a \‘shȯrt-rēd’\ piece
I don’t know about you, but I distinctly remember my first day at school - or to be more accurate, I have memories of having memories of my first day backed up with subsequent conversations with my parents (principally my mother). My suspicion is that most of my memories will be stereotypical. I remember, for example, the walk to school, because walk we did.
At the time, we lived in an old part of an old city in densely packed housing that dated from shortly after the enactment of the 1832 ‘Great’ Reform Act. That piece of legislation had dramatically extended the right to vote to anyone in an urban area who owned their own home or who held property to the value of £10 and so the new idea of the ‘housing association’ appeared. These bodies allowed signed-up members to purchase homes built by the association with a mortgage which meant that effectively they ‘owned’ those houses and therefore had the right to vote in local and national elections.
On that first day at school we became part of a chain of people walking the same route. Everyone in the neighbourhood went to the same infant school (Thomas Stratton Infants) and so at roughly the same time every day a snake of people formed all heading towards the school.
I also distinctly remember, on that first day, not moving for an entire morning. I have a vision of standing beside the kind of sand and water tray that would not out be out of place in any early year’s centre today and pretty much staying there not daring to move. I was an only child and I think the shear presence of so many other children quite freaked me out. In fact, my only real memory of that morning involved a boy called Trevor who at one point stood on a table, dropped his trousers and wiggled his woggler for all to see. I remember his name mainly because I bumped into him again in high school where I gleefully reminded him of this at every possible occasion.
And then, mother returned. We walked home for lunch and although I remember there were questions, I don’t remember the answers I gave. I do, however, remember being shocked to my core when she mentioned that we had to go back again in the afternoon! Again, stereotypical, I think.
Overall, though, my memories of infant school are very positive. I remember being happy there. I remember particular friends of the time, although none of them followed me to my next school and I have had no contact with them since; I remember many of the games we played and the metal ‘jungle gym’ tubular steel feature that sat in one corner of the playground, next to the outdoor toilet block that had a ‘spooky ghost’.
I also remember the day my class teacher, Mr Banacek, rushed to the windows of our upstairs classroom and excitedly pointed into the sky saying that he could see Santa on his sleigh. As we ran to the window his finger crossed to the next batch of windows and the next! We followed his pointing and despite craning our necks to see him we had clearly just missed seeing him. Maybe, said Mr Banacek, he has landed in the playground and is making his way to the hall, so we ran excitedly to see if this was true – and sure enough, there he was in all his red-cloaked and white-bearded glory.
Other key memories include watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the surface of the moon live in a very grainy image on one of those huge TVs on wheels in a side room of the main hall (yes I’m really that old); and also standing in a line to wash hands at a long line of taps and sinks before entering the main hall for assembly.
Years later, just before my old school was demolished, I had the chance to visit the interior and take some photos. It had long been derelict by this point and so was a shell of its former self and yet there were still highly recognisable features: the line of sinks and taps leading into the hall, the long line of outdoor toilets, and, most of all, there was the little side room that I had sat on the floor of and watched fascinated at two people walking on the moon.
That last chance to visit the building brought back possibly the most common of shared memories of this event: I suddenly though, wow, isn’t everything so small! The rooms, the furniture, the doors … everything!
I suspect that the first day we spent at school is etched on the mind of most of us yet whether everyone is lucky enough to have the kind of positive memories I have, I don’t know. But I’d love to find out. What are your memories of that day?
photo – me, the year before starting school, with my old mum.
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Marc Armitage is a consultant, researcher and writer in play, playing and playwork. He has been a profesional Playworker for more than thirty-years and freelance since 1989.
He regularly travels the world speaking to groups of professionals from a broad spectrum of work sectors in the children and young peoples workforce including playworkers, early educators, primary and secondary school teachers, out-of-school people, parks and playground designers, politicians, policy makers and many others.
He also spends a lot of time talking with children. With. That's the key word.
"If you want to see what children can do, you must stop giving them things."
Norman Douglas, Folklorist 1868-1952
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