A week devoted to creative activities has excited pupils and teachers alike at a Stirling primary, writes Douglas Blane
A yurt is a remarkable, though somewhat smelly, structure used by the nomads of Central Asia. An easily transported dwelling made from decorated animal skins draped over a wooden frame, it provides warmth and shelter from the elements. But not if a gust of wind from Ben Lomond blows its roof off.
"Let's see if we can get it fixed," says headteacher Carol Omand, completely unfazed.
This particular yurt is a long way from its natural home, having been erected in the playground at Aberfoyle Primary, Stirling, as part of its creativity week, a whole week of special activities for every class which was held for the first time last year and has just been repeated due to popular demand.
"We are a relatively small rural school (100 pupils) and it sometimes feels like juggling to implement all of the curriculum," says Mrs Omand. "So the week is focused on national priority 5; creativity and ambition in the widest sense. We are also using it to develop enterprise education, while threaded through the workshops is the theme of Eco Schools and environmental awareness."
As we approach one of the classrooms, the pounding of drumbeats gets louder and louder: Rum-pa-pa Rum-pa-pa Rum-pa-pa Rum-pum.
Inside, 20 children are sitting in a circle, African drums between knees, rapt concentration on faces.
"Well done," says Steve Haden of Beatsworking . "Let's try another rhythm.
"This one's called 'Dukeke', the Duke. When he came to your village it meant trouble, so if you saw him you would play this to tell everyone to get out of the way. This is how it starts: Rum-pum Rum-pum Rum-pum-pum.
The pupils rap out the beat with their hands on the drums. Within five minutes the whole class is playing "The Duke" together, every single one right on the beat.
The idea for creativity week came from the children, Mrs Omand says, as did many of the suggestions for activities. "We consulted with them to develop their ideas and then with parents, the community and local businesses to turn wishes into reality."
The school obtained an pound;800 grant from Stirling Council and worked with the cultural co-ordinator, Sue Carter, to turn the ideas into a practical form.
In the next classroom, it takes a little time to absorb the colourful contents with the assistance of some chatty P2 and P3 pupils.
"We made these rockets out of plastic bottles we painted," says Bethan. "A man called Richard showed us how.
"We did this peach blossom out of pink paper we scrunched up and stuck on to branches. It's lovely isn't it?"
It is. But the room is dominated this week by a collection of wacky musical instruments designed and made by Sarah Kenchington.
"You pump this air-bed up," explains Daniel. "Then people jump up and down on it, which pushes the air through these pipes. Then you pull these handles to make the balls on top move, which lets the air out. See?"
The weird instrument emits a sonorous, rasping sound, like macho bagpipes.
"The best part of creativity week is we all get to make different things," says Daniel.
Elsewhere today there is storytelling in the yurt, mask-making, picture-making from materials collected in the woods, clay sculptures, paper-making, animal poems and Aboriginal dreamings.
"These are passed down from one generation to the next," says principal teacher Robert Stewart. "They all mean something and are marvellous images.
So the kids look at the patterns, think about the contrasts and colours, then they make their own hand-paintings.
"I'm not really arty, but this whole week is tremendous. Hard work for the teachers but very rewarding, and fantastic for the kids. We have people coming in to show them all sorts of things. They love that."
The enthusiastic involvement of the community - sharing their talents or helping out with activities - is one of the most gratifying aspects of creativity week, says Mrs Omand.
"We do a lot of planning and we timetable the whole week," she says, "but you have to be flexible. There will always be something that doesn't go as planned and has to be rethought.
"We take a close look, too, at the skills the children are developing, the evidence and the aspects of the curriculum being covered.
"Creativity week gives our children a whole range of new experiences, knowledge, activities, excitement. It opens up possibilities they might want to pursue.
"We have been listening to the children and valuing what they say. We have been making things happen for them."
NATIONAL PRIORITY 5 LEARNING FOR LIFE
"To equip pupils with the foundation skills, attitudes and expectations necessary to prosper in a changing society and to encourage creativity and ambition."