I know what you did last summer
Stick insects are not normally the most adventurous of beasts, but the one perched on young Megan's jumper looks as if he is having a great time. An inch long already and only two days old, he obviously hasn't been taught how stick insects are supposed to behave, and after this glimpse of life on the outside he may never want to learn.
But it's not just the insects whose horizons are being stretched at Hyndland primary's after school club in Glasgow. Megan and her friends are being extended, stimulated and challenged daily by a spectacular range of activities devised by the staff, and occasionally the children themselves.
"We try to make the kids aware of the world, make them see there are nice things to do, creative things," says club manager Fiona Ansdell. "And I'm sure the enthusiasm of the staff gets through to the children."
Situated on the north banks of the Clyde, where the ground rises steeply from the docklands of Partick to Glasgow's fashionable west end, Hyndland primary is squeezed between tenements on one side and the local cricket club on the other. From the outside its cream-painted, wooden dining-hall, used as a base by the after school club, looks ancient and weathered, but inside it is a large, light, airy room with long tables protected by pink and green watermelon-patterned tablecloths. Gauguin, Kandinsky and Corot reproductions cover the walls, side by side with the children's own colourful paintings and a long strip of bright yellow paper decorated with handprints and footprints.
On the day of my visit, two boys are playing draughts. Another is on the snooker-table, and a couple of girls are sharing secrets in a corner, but most of the children are seated around the outside of a square of tables at the centre of which, like a fruity Buddha, sits a fat glass container bulging with pieces of apple, orange, banana, melon and pineapple.
"The kids were peeling and chopping the fruit earlier, then they did pastel drawings of it, and now they're going to eat it," says Ms Ansdell. "Nobody gets forced to do anything but they are all encouraged to take part, especially if it's something new like this."
After the children have disposed of the fruit, they disperse for a bite of lunch. A group of boys is playing football and the tallest, 12-year-old Brian, explains that he is at secondary school and has been coming
to the club for years. He still enjoys it, he says, "because it's different".
Nearby, a little blonde girl is laying out her lunch on the flat surface of a large boulder. "Hello Aimi," I say, having read her name from the label on her juice-bottle. "Do you like it here?" She gives me a long look. "My name's Penny. Aimi is my sister. It's her name on the bottle but it's my bottle," she explains with a frown. "I'm five and I've only been coming for a few weeks but I've made some friends already. It's good. I like it best when we get drawing and painting."
When lunch is over, it's time to round up the children and head for the Botanic Gardens. The club's summer programme includes visits to beaches, several parks, a country house, Culzean Castle, two adventure playgrounds, a farm, art galleries, museums, a fossil grove, the Wallace Monument, Charles Rennie Mackintosh buildings and an uninhabited island in the middle of Loch Lomond. On days without excursions there is tuition in Indian cookery, henna painting, making dreamcatchers, gardening, music, cookery, needlework, baseball and line dancing, as well as more conventional pursuits like drawing, painting, football, cricket, tennis and snooker.
One delighted mum says: "The club offers a brilliant programme and we can't compete. Even when I'm not working my son Michael still wants to go to the 'Aftie' with all his friends." Michael, who is seven, says: "I've been going to the club for two years and I enjoy it a lot. We went to Polkemmit Park and did pond-dipping, and I caught tadpoles and also a big toad. I even caught a pond skater, which is an insect with very long legs that skates across the water. You have to put all the animals and insects you catch in a tray so everyone can see them. Then you put them back. The water was cold but not too slimy. One of the grown-ups was walking along and stepped right in a little river by mistake. We all laughed."
Club co-ordinator Jane Cowie says: "We want the children to experience as much as possible. We try to create a joy for life, a good feeling in themselves, and respect for each other. It's a nice time during the holidays because you get longer with the kids and get to know them better. You can tackle the one or two who misbehave and try to work out why it's happening and help them build good relationships."
After-school clubs offer children the chance to widen their horizons. Douglas Blane visits one that thrives during the holidays