Category Archives: Education

Developing a child’s imagination and creativity

ww_monkey-on-deskIn January I decided I would be more organised but February (as you will learn later in the story) will be the creative month. I remind my husband that being organised needn’t equate with tidiness. However, I am hugely excited that I can see at least part of my desk’s surface. I celebrated by placing a new stack of books on my desk; my husband celebrated by decluttering his bookcase which is always a concern.

I watched his hand move in the space above the row of travel guides we have, hovering over some, stroking others as memories flooded in then pausing on the books deemed redundant or unwanted.

One of the books he decided to discard was a Lonely Planet guide to Libya. I picked it up, and flicked through its pages, reflecting upon how fortunate we had been to visit Libya before the Arab Spring movement and the removal of Gaddafi propelled this country into turmoil and unrest. This was one of those books that very few people if any would want but as he tossed it towards the bin I had an idea and grabbed it mid-air. An idea was already careering like a camel across the sand dunes of my mind.

Harry, my 5-year-old grandson was spending time with us and we had exhausted the usual activities I use to keep him occupied. I leafed through the book, examining the pictures of far-off places, people and exotic animals.

‘Your cousins are visiting the Canberra zoo soon, but why don’t we make our own zoo?’ I suggested. He looked a little puzzled but expressed interest. I tasked him to get the scissors and pencils, directed him to where the craft and brown paper was stored, while I made a paste of water and flour for glue and ‘a collecting we went.’

‘Just like Gerald Durrell,’ I told him and I had happy time telling him about this amazing man and how he had travelled the globe collecting animals for zoos.

We had a glorious time. An entire afternoon was spent discussing the places we would visit and the animals we might find. Harry cut out the images and pasted them onto the brown paper. As he did this, we talked about the animals, where they lived and what they ate.

ww_creating-the-zoo-with-harryAfter this Harry drew the zoo with an entry gate and pathways to visit the various animals. He wrote their names on signs then drew trees and plants to feed the animals and a café with tables and chairs for Nanna Sooz and Harry to have an iced coffee and a chocolate milkshake when we got thirsty.

This led to a ‘Zoo’ game where we visited the animals and talked about where they had come from. After that Harry wanted to continue the game, with him choosing to be a monkey and Nanna the elephant chasing each other around my small garden.

ww_creating-the-zoo-with-tomThis game made me realise how powerful our imagination is. Using my life experiences, I could gently nudge him towards imagining a world he had never seen and create a story and a game that filled hours of our time. I have been reading a lot about brain development in children and how creative play and using imagination encourages a child’s cognitive development particularly in the areas of language articulation and self-regulation of emotions.

Recently a travel brochure landed on my desk, filled with beautiful illustrations for holidays to faraway places which for many reasons this year I am unlikely to visit. I couldn’t stop Harry from getting a brain tumour but I can darn well do everything a Nanna can do to help his young brain recover.

Harry in November 2016I foresee some wonderful expeditions with Harry as we explore exotic lands, go collecting and meet strangers in other countries. Who knows what all this information will be used for later in life. He may study conservation and sustainability like his clever uncle, become a zoologist or scientist, be an explorer or spend his life travelling and writing. As Shakespeare said, ‘…the world’s mine oyster…’.


Immersion class with Alliance Française, Rouen

I have notched up another thing I have wanted to do for a time but never organised: I did an immersion week at Alliance Française in Rouen and stayed with a host family. I chose Rouen because I would be travelling in Normandy and it is easy to get to by train from Paris into which I would be flying. It was well worth it and I would love to do it again.

A fellow student

A fellow student

I registered and requested my accommodation choice online through Alliance Française, Rouen; the confirmation was emailed and I paid the deposit through their portal. Once booked, rather than wait to do a comprehension test on the first morning, I took the test online and the staff then suggested a level commensurate with my result in the test. As a visiting student, I entered a class that was already operating. I was curious how this would work but I slipped seamlessly into the program which included grammar, language and pronunciation. The classes usually have 6 – 12 students of all ages and professions. We had a 16-year old Australian boy visiting with family for a month, an American nurse to me who I am sure was the eldest. We were a polyglot group from everywhere, including Australia, America, Bulgaria, China, Italy, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Portugal, Spain and Tunisia.

Wine and cheese tasting in French.

Wine and cheese tasting in French.

I also participated in two workshops each day to get additional speaking and listening practice. The curriculum revolved around cultural, economic and geographical topics and included interviews, debates and games with activities such as an interview with a professional, a wine and cheese tasting (delicious) and Zumba dancing. It was low pressure and fun throughout the week and of course the more I participated the more I gained although I am not sure my movements in Zumba were strictly what our tutor was suggesting in French. Additional outings to cultural and tourist destinations including Giverny and Monet’s garden, Mont Saint Michel, Bayeux, Paris and Versailles are organised throughout the term.

Alliance Française was also one of the few places in France where I saw a take-away coffee machine which was heavily frequented as it offered over a dozen options for coffee including espresso, long and short black, cappuccino, mocha and tea with or without sucre & lait. Alongside was an enormous machine offering a variety of snacks, chips, chocolates, biscuits etc to feed the perpetually hungry hoards of young students. I would also take advantage of the free WiFi to touch base with the family every day during the lunch break.

Alliance Française was at the back of this gracious building.

Alliance Française was at the back of this gracious building.

The entire week was spoken in French with both the staff and the host family that made it quite exhausting but by the end of that period my ear was starting to tune in. The administration staff were so patient and encouraging during our conversations that I didn’t feel embarrassed by my inadequacies. The classes are held in a traditional French building just around the corner from the Rouen Rive Droit (train station) and it is only a 5-minute walk into the old centre that has museums and parks in which to wander and spend the lunch break.

My host's cat always gave me a warm welcome.

My host’s cat always gave me a warm welcome.

I had requested the ‘La demi-pension en famille’ accommodation option which includes breakfast and dinner. Once arranged, the Alliance Française emailed me the contact details of my host family suggesting that I touch base with details of my arrival and any dietary needs. The family who lived 800 m from the school were charming and welcoming. Madame took great pride in providing a four course traditional French meal each evening that would always include an entrée or soup, a main dish, a salad, cheese and desert plus of course French wine. She and her husband went out of their way to ensure we were comfortable and happy in their home. I had a fabulous week and wished that I could have stayed for longer.