BOATS set sail and assist in primary class activities
There is an air of quiet concentration in the classroom, where some 20 P12 pupils are working alongside a group of parents and adults.
It is just after 9am at Gorebridge Primary in Midlothian and many pairs of hands are busy with scissors, glue and crayons, putting together wooden spoon puppets. Adults kneel or sit, crouched over small tables, as absorbed as the children in this activity.
In another P2 classroom the picture is a similar one: the same sense of focus, of sharing and of fun. One bearded man, in fact, seems even more engrossed in the task at hand than the infants. Then 10.30am approaches. The activity is coming to an end. It's nearly time for the parents to leave. One wee boy puts his arms around his mother. "It's OK. I'm not going yet," she says softly.
Some of the parents will return, with others, in the afternoon to help the pupils write their puppet stories, and the following week there will be a puppet show for the school community. This is an example of BOATS in action: Bring Our Adults To School.
"I always tell the pupils that we are a family and I believe a school should be the hub of a community," says headteacher Gillian Grant.
"BOATS is an excellent way of developing this in keeping with Curriculum for Excellence. Here the children are taking ownership of their learning and explaining to parents what they are doing. It makes them confident, individual and successful learners."
Developed from a "Softstart" approach to P12 classes some three years ago, this whole-school project now invites parents into classrooms to observe and participate in their children's learning; and not just parents, but grandparents, uncles, aunts and younger siblings.
To date, extended family members have been involved in storytelling and sharing, illustrating favourite stories, making Easter bonnets, space rockets, trains, pirate boats and even costumes for the school's end-of- year production, The Dream Catcher.
Working together, parents and pupils have also developed the school garden and grounds, and five parents have gone on through their BOATS experience to become classroom helpers after undergoing the disclosure process.
"We now have three or four class BOATS sessions per term and up to two whole-school BOATS sessions per year," says Mrs Grant.
"It benefits the school in so many ways. It's a great way for parents to see CfE in action and it's good for our ethos, for parental communication and for strengthening community links," she says.
However, it's not only parental involvement which has improved. There are also "vast benefits" for the pupils, says P2 class teacher Debby Crossan.
"Our pupils now take greater responsibility in planning their own learning and they will often suggest a BOATS session for the adults to help them. But also, more importantly, they will ask `can we teach the adults to do this, too?'"
It is obvious to any observer here that the adults enjoy watching their children learn, but there are also benefits for the staff.
"It is an opportunity to share curricular and teaching strategies with adults and to see the children in a different light, to see them interacting with their parents. You get to know the parents better in this relaxed atmosphere. It is much more `open door'," says Mrs Crossan.
But don't the teachers feel more exposed?
"At first it can be daunting but, really, we all love it and we have had no negative feedback from teachers or parents. We can share new initiatives with our parents and we can help them to understand some of the skills which enable them to help their own children at home," she says.
Gorebridge Primary was nominated for a Scottish Education Award for Health and Well-Being by parents, with BOATS and the school's active parent forum highlighted. Through their BOATS experience, a number of parents have also come forward as new members of the parent forum, the school health and eco groups, and volunteered to help with sports and other activities.
As Mrs Crossan puts it: "It really is a case of more parents coming on board, as we continue to push out the BOATS."
`I feel I belong more'
BOATS parent Jill Bryson
"I get a lot of feedback all the time from my four kids at the school. The first thing my youngest said this morning was, `Remember you're coming in today'. He has been looking forward to it throughout the October holiday and now I know he will talk about nothing else for the next week.
"It is really good to see what the children are doing and to help them. I have been to quite a few BOATS sessions and I know they really enjoy me being here. I feel I belong more and you also get to know and to work with the other kids and that's good.
"When I first came, I didn't know what I would be doing and I was a bit nervous. But not now. Now I look forward to it. It certainly wasn't like this when I came here as a pupil.
"I have done puppet making, helped write letters and helped make things to sell at the school fair to raise money for the Christmas panto trip.
"I would like to get more involved and become a school helper if I didn't have a full-time job. Having an hour-and-a-half today is great. Some of the sessions are only 45 minutes and that is not long enough to help with all the activities.
"That, though, gives you an insight into a teacher's life - not enough time.
"The children respect me as they do a teacher and that is really nice. Even my own kids listen to what I say in here."