Cardboard trickery

3rd December 2004 at 00:00
Elizabeth Jurd reveals her cheap and cheerful box cure for hard cases

I am struggling to load a huge box into my tiny car outside the supermarket. Ex-pupils are circling on their bikes making unhelpful suggestions. Surely I have more important tasks?

Like many primary teachers I make great use of boxes. Cereal boxes can become lorries and houses, while shoe boxes are particularly useful to contain views of space or an underwater scene. Alone or in groups, children produce tiny versions of rainforests or an industrial scene. Replacing the lid and using a torch and pinholes add to the atmosphere created. Mixing paint half and half with white glue will cover most surfaces including sticky tape.

This enormous box, however, is destined for a different fate. I will not give instructions or directions as to how it is to be used. All such decisions are down to one child, called Gary.

You know a Gary I am sure (and it is invariably a boy at top junior age).

He scowls as he enters the classroom, kicks the table, snarls at you and hurts someone before the bell rings. None of this is a deliberate action; it is just how he feels.

Gary knows that he can go straight to his box and do exactly what he likes with it. He has total freedom to paint the box, cut it, add materials or just sit inside it. My stapler and wires and batteries are allowed if he seems calm when he asks permission, but the craft knife (so useful for making doors and windows) can only be used as a special privilege under adult supervision.

One box has been a car, boat, train, house, castle and a spacecraft on consecutive days. The drawbridge was particularly clever, with coins fixed with Blu-Tack on the underside so that it lowered itself when the strings were released.

You might think that other children would be jealous of the freedom given to Gary but I find that they show considerable understanding of the situation. They realise that their learning will be hindered if Gary is disrupting the class. They are happy to concentrate on the lesson knowing that they will get a choice of creative activities later in the day.

Yet Gary is not excluded from the class. He is busy painting but is also listening to the introduction. As his anger diffuses he often makes a contribution and finally leaves his painting (without attempting to clear up) and joins in the task.

It is impossible to teach children if their emotional state is totally negative. Trying to force Gary to sit down and conform is counter-productive for him and for the class. A choice of practical and creative activities of all kinds helps the children's emotional development and builds up their self-esteem.

Working in a pair or as a small group is an essential experience both from a social and a creative perspective. However that is just too difficult for Gary first thing in the morning or at the beginning of the afternoon.

Elizabeth Jurd teaches at North Primary School and Nursery, Colchester

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