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Ditching the plan: the joy of spontaneity!

It was Wednesday lunchtime after a good morning’s work and I was taking some time out as the kids played outside, when I stumbled upon a wonderful opportunity. The BBC’s Countryfile program are on the hunt for talented young presenters with a passion for nature. They’re running a competition to search for a lucky 8-15 year old to join Matt Baker and his team in filming a short piece for the show to be aired on BBC1. I showed Bean8 and she literally jumped up and down with excitement! She has many ambitions in life – to be a playwright/actress, author, naturalist and explorer, so this opportunity is right up her street.

The competition closes on Sunday 15th April and, as we’re away all weekend on a PGL course and it’s due to rain tomorrow and Friday, we decided there was no time like the present. We ditched our afternoon plans of story writing and jumped straight into this exciting new task. Oh the joy and flexibility of homeschooling!

The challenge was to produce a short film (60 seconds or less) showing a passion and enthusiasm for some aspect of life in rural Britain. To prepare for the task, she first watched a recent episode of Countryfile so she could examine the presenters in more detail, observing their steady and clear but enthusiastic articulation, how their focus is always drawn back to the camera, and how their passion for the natural world shines through in all they do and say.

Now to determine which aspect of rural life she felt most passionate about. After careful consideration, she decided to focus on her love of… daffodils! Perhaps not your obvious choice, but we’re lucky enough to have a beautiful display of no less than seventeen different varieties of daffodil, which make their dazzling appearance in our woods each spring. And every year, we marvel at these joyful flowers and wonder at just how distinct two different varieties of daffodil can actually be.


This year, because of the unusually cold start to our spring, they’ve been very late in blooming, but they’re here at last! At the end of our Morning Basket each day, we’ve been walking through the woods, patiently spotting as each new daffodil comes into bloom and identifying each new type. In fact last weekend, whilst MrJ was busy “burning stuff” in the wood (you know how it is with men and fire…!), she picked up her video camera and made a short video of the daffodil display to record its beauty. Therefore, focusing on this classic sign of a British spring seemed the obvious choice for her competition entry.

So, armed with a clip board, paper, pencil and booklet highlighting the different divisions of daffodil, we headed outside. Initially, we discussed the contrasting types of daffodil from the trumpet division, where their trumpet is as long or longer than the length of their petals, to the small cupped daffodils, whose cups are no longer than one-third the length of the petals to the split corona daffodils, named after their split trumpet (who knew there was so much to know about daffodils!). Then we wandered around, finding examples of each major class of daffodil. It was then that she remembered one of her favourite poems she’d once memorised – Daffodils by William Wordsworth (I wandered lonely as a cloud…) – and decided this would act as a perfect introduction to her short film. I knew all that poetry memorisation would come in useful one day!

Finally, after discussing approximately how many words you can speak in 60 seconds and what that equated to in terms of lines written, she sat down to write out her speech for the film.


I’ll be completely honest here and say that all this impromptu and spontaneous learning doesn’t come naturally to me (possibly after years of school education myself). I find following a plan much easier. But from experience, those days where I do push myself out of my comfort zone are always the most rewarding. And they’re the ones which the kids love and, I strongly suspect, learn the most. Bean8 yet again commented on just how much she loved this “real work”, just like the book she’s writing and the engineering Lego education we’ve started (another post to come). So I shall continue to perservere in pushing my own boundaries to help them find this real work, this inspirational and rewarding learning.

Once she was happy with the wording, she memorised the words, practising walking around the key daffodils she’d picked out to highlight in her passage. At this point, she asked to practise the talk in front of me to see what I thought and then to film her. And oh my goodness, I was surprised by just how much learning there was to be gained in the next process of practice, review and refine, over and over again for the next 45 minutes, until she was happy with the outcome she attained. I was extremely impressed with her tenacity and grit to keep starting over and trying again and again until she got it right (in her eyes). She was happy to take constructive feedback (something she’s normally reluctant to do) and not phased by making mistakes. Here are some of the things she learned in the process:

  • 60 seconds is a really short time and she had to cut her initial talk down by almost half.
  • Whilst it’s good to memorise some key points and words, sticking to the exact speech she’d written looked stilted and unnatural. Once she started to ad lib and relax into the process, her enthusiasm and passion started to shine through.
  • To always look at the camera, and look back over your shoulder if you’re walking away somewhere, or your words fade away into the distance beyond.
  • To enunciate her words clearly and slow down her speaking.
  • To use facial and body language as well as her words to demonstrate her passion for the subject.
  • To talk to the camera as if she was talking to a friend, showing and telling them about something exciting.

So much learning to be had in such a seemingly simple exercise. She’s thrilled with the final result and is super excited to send it off to Countryfile.

Regardless of whether or not she is successful in the competition, it turned out to be both an excellent learning opportunity and a lovely way to spend the afternoon, outside in the sunshine.

And I learned a very important lesson too – that it’s really very beneficial to ditch the plan and grab hold of those exciting opportunities that present themselves, with both hands if necessary! And if you’re not already, I’d encourage you to do the same 🙂

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