Thursday, September 13, 2018

Clara Grant and New Ideals

Clara Grant
Clara Grant is a famous teacher in Tower Hamlets, she was headteacher at Devon's Road Infant School from 1900, which was later named after her; created the Fern Street Settlement from her home in 1907 promoting health, play and community support including adults learning a trade, making dresses sold via the Settlement, a similar pattern shown by the Lester sisters in setting-up Kingsley Hall; campaigned for health work in schools having one of the first nurses to work in a school, and giving her students a hot breakfast. 

She also set up clubs to save and get boots, spectacles, cradles and fireguards, as an emphasis on hygiene and safety.

Montessori class at East Runton.
Clara Grant attended the Montessori Conference at East Runton in 1914, and later two more conferences, as the community renamed itself New Ideals in Education. She does not speak from the platform, but luckily we have reports of the contributions from the audience in the early conference reports. 

Clara Grant responds to the presentation on Montessori, and comments on the irrelevance of the model classroom that had been set-up for the conference, stating that it is with few children, a lot of space, and investment in costly apparatus. How could she apply this to her large classes in East London, with the poorest children? Even though she was enthusiastic about Montessori. 
The published report states:

“Miss Clara Grant, Infant Mistress, Devon Road L.C.C. School, Bow and Bromley, hoped that those who like herself taught in the elementary schools would not be discouraged because they could not have all the apparatus of the Montessori system of education. It was not much encouragement to see at Runton small children under ideal conditions, while they,
Toys made by children, as presented in Clara Grant's book for teachers.
loving the system, had neither material nor apparatus. Freedom was a dangerous word, and they knew something of the restriction on their elementary schools in the past. It had been most disastrous. Those who lived among poor children and poor parents saw the results. And now the teachers were going the opposite way, and trying to make the apparatus and apply the system in their schools. She thought the class system had been a failure, there should be some individual competition over which the children could exercise their judgement, the children should be independent of the teacher. There were not enough teachers in the infant schools, so they used older children to teach younger. Personally she thought there was much in the system which could be taught and practised.” P23 1914

Indeed in her book on 'The Teachers Book of Individual Occupations'  she continuously references Montessori, though she is showing teachers how to create their own apparatus for children to learn through manual use, including card games, textiles, objects for sorting etc. Like in her book 'Teachers Book on Toy Making' she believes in children learning by doing, and through play. The toys include dolls, objects for a doll's house, 3-D scenes for storytelling like The Three Bears, or of a park the children had visited or wanted built... 

Clara Grant's book for teachers.
Her teacher's guide advises that the teacher offers boxes of materials from which the children can choose, along with tools, and to let them free to make what they want, how they want, to give advice if they ask and instead of directions show them either the object they are trying to make, for example a cooker, or pan, or show them such toys already made. 

Clara Grant, in her reports on the Fern Street Settlement, writes about each area of work and finance, and lists all the workers, supporters and donators. Health, free milk, cleanliness, transition from school to work, play and happiness are the major issues. She advises on the re-use of household items to create them into toys, and in 1910 lists games that are for learning, mental games. These include cards to be matched with words, faces linked to names, sticks of different lengths for putting into order. 

She was known as 'The Bundle Woman of Bow' as she created small bags of gifts from recycled or homemade toys and from donations, including Queen Mary. There were given out every week for a farthing, adding toys to the children's lives and the pleasure of a surprise. It was so poplar that a doorway was constructed, which the children had to walk through, if they were too tall then they were deemed too old for the bundle.

“Farthing bundles are full of very human things such as children love,” explained Clara.

Toys for storytelling.
“Tiny toys of wood, or tin, whole or broken, little balls, doll-less heads or head-less dolls, whistles, shells, beads, reels, marbles, fancy boxes, decorated pill boxes, scraps of patchwork, odds and ends of silk or wool, coloured paper for dressing up, cigarette cards and scraps.”

Her farthing bundles are a way of distributing second hand, and homemade toys and items. For Clara Grant the making of the toys, and the playing with them are an important part of childhood. There are also exchanges between her school and those in more affluent areas, which she recognises as important in terms of social mixing, and people’s understanding of poverty. There are frames on the walls for art to ensure that the environment of the child includes art to create a landscape of beauty. 

One, of many stories she tells in her book, 'From Me to We', starts with watching a child outside, who is in a street with little stimulus to thought or beauty. She writes:


“… one evening I watched a small boy counting the cracks in our lower windows. Borrowing an idea from a social worker in Limehouse who placed sacred cards on her window-curtains, we decided on framing the many beautiful cards which reached us… Miss Ethel Moir, had started passe-partout (making picture mounts from cardboard or patterned paper) classes of enthusiastic little neighbours, with a waiting list of forty-seven…
“We have now hundreds of these pictures carefully grouped in subject and changed weekly in our three lower windows, and we have four weekly classes so there is a constant enrichment of old groups and new.” P56-57
She goes on to tell us about the conversations she would hear of children, or children with their parents, chatting about the pictures as they looked at them. One great use of buildings and their relationship to public spaces to encourage learning through looking and conversation.

Clara Grant was part of a delegation in 1917, from the New Ideals Conference, which had been meeting at Bedford College (Regents Park), who went to Parliament to lobby the President of Education H.A.L.Fisher, on his 1918 Continuation Education Act. Earlier on he had opened the New Ideals Conference, being introduced by Earl Lytton, both rushing to and from the event because of duties in Parliament.

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