“Hope sings the tune…” a concert for ‘Brexit Day’. Brexit day may have been postponed, but it was still wonderful to get together, to be reminded of the joy of being, working and playing together. It was a chance to focus on the positive – the good news always present in life, if we get the chance to look for it.
Our community of children began by welcoming everyone in all the languages of our school: Spanish, Swedish, Italian, Polish, Bulgarian, Czech, Maori and English. (We also have lots of children with parents whose ‘English’ comes from another nation; South Africa, USA, New Zealand and Ireland.) We are one school, one community, and we love creating something together.
Words are delicious, but they’re only a small part of communication, and language barriers can get in the way. Year 5 performed Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope is the thing with feathers…” in both spoken words and British Sign Language.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
We sang some glorious lyrics, and also spoke through pianos, flute, drums and brass.
Bishop James shared his words about hope. Thank you Bishop James! And we finished with the following poem by Thich Nhat Hanh before singing “Don’t stop me now, I’m having such a good time, I’m having a ball.” Which we were.
The Good News
They don’t publish
the good news.
The good news is published
We have a special edition every moment,
and we need you to read it.
The good news is that you are alive,
and the linden tree is still there,
standing firm in the harsh Winter.
The good news is that you have wonderful eyes
to touch the blue sky.
The good news is that your child is there before you,
and your arms are available:
hugging is possible.
They only print what is wrong.
Look at each of our special editions.
We always offer the things that are not wrong.
We want you to benefit from them
and help protect them.
The dandelion is there by the sidewalk,
smiling its wondrous smile,
singing the song of eternity.
Listen! You have ears that can hear it.
Bow your head.
Listen to it.
Leave behind the world of sorrow
and get free.
The latest good news
is that you can do it.
(I think of each of the children as a ‘special edition’)
Democracy is a noble theory. We use it all the time at school. We’re currently in the midst of a ‘democratic decision’ because the majority of our parents wanted our children to be at school this week, and so our Easter holidays don’t start until Friday. It’s working for most people, but probably not for everyone. That’s the trouble with democracy – if the vote is close, or you feel particularly strongly about the issue, or everyone else has apparently just gone mad, democracy can feel like an absolute mess.
So it is in society’s interests for us to explore ‘democracy’ with our future voters and potential leaders: the children.
They’ve designed political parties which they believe will improve our school community, if they are given the chance to put their manifestos into action. They shared their pledges with us this morning. There are some great ideas. Several of them overlap, and the parties are hoping to work together to fulfill all of their objectives.
Polling day is on Thursday. For the first time in Grasmere School voting history (recently at least), voters are allowed to make more than one cross on their ballot paper. You are encouraged to vote for all the ideas which you think would be productive. If you’d like to vote, please call into school on Thursday, or message us requesting an electronic ballot paper.
I think that the children have come up with some lovely ways of improving our life, very well expressed. See what you think… Their manifestos and their
party political broadcasts will be available on the school FB page (@grasmereschool) shortly.
We’re in Lent now, and the weather seems to be contributing to the feelings of endurance. The children have all talked about self discipline, and some have committed to certain challenges during the next few weeks. A couple of children in Class 2 were telling me about their determination to give up chocolate, because of their concern about habitat loss. Another child is going to focus on turning the lights off when they’re not needed. And another is eating less meat. Of course nowadays these are self-imposed restrictions, rather than those imposed by the lack of fresh produce in the last weeks of winter. Shrove Tuesday reminds us of a time before the international movement of fresh produce, when eggs were rare in February and early March, and people were eeking out their winter supplies. So it’s a good time to think about where we get our food from, and how it is produced.
It’s also a good time just to enjoy pancakes; both eating them and running with them! Here are photos of our whole school pancake relay race, and of our oldest children at Emma’s Dell, where they were invited to watch the chef cooking crepes, and then to sample them… Thank you so much Emma’s Dell! And thank you to everyone in the school community who came along to the pancake race. It was lovely.
There are some very, very good people in the world, who make a huge difference to others both in their own lifetime, and in the legacy they leave behind them. Malcolm Tyson, whose death was announced this week, was such a man.
His public service for the people of Lakes Parish was unstinting. He was instrumental in setting up the Kelsick Educational Foundation in its current amazing, well-organised form. He was always determined to make the most of Kelsick’s legacy, for the sake of the children and young people of our area, and he approached this in a community-minded way which supported the wider sustainability of housing and commercial property in Ambleside.
He was also just a really kind-hearted, warm person, who was always enthusiastic about children, and about Grasmere School! He was such a good, loyal friend to our school, attending everything that he could. Once he became unable to come to our productions, it was a joy for our children to take their songs to him (as pictured below), which he loved. We loved him. We will miss him.
Thank you so much, Malcolm.
We have been marking Holocaust Memorial Day, so it seems appropriate to share this education about tolerance and bravery.
The Society of Friends (Quakers) are well known for their work on pacifism. As a group they won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947, for post Second World War relief work. They were heavily involved in ‘Kindertransport’, which our upper junior Grasmere children have been learning about. Both Amnesty International and Oxfam have their roots in Quakerism.
They are still very active in seeking co-operation and peace between peoples and nations. Last week our younger children went to the Meeting House at Colthouse, and learnt about the motivation behind this work.
“Don’t offer neat creeds or doctrine. Instead, we try to help each other work out how we should live.
Quakerism grew out of Christianity and today we also find meaning and value in other faiths and traditions.
We recognise that there’s something transcendent and precious in every person.
Quakers don’t use traditional religious structures or paid ministers. We share responsibility for what we do because everyone has a valuable contribution to make.
The children went to visit several different Christian places of worship in Hawkshead. They learnt that when the Society of Friends (Quaker) Meeting House in Hawkshead was built in 1688, it was illegal for Quakers to meet in a building. So they had a long seat outside in the graveyard. A year later the ‘act of tolerance’ was passed, and they started meeting inside. Being a Christian has been dangerous for many down the ages.
The Colthouse Meeting is a very simple building, and the children were welcomed by Arthur Kincaid, who talked to them kindly and simply about ‘Quaker’ faith, and how it is lived.
Quaker meetings for worship can be held anywhere, at any time. Every meeting begins in silence. “We use it to open ourselves to the wisdom that comes out of stillness. It enriches us and shapes us, individually and collectively. This is what we mean by ‘worship’.”
Some of the children loved the silence, whilst others found it disconcerting. But they all agreed with the need for peace between people.
Thank you so much, Arthur, for spending such valuable time with the children.
A year ago we were preparing for Year 6 SATs. We’d been on our London residential, and we had all sorts of good things planned for the summer. All of our Year 6 were working and playing hard. They loved learning and each other’s company.
Then on 22nd April our community suffered a terrible bereavement. Matt’s funeral was on the first day of SATs week. So these Year 6′s came in to do their SAT at 8:30, enabling teachers and pupils to attend the funeral. They all carried on and took their SATs tests that week. They looked after each other and learnt a lot about priorities and perspective…
Statistics… I’m always wary of school ‘league tables’ as they are just one indicator. But for once I am going to share this. These children and teachers were so kind, brave, patient and resilient in SATs week, and throughout the summer term. They put on a brilliant production of West Side Story, in which positivity and love triumphed rather than failed. And that’s who they are! Well done, last year’s Year 6 – you thoroughly deserve to be in the top 30 school results in England, because you are impressive human beings in every way.
Happy 50th birthday, Mrs Knowles (Year 6 teacher extraordinaire), and congratulations!
…we have no time to stand and stare.
There is much talk, and rightly so, about mental health and well-being, particularly amongst children. It is an issue that we as a school take very seriously. There are so many more pressures placed on children today that we adults never had to contend with. Following is an account of a lovely day, as published on FB @grasmereschool.
It’s been very wet and windy, and we’ve not been racing around as much as we usually do. So we took advantage of a good forecast, and went up a mountain on Monday. It was a lovely day and although we were mainly full of colds and sniffles, our legs turned out to be very springy. I love days like this, when Years 1 – 6 have an adventure together. The youngest children went first up the mountain, with their junior partners behind them. Those of you who know the steps forming the steep ascent of Loughrigg will know that five year old legs are about the same height as some of the steps. But that didn’t stop them! With a mixture of scrambling and walking, they persevered. We stopped at each little plateau for a gaze at the view, and eventually stopped at the trig point for lunch. It was breezy up there, and all our layers (and some extras) went straight back on before we tucked into sandwiches or soup. A few people needed a photo of them on the trig point – it was a new summit for some of them. We clambered down the Langdale side, slowly and steadily down the wet grass and over the ravines (drains). It was all very exciting. Some people opted to walk back down through Deerbolts Wood, whilst others took the longer route along the terrace and back round the lake shore.
When we got back to school we suggested that they went inside for the 15 minutes or so before the end of the day, but most of them wanted to play… Such energy!
It was a day well spent. All the cobwebs have been blown out of our heads, and we’re feeling re-energized. The teamwork on the walk was impressive. The children all assessed the risks very responsibly. It was wet underfoot, and was only safe on the downhill route if undertaken cautiously. So they were sensible! Well, the conversation might not have been very sensible, but their legs were.
We had some great company. Thank you Maria, Rod, Carly, Harvey and Molly. Adventures are always better shared.
Do you remember the first Star Wars film? And Watership Down? If not, you may be a little younger than SF Said… When SF watched Star Wars and read Watership Down, as a child, he thought “One day, I’m going to create a story like that…” He’s been working on this dream ever since.
SF Said was asked by one of our children “What would you have been if you hadn’t been an author?” and he replied, “I got 90 rejections. If that had turned into 91, or more, I would have kept writing.” He talked about the process of improving, and of the determination and dedication which has brought him success. Success for him means writing the best book he can. He is not rich. But he is (deservedly) proud of his books.
Varjak Paw was re-drafted 15 times, and SF didn’t ‘discover’ some of the key characters until the last few drafts. Each of his books has taken many years, and many many drafts, to write. When we met him on Thursday he was very excited, because he has just shifted the setting of his latest book, and it is making the whole plot work much better.
Watching his enthusiasm was like watching a football coach who has just put a player in a new position and is seeing a sudden shift in team dynamics which makes everything possible. It is always wonderful to watch experts having ‘eureka’ moments. It helps us to recognise and appreciate our own (however small).
SF said that he had a friend who was a much better writer, but this friend hasn’t spent the last twenty years writing, re-drafting, writing, re-drafting… and so is not a published author. SF Said is a wonderful writer, as anyone knows who has read Varjak Paw, The Outlaw Varjak Paw or Phoenix. But the strongest message he gave was that of disciplined work in the service of what he loves. You only become good at anything by hard work and commitment, and you can only commit if you love what you’re doing. I asked the children “Who likes re-drafting your writing?” and SF Said groaned, and said that he hates it. But he knows he has to do it to make the work good enough, and therefore he wants to do it, even though he hates it.
Over the last 24 hours I have heard or seen the following, in the media:
“Hanging in there is an under-appreciated skill in international sport. No-one sets out to merely survive but keeping your head above water when all others are losing theirs takes an awful lot of fight and guts and an illogical amount of self-belief.” (England rugby yesterday)
“What’s the point of doing something at 67%? With supreme discipline comes freedom. Being alive to risks, doing things that will test you, going further than expectations might suggest you should go…” (actor Tamsin Greig)
“Arsenal have won more points from losing positions than any other team in the Premier League this season…”
“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” Tim Notke, basketball coach.
Resilience… Ninety rejection letters and still going. Ninety rejection letters and still determined to get better. Lots of success and still determined to get even better. SF Said just wants to find out how good a book he can write. Mo Farah wants to find out how fast he can run. We want to find out how good a school we can create, together. The hard work towards the dream is such an important part of being alive.
It was so good to meet SF. He has that great humility which can come with the search for perfection. He has that lovely sense of humour which can come with a recognition of failures. He talked honestly, openly and kindly with our children. Thank you so much, SF, for coming to talk to us.
Alive? Dead? Never been alive?
Children aged 5 -7 need to be able to wrestle confidently with this topic, in the new curriculum. And very interesting it is too.
E.g. ‘Dead’ – A chair is made out of wood from a tree which is no longer alive. We know that it is no longer alive because it is not re-producing, breathing, eating, excreting etc. ‘Excreting’ is always a popular discussion topic with 5 year olds.
We moved onto thinking about ‘a book’. ‘Never been alive’ was the general consensus. I was just wondering about how to introduce the origin of paper without losing half the class when one girl said – “A book is alive because as soon as you start to read, the story comes alive in your mind.”
Figurative thinking? Or is it scientific thinking? The science of how the mind works is arguably one of the most exciting areas of current scientific exploration.
Arbitrary distinctions are so hard to work with. As any parent whose children have gradually studied science at a higher and higher level knows, they come home every year and say “Well, apparently all that ‘stuff’ I learnt for SATs / GCSE / A level is actually wrong – the real truth is…” Arbitrary agreements are made by assessing / examining bodies about how much, conceptually, children are able to understand at different ages. Then they unpick it all at the next stage, and re-learn the new, more complex, ‘truth’.
This is, of course, convenient for assessment, but unfortunately out of kilter with children’s rather random development.
On the morning on which I was discussing whether a book was alive, I was also surprised to realize that one child didn’t know that wood (the chair) had come from a tree. And yet another child was pondering about oil (great excitement – dead things from millions of years ago come through the diesel pump at the garage and swill about in our cars). She thought that as coal is also a ‘fuel’, it may be made of dead things too. Hoorah! I do hope that she does a PhD in something fascinating… Perhaps she will invent wind-powered cars (Two current fixations in Class 4: 1. Cars with wind turbines – once they start they will never stop, because they’ll self-generate the necessary wind. 2. Cars with sails – how could we lay out motorways for tacking?).
These are the days when I’m glad that I don’t have a head-cold. Or a different job! There is nothing more interesting than being with a group of children who are curious about the universe and happily burbling their theories. But in science I find that it never develops as I thought it might. It is so easy to tell children that they are wrong, when what we actually mean is “That is not the answer I was expecting, or one which will get you the mark in the SAT test”. Think deeper, think wider…
How early do we close down this wide-ranging curiosity? How quickly do we want to explain to them that there are required answers? Not wise, complex, deep answers – just required ones.
You may be aware of the discussion about England’s rating as measured by PISA scores. It may be right to be worried, and I agree with the emphasis on high level literacy and maths skills. Certainly we need to ensure that our education system is excellent, given the current world climate. But I do also worry that we may be losing confidence in our country’s admittedly unusual education system. Creativity and innovation have been a strength of our education system. Stifle the originality and expression too early, and we may well find that we have lost a lot more than we’ve gained. Of course children need to be able to articulate their originality. Of course they need to be able to measure and manipulate data dexterously. But they must also be taught to think, and encouraged to develop creative, original responses.
How would you answer the 6 year old child who says “A book is alive because as soon as you start to read, the story comes alive in your mind”?
Answers on an email, please. I’d love your help!
Parents who have withdrawn their child from Religious Education all year were upset when their child wasn’t cast in the nativity play.
I don’t know how that story ended, but it did make me wonder, and carry out a little research. Apparently ‘7.5 million people’, or ‘35% of the population’ (choose your statistic) attend a church service sometime during Advent or Christmas. If you add in school nativity plays, I think that number would probably jump again. There can be a particular poignancy and potency about Christmas plays. It is easier to create a moment of hushed stillness, of awe and wonder, in a nativity play than it is in any other. There is something in the story that most of us recognise and respond to.
Or is it just sentimentalism? The department store advertisements play on our feelings at this time of year. ‘You are not cynics…’ they cry. Although our society can seem extremely cynical at times, there have been various moments this year when collectively people have rejected cynicism. Behind the Queen’s birthday celebrations, behind the support for the ‘ordinary’ folk on Bake-Off, behind the empathy with the suddenly ordinary ‘celebrities’ on Strictly, behind the creation of flood-victim support groups, you can hear the calls of “We believe in our community”. It is probable that for many of us the Brexit / Remain vote was based on a ‘gut reaction’ response – an idealistic desire for a positive community.
What’s this got to do with the nativity play?
In a frantically busy world, we sit down on those hard pews, in the candlelight, and find ourselves pausing for a moment in peace.
In a cynical world we find ourselves celebrating innocence and weakness, and the power of new life.
In a materialistic world, we look at this vulnerable family, and how a series of random interactions supports them. We can all identify with the sudden feeling of community that comes from human beings responding kindly to strangers.
In a ‘modern’ world, this story ties us to our past. It echoes down the ages, and gives us a comforting feeling of community across the world and throughout time.
‘Sentimentalism’ has negative connotations because it can be dangerous and seductive when we’re vulnerable. But it can also be a recognition of our most simple and powerful emotions. With our children we often allow ourselves to be sentimental. We make all sorts of little ritualistic stories to help them learn about growing up. Or is it to help the adults cope with the change? The tooth fairy eases the way from a chubby cheeked toddler to a suddenly long-faced child.
Somehow it’s ok for children to say what adults can’t. They can stand on stage and say “I believe in kindness” “I believe in love” “I believe in light in the darkness”. And the adults cry, because they know about the darkness. And they hope against hope that the children are right.
It’s a hard time of year. So come along to a nativity! It might just give you a giggle, or a tear… It might just help restore your sense of the rightness underlying the chaos.
‘…this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect.
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.’
U E Fanthorpe