The value of a School Christmas play

It’s that time of year again when children come home announcing which role they will have in this year’s school Christmas play.  Whether it be a traditional nativity or something alternative parents are spending hours searching for or making costumes and young girls bemoan the fact that they still have not been chosen to be Mary!

This year one of our local schools decided not to have a Christmas production for the older children because they lose valuable time from their academic studies and instead they are doing a simple carol service.  Certainly when I was teaching, hours of practice would go into fine tuning the nativity and in the final week most afternoon and PE sessions would be spent in the hall directing sheep and dancing shepherds!  It led me to think should the annual festive production become the topic for the 2nd half of the Autumn term?

The annual tradition certainly lends itself to covering a great deal of the curriculum:

There is plenty of scope for honing literacy skills creating programmes, tickets, posters and even writing their own story or script.  Not to mention character profiles and setting descriptions.

Art and Design Technology lessons could be spent designing and creating scenery, costumes and props, music lessons would feature the songs and musical accompaniments.

History, Geography and RE sessions could centre around the basis for the original Christmas story, plotting journeys etc ,  looking at how other countries and cultures use drama in their celebrations and even looking through the school archives of previous Christmas productions.

Science skills could be spent identifying materials to be used and investigating how best to create bright stars or what forces will have an effect during their production.

PSHE sessions may focus on reconciling differences between characters or cast members and developing social skills.

Maths lessons on investigating the best way to set out rows of chairs for the audience, calculating the revenue from tickets sales, the cost of the production and even using the creation of props and scenery for some work on shapes and measures.

Foreign language links may be a little more challenging though one of the characters in the play could be French or linking back to Geography topics children could research vocabulary and traditions linked to European festive productions.

All this will probably come too late for this year’s plays but maybe in the future it could be better integrated with the curriculum and prevent loss of valuable lesson time.  The other thing that has struck me over the years is how commercialised the annual production has become.  Companies are making significant revenue providing ready-made scripts and music to desperate teaching staff whilst costumes can now be found in every supermarket from October onwards!  What happened to the days of kings wearing a hand-made tunic with someone’s old velvet curtains hanging from their shoulders?  The charm for me of the school nativity was always the imperfections – gifts of gold, Frankenstein and myrrh made from old boxes, a runaway sheep and a star struck child forgetting their lines.  Nothing beats a child’s handmade decoration to hang on the tree or put up on the wall so why can our schools not let these festive offerings retain their old charm and given the current buzz for all things handmade make these Christmas plays child-made!

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Parent-School Partnerships

image7.jpgOne major factor I have noticed since taking leave from the teaching profession and becoming a full-time mum is the value of an effective home-school partnership. I believe it is key to enabling children to achieve their full potential during their school years. However I feel that in some ways the gap between home and school life is widening.
The use of technology in school is ever expanding and not all parents are fully conversant with the world of apps and tablets, the mention of levels, early learning goals and attainment targets is still a foreign language to some, especially when their first-born starts school, there are so many PTA, extra curricular and sporting activities that the newsletter can become an overload of information.
Communication is key and all too often messages that should get home or that parents need to feel reassured are not received. Whatever the age of a primary aged pupil, I feel that the responsibility should not be left with them to convey a message whether it be about progress, behaviour or returning the school trip letter. With the availability of group texts and email it takes minutes if not seconds to send a reminder or quick note to one or more parents.
As a parent I feel that I do not have a true picture of how my child immerses herself within the school environment. I know from parents evenings, reports and occasional conversations with her teacher that she behaves well and is making progress but I just wish that I could gain an insight into how she really conducts herself and what her lessons are like. I have all too often made the fatal mistake en route home of asking what she has done or enjoyed but only get a very brief summary if any information at all before being asked enthusiastically about the contents of the fridge!
My children’s school has tried to bridge the home-school gap by inviting parents after school once a week to look at work or chat with the teacher informally but I still feel that this does not go far enough. I would love there to be an opportunity, just once per term, for a small groups of parents over the course of a week or two, to be invited to come into a lesson, whether it be a Maths investigation lesson, Science experiment or some text level work in English. I feel that this would be invaluable not only in giving the parents chance to see what their child does in those six hours a day and feel involved but also to gain an insight into the difficult job that teachers in the modern age have.
There may be other ideas for bridging the gap between home and school whether it be informal sessions in the evenings on levelling, teaching of long division or having a focus group who can relay the concerns and positive messages from staff and parents alike. When teaching I had experience of a variety of parents, those who are fully committed to supporting their child in whatever way possible and those who for whatever reason are unable to fully support their child with their learning. No matter how much or how little time a parent has to spend with their child, the more informed and aware they are the better. I am aware that many of these ideas for building a strong link between home and school put extra pressure and workload on the teaching staff. However I do feel that any steps could be invaluable if children benefit from their parents being more aware of their school life.

What do you think?

Easter Activities

Easter is on its way, despite the inclement weather and recent snow! Two weeks of no school and for those still teaching this week a few days to prepare for the holiday whilst also keep the children focussed and learning.
There are a multitude of Easter themed activities that can be completed either at home or at school and make learning fun.

1. Easter Poems
Easter is such a visual time of year with images of eggs, chicks, lambs, flowers and most of all chocolate popping into children’s heads at the very mention of the word. Why not channel your children’s imagination and get them to compose an Easter poem! Acrostic, egg-shaped or featuring only E-words the theme is up to you and can be tailored to the needs and ability of your children.

2. Egg Hunt
Turn your Easter egg hunt into a quest, leave clues or riddles that children must read in order to find the eggs or have maths questions that children must solve along the route.

3. Egg decorating
Many of us remember the trauma of boiling an egg to decorate it with feathers, pva and felt tip only for it to crack before we have chance for any adornment. Often simply colouring or creating a pattern on an egg on a sheet of paper can be much easier to organise. Children can be asked to make symmetrical patterns or use certain shapes to make their patterns. For those of you who are more adventurous using real or plastic eggs can in 3D creations can be a great way to explore your children’s creativity.

4. Chocolate science
Why not use the chocolate theme to experiment with chocolate. Investigate whether white, milk or dark chocolate melts the quickest and for older children at what temperature. Find out how long chocolate takes to set and whether flavour, colour or ingredients has any effect, you could even make your own chocolate truffles or eggs. Finally smarties in warm water make for a great colour mixing experiment for younger children.

5. Web-based resources
There are a multitude of resources online for use at Easter. Some of my favourites are TES resources , DLTK activities and 10 Ticks Maths .

Happy Easter!

Homework

As both a parent and teacher I have had plenty of experience of giving out and helping my own children complete their homework. From the age of 4 onwards parents often face the Sunday afternoon battle to complete homework. Children often seem to keep their school and home lives completely separate, with entirely different behaviours and a definite belief that school work should be done at school and not at home. Also with football clubs, dance lessons, taekwondo class and other after school activities a child’s spare time is often precious.

One of my pet hates is pointless homework which is issued each week, photocopied from a book of ‘100 homework for Year?’, dutifully completed by conscientious parents and pupils each week only to be given a token tick by the teacher and returned home with the child in a plastic wallet at the end of the year. I strongly believe that homework should have a real purpose and not be given out or completed just for the sake of it.

There is a real benefit in using homework to reinforce what has been completed at school and keeping parents informed and engaged in their child’s learning. Learning times tables, preparing for a big write and researching for an aspect of a topic are all examples of homework which have an obvious purpose and real benefit to the child’s learning.

Wherever possible homework should be engaging. In school there has been a move away from endless worksheets and children sitting to complete them so why should homework consist of a return to this. Playing a game or discussing ideas can be much more rewarding for both parent and child and lead to more effective learning.

Holidays often signal the ‘project’ style homework where children are asked to complete a Viking longboat or Medieval castle but this is only beneficial if the child takes the lead in the planning, preparation and creation of these masterpieces. Parents up and down the country have spent hours researching, acquiring elusive components and working into the small hours to try to ensure that their child’s model is to a desired standard.

From my own experience these are my key features of successful homework:
* Challenging without needing more than minimal prompts or support from an adult
* Relevant and wherever possible contribute actively towards the learning and topics in school.
* Differentiated to the ability and needs of the children in class
* Evaluated and valued by the teacher in a way which is apparent to the child.

There is nothing more disheartening for parent and child than spending hours putting heart and soul into completing a fantastic story for homework and then the child receiving no feedback from their teacher whatsoever!

Teacher need to not be afraid to explore alternative ways of providing effective homework and parents should feel empowered to question a teacher if they feel that the homework being given is not valued or productive. Above all homework should be a way of teachers and parents working together to help a child develop and improve in their learning. What do you think?

RM Easimaths/RM Maths at home

RM produce a fantastic program for any parent or teacher wishing to enhance their children’s maths skills. Children can use this independently and it delivers activities which are appropriate  to the child’s level of ability and knowledge.

Originally running from a cd there is now a new version RM Easimaths which is an online program which costs £34.99 per year (Jan2013).

My daughters have been using the original version for the past two years and it has supported and built upon what they have learnt in school. They enjoy the interactive activities and since a score is provided at the end of every session they are keen to work on it again to improve their score.

Each session lasts around 15 mins, though this can be changed if less or more time is needed. Unlike some other maths resources it covers a range of aspects such as number, shape, pattern, measures, calculation etc.

Parents/teachers can check on the child’s progress and also any areas of difficulty.

Overalll a fantastic resource which can provide years of support and interactive learning.