25 Things from a Very 1980s Primary School Experience

With the end of the holidays fast approaching, school has been on my mind. As we’ve begun preparing Thomas for the new term, it’s given me cause to reflect on how different his school experience is from my own. There are a whole host of things we used to get up to back in the 1980s that simply wouldn’t be allowed these days, and we certainly lacked a lot of the technological advantages of current day school children (interactive whiteboards, the internet… even proper photocopiers!) But I’m a very nostalgic person, and can’t help but look back on my childhood era with immense fondness.  So here are 25 things that made up a very 1980s Primary School Experience:

1. Overhead Projectors. There were no computer projectors (there weren’t many computers) so we used these things instead. Especially for projecting….

2…. hymns in assembly. They were mostly taken from the “Come and Praise” book. Ones that particularly stick in mind include Autumn days (“So I mustn’t forgeeeeeeet, to say a great big thank you”) Cross Over the Road, When I Needed a Neighbour, The Whole World in his Hands and One More Step Along the World I Go.

3. The lack of a standard curriculum. Ah, it was a liberal time. There was no National Curriculum, and seemingly often little guidance on what we should actually be doing, with a lot of focus on creativity and “The 3Rs” (only one of which actually began with ‘R’, ironically enough!). It meant there was no levels, no SATs or formal testing. Of course it also meant that there was often no history, no geography and no science either! I remember my dad (in a science based career) coming in to do “experiments” with us once. He took small groups off to an office to show them things like vinegar volcanoes. The mum of one of my friends always came in to do “cooking” (which was always making scones anyway!)

4. On that note – whilst there was absolutely no problem with my dad – any old person could come in to the school to listen to reading, or even to teach! There were no DBS checks then and qualifications seemed to be an irrelevance. Same went for school trips. Anyone could help out and it often involved piling kids in your car with no thought to car seat or even seat belts in the back!

5. Learning to read was in an experimental phase too. Phonics was out but no one could really agree how we should learn. I fondly remember the Ginn 360 Reading scheme (more on this one soon), Bangers and Mash books, the Hummingbirds stories and Breakthrough to Literacy. The latter was responsible for the big orange “Sentence Maker” (a folder in to which you slotted pre printed cards to make stores before copying them in to your book).

6. We also had Look and Read. With classics such as Geordie Racer, Dark Towers and Badger Girl, plus the one no one seems to remember called Fairground. The TV shows had accompanying books and worksheets and we watched them on…

7…. The TV on a trolley. The TV was always strapped to a high trolley, with a video recorder underneath. We all got crick in the neck from looking up at it as we watched from a cross legged position on the floor (why was the trolley so high?!) Other TV classics included Words and Pictures (Magic E and the magic flashing pencil) and “How We Used to Live” – ha, the 80s could feature on there now!

8. SMP – The School Mathematics Project cards. Anyone remember those? The cards were grouped together by topic, and there was always a topic set everyone wanted to avoid. I remember one that was supposed to teach about negative numbers by talking about Damascus and Sea Level!

 

9. Lunchboxes. Remember these beauties?

10. Donut with a milkshake for pudding with school dinners. Usually a limited number available, so given to those who ate fastest, which meant the same kids had them every day whilst the rest of us pushed the soggy cabbage around the plate and then got given semolina or tapioca!

11. Shiny white “tracing paper” toilet paper. And the horrible smelling green sludge soap.

12. Teachers smoking in the staffroom.

13. There was possibly one computer. It was usually an Acorn or BBC Master. t was wheeled around on a trolley and you usually got to use it as a reward for being good. And then had to wait hours for a program to load from a cassette tape.

14. The school secretary had an actual typewriter.

15. There were no photocopies, only “duplicates” often made on a Banda machine and therefore purple. The copies were always a bit wonky and smelled funny!

16. As there were no photocopiers, the easiest way to draw maps in your Geography book was using a Map roller – like a rolling pin with the map of a continent embossed on it which was rolled in ink then transferred to the page.

16. Country dancing. And dancing around the maypole.

17. Being sent “to the wall” for being naughty, which involved standing with your nose pressed against the wall for a determined amount of time. If you fidgeted, it was extended. (This never happened to me, because I was an angel, natch!)

18. Blue Peter “Bring and Buy Sales” in the school hall.

19. Playing British Bulldog. And Kiss Chase.

20. Proper blackboards, that you could pull on a roller to move road. And the board rubbers that went with them with their tightly packed concentric rings of coloured felt.

 

21. No such thing as a PE kit for the girls – we did it in our vest and knickers.

22. Magic Steps Shoes…

Or before that these classic T-bar shoes from Clarks.

Or, if you were really cool, the ones where you could turn the strap to go around the back and thus make them in to slip-ons. All the boys seemed to wear those nylon parkas – Snorkels – with the furry hood and a bright orange quilted lining.

 

23. No water bottles. Just water fountains in the playground that you had to join a long queue to use.

24. The school dentist and eye checks – waiting to see if you were given “the letter” to take home. And the nit nurse, of course!

25. Bomb scares. Thankfully always a hoax, but it seemed at one point like we were herded away from the school every other week because someone had phoned in a message.

What else do you remember, fondly or otherwise, from your school days?

Cuddle Fairy

 

On the Day you Start School

Dear Thomas,

The time is here, kiddo. Tomorrow is the day that you start big school.

It’s a huge milestone. And a huge one for Mummy too. I stood hanging out your clothes to dry this weekend and I suddenly remembered doing exactly the same thing the weekend before you were born. I was so aware, then, that life was about to change in ways I couldn’t quite truly imagine. This might not be quite such a massive shift, but it’s a significant change nonetheless. No longer a baby, a toddler or even a preschooler. You’ll be a real-deal school boy.

I look at you, in your uniform and you at once look both so tiny – hands disappearing inside a blazer that slightly swamps you – but also so grown up. And I can’t help but wonder how exactly we got here. In some ways that weekend of hanging out tiny baby clothes feels like yesterday, but simultaneously the time that you were not in our lives feels a whole lifetime ago. Perhaps I feel that more acutely because this month marks four years of trying to give you a sibling. And those four years have been interminably long. (I’m sorry we haven’t succeeded on that one, but I know that you are going to be part of such a warm, friendly school and hopefully your friends will continue to be your surrogate siblings.)

I look back, too, at just how much you’ve learned in the last five years. From the scrunched up little boy with a mop of dark hair who knew only how to suck and to scream (oh, how you could scream) you’re now a little boy full of knowledge. And not just facts but ideas, imagination, opinions. Yes, plenty of those and you’re not afraid to share them. You’re a character with a personality to rival the size of your newborn screams.

It’s true that children are like sponges. You’ve proven that. You’ve learned to crawl, to walk and then to talk. You’ve learned shapes, colours and numbers. You’ve learned to read. The list goes on. And now you constantly surprise me by just how much you know about so many different subjects. Trains are still your top obsession, but space – the sun, the planets, asteroids and comets – comes a close second. One of you favourite games this summer has been “Give me a fact about…” where we have to ask you for a fact about a variety of given subjects. And the stuff you come out with when we ask for a fact about the sun, or trees, or insects, so often amazes me, if not for the fact itself, but where you get this stuff from. You just soak up information and bring it out again at will.

And that is why, my most favourite little boy, you are so, so ready for this next step. Life with you is filled with a never ending barrage of questions about what, when, why, how. You’re ready to learn more. And I know you will. Not just more facts and information, but skills too. (And some of those will be more challenging for you that the basics of letters and numbers. Learning to lose gracefully for starters!)

Of course I have my worries about you. It’s true that we send children to school here in the UK when you are all still so tiny and sometimes your anxieties and your behaviour give us a glimpse of the baby boy still inside.

But I have to let you go. It’s time.

You’re excited.

And I’m excited too. To watch you take this next step. I’m ready for there to be someone else to respond to all your many, many questions and to start to teach you the things I have no idea how to teach. I’ll miss you. Of course I will. Those two days a week that I don’t work have always been “Mummy and Thomas time”. And no matter how nice it might be to have a quiet cup of tea or do the shopping in peace, I’m going to really miss your company. The funny things you say and the adventures we have. I’m so glad that schools have holidays and that I get you back.

You know, it’s a real privilege to be your mum.

And that is why, amongst all the things that you learn at big school, I hope that you don’t unlearn the skill you’ve perfected of being the indescribable you.

I love you, always and unconditionally. But I hope you already know that.

Mummy xxx

IMG_6989

 

 

Seven Days: Musing on Starting School

Thomas and I have seven more days before he starts school.

Well, obviously there are more days than that – four and a half weeks to be more exact. But for most of those Thomas will be at the “Holiday Club” at the school, and I’ll be working. There are weekends, of course, but those are “Family Days” for all of us to share. As are the days we’ll spend in Copenhagen at the end of the month.

What is left is seven days of uninterrupted “Mummy and Thomas Time”. (Yes, we really do call it this!)

Ever since I went back to work after maternity leave, and Thomas started nursery, we’ve had several days each week apart. And I’m firmly of the opinion that it made the solid days we had together even more special. I had the time and energy (and money!) to do all kinds of things, from exciting days out and theatre trips, to the more mundane park visits and days at home snuggled up with a book or playing endless train games. I planned and looked forward to that time.

And now, those days will be drastically cut down.

But…

Starting school is a massive milestone, right? It is its own thing to anticipate – for the good and the bad – right? Isn’t there is too much new in the adventure to think about to worry about the old and what might be missed?

Starting school is the moment when children start to take really independent strides away from their parents. It’s when they start to form friendships with children you’ve never met yourself. Start to spend days doing things they only share the merest glimpse of with you. And they seem to age immediately as they dress up in smart school uniform for the very first time. For parents it is a whole new routine. There is the anxiety of learning how the school works and meeting new parents, many of whom seem to know each other already.

How about if none of this is really true?

Thomas is staying at the same independent school where he has attended preschool for the last year. He is simply moving across the playground to the little reception block, complete with its outdoor learning area. A place where he has been visiting and “practising” for the last term.

He’s moving across with all of his well established friends. In his class there are just two girls who didn’t attend the preschool (both also have older siblings in the school already). His friends are children I already know well, and like. I also know many of the parents well, from the endless rounds of preschool birthday parties and events like the school nativity and the preschool “Moving Up” day. I know (as much as any parent ever does) how the school works and who most of the staff are. Thomas knows so many of the older children by name (and they him). He already plays in the playground with the older children, lines up with them in the mornings and eats lunch in the dining hall, sitting at a table that he sometimes help to lay correctly with cutlery. He wears a uniform too – that I’ve grown used to laundering constantly – and has been looking so almost like a school boy for the last year.

Even his routine will remain the same. With just one major exception, of course.

He’ll be going five days a week.

That, is the only difference.

We’ll be losing much of our treasured “Mummy and Thomas Time”. And I suppose that is the only thing that is really affecting me.

“Starting School” per se does not feel like a major change. It’s like we conquered that last year, with some tears and protests and initial reluctance. Now Thomas is so happy and settled he asked me a few months ago, with genuine worry, whether he would ever have to change school again.

Not having him all to myself for the two days that I don’t work is the only thing I’m struggling to wrap my head around. It’s true that in some ways I’m looking forward to some “me-time”. Some opportunities to do long neglected household tasks (clearing out my wardrobe, for starters!). An opportunity to get my hair cut without juggling childcare. To drink a cup of tea and read a book without interruption or guilt. Going for a swim or a run during the day, rather than in the dark evenings throughout the winter. Even scheduling medical appointments without having to take Thomas with me. I’ve not had such free time since… well ever before really. Having worked full time, like so many women, before having a child this will all be a new experience.

But at the same time, I’m really going to miss Thomas’s company. I’m going to miss his singing from the back seat of the car and his vociferous opinions on which songs he does and doesn’t like. His running commentary around the shops about what I mustn’t forget to buy. I’ll miss his music group and the genuine friends I’ve made there. I’ll miss our shared lunches and little coffee shop dates. I’ll miss park trips where there is no competition with much older children to use the best equipment. I’ll miss the freedom to take him to museums and child friendly events during the week and outside the school holidays where we don’t have to battle crowds of other children. I’ll even miss his trains constantly strewn across the house, packed up instead until he arrives home.

School uniform notwithstanding, he still looks so little. And whilst he is keen and excited about finally being in Reception (he’s been asking how many sleeps since before Christmas) and more than ready to satisfy his innate curiosity for learning in ways that I alone can’t, I’m not sure if I’m quite ready to accept it. I know that I need to focus on it as the adventure it is and the new it will bring. You can’t freeze time, nor continually look backward for that would be to miss so much more.

I doesn’t make it simple though.

Just over four weeks to go. Seven single days of one-on-one with my best boy.

I’m so glad I don’t have all the other changes to contend with too, and this one seems big enough on its own.

At least I have the holidays to look forward to.

So, how many sleeps until half term?

IMG_6837

IMG_6575

IMG_0525

IMG_0592

IMG_0714

IMG_7045

IMG_8619

IMG_1299

IMG_1131

IMG_4077

IMG_3017

IMG_4207(1)

IMG_2574

_MG_0585

IMG_20160420_122034

_MG_0971

_MG_1201-2

IMG_6384

IMG_6788

Masquerading as a “School Mum”

The last week has been one of yet more change for our family. In fact, it’s been the final step in a gradual process which has spanned the summer, since Thomas left his previous preschool. This has been the week where everything has come together – the new preschool, wearing a uniform and dealing with full blown school-run traffic – and fixed new family routines that will persist in to the far foreseeable future. It’s easy to say that it’s been nothing like as momentous as the weeks of those who have four year olds, embarking on their first days in a formal education career that will span thirteen years or more. After all, Thomas hasn’t started school yet.

I feel like a fraud, with pictures of my small boy in his pristine, too-big uniform amongst the scores of photos of “real” school starters on Facebook and Instagram. I feel like a fraud writing about how big this all feels to us when it’s only a preschool rather than compulsory education. I feel a bit like people might think we’re pretending to be something that we’re not. Or making a mountain out of a molehill.

But then, when I stop and think about it properly, I see that there can be no denying that this week has been huge.

It may still only be preschool but he is now settled at what will become his actual school when he does make that transition this time next year. The only difference in the routine will be moving across the playground to a different building (and, of course, attending five days rather than three with none of our current flexibility to nip off on holiday for a week whenever we choose). He is wearing his first school uniform, slightly too big in all dimensions, but having that immediate effect of making him look taller, older, so much more grown up. And it’s pretty much the same uniform that he’ll wear next year too.

I suppose, the point is, Thomas’s new school has been a massive change in lots of ways. He starts earlier, we travel by car, he wears a uniform, plays in the playground with older children and eats lunch in the school dining hall. Next year, when he actually “starts school” the changes will be much smaller. To the point that I think Thomas will barely notice, certainly in the run up and until he fully experiences the differences in classroom routine, teaching and learning. He won’t be nervous about starting in a new environment where he doesn’t know many faces because he’ll already have done that; He’s doing that now.

So no, I’m not trying to jump ahead of where we’re at, or rush through milestones in anyway. But I cannot not celebrate this one. He may not have started primary school yet and I may not be a genuine “School Mum”, but everything we’ve done these last couple of weeks has felt exactly as though that is what is happening. Effectively, this week has been his “starting school week”. The start of eight years of attending the same place, wearing roughly the same clothes and seeing the same people.

It won’t feel like this next year. I’ve no doubt it will still feel huge, but it will already be comfortable by then. Familiar. Not such a leap in to the unknown for all of us.

Which is exactly what it has been right now. New people, new places, new systems, requirements and regulations. I’ve been overwhelmed with ensuring I know who is who, where to hang bags and coats and which email address to use for what. And I’m an adult, not a not-quite-four year old.

So no, there is no denying that this week has been huge. And I couldn’t be more proud with how my little man has handled being left for long days in an alien environment with strangers. The most we have had is the occasional lament that he misses his old school. What he gets up to whilst he’s there, who he plays with and what he eats may be closely guarded secrets (his word!) but the smiles on his face, and the utter engagement I glimpse when I slip in, unnoticed, to collect him, speak volumes.

He’s not a school boy yet, but in his uniform I can already see the school boy he will become. I’m allowed to be proud of that. And to want to remember how it feels right now, without waiting for the officially defined “starting school” milestone. If I don’t capture this one now, it might have slipped through my fingers by then.

IMG_8801

IMG_8813

IMG_8805