Looking forward to spring term 2022

The coming spring term seems as uncertain as that of 2021. The Omicron variant has created a spike in Covid-19 cases, including many teachers. At the time of writing, the government has stated that it wants schools open, but, beyond mask wearing, has announced no new mitigations. The controversial DfE call for ex-teachers to return to the classroom has not been met with enthusiasm. It looks as though teaching will be remote, at least in part because of staff and student absence, as it was for many schools before the Christmas break.

Despite these uncertainties, there is still plenty to look forward to this term. As last year, perhaps the regular routine of the school calendar and observance of familiar events may help us look towards a brighter future.

January

The first half of this term is time to take part in the annual RSPB Big Schools Bird Watch 2022. Get your pupils involved in some citizen science by surveying the birds visiting your school site. You can find out more and get class resources from the RSPB website. Registration is open now and you should submit your results online by 21 February.

Registration for the Show Racism the Red Card Schools Competition 2022 is open from the start of January until 4 March. Young people can enter work about fighting racism in any medium – art work, creative writing, song, film, and T-shirt designs. You can find out more on the competition pages of the SRtRC website. The deadline for entries is 18 March.

Thursday 27 January is Holocaust Memorial Day, an occasion many schools mark or build into their teaching. This year, the theme is One Day which can be interpreted as one day to mark the Holocaust, one day when there will be no more genocide, one day in history, or the struggle some face to live one day at a time. You can find more information for schools on the HMDT website.

February

Tuesday 8 February is Safer Internet Day when many UK schools will focus on cyber safety. The theme this year is Together for a better internet which aims to make the internet a better and safer place for all, especially children. You can find out more, and download resources for different age groups on the Safer Internet Centre website.

Tuesday 1 February is Chinese New Year, celebrated by Chinese communities throughout the world, which in 2022 ushers in the Year of the Tiger.

Monday 21 February is the start of Fairtrade Fortnight which runs until 6 March. The focus for 2022 is the Choose the world you want festival. You can find out more, order school resources, or request a virtual school visit from a speaker, from the Fairtrade Foundation website.

March

1 March is Shrove Tuesday (or ‘Pancake Day’) when, in the UK pancakes are traditionally made to use up eggs and sugar before the start of Lent, in the Christian calendar, on the next day, Ash Wednesday.

1 March is also St David’s Day, the feast day of the patron saint of Wales. While not an official Bank Holiday in Wales, some schools may have a half-day holiday.

Thursday 3 March is World Book Day in the UK, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary (I know, I can’t believe it either!) You can find out more about this day, events throughout the year, and resources for different ages from the WBD website. As usual, a selection of £1 books will be available for purchase with WBD tokens.

British Science Week, the ten-day celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths, runs from 11 to 20 March. The theme this year is Growth and includes a schools poster competition. You can find out more from the British Science Week website.

Wednesday 16 March is Young Carers Action Day. Championing the needs of Young Carers, the theme this year focuses on Tackling Isolation. You can find out more and download resources from the Carers Trust website.

Thursday 17 March (starts on the evening of the 16th) is the Jewish festival of deliverance, Purim, marked by shared food and gift-giving.

17 March is also St Patrick’s Day, the feast day of the patron saint of Ireland, celebrated there and by the Irish diaspora world wide. It’s a bank holiday in Eire and Northern Ireland.

Friday 18 March is the Hindu and Sikh festival of Holi, or ‘festival of colours’ celebrating the coming of spring.

By now we will all be noticing the hours of daylight lengthening and the clocks go forward by an hour at 2am on Sunday 27 March, marking the start of British Summer Time.

27 March is also the date for Mothering Sunday in the UK and Ireland, although the date varies internationally.

World Autism Acceptance Week (note the change of name from ‘awareness week’) runs from 28 March until 3 April. You can find out more and register for the schools’ newsletter from the National Autistic Society website.

April

Thursday 1st April is April Fool’s Day, which will make for an interesting last day of term for some schools, so watch out for practical jokes!

The Jewish festival of Pesach (Passover) begins at sundown on Friday 15 April and ends at nightfall on Saturday 23 April.

The Good Friday bank holiday is on 15 April this year, with Easter Sunday on 17 April, and the bank holiday on the Monday. Let’s hope that by this point in the year, a successful booster vaccination programme will enable us all to share the holiday with friends and family.

Hopefully, this list contains something for everyone and plenty to look forward to. Please let me know if I have missed any important dates and I’ll add them.

Lots to look forward to in the Autumn term 2021

After the challenges of the last year were all hoping that the coming term will be a return to something like normality for UK schools. Whatever the future holds, here’s my roundup of things to look forward to this autumn.

Autumn Term Top Ten

  1. Although we didn’t get the best of summers this year, we should still have a few weeks of warmer days before the nights draw in. Let’s make the most of them while we can.
  2. It’s a new school year! Remember that feeling when you wrote your name on a new exercise book and opened the first fresh page full of possibilities. While we may have concerns about the return to school, children will have that same feeling of open possibility. This is an opportunity to help them capture that feeling and go on to achieve great things!
  3. Keats famously described autumn as the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ And we can all take delight from the many natural signs that summer is turning into autumn. Keep an eye out for which plants are flowering now, which fruits are ripening and which leaves changing colour. Which changes in the behaviour of birds and other animals do you notice? You’ll soon find that no two days are alike. You can find out more, and a range of nature-based activities on the Wildlife Trusts’ Looking After Yourself and Nature webpage.
  4. The annual Macmillan Coffee Morning, this year on 24 September, is now a firm fundraising fixture in many schools. You can sign up and get more information and a fundraising kit here: Macmillan Coffee Morning 2021.
  5. In the UK, October is Black History Month, which honours and celebrates the contribution Black Britons have made to our vibrant and diverse society. Why not make BHM 2021 a focus for an inclusive and diverse curriculum, not only for a month, but all year round. You can find out more about events and activities throughout the year, and order a school resource pack, from blackhistorymonth.org.uk. There are also regional listings so you can look for events local to you. Friday 22 October is Wear Red Day when we are encouraged to wear something red to show unity against racism. You can find out more on the Show Racism the Red Card website.
  6. This Autumn sees a range of other national awareness events. The links here will take you to information and resources for schools. This year’s Big Draw Festival has the theme ‘Make the Change’, exploring ways to live in balance with the world around us, to reconnect with each other and create a better world for future generations. Jeans for Genes Day lasts a week this year, with schools able to hold their day at any time in the week beginning Monday 13 September. We are all encouraged to #ShareAPoem on the theme of ‘Choice’ on National Poetry Day 2021, which is 7 October. You can download free resources from the education pages of the website. Another event featuring in the calendar of many schools is Anti-Bullying Week, which this year takes place between Monday 15 and Friday 19 November with the theme of ‘One Kind World’. 19 November is also the date of this year’s annual BBC Children in Need appeal which has become a regular fundraising focus for many schools.
  7. When the nights do draw in, and the weather gets colder, humans have responded by making lights and loud noises for as long as history records. In the UK, our excuse to celebrate with bonfires and fireworks is now Guy Fawkes Night on 5th November; well worth a reminder about firework safety.
  8. Some of the best school traditions happen in the Autumn term and will be upon us before we know it. So, check your Christmas jumper for moth holes, change the battery in your LED-lit elf hat, try to recall where you put that box of decorations, and start planning the Nativity Play now!
  9. At the end of this term, the Christmas Holiday beckons. This year, because it and Boxing Day fall on the weekend, the UK Bank Holidays are on Monday 28 & Tuesday 29 December.
  10. There are many other key dates, holidays and festivals you may wish to mark during the Autumn term:
  • Tuesday 7 September Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year celebration
  • Thursday 16 September Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement
  • Tuesday 22 September Autumn Equinox
  • Sunday 31 October is Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve, and this year it is also the end of British summer time, so clocks go back one hour
  • Monday 1 November is the Christian feast of All Saints’ Day
  • Tuesday 2 November is the Christian feast of All Souls’ Day
  • Thursday 4 November Diwali / Deepavali, the Hindu Festival of Lights
  • Thursday 11 November Armistice Day, with Remembrance Sunday following on 14 November
  • Sunday 28 November marks the start of Advent in the Christian Calendar
  • Monday 29 November is the First Day of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, with the Last Day falling on Monday 6 December
  • Tuesday 30 November St Andrew’s Day, a Bank Holiday in Scotland
  • Tuesday 21 December is the Winter Solstice, with the shortest day length of the year.

What do you most look forward to in Autumn? Let me know if there are any dates or events that I’ve missed here.

Looking for some more inspiration for assemblies? Have a look at these educational quotes for Monday morning motivation. 

Festival dates from timeanddate.com

Image: Pixabay / Peggy Choucair

Lost for natural words?

Galium aparine.
Image credit: Eveline Simak CC-BY-SA 2.0

What would you call this plant? For gardeners it might be a weed, for naturalists, a wildflower, and to botanists it’s Galium aparine. For our ancestors, it was an important natural resource: edible, medicinal, useful as animal fodder, and important in cheese production.

For generations of children, though, it has simply been a source of fun. The stems, leaves and seeds are covered in tiny hooks. These evolved because they assist seed dispersal when they become caught in animal fur. This means that the plant will also easily stick to clothing leading to games and pranks that young children love.

Surface of G. Aparine fruit.
Image credit: Stefan Lefnaer CC-BY-SA 4.0

For these reasons, G. aparine has a host of common names. You may know it as ‘goosegrass’, ‘cleavers’, ‘stickybob(s)’, ‘sticky willy’, ‘hitchhikers’, or perhaps ‘Velcro plant’. It has also been called ‘bedstraw’ because it was once used as a mattress filling. It has many other names, and that’s just in English. The plant is known to many cultures because it has a widespread distribution across Europe, North Africa and Asia. It is also found in North America and has become naturalised in Central and South America, and many other parts of the world.

Despite its long social history, our connection to this plant might be becoming lost to modern children. I hope that the wonderful names for this plant are not disappearing as one of the ‘lost words’ described by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris in their wonderful book of the same name.

In my work for the HOPE For the Future project at the Museum of Natural History in Oxford, I visit schools for ‘Insect Discovery Days’, helping them to discover new things about insects and their importance in ecosystems. While we frequently find children who are a fount of knowledge on this topic, when we begin to explore local green spaces, especially in urban areas, I find that children are disconnected from nature and may not have words to describe even common plants and animals that they find.

To my surprise, this happened recently when children were lost for words to name this common plant. There was a lot of new growth across the ground in a wooded area and it began to stick to children’s socks and trousers, as we explored the copse. Some children found that it then stuck to the arms of their coats as they tried to pick it off, much to their delight.

For many of the group this seemed to be a new experience. When we began to discuss it, it became clear that most children did not have a name for the plant. When I asked them what they would call it, I had one response of ‘sticky bobs’, but most children responded with adjectives like ‘sticky’ or ‘prickly’ rather than common nouns.

I responded with some names I knew it by and explained how the tiny hooks made it stick to clothes. We also found some aphids feeding on it.

I was glad to have introduced them to part of the natural world (anof course, the insects we were there to study) as well as a little of its folklore, but remained disconcerted that this information, such an intrinsic part of my own generation’s childhood, was so new to them.

Fortunately, that school has a well planned and protected wildlife area and are partners in a community orchard – especially welcome in an urban setting. Perhaps, as we all emerge from the restrictions of lockdown, we can take some time to reconnect with nature, and help children share in the simple delight that previous generations found in the natural world around them.

Things to look forward to in Summer Term 2021

I’ve been writing these ‘start of term’ posts for a while now. This time, more than ever before, it feels like we’ll all be looking forward to making the most of what summer has to offer as we emerge not just from winter, but from over a year of tackling Covid.

Times remain difficult and much that would normally happen this term must be postponed, or happen in a different way. Nevertheless, I hope that there is still a lot to look forward to.

The clocks have gone forward and each day is a little longer than the one before. One thing to enjoy is more waking up and coming home from work in daylight. Longer (hopefully) sunlit days help lift our mood, so it’s a good idea to try to make some time to get outside each day; even if it’s overcast, natural sunlight will do you good.

For 2021, The Big Pedal, organised by the charity Sustrans, runs from Monday 19 April to the end of the month. This annual event challenges primary and secondary school pupils to cycle, scoot and wheelchair as many miles as they can. You can find out more, register and pick up free resources from the Big Pedal website.

If you prefer two feet to two wheels, Walk to School Week is back to it’s usual time in the calendar, spring, running from 17-21 May. You can order a classroom pack now from the Living Streets Website.

While you’re out and about, take some time to connect with nature. Look out for the many changes in the natural world as spring turns into summer. Which plants are coming into bloom? Which berries and fruits are starting to form? Which birds, bees and butterflies do you notice? Take note of these small changes and you’ll soon see that no two days are alike. You can even use an app such as iRecord to add your nature sightings to the National database. If your pupils are feeling inspired by nature, the might want to submit a poem for the Into the Green Poetry Project that I’m involved with, run by The Bodleian Libraries and Oxford Botanic Garden to celebrate 400 years of plant science in Oxford. You can download a project pack from the Bodleian’s website. The deadline for submissions is 1 July 2021.

Connecting with nature is one way to look after our mental health and ‘nature’ is the theme of UK Mental Health Awareness Week which, this year, runs from 10-17 May. You can find out more from the Mental Health Foundation who are asking us to share images, videos and sounds of nature on social media using the hashtag #ConnectWithNature.

Lockdown and travel restrictions have highlighted adverse effects of fossil fuel use including air pollution and the climate emergency. The UN World Environment Day is on Saturday 5 June and this year marks the start of the UN’s Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. This could provide a focus for learning activities about human impact and the environment. You can find out more at worldenvironmentday.global #GenerationRestoration

THERE ARE MANY FESTIVALS, HOLIDAYS AND EVENTS THIS TERM:

  • Ramadan has already started and is observed by Muslims until Eid ul-Fitr on, or near 13 May
  • Stephen Lawrence Day is on Thursday 22 April
  • St George’s Day is on Friday 23 April and this is also Shakespeare Day
  • May is topped and tailed by bank holidays, with the Early May Bank Holiday on Monday 3 May and the Spring Bank Holiday on Monday 31 May
  • Friday 7 May is the Jewish Holiday of Shavuot
  • The Christian feast of Pentecost is on Sunday 23 May
  • In the UK, Fathers’ Day is on Sunday 20 June
  • Monday 21 June marks the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year
  • Tuesday 22 June is Windrush Day which marks the anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks in 1948 and celebrates the British Caribbean community
  • Tuesday 20 July is Eid ul-Adha, or greater Eid

Many of the most memorable aspects of school life usually happen during the Summer term: school trips, outdoor education, Summer concerts and productions, PTA barbecues, sports days, enrichment weeks, proms and end of year awards.

These enrich the curriculum and help build communities. This year these events will be very different, and some may not be possible at all, but schools will find ways to celebrate their own unique community and the landmark transitions for years 6, 11, and 13.

Hopefully, by the end of the summer term, teachers and pupils alike will be able to enjoy a well-earned summer break after an extraordinary school year.

Things to look forward to in spring 2021

This spring term may be more uncertain than any that have gone before. Teachers deserve a big thank you for all their hard work during 2020 but, as I write, there is still a lack of clarity over exactly how the new term will start, which students will return and under what conditions, and whether school staff will be prioritised for vaccination. Despite this, there is still plenty to look forward to this spring and perhaps the familiar events of the school calendar may help us look towards a brighter future in uncertain times.

January

The first half of this term is time to take part in the annual RSPB Big Schools Bird Watch – now in its 20th year. This six-week window provides plenty of time for pupils to get involved in some citizen science by surveying the birds visiting your school site. You can find out more and get class resources from the RSPB website. Registration is open now. Pupils who are learning remotely from home could take part in the Big Garden Bird Watch on the weekend starting Friday 29 January.

Registration for the Show Racism the Red Card Schools Competition 2021 is open from the start of January until 19 February. 2021 marks the 25th anniversary of SRtRC and young people can enter work about fighting racism in any medium – art work, creative writing, song, and film. You can find out more on the competition pages of the SRtRC website. The deadline for entries is 5 March.

Wednesday 27 January is Holocaust Memorial Day, an occasion many schools mark or build into their teaching. This year, the theme is Be the light in the darkness and explores the ways individuals resisted the darkness to be the light before, during and after genocide. Young people are asked to submit photos on this theme, the best of which will be used in an online exhibition. You can find more information on the HMDT website. Update, 27 January: The selected photos can now be viewed in the online exhibition.

February

Tuesday 9 February is Safer Internet Day when many UK schools will focus on cyber safety. The theme for 2021 is An internet we trust which explores reliability in the online world. You can find out more, and download resources for different age groups on the Safer Internet Centre website.

Friday 12 February is Chinese New Year, celebrated by Chinese communities throughout the world, which this year ushers in the Year of the Ox.

16 February is Shrove Tuesday (or ‘Pancake Day’) when, in the UK pancakes are traditionally made to use up eggs and sugar before the start of Lent, in the Christian calendar, on the next day, Ash Wednesday.

Monday 22 February is the start of Fairtrade Fortnight which runs until 7 March. The theme for 2021 is Climate, fair trade and you which focuses on the links between climate action and fair trade. You can find out more, order school resources, or request a virtual school visit from a speaker, from the Fairtrade Foundation website.

Thursday 25 February is the first day of the Jewish festival of deliverance, Purim, marked by shared food and gift-giving.

March

Monday 1 March is St David’s Day, the feast day of the patron saint of Wales. While not an official Bank Holiday in Wales, some schools may have a half-day holiday.

Thursday 4 March is World Book Day in the UK. You can find out more about this day, events throughout the year, and resources for different ages from the WBD website. A selection of £1 books that can be purchased with WBD tokens has already been announced.

British Science Week, the ten-day celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths, runs from Friday 5 to Sunday 14 March. The theme this year is Innovating for our future and will include a poster competition. You can find out more from the British Science Week website.

This year 14 March is also the date for Mothering Sunday in the UK, although the date varies internationally.

Tuesday 16 March is Young Carers Action Day, with a change of focus from the previous Awareness day and a move from its previous date in January. Championing the needs of Young Carers, the theme this year focuses on Protecting Young Carers’ Futures. You can find out more from the Carers Trust website.

Wednesday 17 March is St Patrick’s Day when a quite extraordinary proportion of the world population discovers its Irish roots. It’s a bank holiday in Eire and Northern Ireland.

Friday 19 March is Red Nose Day, the biennial fundraising event for the charity Comic Relief which raises money for vulnerable people in the UK and abroad. This year, in response to environmental concerns, the red noses are entirely plastic-free. You can find out more, and order red noses for school, from the Comic Relief website.

The Jewish festival of Pesach (Passover) begins at sundown on Saturday 27 March and ends at nightfall on Sunday 4 April, coinciding with the Christian Easter Sunday.

By now we will all be noticing the hours of daylight lengthening and the clocks go forward by an hour early in the morning of Sunday 28 March, marking the start of British Summer Time. This day is also Palm Sunday in the Christian calendar. For some schools this week will be the first of the Easter holiday: others will break up during the week.

Monday 29 March is the Hindu and Sikh festival of Holi, or ‘festival of colours’ celebrating the coming of spring.

World Autism Awareness Week runs from 29 March until 4 April. This year the week will include virtual and home-based activities. You can find out more and register for the schools’ newsletter from the National Autistic Society website.

April

Thursday 1st April is April Fool’s Day, which will make for an interesting last day of term for some schools, so watch out for practical jokes!

The Good Friday bank holiday is on 2 April this year, with Easter Sunday on 4 April, and the bank holiday on the Monday. Last year, Easter celebrations were muted by the first lockdown. Let’s hope that by this point in the year in 2021, a successful vaccination programme will be in full swing and we will be able to share the holiday with friends and family.

This list should contain something for everyone and plenty to look forward to. Let me know if I have missed any important dates and I’ll add them.

Working for HOPE

This post was originally published as a Series of tweets in a social media thread from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History as part of my ‘Twitter Takeover’ week in November 2020. It gives an insight into my work with schools in the learning team of the HOPE for the Future project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. You can also read more about this in my post Supporting Learning: HOPE for the future.

It’s time for another Twitter #takeover! This week, Learning Officer Rodger will be sharing about the work of the #HOPEForTheFuture Learning Team. Find out more about the HOPE project: https://oumnh.ox.ac.uk/hope-future

Together with the other HOPE Learning Officers, Kate and Susie, I visit local schools to provide insect Discovery Days, host school visits at the museum and create digital resources for children and young people to use at school or for home learning. https://oumnh.ox.ac.uk/hope-future-project-learning

The HOPE Learning Officers

Thanks to generous support from the #HeritageLotteryFund, we can provide these visits and resources free of charge. We’ve worked with schools on using masks, social distancing, handwashing and sanitizing so everyone stays safe.

We don’t only teach children, though, we also learn from them. We love hearing about the ideas they have and questions they ask. Can you really age a ladybird by its spots? Do earwigs actually eat your brains? Find out this week!

During early autumn, spring and summer, we visit schools for Insect Discovery Days. Children learn about the vital role of insects in ecosystems, the importance of the HOPE collection, and investigate insects in their own school grounds.

As well as insects, we find a lot of other ‘minibeasts’ such as woodlice, spiders and centipedes when we visit schools. Specimens from the collection help children sort the insects from these other arthropods.

We often find that children use different words to describe the same animal, or the same word for two different ones. Which of these would you call a ‘Daddy long-legs’?

Which would you call a ‘Daddy Long-Legs’?

The Twitter poll that followed this image drew 123 votes, with the following results:

Left: 62%

Right: 7%

Neither: 30%

Both: 1%

Another aspect of my work I really enjoy is helping to connect children with researchers. I’m really looking forward to George McGavin’s upcoming talk ‘What have insects ever done for us?’

The talk I referred to was a live webinar, but you can watch a recording of George’s fascinating talk on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E1mX52cKwSs

Another aspect of my job is teaching school visitors to the museum about insects. I’m hugely lucky to be able to draw on the vast Hope collection of over 3.5 million British insects and the expertise of the collections team.

Some of unique museum resources that we are able to use with schools include insect specimens collected by Charles Darwin. It was his observations of the natural world that led him to propose his theory of evolution.

Insect specimens collected by Charles Darwin

Another unique resource that we use is the collection of peppered moths, Biston betullaria, from Bernard Kettlewell’s study of natural selection. Many students who learn about this at school have never had the opportunity to see a peppered moth before.

Specimens from Kettlewell’s collection

We also teach how historical collections help us track present day changes in populations. Several insects became extinct in Britain in the last century and more are at risk, but there have also been successful reintroductions, such as the Large Blue Butterfly, Maculinea arion.

More now than ever, the learning team are producing digital resources which can be used at school, at home, or by community groups. You can explore these on the museum website (see the link above)

Wherever we are working, children always love finding ladybirds and learning about the different types of this beetle. At Thameside School in Abingdon for example, we found six different species in the school forest area.

A lot of folklore surrounds ladybirds. Many children tell us you can tell a ladybird’s age by counting its spots. This is a myth, but the markings can help us identify which species it is. We also learn about insect life cycles and what larvae look like. 

Everyone loves a ladybird!

Children often know rhymes about ladybirds, but the words can vary depending on where you live. What would you say is the next line to this rhyme? ‘Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home…’

This tweet prompted a range of comments, with the most common variation completing this rhyme with the line ‘… your house is on fire and your children are gone. I was also reminded by my colleague at the Bodleian, Rosie Sharkey, that it was this rhyme that originally prompted Iona and Peter Opie’s decades of research into children’s songs, rhymes, and games.

An insect that we always find when we visit schools is the earwig. Children are fascinated by these animals and sooner or later someone will always ask ‘Do they really go in your ears?’ or the even more worrying ‘…then burrow into your brain and lay eggs?!’

Do earwigs really go for our ears?

So can brain-burrowing earwigs really drive you insane? The short answer is no. We probably have Pliny the Elder to blame for this widespread misconception but thankfully there is no evidence that earwigs have an affinity for ears, nor that they do us any harm.

Earwigs are in the Order Dermaptera and have remarkable characteristics. They’re excellent at wiggling into small spaces, have a pair of forceps on their rear end and they can fly. They protect their delicate wings by some virtuoso origami folding when they aren’t in use.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s insight into the work of the Hope Learning Team. Do you know any interesting insect myths or folklore? We’d love to hear about them!

My Twitter week for the Museum May be over, but I,d love to hear your comments on anything mentioned here, or your own favourite insect myths and folklore. If you’re a teacher, you might like the practical application of entomology in my post Wasp in the classroom.

Ten Things to look forward to in Autumn 2020

I have been writing these ‘things to look forward to’ posts at the start of each school term for a few years now. Of course, 2020 was the year everything changed. Like everyone else, I didn’t anticipate at the start of the year that we would all have to cope with lockdown and then adjust to living with COVID-19.

Nevertheless, after all the planning as schools prepare to return for the start of the new school year, there is still plenty for us to look forward to. Many events will have changed their format, but hopefully their essential character, and importance to schools, will remain the same.

Autumn Term Top Ten

  1. It may not feel like it, following a chilly August bank holiday weekend, but we still have a few weeks of (hopefully) warmer days and longer evenings before the nights really draw in. British Summer Time ends when the clocks go back on Sunday 25th October.
  2. It’s a new school year! Remember that feeling when you wrote your name on a new exercise book and opened the first fresh page full of possibilities. This year, more than ever before, children will have that same feeling. This is an opportunity to help them capture that feeling and go on to achieve great things!
  3. During the lockdown, many of us noticed the natural world more than ever before and took solace from spring blooms, birdsong and other signs of environmental renewal. Now we can take delight from the many signs that summer is turning into autumn. Which plants are coming into bloom now, later in the year? Which fruits are ripening and which leaves are changing colour? Which birds and other animals do you notice? Noting such changes helps us see that no two days are alike. You can find ideas on how to safely get more actively involved on this Wildlife Trusts’ webpage on Looking After Yourself and Nature.
  4. The annual Macmillan Coffee Morning is now in its 30th year and has become a firm fundraising fixture in many schools. This year it is taking a different format and is running throughout September. You can sign up and get more information and a fundraising kit here: World’s Biggest Coffee Morning 2020 and find further information on running safe, socially distanced events here: Coffee Morning Guidance.
  5. In the UK, October is Black History Month, which honours and celebrates the contribution Black Britons have made to our vibrant and diverse society. In recent months Black Lives Matter has drawn our attention to the work that remains to be done to tackle racism across British society, including decolonialising the curriculum. Perhaps this October can be a focus in addressing these issues not only for one month but all year round. You can find out more about events and activities throughout the year, and order a school resource pack, from blackhistorymonth.org.uk. There are also regional listings so you can look for events local to you.
  1. There are a wealth of other key dates, holidays and festivals you may wish to mark during the Autumn term, including:
  • Saturday 19 September Rosh Hashana
  • Tuesday 22 September Autumn Equinox
  • Monday 28 September Yom Kippur
  • 31 October Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve
  • 1 November All Saints’ Day
  • 2 November All Souls’ Day
  • Sunday 8 November Remembrance Sunday, with Armistice Day falling on Wednesday 11 November
  • Saturday 14 November Diwali / Deepavali
  • Sunday 29 November Start of Advent
  • Monday 30 November Scotland celebrates St Andrew’s Day with a bank holiday
  • Friday 11 December is the First Day of Hanukkah, with the Last Day falling on Friday 18 December
  • Monday 21 December Winter Solstice
  1. Your school may already be involved in one of the many National and international Awareness events that take place in the Autumn term. This year, many organisers have modified their events to enable teachers to take a more flexible approach. As well as being Black History Month, October is also time for the annual Big Draw, with artistic events around the country. Registration is now open for the 2020 Big Draw Festival and this year’s theme is #ClimateOfChange. A fundraising event that has become a regular fixture in many schools is Jeans for Genes Day. This year, the format is more flexible with schools able to hold their day at any time during the week beginning Monday 14 September. You can find out more and register at jeansforgenesday.org. We are all encouraged to #ShareAPoem on National Poetry Day on Thursday 1 October. You can download free resources from the education pages of the NPD Website. Many groups and charities that receive funding from the annual BBC Children in Need appeal have been helping disadvantaged children and families during the COVID-19 outbreak. This year’s event is planned for Friday 13 November. Another event featuring in the calendar of many schools is Anti-Bullying Week, which this year takes place between Monday 16 and Friday 20 November. The theme is ‘United Against Bullying’ and you can get more information and resources from the Anti-bullying Alliance.
  2. When the nights do draw in, and the weather gets colder, humans have responded by making lights and loud noises for as long as history records. In the UK, our excuse to celebrate with bonfires and fireworks is now Guy Fawkes Night on 5th November. Worth a reminder about firework safety and undoubtedly there will be additional guidance on staying safe.
  3. Some of the best school traditions happen in the Autumn term and will be upon us before we know it. Whatever guidance is in place to keep us safe this winter, it’s probably worth checking your Christmas jumper for moth holes, changing the battery for the LED lights in your elf hat, and starting to plan the school Nativity Play right now.
  4. At the end of this term, the Christmas holiday and New Year! Here’s looking forward to 2021!

What do you most look forward to in Autumn? Let me know if there are any dates or events that I’ve missed here.

Looking for some more inspiration for assemblies? Have a look at these educational quotes for Monday morning motivation.

Festival dates from timeanddate.com

Image: Rodger Caseby

Things to look forward to in the 2020 Summer term

I usually write one of these posts for the start of each school term. I try to list festivals, events and key dates for the term. When I posted Things to look forward to in Spring 2020, I didn’t anticipate how that term would end up for UK schools – COVID-19, the country in lockdown, exams cancelled and schools open solely for vulnerable children and those of critical workers.

Despite the difficulties presented by these extraordinary times, I still hope that there is a lot to look forward to, but this post for the Summer time, is a little different, highlighting key dates that educators may wish to highlight with students in school, or those they are setting work for online, or teaching remotely.

Easter isn’t over! It isn’t just one chocolate-laden Bank Holiday weekend, but an entire season of the Christian calendar. In the Orthodox Church, Easter Monday is on 20 April, the start of term for most schools.

The clocks have gone forward and the days are now longer. One thing to enjoy is no more waking up before sunrise and coming home in darkness. With the reduction in traffic and other activity, many early-risers are finding that the dawn chorus of birdsong is more noticeable than usual. Longer (hopefully) sunlit days help lift our mood, so it’s a good idea to try to make some time to go outside each day. Whether you’re lucky enough to have a garden, or can take your daily exercise in a nearby park or green space, even if it’s overcast, natural sunlight will do you good. Walk to School Week was originally scheduled for May, but has now been moved to October 2020.

While you’re out and about, take some time to connect with nature. Look out for the many changes in the natural world as spring turns into summer. Which plants are coming into bloom? Which berries and fruits are starting to form? Which birds, bees and butterflies do you notice? Take note of these small changes and you’ll soon see that no two days are alike. You can even use an app such as iRecord to add your nature sightings to the National database. If you have to stay at home, the Wildlife Trusts have a range of ways to Look after yourself, and nature.

The recent reduction in carbon emissions and air pollution because of restrictions in place to tackle the pandemic, have highlighted the impact of human activity on the environment. The UN World Environment Day on Friday 5 June, which this year celebrates global biodiversity, could provide a focus for activities on the environment. You can find out more here and even make a remote ocean dive with free education resources from The Ocean Agency.

In the UK, Mental Health Awareness Week runs from 18-24 May. In the light of the National response to coronavirus, the theme has been altered ‘Kindness’, in celebration of the thousands of acts of kindness that are so essential to our mental health, and to start a conversation of the kind of society we want as we emerge from the pandemic. You can find out more from the Mental Health Foundation.

There are many festivals, holidays and events this term:

  • Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) on Tuesday 21 April
  • St George’s Day Thursday 23 April
  • Ramadan starts on Monday 24 April, running until Eid ul Fitr on 24 May
  • The Buddhist festival of Vesak is on Thursday 7 May
  • The Early May Bank Holiday usually falls on a Monday but this year it is on Friday 8 May to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day
  • The Spring Bank Holiday is on Monday 25 May
  • Friday 29 May is the Jewish Holiday of Shavuot
  • The Christian feast of Pentecost is on Sunday 31May
  • In the UK, Fathers’ Day is on Sunday 21 June
  • Monday 22 June is Windrush Day. Initiated in 2018, this day marks the anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks in 1948 and celebrates the British Caribbean community.

Marking the end of a very different school year

Some of the most memorable aspects of school life usually happen during the Summer term: school trips, outdoor education, Summer concerts and productions, PTA barbecues, sports days, proms and end of year awards. Some schools would have activities weeks; others might move to their new timetables before the holiday. These and more enrich the curriculum and help build communities. This term will be very different but we can all think about how we can celebrate our learning communities and, in particular, how we can find novel ways to mark landmark changes for year 6 making the move to secondary, and years 11 and 13 making important transitions without the usual landmarks, including external exams.

Hopefully, before the end of the summer term we will have a better understanding of what the 2020/21 academic year will look like. It may not, however, be a ‘return to normal’. Perhaps this is an opportunity to think about which aspects of the old ‘normal’ we have really missed and look forward to, and which we would like to change in the light of what we have learned in these most extraordinary of times.

Things to look forward to in Spring Term 2020

The alarm rings and I drag my reluctant eyelids open. It’s dark outside. Dark and raining. The tree may still be up but the Christmas and New Year seem long past. The winter weather and long dark nights may be calling me to hibernate and count the days till summer, but it’s time to go back to work.

There’s no need to despair though because there’s plenty to look forward to at the start of the first Spring term of the new decade! Here’s my list of some of the highlights of the coming school term:

Christmas isn’t over (quite) yet! In the Christian calendar Christmas isn’t just a single day, but lasts until 6th January (twelfth night). Traditionally the decorations stay up till then. If that isn’t enough for you, Orthodox Christmas Day this year isn’t until Tuesday 7 January.

Remember that from now on the days are getting longer. The Spring equinox is on Friday 20 March so from then on we’ll have more daylight than night, with the clocks going forward at 1am on Sunday 29 March for the start of British Summer Time.

January

6 January to 21 February is the annual RSPB Big Schools Bird Watch, so there is plenty of time this term to get pupils involved in some citizen science by surveying the local bird population visiting your school site. You can find out more and get class resources from the RSPB website. You’ll need to register before 2 February.

In 2020, two celebrations coincide on Saturday 25 January: Burns’ Night, when Scots the world over celebrate their national poet, Robert Burns, and Chinese New Year ushering in the Year of the Rat. Haggis Dumplings anyone?

Monday 27 January is Holocaust Memorial Day, an occasion many schools mark or build into their teaching. This year marks 75 years since the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp with the theme Stand Together. You can find out more and order free resources from the HMDT website.

Thursday 30 January is Young Carers Awareness Day. Championing the needs of Young Carers, the theme this year focuses on the Count Me In! campaign for greater recognition of the needs of young carers in compulsory education. You can find out more from the Carers Trust website and via the #CountMeIn hashtag.

February

Tuesday 11 February is Safer Internet Day when many UK schools will focus on cyber safety with the 2020 theme Together for a Safer Internet. You can find out more on the Safer Internet Centre website.

Monday 24 February to Sunday 8 March is Fairtrade Fortnight. The focus continues on the theme of cocoa and particularly the crucial role played by women farmers. You can find out more and get school resources from the Fairtrade Foundation website.

Tuesday 25 February is Shrove Tuesday (or Pancake Day), with the next day, Ash Wednesday, marking the first day of Lent in the Christian calendar.

March

Sunday 1st March is St David’s Day, the feast day of the patron saint of Wales.

Thursday 5 March is World Book Day in the UK. This year the aim is to share a million stories. You can find out more about this day, events throughout the year, and resources for different ages from the WBD website. The £1 book tokens issued to children are valid until 29 March.

British Science week is a ten-day celebration of science, technology engineering and maths running from Friday 6 March to Sunday 15 March. The theme this year is Our Diverse Planet. You can find out more and get an activity pack from the British Science Week website.

Monday 9 March is the Hindu and Sikh festival of Holi, or ‘festival of colours’ celebrating the coming of Spring.

9 March is also the start of Sport Relief week, the biennial event which raises money for vulnerable people in the UK and abroad. Many schools will want to get pupils involved on the ‘Sport Relief Mile’ – find out more and order a Primary or Secondary activity pack on the Sport Relief website.

Tuesday 10 March is the first day of the Jewish festival of deliverance, Purim, marked by shared food and gift-giving.

This year, Mothering Sunday is on 9 March in the UK, although the international date is 12th March.

Tuesday 17th March is St Patrick’s Day, when half the world population rediscovers its Irish roots. With about a million more UK residents having an Irish passport than this time last year, the celebrations here should be bigger than ever! It’s a bank holiday in Eire and Northern Ireland.

April

Wednesday 1st April is April Fool’s Day and falls in the last week of term for most schools, so watch out for practical jokes!

For most schools, Palm Sunday (5 April), Good Friday (10 April) and Easter Sunday (12 April) will all fall within the school holiday, together with the Jewish Passover (9-16 April).

The list should contain something for everyone and plenty to look forward to. Let me know if I have missed any important dates and I’ll add them.

Whatever you are looking forward to this spring, have a Happy New Year!

Festival and event dates from http://www.timeanddate.com

Image: Rodger Caseby

Things to look forward to in the 2019 Autumn Term

What happened to the Summer holiday? Half way through the first INSET day of the year, it may have already retreated to the distant recesses of your memory. Don’t despair; there is plenty to look forward to in the 2019 Autumn Term.

Autumn Term Top Ten

  1. Summer isn’t over! We’ll still have a few weeks of warmer days and longer evenings, so make the most of them before the nights draw in. British Summer Time ends when the clocks go back on 27th October.
  2. It’s a new school year! Remember when you were at school and got new exercise books? We wrote our names on the cover and opened the first new blank page full of possibilities. Your pupils will have that same feeling; how will you help them capture it and achieve great things? You can make their school year a great one!
  3. Take time to connect with nature. Look out for the signs that summer is turning into autumn. Which plants are coming into bloom now, rather than in spring or summer? Which fruits are ripening, which leaves are changing colour first? Which animals do you notice? Take note of these small changes and you’ll soon see that no two days are alike.
  4. The annual Macmillan Coffee Morning is now a fundraising fixture in many schools. Something to do with the cake perhaps? This year it’s on 27th September. You can sign up and get more information and a fundraising kit here: World’s Biggest Coffee Morning 2019
  5. In the UK, October is Black History Month, which honours and celebrates the contribution Black Britons have made to our vibrant and diverse society. You can find out more and order a school resource pack from blackhistorymonth.org. There are also regional listings so you can look for events local to you.
  6. There are plenty of other key dates, holidays and festivals to mark during the Autumn term. The Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana is on 30th September and Yom Kippur falls on 9th October. Diwali (Deepwali), the Hindu, Sikh and Jain Festival of Lights, is on 27th October. Halloween (or All Hallows’ Eve) is on 31st October, preceding the Christian feasts of All Saints’ Day the next day and All Souls’ Day on 2nd November. This year, Remembrance Sunday is on 10th November and many schools will mark Armistice Day at 11am on the Monday. Scotland celebrates St Andrew’s Day on Saturday 30th November, with the bank holiday in Scotland on Monday 2nd December. The first Sunday of Advent is shortly after on 1st December, bringing us to the lead-up to Christmas. Hanukkah begins on the 23rd of December and ends on the 30th.
  7. There are many National and international Awareness events that schools may wish to get involved with in the Autumn term. As well as being Black History Month, October is also the month of the annual Big Draw with artistic event taking place around the country. Get set for a busy day on Monday 7th October which is Jeans for Genes Day, National Poetry Day, AND World Smile Day! Many schools will be fundraising for the annual BBC Children in Need appeal, which this year is on Friday 18th November, and will be getting involved with Anti-Bullying Week, 11-15th November. The theme this year is ‘Change Starts With Us’. You can get more information and resources from the Anti-bullying Alliance.
  8. When the nights do draw in, and the weather gets colder, what better way to celebrate than bonfires and fireworks on Guy Fawkes Night, 5th November? Gunpowder, treason and, with any luck, toffee apples. Worth a reminder about firework safety.
  9. Some of the best bits of school happen in the Autumn term and will be upon us before we know it: if I were you, I’d check your Christmas jumper for moth holes and start planning the school Nativity Play now.
  10. At the end of this term, the Christmas holiday and New Year!

So, what are you looking forward to this Autumn term? Are there any dates I’ve missed out? Why not share with a comment?

Looking for some more inspiration for assemblies? Have a look at these educational quotes for Monday morning motivation.

Festival dates from timeanddate.com

Image: Rodger Caseby