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From estate-agent role play to teddy-in-a-rucksack, the forums are full of creative suggestions, says Bill Hicks

Summer holidays - who needs them? Charter flights to Mediterranean resorts, littered with the debris of Brits' nights out? Days out in the country, getting stuck in seven-mile tailbacks on the M5?

Enough! The place to be over the summer of 2005 was in front of a computer, preferably in a darkened room, communicating like mad on the TES message boards.

Before you protest, see how many of you turned your backs on all that sun-drenched madness. More than 150,000 messages arrived on our boards over the holiday period. Around 3,500 new posters joined our happy online communities. Welcome.

Upholding our reputation for promoting conviviality, we laid on summer treats for all. Opinionated posters jumped at our invitation to join in the TES summer debates, and our Bookclub forum has been a joy to read - even though most of you steadfastly refused to talk about the selection of special offer 99p paperbacks that we so gently shoved under your noses.

For instance, I savoured LadsNR's incisive critique of one of these books, Luke Rhinehart's The Dice Man: "I read this last week whilst on holiday... what a load of introspective garbage. Not a single likeable character. No one I could remotely relate to. The sex scenes were dire. Someone's wet dream, I guess."

But even in the dog days of August, the true commerce of the forums was teachers talking about teaching. I could point to a thousand examples of teachers preparing for the new term with palpable enthusiasm.

Anyone out there not facing the new term with palpable enthusiasm might do worse than immerse themselves in the Early Years forum, but please leave your world-weariness at the door. Conversation here is purposeful, and - more often than not - cheerful with it.

One Year 1 teacher needed ideas for decorating a pretend doctor's surgery for role play. Ideas flooded in, including this: "Why don't you wait until the kids are back and get them to do labels and posters. It will mean much more to them if they are allowed to have a part in it."

"Good idea... why didn't I think of that (I must be panicking!)" Still on the role play theme, another poster was planning to get his Year 1s to become mini estate agents, and again was after ideas.

In came Nomad: "You will need some double-breasted suits and a couple of flashy cars - BMWs for authenticity - and teach the kids using the role play area to be a corrupt bunch of fawning liars."

Another group were bursting with ideas for variations on the theme of teddy-in-a-rucksack, an already popular way of gently introducing young children to the idea of homework by sticking a soft toy into a bag with a journal, giving it to a different child each week, and letting them (and often their parents too) get on with it.

Sarxx72 wondered, "Has anyone used soft toys other than a teddy bear?"

They had. Vikstar had just bought a lovely little dog from Tesco for under pound;1. "I'm going to make a drawstring bag for him out of some Shaun the Sheep curtains that I bought for pound;3 the other day!"

Psalm23 favoured a dragon, while twinklestar69, a nursery nurse, has had great success with her Clanger called Pinky.

"It really does help the children with language skills and listening... Pinky is battered-looking now, but nobody has lost her yet, probably because I am OTT when I hand her out of a Friday to be taken home."

Well, if you want to give this a try, apparently Matalan do a great Humphrey Bear for pound;1: at that price, as minimo noted, "you could buy several just in case one goes walkabouts".

Bill Hicks is editor of the TES website.

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