When the sea came into the school
Golden sand and see-through sea was our dream last Thursday morning.
By ‘our dream’ I mean the shared vision of three classes of young children, and me. We were in the big, sunny hall of a primary school in Weston-super-Mare, preparing a seaside poem. No, we didn’t dwell on the local beach – that brown, slimy mud-bank that slithers down to the brown Severn Estuary – sorry, locals! We trod the warm, sugary carpets of holiday beaches, jumping their frilly wavelets and splashing each other in the lacy surf.
Then came Years 3 and 4 (7-9 year-olds in English), and the hall quickly became a dangerous ocean, a-whirl with mysterious monsters. (No resting on your laurels in this school: they wanted a different slant for each class, and why not?)
After lunch, the top group would be filing in, and I’d be asking them to twist that sea into a terrible tempest… but first, an assembly special – by request of the staff again. They’d asked me for a whole-school gathering to celebrate the mid-way stage of our workshop day, and to fire up enthusiasm for the rest of it.
This was no run-of-the-mill school, but one with rare creative vision, and the foresight to invest all possible time, effort, resources, and staff liaison into the event. A bonus for me as well as the kids.
So, no sooner were the last crumbs of dinner swept away, than the hall was transformed into an ocean again – an ocean of children this time, plus head teacher, staff, and parents. They’d gathered for the oomph – the double message of Well done! and Let’s go! And who was to orchestrate that oomph? Me. Fine, except for the huge age range, the muggy heat, the cramped limbs, and the fact that the top group (the 9-11s), still awaiting their workshop, had nothing to show or share…hmmm!
The Infants acted and sang their blue, sparkly ripples; then the monster group told of ‘crazy’creatures ‘drifting’ on ‘thunderous waves’ in search of ‘fish and ships’; hands applauded, voices cheered, and the hot air stirred a little as the lines of youngsters rose and sat by turns. Then the big challenge: how to inspire that top group, already restless in those back rows? Their allocated theme was Tempest, but how to whet their appetites, here and now, and for such a dark and abstract theme, and with the looming prospect of an hour’s poetry writing at the end of this heat-heavy day?
Would this group of virtual-teens be willing to rise to their feet and sway like the sea? Because, despite fraught brain-rackings through the small hours, that was all I’d managed to come up with. As a drastic, last-minute measure, I’d asked staff for 3 recorder players and a band of percussionists. Lining them up with orders to do their weirdest, I took a deep breath and summoned the crowd to their feet.
“Now for a stormy sea!” I shrieked, lurching wildly about in front of them all, supposedly like a tsunami, but in reality, no doubt, like the frenzied, greying, red-faced mad woman I was.
“The stormy sea went something-ing and something-ing!” I bellowed at that back row, over the hundreds of staggering feet, bumping arms and muttering voices. Desperately, I gestured for contributions. If they didn’t respond to this, I’d burnt my bridges. Perhaps out of pity, they did:
“Roaring and raging!” a tall girl shouted back. “Rolling and thundering!” supplied a deep-voiced boy. Around the room, voices picked up the verse, its swing, its force, its roar, then paused for breath… and in came the recorders and percussion. I felt the building lift, and perhaps I wasn’t the only one.
And was that top group’s storm poetry any good? Good doesn’t come near!