It was a big day in the Ostrich household. Oliver, the youngest was going to start school. This was very exciting for young Oliver. He had heard about the school from his siblings and his parents. He was really looking forward to it. Mother Ostrich was really looking forward to it too but for a completely different reason that she was keeping to herself.Mr and Mrs Ostrich had applied to the school and had recently had a letter telling them they were pleased to accept him from the b of the next term. There was only one school and everyone who applied was accepted. However, the headteacher liked the formal process of parents applying and being accepted but really it was just a case of turning up. There wasn’t even an age criterion. Education was not free but the fees were based on what the parents could afford. It was also slightly subsidised by those who would benefit from the population being able to read and write. On the notion that educated youngsters grew into educated adults and educated adults worked more and thus had more to exchange. So the school was subsided by the Sugar Mill, the tea rooms and the Port Emporium. The school was situated in Dingley Dell. The school building was a converted stately home where Captain Cribbins had once lived.
The was no school uniform policy but everyone was expected to be well presented and on time. School days were Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock. Lessons in the morning were Numbers, Reading, Writing and Social Responsibility. Then there was Lunchtime followed by Playtime and finally Creativity.
And so it was that on the following Monday, just before the town hall clock struck 9 o’clock, Mr and Mrs Ostrich took Oliver to the schoolhouse. They went in through the huge heavy front door. There was a sign above a side door that read “HEADTEACHER’S OFFICE”. Mr Ostrich knocked on the door. “Come in,” said a voice from within. They did so. As they did, an Owl sitting behind a huge desk, looking at them through enormous eyes behind enormous glasses, stood up and bowed. “Good morning, how may I help you?”. “Em, Hello” replied Mr Ostrich, “we have brought our Oliver to start school as arranged, headteacher”. “Wonderful, but I am not the headteacher. I am Mr Owl. School secretary” replied Mr Owl.He gestured towards the Donkey sitting at a desk at the back of the room. “Allow me to introduce you to Mrs Josephine Donkey, the school head.
Mrs Donkey stood, came over and greeted The Ostrich family. “Pleased to meet you all,” she said. “And pleased to meet you Mr Oliver Ostrich”. Oliver was unusually quiet and half hid behind his mother’s legs. The Townhall clock struck 9. “Well, time to start. Follow me young Oliver, your new classmates are all eager to meet you. Our first lesson is adding up. She led Oliver out to the classroom next door. Oliver’s excitement had returned and he instantly forgot his shyness….and his parents. This was going to be great fun.
Mr and Mrs Ostrich turned back to Mr Owl, who smiled and said: “we’ll sort out fees on another day. Right now this is too big a day for all of you. You can pick him up at 3 o’clock. See you then”.
Mr and Mrs Ostrich almost skipped home. Oliver was going to be someone else’s handful for the next 6 hours.
Oliver was unrecognisably well behaved in his first class. Mrs Donkey had gone to the cupboard and taken out a brand new workbook. On the front, she wrote, “Oliver Ostrich” in big letters. She held it up in front of the class. “We have a new member of class today, Oliver Ostrich” she announced. “Please make him welcome” she added almost unnecessarily. She handed Oliver the workbook. He looked at it in awe.
The school workbook had tabs sticking out from each page. Every time a lesson was completed the tab could be torn off. At the start of every lesson, they opened their workbook at the latest tab. The first tab in Oliver’s workbook had a picture of two apples on it.School lessons were unusual compared to how most schools do them. Very few in the class were on the same tab. Anyone who was on tab six or above would help anyone on a lower tab. Sitting next to Oliver was Morris Unicorn. He was a unicorn foal. Of course, he didn’t have a horn yet, just a little bump on his forehead. It was like a room full of classroom assistants, Morris showed Oliver the first lesson. “This is one apple,” he said in a hushed voice, pointing at a picture of an apple. “This is another apple, so that makes two apples. “One plus another one is two”. He said. (Narrators note: well, we all have to start somewhere).
Oliver’s older brother Oliver was in the same class but was on a much higher tab. The way it worked was that Morris, who was on tab 6, was not only helping Oliver but also refreshing his own knowledge of the earlier tabs. The older Oliver was helping Brian Rabbit with tab 14 and was himself being helped by Thomas Rabbit who was on tab 22. (Narrators note: there was a lot of Rabbits).
Tab 1 was very simple and Oliver had no trouble taking in its lesson. His father had presented him with a smart new satchel this morning so at the end of the lesson, Oliver tore off the tab and put it in his satchel.
The next lesson was reading. The first lesson was seeing what “OLIVER OSTRICH” looked like written down. Oliver recognised it as he had seen the round bits several times on letters and most recently on the cover of his numbers workbook.
The third lesson was writing. (Narrators note: actually it was copying rather than writing. but again you have start somewhere). Oliver carefully made a big circle. Then ‘snap’. The pencil broke. He had thought he was in trouble again but Mrs Donkey just showed him how to sharpen it again and advised that he didn’t need to press so hard in future. He copied all the other shapes (after a fashion). Mrs Donkey was very impressed when he drew the second “O” and pointed to it with a shout of “Two”. Numbers tab 1 had stuck.
The next lesson was ‘Social Responsibility”. Oliver didn’t get this at all. It seemed to be all taking. Minutes later he couldn’t remember what they were talking about. Instead, he counted his feet. He counted Mrs Donkey’s eyes. He stuck his head in his satchel and counted his two carrot pack lunch. He counted his feet again. Fortunately, nobody asked him any questions as he really wasn’t listening. Then the clock struck 12. He started counting the dongs but it was lots more than 2.
Everyone went into the dining room to eat their packed lunches. There were cups of water and slices of cake and biscuits. This was a good thing too as Oliver had eaten his carrots in the process of counting them.
After lunch, when the clock struck one, they had playtime. For this, they all went out into the enormous gardens. (Narrators note: Gardens in the plural is because it was so huge it had several sections. Each section on its own would be a good-sized garden for anyone. One area had swings, roundabouts and slides. Another area was fenced off and had balls of various sizes. Yet another area was just grass. The class split up into groups without any adult help. These groups were largely by age. The youngest tended to head for the swings, The older youngsters headed for the balls. The older ones just went to sit on the grass and chat.
When the clock struck two they all went in for Creativity. Now, this is not a subject seen in many schools. Mainly it was making things. For the older ones, there was woodwork and metalwork. but by far the most popular was Sticky-bricks and paper modelling. The Sticky-bricks were just that. Little bricks that could be stuck together. They each had a pile of dry bricks. to stick the bricks together they simply wet one edge of the brick (or lick it) which made it sticky and then it could be stuck to another brick. If they needed a half brick or a shaped brick they could just bite bits off. The bricks were edible. (Narrators note: the Sticky-bricks were provided to the school for free by an anonymous local merchant).
The Paper modelling was similar but not so edible. They tore up paper into little pieces and mixed it into a sticky watery solution (Dissolved sticky brick in warm water). Then they could shape it and leave it to dry. Some of the more adventurous would combine the Sticky-bricks with the sticky paper modelling to make all sorts of interesting and sticky objects. Some of the results were just ornamental, some were useful objects and some were inventions. They didn’t always work but if at first, you don’t succeed, you can always eat any evidence that you ever tried.
A little before 3, Mrs Donkey and Mr Owl took the younger ones into the school washrooms for a wash and clean up.
The Town Hall Clock struck 3. Mother Ostrich was waiting by the school door. It had been a lovely quiet day but she had missed him.All the way home Oliver had been counting things (as long as there were two of them). They even had to walk past the house to count the Cable Buses. It had been a magnificent day for everyone. The added bonus was that after tea, and after he had shown off his lesson one tab to everyone, Oliver had actually wanted to go to bed.