yuck'. But they all ate it and only one turned up their nose and then liked it when they tried it," says Andrew, getting back to work with 100 people coming for dinner.

Half a mile or so up the road from Andrew's kitchen, Airyhall Primary has been a hive of activity too. A barbecue is set up in the playground under an awning and inside, the school has been transformed into a fun factory of industrial proportions. In one room, long rows of tables are set up with craft activities at every child's place. Nearby are pool and football tables. Elsewhere, girls are decorating cupcakes. Down the corridor, the hip-hop dance teacher is packing up her music system. And magician Jeff Burns has just finished performing to an audience which includes P1 pupils who are here for the open day, so they know what to expect when they are old enough for the play scheme next summer.

MenuButternut squash and Amoretti tortelliniConfit duck spring rollsRaspberry sorbet dipped in chocolateThin apple tart

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