Beside the seaside

3rd August 2012 at 01:00

I've been invited to school for a day out with Year 3. Incredibly, given the recent rain, it's a beautiful day and the weatherman says it will stay like that until home time. We're off to Ramsgate in Kent for a splash in the sea, some sandcastle building and the fun of eating a packed lunch on a beach.

Five minutes into the coach trip, Mirabelle announces that she throws up on coaches. "Don't worry," says her teacher. "I've got a magic penny that prevents travel sickness." Mirabelle agrees to try it, while her teacher opens a window and checks the plastic bag situation. The children chat happily as we zip along the M2. In a couple of hours we're there, and we set up camp on a stretch of sand.

In years gone by, I would have sent the children to explore within specified parameters and told them when to be back. Not these days. The teachers have downloaded an extensive risk assessment, which tells them that if the party is likely to cross a road, they should pick a safe spot. Fancy. One paragraph suggests warning children that sand can be an irritant in bodily orifices.

Within seconds clothes are off and everybody is jumping and splashing in the sea. There is much screaming to be done as the waves pound around little legs, and a group of elderly people cautiously move a bit further along the beach. I build a row of sandcastles with Sadie, just ahead of the tide. "We need to build a moat," she says. "Yes, a moat is a good idea," I agree. She picks up her spade and pauses. "What's a moat?" she asks.

Then it's lunchtime and the children explore their bags. Most have listened to their teachers and brought sensible lunches. James, however, has brought a whole packet of large digestive biscuits. After two, he's had enough and asks if those around him would like one. Most of the biscuits fall into the sand as he's manoeuvring them out of the wrapper.

Then it's back to splashing and exploring. I love the way children can be so inventive and absorbed with nothing more than water and a sandy beach to play with. In minutes, three children are burying David, Anthea has collected a bucket of stones to take home, Estelle has gathered lots of limpet shells and is making patterns in the sand and Peter and Amid are hunting for tiny crabs.

Soon it's ice cream time and the teachers line the children up, dust them down and sit them in a row on the embankment. Their pocket money is gathered quickly and teaching assistants go off to buy huge vanilla cones topped with confectionery speckles. The vendor passes along a container of raspberry sauce so that the children can pour some into their cones. This proves a bad idea. Deborah loses control of the squeezy bottle and raspberry sauce pours over her hands and into her lap.

Then it's time to tidy up and leave. Maggie tells me there's sand in my hair and she takes out a stiff comb, rearranging what hair I have left into an extraordinary shape, much admired by the children as we climb on the coach.

It's been a delightful day, and some learning has gone on, too. We've talked about tides, the moon's gravity, how beaches were formed and why the sea is salty. "How would you rate your day, Sir?" asks the boy behind me, obviously an Ofsted inspector in the making. "It's been lovely," I say. And it really has.

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email:

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