“You’ll never guess what we’re doing for our topic this term, mum!” the kid says, all excited, as we cycle home after the first day back at school.
“Give me a clue,” I say.
“There were two of them in the 20th Century,” the kid says.
“Ah … so you’re doing The Second World War,” I say.
“How did you guess?” she says.
“You’ll never guess what we’re doing for our topic this term, dad!” the kid says, dumping her bike and barreling through the front door, all excited.
“Give me a clue,” her dad says.
“Both grandmas were alive during it,” she says.
“Ah … so you’re doing The Second World War,” he says.
“How did you guess?” she says.
“Have we got anything from The Second World War?” the kid says.
“We haven’t, but grandma has got a ration book somewhere,” I say.
“Can we get it from her? Can we? Can we? I want to take it into school,” the kid says.
“We’ll ask her next time we see her,” I say.
“How old was grandma during The Second World War?” the kid says.
“Well, she was born in 1936, so you can work it out,” I say.
“Do we know anyone who fought in The Second World War?” the kid says. “What about your grandpa?”
“Well I never really knew him, because he died when I was tiny, but we’ll ask grandma to tell us all about it when we see her,” I say.
“Anne Frank’s story was during the Second World War, wasn’t it, mum?” the kid says.
“That’s right,” I say.
“I bet I’m the only person in my class who’s been to Anne Frank’s House,” the kid says.
“We’ve got some books about Anne Frank from our Road School trip,” I say.
“Can you find them for me? Please?” the kid says.
“Here you go,” I say, a few minutes later. “There’s this one, which is her diary, and this one, which is her story.”
“Thanks, mum,” the kid says, grabbing them from me and immediately starting to read.
“And there’s also this Horrible History about The Second World War,” I say.
“Let me have that too,” the kid says, yanking it out of my hand.
“It’s time to go to bed now,” I say to the kid, who has been snuggled in the corner of the sofa, reading about Anne Frank and The Second World War for several hours now. So far I’ve answered questions about what German words mean, and how they are pronounced. We’ve talked about the places in Germany we visited on our trip around Europe, and which countries were on which side during the War. I’ve explained what U.S.S.R. stands for, and why we call it Russia now. We’ve talked about Anderson Shelters, and bombs, and nuclear deterrents, and about whether or not I think there will be a Third World War. The kid has also said that she is going to recommend to her teacher that the school do the story of Anne Frank as their end of year play.
“Can we go to The Imperial War Museum soon, mum?” the kid says.
“Of course,” I say. “We could go one weekend, or at half term.”
It is tempting to imagine that children only learn at school, and that it is therefore crucial to squeeze in as much teaching as you possibly can between the hours of 9am and 3.30pm. While this may be true for some children, it is most certainly not true for all of them. For many children, starting a new topic at school is like holding a lit match to a piece of paper. The paper crackles, a line of smoke drifts up, and before you can say ‘isn’t this interesting?’ the paper is ablaze. The project, and the passion: together, they bring the learning to life.