Sunday, December 03, 2006

Planting a hedge

Just when I thought my days of sounding like Joyce Grenfell in her school teacher mode were long gone, it's time to go and help plant a hedge with the children of Leighton Primary School.

My heart sank when I saw the 300 odd assorted 'sticks' that needed planting. But I had forgotten what a power-house an enthusiastic child can be - especially when armed with a spade. And I had, over the course of the afternoon, about 50 helpers of various ages, shapes and sizes. In the twinkling of an eye (almost) holes had been dug, worms examined and the hawthorn, field maple and hazel tucked into the ground more or less where they were meant to be. This has the makings of a good hedge - these things, like children, are programmed to grow and by the spring will be off to a flying start.

The school is creating more space for nature and wildlife in the school grounds. Its setting is amongst some of the most unspoiled countryside in the British Isles and the pupils are mostly from rural backgrounds. In addition they also have lessons at a local 'Forest School' - which is exactly what it sounds like - erm, lessons in the middle of a forest about foresty things. They are not strangers to the countryside and the natural world, lucky things. I am minded of the phrase 'taking coals to Newcastle'. This is a project that I would love to take to an inner city school where a hedge between the children and the constant roar of passing traffic would be a welcome relief.

I'm sure somebody will remember how hard Mr Comer looked for the only wildlife to be found alongside the busy A6 in Heaton Chapel- mini-beasts - a motley collection of earwigs, beetles and woodlice. But they did look scary under a magnifying glass, didn't they children? And those sea gulls - moonlighting from their day job at the corporation dump - which came and snatched crisps from the hands of children at playtime? Those were the days.

On Friday I received this card from my little helpers in the reception class - isn't it the sweetest thing?

If you look carefully you'll see a picture of Charlie. Charlie spent the entire session sitting in the soil (and I do mean 'in') digging with his hands. Apparently that's what he does. By the time we'd finished there was almost more mud than boy. Everybody else spent the session saying 'Charlie, don't do that.' Charlie, No.' But as with Joyce Grenfell's naughty boy George all words fell on deaf ears and Charlie continued to follow his own obscure curriculum. Anyway, what's a little mud between friends?

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