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Cotswold Mother: The magic of learning

PUBLISHED: 15:47 22 July 2014 | UPDATED: 15:53 22 July 2014

The classrooms, which seem to contain nothing more than brightly coloured toys and paintings , in fact hide a secret formula of education by stealth

The classrooms, which seem to contain nothing more than brightly coloured toys and paintings , in fact hide a secret formula of education by stealth


The classrooms, which at first glance seem to contain nothing more than brightly coloured toys and paintings, in fact hide a secret formula of education by stealth

The classrooms, which seem to contain nothing more than brightly coloured toys and paintings , in fact hide a secret formula of education by stealthThe classrooms, which seem to contain nothing more than brightly coloured toys and paintings , in fact hide a secret formula of education by stealth


The entire family is limping towards the end of the school year. Gingham dresses, ludicrously long in September, now require the judicial addition of leggings for the sake of modesty. Bright red school jumpers have faded to a soft pink, their cuffs loose and frayed. Shoes have been scuffed; lunch boxes lost; PE kits mislaid. The school run, haphazard at the best of times, is completed now only by the skin of our teeth, as my own body clock slows down in preparation for six weeks of lie-ins. Even the dog seems to gaze wistfully back at her bed as the bus stop beckons.

There is a kind of magic that takes place in the early years of primary school. The classrooms, which seem at first glance to contain nothing more than brightly coloured toys and paintings, in fact hide a secret formula of education by stealth. Children building with Lego are, of course, learning about the properties of three-dimensional shapes; those drawing butterflies are understanding symmetry and repeating patterns; even the child with the bead up his nose is learning a valuable lesson.

The school evolves between September and July, in a sort of educational life cycle that is both fascinating and wonderful to watch. At the start of the school year the classrooms are bare: empty of colour and devoid of magic. Come the end of term and they are bursting with fun: junk models suspended from the ceiling and covering every surface; paintings and stories carefully mounted on sugar paper and stapled to display boards. Academic footprints left by each and every child on the register. But paintings and models are simply the by-products of primary school magic, not the main act. Taking centre-stage are the children, grown since September not only in centimetres and months, but in wisdom and knowledge. My own three children are exhausted but happy, still as excited to go to school now as they were in September. In the space of a few months I’ve watched two non-readers become readers, and seen a keen reader become a voracious bookworm, devouring the written word as though it were made of chocolate. Times tables have been learned - to various degrees of success - and stories written; science secrets explored, and history brought to life. Three little heads, packed full of knowledge that wasn’t there at the start of the year. An extraordinary result, when you consider the number of times I have asked ‘what did you do at school today?’ and received the answer, ‘nothing much’.

If classrooms are where the magic happens, teachers must be the magicians. A poor teacher can destroy a child, but a good one can inspire, motivate and excite, filling their students with confidence and giving them a life-long hunger for learning. One is always more awe-struck by what seems to be impossible - it is why displays of sporting prowess or academic genius can leave us open-mouthed - and teaching, for me, is one such impossible vocation. To have the patience to sit with a struggling reader; the calmness to stand before a boisterous class; the perception to spot a problem before it happens... I couldn’t do it, and I’m grateful to, and in awe of, those who can. Much as I long for the holidays, for the time as a family, and for the respite from early starts and packed lunches it gives me, I can’t be the only mother who counts off the days on the calendar with increasing fervour as the weeks progress. When the summer is hot and dry, the holidays are a joy: spent in the park with the dog and a picnic, coming home sticky with suncream and ice lollies. But when it rains - and oh, how it rains! - each day seems to drag painfully from breakfast to bedtime.

Thank you, teachers, for taking care of my children this year. For picking them up when they fell over, pointing them in the right direction when they made poor choices, and above all teaching them in such a way they hardly noticed they were being taught. Enjoy the summer break - you deserve it - but do take them back again in September, won’t you?


This article by Clare Mackintosh is from the July 2014 issue of Cotswold Life.

For more form Clare, follow her on Twitter: @claremackint0sh


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