Stretching rainbows

By Vita Forest

Sitting under hats around the table

Blindingly silver in the sunlight

Waiting for the ripening buds of leaves

to burst into green shade

Two ten year-old girls creep closer

Slatted against tree trunks

Pressing their grins into calloused bark

Stifling laughter

Remembering them at six, at seven

When their mouths held gaps and Tahlia astonished

with her description

of a dog’s soft wet nose

And their two heads bent over a stretch of rainbow

Building waves of red and yellow and green

When their hair was longer

And their legs were shorter

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Fox prints

By Vita Forest

Have you read Margaret Wild’s Fox?  It is a searing tale of friendship, jealousy, temptation, grief and loss.  Did I mention it’s a children’s picture book?

My class has been examining it closely.  Noticing the similes, the use of present tense, the metaphors, the personification, the colours used by the illustrator Ron Brooks, the layout of the pages and the unusual scratchy lettering.

This week,  after a boring old handwriting lesson (“check your pencil grip, stay on the lines, sit up straight, trace slowly and carefully, form your letters in just the right way”) we changed gear to explore how Ron Brooks’ lettering contributed to the story.

He experimented and took some time to get it just right.  Brooks ended up writing the text by hand and using his left hand (he is right handed), hacking out the words, tracing some of the letters over and over, writing them down and then up the sides of pages, on diagonals, in capitals (screaming).  In short, breaking all the handwriting rules.

We looked at the book again and focused on the writing, looking not at what it said but how it said it.  The kids had a play on little whiteboards, swapping their usual writing hands, using capitals where they should have used lowercase, reversing their letters, looking away when they wrote, turning their boards upside down, writing over and over in the same space.  Then they chose a piece of coloured paper, a handful of oil pastels and went away to make their marks as one of the three characters – half-blind, trusting Dog, griefing, wary Magpie or sly, jealous, lonely Fox.  The stipulation – they could only write the name of their character, nothing more, nothing less.

Miss Sadie, rather cheeky and daring, stared me in the face and screwed up her paper into a ball.  I stared back at her and said, “Yes!  If you are Fox, that might be just what you would do.”  (They have witnessed one of their classmates do this same action on a rather regular basis when he is distressed and in the midst of a meltdown).  Suddenly, there was scrunching, there was ripping, there was smudging, there was scraping.  Some of them wrote their character’s name just once, others repeated the lines over and over and over again.

Another happy accident occurred when I handed out some black mounting paper that I had cut in half to what I thought was a good size to frame their work.  It turned out it was too small.  “Stick it on an angle,” I advised.  And the artworks looked better than they would have with a neat black border.

The next day, we sat in a circle and held up the artworks for others to see.  The students went around the circle and explained what they did, how they did it and why.  Amongst the “I did it coz that’s what I felt like” there were some gems.  Kelly left space around Magpie’s name because she was left all alone.   Sharni wrote Dog’s name without looking at the paper because Dog was blind and Lana ripped away a piece of Fox’s signature because his heart was broken in two.

Don’t tell me kids can’t understand difficult stories…

Everyone has problems

By Vita Forest

They listen holding breath

to a tale about a convict boy

No older than they

Crawling up a smouldering chimney

Into blackness

                                           Into nightmare

                                                          Scraping off the soot

Feet calloused and cut

Stomach growling

Eyes squinting into the

grimy yellow smog of daylight

waiting for the day

when he’ll be too big to shimmy

and crawl and worm his way through

the secret innards of other people’s houses

Til he’s stuck

til he’s sold again

til he’s out of luck

We close that book

Let out our breath

and open another

And they complain

about the tracing

and the posture

and the pain

in their fingers from holding

the pencil

Handwriting is hard

Almost as hard as being a chimney sweep in eighteenth century London? I suggest

They stare and nod

Yes.

This week

By Vita Forest

This week I have been

READING Unpolished Gem by Alice Pung

WRITING my novel

CONDUCTING 27 parent teacher interviews! (Nearly finished) while

CONTINUING to teach 28 children and therefore

FEELING exhausted…

ATTENDING a local writers circle (which was very inspiring)

SLEEPING in on the weekend and

SWIMMING at Balmoral Beach (the hottest temperatures in April for forty years)

MEETING for a coffee with Vastra and Saskia

This week

By Vita Forest

This week I have been

WRITING

READING

  • The Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
  • Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody

VISITING

  • Balmoral Beach for a refreshing dip
  • The Art Gallery of New South Wales for the wonderful The Lady and the Unicorn exhibition

  • The Coal Loader at Waverton

WANDERING the streets of Sydney around Martin Place and Wynyard

EATING a whole lot of Easter goodies

CATCHING up with my family and Saskia

WATCHING

  • some catch-up episodes of The Good Fight on SBS On-Demand (how did I miss that it was back on?
  • The Goonies with Max (classic!)

No princesses around here

By Vita Forest

On Wednesday we had school photos.  We were called out during my maths lesson and marched up to the top grass under the trees.  We were arranged in three rows with me slotted in at the side and Milly gamely balancing on a high step brandishing her broken arm in front of her.  We were adjusted and readjusted – some children just did not want to be that close to certain other children and of course the child who has been known to lash out at others when he gets riled up was placed right in the centre of the group with bodies pressing in on him from all sides…

The camera snapped away and before anyone came to any harm, it was over.

Then we lined up again to have individual photos. On the way we checked our hair and our shirts and our collars, and tried to get our fringes to behave, and tried to decide whether plaits should be swept forward or behind our shoulders, and whether glasses should be left on if they catch the light, and whether the boys shirts should really be tucked in when they really look so much better tucked out…

I led the class in its snaking line down past the play equipment and up the ramp into the hall.  I sat on a stool  with my kids looking on and smiled at the camera and was asked to repeat ‘Cocktails!’ and ‘Holidays’ and ‘Weekend!’ (that is what teachers like apparently).  When I was done, I went out of the hall and found some shade and waited for my line of kids to feed into the production line for their photo and get popped out the other side.

A boy or two ambled up and sat down to wait and then a rather cranky looking girl.

‘What’s up T?’ I asked.

‘She made me say “Princess’” she scowled.  ‘Then “Cheeky Monkeys” but “Princess!”  Alan did you have to say “Princess”?’

Apparently not.  Apparently the boys got to say “Elephant’s Undies” and other such manly things.

The survey continued as the rest of the class trickled out, there were no “Princesses” among the boys, only the girls were asked to say that word.  My sassy girls of eight and nine continued to discuss the outrage of being asked to say “Princess” – I mean, As IF!

We went back to the classroom and continued on with the presentation of their free choice speeches.  The best speakers will go on to the next round and may eventually represent the school at an inter-school competition.  There were some excellent speeches from some of the little characters in my class.  Some of the topics chosen included – ‘why our school should not get a pool’ (the rest of the class took some convincing), ‘Termites and how great they are’ (after this girl’s garage collapsed after, you guessed it, termites destroyed it), and my personal favourite – ‘why this public speaking competition is ‘the worst’’.  Stacey, who wrote and presented this gem ended it by saying, ‘But Ms F, I really would like to get through to the next round!’ (and she did.  She’ll get a merit award for it next week too).

Later that day we were hunted down in the computer room.

‘Come quick Ms F!  We want you to hear the band!’ (The band for our performance group, the band who are rehearsing together for the third time).  Again we left our tasks, again 28 children lined up in two rather wonky lines and again we left the great indoors and wove around buildings and play equipment and garden beds and bins, lured by the fabulous music that wafted through the empty playground beckoning us on like the Pied Piper.  My class sang and even danced as they recognised the song and we moved ever closer to the source of the music.  The band was arranged outside of the hall under the trees (they couldn’t be inside today  – it was School Photo Day) and when we arrived, they began again, with my pal, the fabulous band teacher, conducting them with gusto.  It was peaceful under the trees, the bass player lounging against a wall, the saxophonists blowing gamely into their instruments.  The tune was there and the tempo, it was an exhilarating start!  We all applauded and I told them how thrilled I was.  And then we stood up again and lined up again and walked back to the computer room for a very short lesson…

And later that afternoon we were outside again with our lovely art teacher (because she couldn’t be in the hall because it was School Photo Day – very tolerant, flexible people are teachers) and the kids were painting trees and lying on the grass and talking about mixing colours and the shapes in the bark and how one tree looked like a person or maybe a peace sign and some kids painted the trees red with yellow leaves even though they are brown with green leaves and I just thought, despite how tired I felt, that this was, after all, a good day.

Homework sentences

By Vita Forest

Actually not by Vita Forest – these are a selection of homework sentences from my class this week…  (the main focus were words that change their form completely when a plural is made).

Men are different to women because they get head lice more often and have bigger feet.”

“Twins are very similar to each other.”

“One man wearing a bright orange shirt stood out in a group of men wearing black uniforms.”

“A teaspoon and a tablespoon have a similar shape.”

“The climate in Sydney is really hot and there is a bit of lighting (sic).”

“I watched some similar YouTube clips they were all about this dude that jumped off London Bridge.”

“Most people in my class don’t have lice.”

Thank goodness for that…