Tasty menu minus the rabbit
It's 2,000 years since Horace urged us to mix the sweet with the useful, to mingle pleasure with practicality. That advice produced the stained glass window and the miracle play as well as more recent affairs like the Children's Newspaper and Look and Learn comic. A brand new example lies to hand in the magazines on offer here.
For your Pounds 10 subscription you get either a humanities or a science pack. Each contains three colourful 16-page magazines aimed at junior school readers, full of pictures, stories, articles, competitions and puzzles.Three issues of each magazine are produced each year; every title focusing on an area of the national curriculum and intended to link with central elements in the programmes of study for key stage 2.
Lexis shows us language used in a diversity of ways and for many purposes. There's an interview with the author Philip Pullman and an extract from his new book; a poem with stanzas left for the reader to complete; some very brief book reviews. The central feature consists of passages from various diaries: some factual like Anne Frank's or a wartime headmaster's log book, some made-up like Red Riding Hood's or the weekly organisation plan of a family. Children are encouraged to think about how to draw inferences from texts and how to cross imaginatively into lives from other times.
Clio devotes itself to history and the Tudors. Future issues are promised on (you've guessed it) the Victorians and the Greeks. The story of Drake's circumnavigation and a fiercely edited life of Raleigh enfold time charts, spreads on housing and jousts, and the making of a hornbook. The timeline with genuine royal portraits seems more informative than the one with cartoons of an infant Shakespeare-Superscribe and a spluttering smoker.
Globe Runner features an eponymous rabbit which hops from page to page via Sheffield, Bridlington, Holland and Botswana. Subjects touched on include waterfalls and mountains.
But the magazine has no real unifying theme: the most interesting and challenging page is the most mundane and localised, an exercise in planning a school site for a pot plant, taking account of heat, wind and rainfall.
The Science pack works in similar ways. Design Bug takes us into the history and manufacture of Lego and into the guts of a personal stereo. These excursions will clearly interest many children, but there will be many others who enjoy playing or listening without wanting to explore any further. A feature on playground design has nine pictures, eight from the London area. Readers from the rest of the country might want to use the competition page to ask for greater representation of their neighbourhoods in future.
Sci-Com serves up the life of Joseph Priestley, accounts of satellite TV and the search for the orang pendek in Sumatra and, nearer home, a thoughtful and attractive investigation into what makes "a good cup of tea".
Maths2Mind offers recreational activities on graphs and databases, interesting facts about numbers, including a glance at the Fibonacci sequence, and a probability game. The emphasis lies, as it should, with the skills necessary for attainment target 1, the use and application of mathematics.
The teachers' notes vary considerably. In Lexis the references to statutory programmes of study cover the pages like measles. In Clio they tell you what to do, but not how to do it. It's not much use to be enjoined to "act out a scene from Shakespeare" or to "dance galliards, etc".
By contrast, the notes for Design Bug take a more philosophical approach, bringing together children's experiences, school activities and the world outside.
The Sci-Com notes resist national curriculum references, preferring to offer background information on evolution and conservation, and suggestions as to how Priestley's discoveries transformed existing paradigms.
The Horatian formula surfaces in the notes to Clio as a desire to be "both worthy and fun". It's a commendable enterprise, though Neighbours and Nintendo are likely to wield a stronger appeal than a grinning rabbit talking about polders and urban renewal. Still, it would be nice to be proved wrong.
Tom Deveson is an adviser for the London borough of Southwark