Is school still out for children at the Paralympics?

Young spectators on the Olympic Park during the Paralympics
Image caption The Paralympics have been a magnet for families

Back to school? Not yet, judging by the number of children at the Olympic Park.

The pitch of cheers inside stadiums is still that octave higher than during the Olympics, forward rolls are still being performed down the banks of the Park Live site and the floor outside the stadium is still a multi-coloured playground.

Although many school terms started on Wednesday, there seemed to be even more children heading for the Olympic Park than usual.

Some local schools had pushed back the start of term until the end of the Games while others were clearly using the Paralympics as an educational exercise.

Beaming youngsters in brightly coloured uniforms, skew-whiff caps and badly knotted ties abound on the Park.

One school - Ysgol Dewi Sant from Llanelli in south Wales - seemed to have decamped half of Year 6 to the Paralympics.

Fraught-looking teachers were managing to herd 41 pupils, clad in distinctive turquoise shirts, towards the Park during the morning rush hour.

"We came to support one of our teachers, Steff Hughes, who is running as a guide runner for [blind British runner] Tracey Hinton," said the school's headteacher, Gethin Thomas, one of 12 teachers with the group.

Image caption Nearly there - children from Ysgol Dewi Sant in Llanelli arrive at Stratford Station

Although Ysgol Dewi Sant's autumn term started on Tuesday, the youngsters were spending three days in London, taking in an open-top bus tour, the Lion King in the West End, a visit to the Natural History Museum and a tour of the Houses of Parliament - arranged by Mr Hughes and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.

"It's a wealth of education in itself," said father-of-two Mr Thomas, 54. "Our school motto is 'Effort brings success'. We focus on developing the whole of the child and that is what these experiences are all about."

What was the highlight of the trip for the pupils?

"The Paralympics, by far," said Celyn Yate, 10.

"There's so many people and so many different sports to watch," she added. "Wheelchair basketball is my favourite because they can't walk but are still brilliant - it's so clever."

Image caption Ben Archer and family at the Games

Ten-year-old Kelland Williams said the Paralympics would be what he would be talking about with his friends when he returned to school.

"It's a real privilege to be here to watch the athletes with no legs and no arms and see how good they are."

London 2012 organisers say one of their goals has been to reach as wide an audience as possible and offered many Olympic sessions at pay-your-age prices - although the overloaded ticketing system did deter many would-be Gamesgoers.

And getting to see a final, where pay-your-age tickets were not available, could easily cost a family of four £200 and up.

At the Paralympics, adult prices are much lower, tickets for under-16s are a fiver and babes in arms go free.

Judging by the mix of people on the Park, the Games have certainly helped widen the pool of spectators of elite sport.

Parents on the Park say they wanted to teach their children about competition, the importance of taking part and perhaps use the elite sport as a way to inform their children's opinions about disabled people.

And the children have been impressed. Visiting on Tuesday, Aaron Lam, eight, from Woolwich, south-east London, said the Paralympics had been better than the Olympics.

"The people are in wheelchairs or are blind or deaf - I don't know how they do it," he said.

Image caption Four-year-old Freya has learned God Save the Queen and sings it at any medal ceremony, says her mother

Sarah Lam brought Aaron and his two brothers Ellis, four, and two-year-old Noah to enjoy a day in the Park with two other families from east London - a group of 10 in all.

Relaxing on the grassy hill of the Park Live site, the group of five adults and five children said they had had a great day and praised the pram-parking facilities.

But, they said, London 2012 could have laid on more activities for children - as well as more shady areas.

Mascot House - where children can be photographed with life-sized Wenlocks and Mandevilles - is one of the most popular venues on the Park and regularly has 40-minute queues snaking outside.

Ben Archer, who's six and from Hampshire, said seeing swimmer Ellie Simmonds had been the highlight of his Paralympics and he predicted everyone at school would be talking about the Games at the start of term.

His mother Laura, a teacher, said the atmosphere on the Park seemed much more child-friendly than at the Olympics.

"There are families everywhere and the atmosphere is much calmer," she observed.

Ben's four-year-old brother Sam, though, was more impressed with the catering than the sport.

His favourite part of his visit to the Olympic Park? The ice-cream.

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