The Monkey-Proof Box

Curriculum design for building knowledge, developing creative thinking and promoting independence

By: Jonathan Lear


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Products specifications
Attribute name Attribute value
Size: 222 x 182mm
Pages : 184
ISBN : 9781781353103
Format: Paperback
Published: March 2019

Written by Jonathan Lear, The Monkey-Proof Box: Curriculum design for building knowledge, developing creative thinking and promoting independence is a manifesto on how to dismantle the curriculum we’re told to deliver and construct in its place the curriculum we need to deliver.

A group of monkeys. A box full of nuts. A lever. A chute. The monkeys excitedly poke at the box with rocks … nothing happens. Meanwhile, one monkey sits to the side, observing. Then, when the others wander off, he gets up and – with a curious push of his palm – presses the lever and the nuts tumble down the chute! Not believing his luck, he eats the nuts, presses the lever again and is rewarded with yet more nuts. He’s cracked the challenge of the monkey-proof box.

In their early years, children experience a world full of monkey-proof boxes – it’s a time of discovery, observation and experimentation, as they engage in the frustration and joy of learning how to release life’s nuts. Then, as they progress through school, learning becomes more formal, easier in many ways. The nuts are handed to them on a plate and something important is lost.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

In this absorbing book, Jonathan sets out how primary school teachers can resist the ‘nuts on a plate’ approach and deliver a curriculum rich in authentic learning experiences that help children learn from one another and grow into empowered, knowledgeable and creative thinkers who are driven by insatiable curiosity.

In doing so, he inspires educators to unclutter their classrooms of the latest shiny initiatives and to foster a more refined pedagogical approach – incorporating elements of facilitated and concept-based learning – that simply improves pupils’ learning.

Suitable for teachers, middle leaders and head teachers in primary school settings.

Picture for author Jonathan Lear

Jonathan Lear

Described as having a breathtaking understanding of how to engage children, Jonathan Lear is an award-winning teacher, education consultant and author. He has worked for many years on a compelling mix of inspirational teaching strategies, and has shared his passion for learning as an advanced skills teacher, a deputy head and an Associate of Independent Thinking.

Read, When Two Tribes Go to War', Jonathan's interview with

Click here to listen in on Jonathan's podcast with Pivotal Education on How to Teach Guerrilla Style'.


  1. Jonathan Lear has created a wonderful book about the importance of ensuring the curriculum celebrates the joy of learning and supports teachers to ensure their classrooms are places where children experience authentic learning experiences. The key words highlighted on the front cover are “creative thinking” and “independence” which are crucial elements for us to support children to master.

    Throughout the book, Jonathan takes you the reader through key things to consider about the curriculum and the essential pedagogy that should sit behind the delivery. There are a range of points to pause and reflect on, whilst also lots of food for thought in terms of what is important for us as a profession to consider. The book concludes with the words that form the start of Jonathan’s schools curriculum policy. You can find these below, which in themselves provide a simple, but powerful marker for what primary education should be all about!

    “Our curriculum is skills based and knowledge rich; we cover less because we believe that our children should have the opportunity to study areas of the curriculum in greater depth. We want our children to produce exceptional outcomes whilst developing their independence, curiosity and creativity. We want to produce collaborators, innovators, leaders and more than anything else, young people who understand what it means to be human.” (Jonathan Lear 2019)

    Read the review on Best Trust website here.

  2. “The Monkey-Proof Box: Curriculum Design for Building Knowledge, Developing Creative Thinking and Promoting Independence” by award-winning teacher, education consultant and author Jonathan Lear is a manifesto and instructional guide on how to dismantle the curriculum we're told to deliver and construct in its place the curriculum we need to deliver. Jonathan sets out how primary school teachers can deliver a curriculum rich in authentic learning experiences that help children learn from one another and grow into empowered, knowledgeable and creative thinkers who are driven by insatiable curiosity. In doing so, he inspires educators to unclutter their classrooms of the latest shiny initiatives and to foster a more refined pedagogical approach incorporating elements of facilitated and concept-based learning that simply improves pupils learning. Suitable for teachers, middle leaders and head teachers in primary school settings, “The Monkey-Proof Box” will prove to be an enduringly valued and useful addition to school district, college, and university library Teacher Education instructional reference collections and supplemental studies lists.

    Click here to read the review in the digital edition of the Midwest Book Review.
  3. “When you get chance to think ahead to the next term of teaching, you may have a curriculum scheme-of-work that you are expected to teach, instilling your passion, expertise and knowing that we desperately want to do the best we can for our students. But what if the curriculum, schemes-of-work and medium-term plans fill your life with dread? Well, you could tear up the prescribed dull curriculum, and build one that is better suited for your pupils. Really, you can - more so in primary than KS4 arguably.

    Faced with delivering units of work from the beloved QCA schemes, Jonathan Lear was frustrated at delivering (and not completing) well-intentioned units - trying to inspire a class of Year 6 pupils (aged 10&11) to make (not pairs of) slippers, or Year 5 children basically making a box, or inspiring Year 3 students to get absorbed in a rocks and soil unit. I am sure you can think back to the units you just hated but had to deliver. Because, as Jonathan points out, this is one of the problems with being a teacher - Most of us do stuff because we're told to do it, and then when it doesn't work or becomes unmanageable we blame ourselves, feel guilty about it all and pretend that everything is fine whenever anybody asks (p8) - sound familiar? It is argued, within the book, that the best schools -˜adapt', rather than -˜adopt', and use curriculum documents as frameworks, with each setting adjusting for their local environment and, more essentially, for the students within.

    Building his argument around key and relevant skills, Lear and his colleagues designed their curriculum around the SOLO Taxonomy, being useful in terms of supporting the structure of skills progression. Planning a curriculum at this stage is a mammoth task, but with careful consideration, detail and pedagogical considerations, the result is a more positive and relevant school experience for students. The book modestly explores the limitations, challenges and (let's face it) failures in trying to implement a new curriculum, but learning from such mistakes and taking lessons on how the students reacted to meaningful changes ultimately leads to mastery and independence.

    The monkey-proof box? Yes, the reader is given an explanation to the title of this book in Chapter 17, and the challenge for many primary schools is to break the morning (literacy and maths) routine throughout the week, so that the mornings are more filled with meaningful, relatable and manageable sessions that can embed rich teaching and learning in more manageable chunks. I particularly liked the example of how to fill numeracy/mathematics sessions during eight sessions throughout the week. Why do we persist with 5×45 minute lessons each day? Why not split the teaching and learning into more manageable chunks, allowing children to process and apply their learning? As a teacher, this certainly got me thinking, and the template offered within the book is a fantastic starting point to really break down your timetable into sections which are more workable for teachers and students.

    Tearing up safe, predictable timetables, schemes-of-works, and planning does take courage, but the freedom this gives teachers, school-leaders and pupils can (if done intelligently) produce a certain -˜buzz' within a school that is unique to that environment. What Jonathan does within this book is to show how primary schools can regain creativity within their curriculum, making it more relevant to the community and children who attend each day. The book also gives teachers the confidence to put professionalism back into their role, taking ownership of the teaching and learning experiences in school that can result in a positive impact for everyone.

    Essentially, this is a book for primary practitioners, leaders and those with a vision of making a curriculum based around essential skills for children which inspires, is relevant, and prepares them well for the opportunities that life will give.


    - A book for primary schools who want to make the curriculum more relevant for their pupils.
    - Offers guidance on research, cognition theories and inspiration for primary school curriculum change.
    - A useful discussion on the key skills primary schools should be developing in their students.
    - The book challenges primary teachers to throw out old schemes-of-work and build their own relevant engaging curriculum.
    - The book is based on solid pedagogy, offering creative and practical ideas.”

    Click here to read the review on UKEdChat's website.
  4. If you have been eagerly anticipating the release of Jonathan's second book, like I have, you will not be disappointed! The Monkey-Proof Box is a compelling read about curriculum development, providing clear, concise, tried-and-tested approaches deeply rooted in educational research that Jonathan and his school team have developed over years of hard work. If you have ever had the pleasure of meeting Jonathan and visiting the wonderful school that he writes so passionately about, then you will know that this book is a culmination of commitment, bravery and dedication from a team of people who believe in their pupils, their school and its community.

    It empowers you to question and reflect on the curriculum practice in your own school, and inspires you to think creatively about what is possible when you have the foundations firmly in place. What Jonathan makes clear, through this invaluable manual, is that all of our schools are unique and to treat them in any other way would be unjust.

    Full of amusing anecdotes and situations that all teachers can relate to, The Monkey-Proof Box kindly shares some insightful approaches for us to consider as we strive to develop a curriculum that is right for the learners in our individual schools.
  5. Having had the pleasure of working alongside Jonathan and listening to him speak at events, I am a huge advocate of -˜going guerrilla' - and reading The Monkey-Proof Box has reminded me of exactly why I became a teacher.

    Humorous and very relatable, this book is like every other encounter I have had with Jonathan: nothing short of brilliant! 
  6. In The Monkey-Proof Box Jonathan Lear intertwines his unique combination of nostalgia, wit and first-class professional development insights to deliver a comprehensive concept of curriculum design. The book provides teachers and senior leaders alike with support and structure for planning and constructing a school's curriculum with children at its heart, and emphasises both a clear purpose and authenticity in what is learnt and what is produced. It also shares plenty of practical examples which will both challenge and inspire your pedagogical thinking.

    Jonathan's personality and humour shine through in his writing as much as in real life, and this results in an easy-to-read book that will put a smile on your face and provide plenty of laugh-out-loud moments - texts such as this one are few and far between!
  7. Jonathan Lear's The Monkey-Proof Box guides teachers on a journey towards a curriculum that enables them to weave a golden thread of rigour and relevance through the entire school. It addresses the current climate in which schools are yearning for a different path towards meaningful and rich learning experiences that actually make sense to the staff who are delivering it and to the children receiving it.

    Jonathan challenges teachers to think differently about why the cogs of the day-to-day classroom turn in the way they do and then asks what they could do differently, suggesting solutions without patronage to any -˜off the shelf' packages.

    As an analogy, the -˜monkey-proof box' is perfect - and is communicated in this book through authentic humour, care and passion for what should be at the core of our schools.
  8. If you would like your pupils to get more enjoyment out of challenging tasks, then this is the book for you! The Monkey-Proof Box offers some lovely ideas for encouraging children to step out of their comfort zone, unleash their curiosity and apply their creative thinking.

    The book's title comes from a scene in a nature documentary in which a group of monkeys were faced with a -˜monkey-proof box', which prompted them to display a great degree of curiosity and creativity in order to extract the food from within it. And so it could be with pupils: not in terms of food perhaps, but certainly in terms of classroom culture. If we replace easy with engaging, straightforward with puzzling, and simple with stretching, then we could engage similar levels of innovation and determination in our learners. Imagine how productive that could be!
  9. The Monkey-Proof Box is a wonderful book that models innovation and social justice in education. Jonathan provides insights and anecdotes, models of alternative practice, and ideas and resources that fuse together principles and practice in a way that combines credibility and aspiration.

    By turn wise and witty, reassuring and challenging, theoretical and practical, The Monkey-Proof Box provides a synthesis of what is possible in integrating our approach to teaching, learning and the curriculum.

    A powerful resource for teachers and school leaders.
  10. The Monkey-Proof Box is thought-provoking, hilarious and, more importantly, a real -˜game-changer' - I genuinely think every person involved in education should read this book. Aside from the fact that it is incredibly well-written and based on thorough research, perhaps the fact that Jonathan is a practicing teacher makes the content even more credible; you know that it is tried, tested and achievable. Teachers and leaders will also benefit from the fact that potential pitfalls are identified throughout.

    The informal tone makes the book so easy to read that it's difficult to put down, and it is rare that a text based on sound educational research can actually create laugh-out-loud moments - yet I found myself doing so on a number of occasions. The anecdotal references and witty one-liners are things that all experienced teachers can relate to, and for those who have missed the days of the -˜inspirational QCA units' the handy explanations will be very useful, too! The way in which the theory is seamlessly intertwined also aids the book's readability, and I think it's fair to say that - for the most part - you don't actually realise that you're reading theory/research, but it is definitely there. These are not just -˜pie in the sky' ideas designed to look pretty and make learning -˜fun'; make no bones about it, there's real grit and substance here.

    For me, reading The Monkey-Proof Box was a true -˜light bulb' moment - I have completely changed the way I view a whole host of everyday practices within our school! Everything Jonathan says makes perfect sense and probably reflects what the majority of teachers know they should be doing but are, quite possibly, too scared to try; however, what Jonathan quite rightly points out in the book is that we owe it to the children that we teach to be brave enough to step away from -˜tradition' and do what's right for them.

    If you have any involvement with learning in your school, this book is a must. After all, who wouldn't want to hear how to create a culture in our schools that enables learners to become -˜trapped in a cycle of brilliance that's impossible to escape'?
  11. The Monkey-Proof Box is an important book that unpicks many of the misconceptions about curriculum design and warns of the dangers of the -˜ticking and clicking off' culture. It goes back to the essentials of the richness we want to be made available to all our pupils, and sets out how these can be accessed and assessed effectively - drawing on plenty of evidence from cognitive science to draw the threads together.

    Crisp, cool and cutting on core curriculum principles, it's also very funny - and serves as a reminder to us all that we are more likely to bring people with us on our journey if we can laugh at ourselves.
  12. If you think you've thought about your curriculum, think and think again!

    This inspirational book provokes questions about your current curriculum and provides plenty of guidance around how to transform your school's approach to teaching and learning. Jonathan Lear's monkey-proof box concept has been designed with children at the heart of every decision, and will undoubtedly inspire educators in all settings to take more risks. 

    A note of caution, however: Jonathan's innovative ideas may just have you swinging on your school playground's monkey bars!
  13. If you are thinking about designing a new curriculum for your school, The Monkey-Proof Box is essential reading. Jonathan Lear's step-by-step guide describes how to effectively teach skills within a curriculum framework, breaks down the pedagogy of concept-based learning and discusses the importance of creativity and discovery within the learning process. Jonathan's accessible style makes for an enjoyable read, and offers a philosophy of education for all would-be guerrilla teachers.

    In this unique time in which schools and educators can choose how they teach, I would recommend this book to all teachers and to those in positions of leadership or governance.
  14. The Monkey-Proof Box is a book that is good for teachers and good for children.

    It strips teaching back to the essence of pupils' learning so that the teacher is doing things that make a difference rather than adopting current trends in classroom practice simply because someone else wants to see them.

    Ultimately, the book offers a different twist on the old adage of the three wise monkeys: see some sense, hear some sense, speak some sense - about teaching.
  15. The Monkey-Proof Box takes the reader on a journey that, for an educational text, is unusually gripping and extremely readable. The book offers many useful insights that are in line with much of the current commentary on the importance of knowledge and the risks of teaching generic skills without also focusing on deep understanding. However, Jonathan makes this so much more accessible and meaningful in the way that he relates it to his own experience and therefore to practical application.
  16. In this brilliant book, Jonathan Lear provides an insightful, in-depth look into curriculum design and carefully captures the successes of his own pedagogical journey through a range of anecdotal passages and informative examples.

    Jonathan's passion for teaching and learning permeates through the pages - intertwining research and authentic outcomes, with children at the heart of each idea. Combined with his wit and humour, this makes for an excellent, inspiring read.

    A must-read for any school leader embarking on the journey of curriculum overhaul, it has certainly sparked my thinking outside the box!
  17. This book is genius, with Jonathan Lear - the man who brought us monkey sex and sought the promotion of Bob the brown trout to secretary of state for education - at his most irreverent and profound best.

    Building from the basics, The Monkey-Proof Box both educates and entertains as Jonathan encapsulates the key ideas and processes that helped transform the challenging primary school where he works, and talks you through the design and delivery of a curriculum that systematically builds pupils' knowledge, creativity and independence.
  18. Any primary school teacher or head teacher weighed down by the unrelenting prescription of government but still seeking to excite the imaginations of their pupils will find Jonathan's book a stimulus in their search for what works in the classroom. A treasure trove full to the brim with creative and practical ideas around pedagogy and the primary curriculum.

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