“Our topic this week is castles – can you do something about castles in music this afternoon?” Umm; I am completely out of ideas for songs about castles; the only music I can think of is “The Old Castle” from pictures at an exhibition; which is a bit long for infants to listen to. I gaze out of the window; the children are playing with outsize plastic building bricks. As I watch them busily stacking the bricks an idea takes shape, and I write it up quickly before it vapourises.
Thirty little year ones and twos hurtle towards the door from the playground, braking to a halt as they spot the staff and teaching assistants standing just inside, and slowing to a dis-orderly walk as they bump and jostle towards the classroom. Eventually we get them lined up ready to go over to the hall, when I derail the whole proceeding by going to the back of the line and leading them to the outside play area, where each child is instructed to pick up one of the giant plastic building bricks (I did check earlier that there would be enough for everyone!). I lead the ragged procession to the hall, and we stack the bricks behind me.
It is a large class, and I am very grateful indeed for the privilege of two teaching assistants. We all sit in a circle on the floor (the TAs have learned now that trousers are a good idea on music days) and together tap the pulse to 72nd Highlanders piping away. So far so good; now on to the bricks. I pick on up and pass it round in time the music; the children are fascinated and watch the brick as it travels around the circle. Before the brick returns home I send a second, a third and a fourth on their way. I am amazed at how well children are managing to keep the pulse as they pass the bricks round the circle, in spite of the excitement level rising disproportionately to the number of bricks in circulation. It is very tempting to try it with all the bricks going round at once, but sense prevails and I move one to the next activity.
I choose two pairs of children opposite me to be castle wall builders. I send the bricks round both sides of the circle at the same time, and the wall builders stack them up into two walls. I line up the children and we march around the hall singing “The Grand Old Duke of York” and going through the gap between the walls. We sing it slowly “because we are going up hill” and fast “because we are all going back to the castle for our tea”, loudly “to let them know we are coming and it is time to dish up our food” and quietly “because the King has got a headache”.
I check the clock – 10 minutes to go and I am exhausted from all the marching and singing. I need a rest!
We all work together to rearrange the walls to make a sort of castle keep; I climb inside. I have become a fierce and ferocious sleeping monster, and the army is challenged to march past, steal a brick from my castle and line up by the door without waking me.
I do actually shut my eyes, and make a few snoring sounds, but manage to resist the temptation to have a snooze for real while the TAs organise the children for me. I can hear the shuffling of small feet and the occasional stifled giggle. Without warning I turn round and mutter as though I am about to wake up. I can hear children freeze; the silence has a palpable quality for a moment, before the shuffling feet continue. I secretly take a peek – success! The children are lined up silently by the door, watching to see what will happen next. I yawn, stretch, and look round in astonishment – where has my castle gone? The children are ecstatic at having tricked me and dismantled my castle, and I am overjoyed at having had a brief rest, got the hall tidied and the children lined up so neatly. We all go off to play (or for a cuppa in the staff room) in a very good mood indeed.