A School full of Stories

A visitor arriving unexpectedly at school last Thursday morning would have been forgiven for thinking that Eversfield has a new school uniform. A uniform consisting of black cloaks, wands and round spectacles. Apart from Harry and Hermione, we had Horrid Henry, Moody Margaret, Mary Poppins and Robin Hood. We had Mr Stink, Superman and Spinderella, as well as an entire palace of princesses and a fierce herd of Gruffaloes. I could go on, of course. Suffice to say, it was tremendous fun for pupils and staff alike, and a fitting way to celebrate World Book Day.

I have to put up my hand and admit I was the architect of this mayhem. It is something I have been wanting to do for some time. My aim was to bring the whole school together in a celebration of books, giving the children a new and interesting range of learning experiences. I also wanted pupils to have the chance to work with different teachers. Quite a challenge, you might think, and you would be right because, as you know, Upper School and Lower School operate slightly staggered timetables. Many a candle was burnt down as I put together a programme for the event!

The children were, in general, excited at the prospect of what was to come. In fact, Charlie-Bleu declared that he had been waiting for this day for as long as he could remember. Others were a little more apprehensive. What if, wondered Amrit, it would be two solid days of writing and more writing? An alarming prospect to say the least, and not what I intended at all.

In the end, Amrit’s fears proved unfounded, and indeed a surprisingly small amount of actual physical writing took place during the two days of the festival. That, too, was what I intended, because writing is about a whole lot more than putting pen to paper.

The key starting point was finding the right story, whether it was Pippi Longstocking, Stick Man or the Greek myth of King Midas turning everything he touched into gold. It is not true that picture books are suitable only for younger children. There are plenty of very clever authors out there, creating thought provoking picture books, as 4ML and 5GH discovered when I read them Mac Barnett’s wonderful The Wolf, The Duck and The Mouse, about a mouse and a duck who were swallowed by a hungry wolf, and went on to thank him for it! Kindergarten children listened to Mrs Gilmartin read The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, and enjoyed expressing their reactions to the story through pictures. Mrs Hynes, complete with a swag bag of props, loved sharing the Ahlbergs’ Burglar Bill with 2HM, and was amazed to discover that this story was first published as long ago as 1977. Meanwhile, Mrs McGrory read Robot Rumpus by Sean Taylor and Ross Collins with Form 2, and gave the children the opportunity to respond to the story through movement, with delightful results.

Lots of children experienced making their own books in a whole variety of ways. Mr Sliney had his groups creating miniature books, as did Mrs Phillips, whilst children working with Mr Solly and Miss Murphy put together stories with ‘play-doh’ characters, using iPads to make short stop motion videos. This wonderful activity enthralled Upper School and Lower School children alike, and left no-one in any doubt about how time consuming it must have been to produce the Wallace and Gromit animations.

Writing emerges as much through quality, focused talk as it does from contemplating a blank piece of paper. Mrs Leonard-Cross used drama to encourage children to see the potential stories to be found in a group of people waiting in a queue. Miss Shipley, with the aid of some splendid vegetable props, read Supertato to Form 1, and challenged them to deal with the menace of the Evil Pea.

Needless to say, there were plenty of opportunities for arts and crafts. After a morning of working with Form 6 on cover designs for the forthcoming production of The Sound of Music, Mrs Beech spent the afternoon enjoying art activities with Nursery children. Mrs Brown worked with Reception to make Stick Men using REAL STICKS, whilst Mrs Burnett created paper weave Rainbow Fish with Form 1.

It was interesting to note how some teachers cleverly managed to tailor activities to their own particular area of expertise. Consequently, we had Mrs Hastings’ ancient myths, Mr Hastings’ non-fiction library quiz to develop those critical information retrieval skills, and Mrs Sliney’s exploration of science through stories. 3PF, who have been studying magnetism as part of their curriculum work, heard the story ofThe Magic Stone. I spotted them, compasses in hand, heading off to the playground in the hope of finding treasure. And we had Mr Robbins exploring superhero characters, because we all know he is Eversfield’s very own superhero!

Our festival provided an opportunity for teachers and children in different year groups to work together. Buddies from Form 6 got together with the children from Reception to retell the story of Goldilocks, in a version of the story that apparently had an unexpected twist. Mr Biggs was also on hand to teach everyone a memorable Three Bears’ rap. For the pupils in Form 5, it was a chance to meet the children in Nursery, who will be their buddies next year. That proved to be a particular highlight for Gurnek, who had never had the chance to visit Nursery before.

I could go on….Mr Poultney’s glorious reading and writing rivers, Mr Leonard’s storyboards, Mrs Murray-Smith’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar in French, my own Monkeys and Hats storytelling with Form 1. We did so much, and I know that the children greatly enjoyed and appreciated our special two days. We rounded everything off with a very colourful assembly, where each class had the opportunity to reflect upon and share what they had done. Now I hear that the School Council are considering the possibility of repeating the experience, which is very encouraging but, for the festival timetabler, also rather scary. Perhaps I should think about investing in more candles!