Over the past few weeks, I've been sharing what I consider to be essentials of the teacher's cupboard, the things I would not want to be without if I was stranded on a desert island with a class to teach. A lot of the equipment I would hope for centre on me in my role as teacher, the tools that help me be effective. There is nothing wrong with that; they are essential tricks of the trade. I would hope that just as essential, though, are those things that centre on the children and their needs as learners and, most importantly, as children. Of all the things that do this best, the most obvious is likely to be the least available on a desert island: snow.
Now I hate snow as a rule. Unless it's deep enough to provide an extra day off or found in an alpine setting, it's likely to be cold, wet and troublesome. As part of a school day, however, it does have that magical effect of turning kids into kids again.
I made a promise to myself a few years ago, that if I was teaching and it started to snow properly, I would forget the lesson (however long it had taken to plan) and take my class outside to play. It's a good rule. I am always amazed at how these teenagers-in-waiting seem to abandon themselves and act their age. They laugh, they run, they fall over only to get up, laugh and run again. It does them good, and it does me good to see how carefree their lives should be.
Because everything in schools is designed with children in mind, it's easy to forget that the world isn't like that. When I bump into children in the "real" world, I am always surprised how little they look. It's a grown up world, and it's important to make sure that the classroom doesn't only prepare them for that grown-up world, it gives them a break from it too.
That's what snow can provide, but it is not the only bringer of this joy.
Take balloons for example. Balloons put smiles on children's faces at every stage of inflation. If the balloon is tied, it can be punted around the room and every pair or group of young people will invent their own game. If the balloon is let go, it provokes laughter, as it does if the neck is stretched to produce that faithful old raspberry. Bubbles will do it too.
On a summer's afternoon, a shared tub of bubbles produces laughter and shouts of celebration from one, accompanied by running and jumping to burst them by the other.
There are many other magical items ranging from Lego to Plasticine to a simple bowl of water. Whatever you find that transports kids back to the childhood they should be experiencing, make sure they are frequent visitors there. Enjoy the ride yourself too.
Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School, Leicester Email: firstname.lastname@example.org