A FRIDAY THE MORNING AT THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
It’s 8.50 in the morning and the last child to arrive walks in, a little bleary-eyed, and quickly changes into his slippers. It’s a Friday morning and they’ve already had a whole week of tuition in their brand-new primary school. “What bird can stand on one leg?” I ask. “The flamingo” they all reply. “Let’s try to imitate it, see who can stand on one leg the longest.” This little improvisation forces the children to refocus, to ‘regain their balance’ as it were and 5 minutes later all have taken their seat. The first workshop this morning is Geography, and our chosen topic is Australia.
I highlight a few facts likely to interest them and write them or draw them on the board: Australia is a continent but also a country, it is very far from here, so far that you have to spend your whole day and part of the night on the plane, and unlike Europe the one national language is English. Some kids spontaneously help me to finish off my drawings on the board, attempt to draw a kangaroo or a plane, others diligently copy down the words in their notebooks. A little voice often chirps out of nowhere: can you help me? I always react to their request, mostly encouraging them to shape the words themselves, sometimes I put my hand over theirs to accompany the still clumsy gestures.
I then show them an A4 picture of the great coral reef. To my great surprise these 6-year olds know that coral is alive. I have brought in a coral necklace that belonged to my grandmother, explain it is now protected. “We can look at it but not touch it, it’s like the beautiful flowers in the wood.” But why? They all ask. “Because the smallest fish feed on coral and get eaten by the bigger fish. If there is no coral left the small fish die, and then….” “Then the very very big white sharks will also die!” I see they’ve already got the hang of what I’m trying to say. They each receive a smaller cutting from a nature magazine representing coral, which they can stick in their notebook.
They are fascinated by the fact that you can see the coral, either by diving down to it or by snorkelling, a word they’re not all familiar with. “Good” says one little girl, I don’t want to dive deep down into the water.
And yet it’s almost time for them to walk to the swimming pool as they do every Friday. I let them play with a kangaroo puzzle or leaf through a book – Wonderful Animals of Australia – which features animals even I’ve never heard of like the echidna or the platypus. They love the sound of these strange words and will repeat them gleefully throughout the morning.
When they come back we will make an obvious link with their second workshop of the morning: science. The idea will be to introduce the notion of ecosystem with the example of coral. We will make a poster representing coral and fish of various sizes, a useful reminder that all living creatures depend on each other…