Why Banjo Matters
By Liz Golden, B. ED.
4 min read.
We know that Banjo matters- but why? What value do his letters provide? We were humbled by the recent review we received from teacher and writer, Liz Golden. Based on her experience of Banjo’s personalised learning activities, she has highlighted the emotional and educational benefits of our magical, travelling cat pal, Banjo.
“Please, please, please give your students the opportunity to write for a real audience- one that matters to them and is relevant to their lives.”
My university lecturer said those words over 20 years ago in a small lecture hall in Limerick, Ireland. I was (consciously) training to be a primary teacher at the time and (subconsciously) training to be a writer as it turned out! I remember his words clearly because it made complete sense to me. He was head of the English Pedagogy Department and his passion for teaching English to primary kids seeped into me from the first day and it has not left. I imagine he would get very excited about what Banjo Robinson is doing at the moment. After many years teaching children myself I can see exactly why that excitement would be so very well founded.
Writing and reading skills begin as little seedlings that come in the form of the spoken word. So firstly, as I see it, the beauty and brilliance of this globetrotting cat is that he has started family conversations. Led by probably the youngest members of the family, there are people now, all over the UK and Ireland, that are, thanks to Banjo, learning about and exploring far flung corners of the world. Who would have thought magical cats can do such big things?
The Holy Grail of Teaching
As a child I can imagine the joy of getting a letter from a fun- loving travelling cat would only be matched by the sense of familial unity it would bring as the family gather round to read it! These are really important moments to share because they not only give the child a chance to bond with family but also it affords them the opportunity to connect with this enchanting character, a friendship that will allow them to start engaging with the world in a way they may not have done before.
Children will start asking questions, start wondering and of course most of all will start using their imaginations. It is only then, when all those elements combine, that the magic can really begin for the child. He/she now has a real and meaningful purpose to read and write.
This has been- in my experience- the holy grail of teaching. If only I had this little fur ball in my classrooms down through the years! I would have started every day with a session of Banjo- a travel update, perhaps! I would have had a Banjo puppet on the window. A dedicated Banjo corner in the room for role play and acting. I dare to say he would have been my class mascot too, such is my personal and professional belief in the importance of this globetrotting cat and all he is doing for human connection, for fun based learning and for a wider interest in our shared world.
In Banjo´s suitcase of educational tools I can see how parents and teachers alike can help improve children’s attainment in the English Curriculum.
Spoken Word Benefits
Firstly, regarding the SPOKEN WORD the child will be enabled to:
1. Listen and respond to content.
2. Improve their questioning skills to extend their understanding and knowledge.
3. Use relevant strategies to extend their vocabulary.
4. Articulate and justify their opinions.
5. Express their feelings.
6. Maintain attention and participate actively in collaborative conversations.
7. Use spoken language to develop understanding through speculating, hypothesising imagining and exploring ideas.
8. Speak audibly.
9. Participate in discussions, role play, presentations, performances and even debates!
Secondly, regarding the READING the child will be enabled to:
1. Maintain positive attitudes to reading and understanding what they read (or what is read to them).
2. Apply their growing knowledge of root words.
3. Identify high frequency words.
4. Make comparisons.
5. Learn key reading comprehension skills such as visualising, predicting, summarising, inferring, making connections etc.
6. Increase their familiarity with a wide range of cultures and traditions.
7. Identify and discuss conventions within the text.
8. Make comparisons with books and other genres they already know.
9. Prepare written and pictorial responses to his letters, acrostic poems, drawings, plays etc.
10. Explore the meanings of the words.
11. Identify how language, structure and presentation contribute to meaning.
12. Learn to distinguish between fact and opinion and how language is used.
And lastly through WRITING, the child will be enabled to:
2. Plan their writing.
3. Learn about drafting pieces of writing.
4. Identify the purpose and audience.
5. Choose the appropriate form.
6. Develop ideas.
7. Select appropriate grammar and vocabulary knowing how each choice can change and enhance meaning.
8. Use organisational devices such as numbering, underlining, bullet points etc.
9. Edit and organise punctuation.
10. Evaluate tenses.
So, there you have it! I really believe in Banjo and I think what he is doing really matters in the lives of our children. It is allowing them to reach out to family and friends and to share their ideas and thoughts- surely their greatest assets- but it also gives them a real purpose and audience for their thoughts and their words, both spoken and written and who knows these letters could be the first step in a long literary journey for these kids.
“From Little Acorns Do Mighty Oak Trees Grow”
I might just have to try and contact that old English professor and tell him all about this incredible travelling cat I’ve recently found…
Banjo Robinson is a magical, globetrotting cat who sends personalised letters, stickers and creative activities to children, twice a month, from exciting destinations around the world. For children aged 5-8.
Each delivery includes:
- a personalised letter from Banjo (written by children’s author, Anna Kemp!)
- reply stationery
- a colouring in activity
- personalised stickers
- country facts
- recipe card
Children also receive a big, beautiful world map with their first letter. They can add country stickers to this as they follow along with Banjo’s world tour!