Spider-Man for all seasons

18th May 2012 at 01:00

The other week, it rained every day. I'm rather pleased I'm retired and not suffering the headaches of constant wet playtimes. When I started my teaching career in the 1960s, it was all so easy. If it was raining, hailing, snowing or a force 9 gale was sweeping across the playground, the children still went outside, and they loved it.

They were always told to dress appropriately, and some of them, of course, didn't. This meant they got very wet indeed and they sat uncomfortably through the next couple of lessons while their clothes dried out. If they had the luxury of sitting near the radiator, they dried out rather more speedily. I remember a child placing his socks on the radiator after a particularly heavy downpour, to the great consternation of those around him, since he wasn't renowned for changing them with any great frequency.

The whole thing was an effective learning experience, though. If the weather threatened inclemency, you brought your raincoat and wellies to school. If it was raining at playtime, you wore them. If you didn't, you became wet and miserable.

By the time I'd done 10 years in the classroom, things were changing. A few parents regularly complained if their offspring went into the playground under a threatening sky, and letters would be sent if the teacher hadn't made sure that everybody's coats were tightly buttoned, hoods pulled carefully around cheeks and appropriate footwear done up tightly.

I remember one irate mother writing to me the day after a thunderstorm, apologising for the fact that Danny wasn't in school, but he was "suffring from diarear threw a hole in his boot wot was caused by him being maid to go out to play in the thunder storm".

These days, of course, you daren't send children out to play in the rain. It probably contravenes every health and safety rule in the book. They must stay tucked up inside, in the warm. Which poses a problem. Teachers are entitled to a tea break, and somebody must look after the children while they have one.

Earlier in my career, primary schools usually had a maximum of three teaching assistants, known merely as "helpers". They mixed paint, cut card and made tea - and during wet playtimes they were charged with moving around the classrooms trying to make sure the children behaved themselves. Since their monitoring was necessarily spread thinly, the children took the opportunity to muck about as soon as the helper had moved to the next classroom, and the teacher would return to a scene of devastation.

Forewarned, I solved the problem at a stroke during my first year of headship. At that time, the school had just 147 children. If it rained, the infants took a favourite reading book into one hall, the juniors into the other, and they spread themselves comfortably on the floor to read quietly for 15 minutes. I supervised the juniors, my deputy the infants. On other occasions, we read to the children, or played simple activity games with them.

By the time I retired, my school had 360 children ... but technology came to the rescue. I'd set up a DVD projector in the hall for the children to enjoy the adventures of Spider-Man splashed on a 10ft screen with surround sound. Wet lunchtimes no longer seemed interminable. In fact, I often became absorbed enough to miss my own lunch ...

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email: mikejkent@aol.com.

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