Poems written by Scots father and son in lockdown now being used by universities

It proved to be a poetic solution to the strange new world of home schooling thrust upon one family during lockdown.

Dr David McKinstry, and his son, Gabriel, 13.

Now, a father has shared the poems he wrote alongside his son to help him get to grips with a new way of learning, and which are now being hailed as an example of innovative learning

Like many parents, Dr David McKinstry was left wondering what the short-term future would hold after Scotland’s schools closed in March.

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His wife, Margaret, who works as a health educator for the NHS, spent lockdown training nurses on how to deal with Covid-19, leaving David at home with 13-year-old Gabriel.

Both father and son were apprehensive about how best to go forward. Gabriel felt scared about lockdown, searching for ways to cope. David, as an older parent, was initially unsure of how to engage him.

But together, they hit upon the idea of writing poetry around Gabriel’s subjects, aiming to write at least one a day to act as a gateway into further learning.

Some six months on, the poems are attracting the interest of publishers, and are being used by Oxford and Glasgow universities to advise new teachers on methods of creative teaching.

Education Scotland, the national body for supporting quality and improvement in learning and teaching, has also printed one of the poems, and several have been published in the Scottish Left Review.

David, a high school history teacher from Glasgow, believes the poetry exercises helped infuse Gabriel’s weekdays with some much needed humour and levity, while also acting as a trojan horse for curricular learning.

One poem, Quick Draw McCaw, is an absurd take on an artistically gifted parrot who refused to explain his abstract style, only to be cut down by an art critic.

“It was a way of getting him to look at his subjects from a different perspective, it just snowballed from there,” David recalls. “The poems are all simple and short, and designed to be engaging and funny.”

Another poem, entitled ‘This is our Place’, addresses modern studies themes in the curriculum, while celebrating modern-day, multicultural Scotland.

From the Coatbridge mum with her purse at the ready “to buy the weans ice cream at the van” to the Scots asian doctor who dons her See You Jimmy bonnet to cheer on the Scotland national football team at Hampden, it paints mini pen portraits of ordinary Scots.

Not all the poems are whimsical, however. During lockdown, David’s elderly mother began speaking for the first time about the loss of her husband when he was just 23. From that, Gabriel hit upon the idea of capturing the experience in a poem, ‘Last Wishes’.

With a renewed emphasis on wellbeing at the heart of post-lockdown teaching, David, 50, believes the home schooling helped bring him and Gabriel closer together.

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“I realised very early on that this was a unique opportunity to spend lots of time together, and we got to know each other better,” he explained. “I think we both learned from each other.”

With the Covid-19 threat very much present, David said other parents should try not to be overwhelmed at the prospect of having to home school their children again if tighter restrictions are reimposed.

“People shouldn’t be too hard on themselves, and try to use their own skills and resources - whether that’s something creative, or a way to plan and put structures in place,” he added.

“Parents also have to realise that their kids can teach them things. It’s a partnership, and it can be enriching and beneficial for everyone.

“I’m a middle aged man with a teenage son, and I realised I’d never get this time with him again, so it’s precious.”

Indeed, that sense of opportunity shines through in another of the poems, entitled ‘Stolen Season’.

Its final stanza reads: “The stolen season is ending / The retail routines return / Many will lament its passing / After its race has run.”

It is not only teachers and parents who have turned to poetry to try and express the unique challenges and emotions brought about by the pandemic.

In June, Leah Begg, a 10-year-old pupil at Oxgang Primary in Kirkintilloch, East Dunbartonshire, penned ‘Lockdoon - a Glesga poem’ in which she gave voice to the frustrations being felt by children across the country.

After the poem was widely shared on social media, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wrote to Leah, praising her work and urging her to keep writing.

The poems

Quick Draw McCaw

Here is a tailOf a parrot

Whose swift artistry Earned him the nameQuick Draw McCaw.

His abstract artLent him fortune and fameBeyond his native

Amazonian rain.

From lofty perchIn explanation he refused to engage,Til critic speared him With poisoned pen of rage.

The arrow killed McCaw In one fell swoopHe was plucked, boiledAnd served as bird brained soup.

From Phoenix riseTo Icarus fa,Here is a flight of fancyOf Quick Draw McCaw.

The Stolen Season

Rhythm of spring ruptured

Leaving us all at sea,

In unmoored March

As bud bloomed in tree.

Summer came early

To April’s surprise,

As we painted fences

In its rays from sunrise.

New routes were walked

In Christmas Mayday street,

We warmly greeted stranger

In springtime heat.

Normal June rhythm

Began to beat,

Holiday cloud gathered

Sun began to retreat.

The stolen season is ending

The retail routines return,

Many will lament its passing

After its race has run.

Love and Lockdown

People love and are shrill

By accident of proximity

Fulfilling Napoleon’s observation

That emotions like politics

Are dictated by geography

Some succumb to loving

Others release by hating

But most by location

We compete in closeness

Friendship lends distance,

Kinship claustrophobia

Some are family Von Trapp

Others are family Von Trapped.

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