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The secret life of 5-year-olds… Rendcomb College’s Reception Class

PippaPippa Jones with children in Reception Jones, wife of the Head of College Rob Jones, spent a week helping out in Reception Class last month with the class teacher Mrs Gillard. She immersed herself in the world of our 5-year-old pupils and gave us an insight into her experience at the youngest end of the school:

Since my family and I moved to Rendcomb nearly four years ago for Rob to take up post as Head of College, I have been overwhelmed by the sense of family here. To spend a week really getting to know some of our youngest children in Reception, and their teacher, Mrs Gillard, has been a blessing and I’ve been so impressed by the whole experience. For those mums and dads who, like me, are only given a snapshot of their child’s school day at the dinner table each evening, here’s my account of what I experienced when I went back to school.

8.10am – Free time

The children start every day with free time. It creates such a welcoming atmosphere and really helps the children start the day without any worries. Particularly for the children who have just joined the class this term, I noticed this free play really helps to take any nerves away; they’re integrated into the class with their friends straight away.

8.30am – Assembly

Following free time, the children are registered and go to an assembly where they meet up with Year 1 and 2.

I stayed behind to set up the next activity based on the week’s theme: Jack and the Beanstalk. Our Marketing Assistant, Mr Bailey was in the room when I was doing this, so I borrowed one of his shoes and used icing sugar to make a giant’s footprint for the children to discover when they returned from assembly. Once they found the footprint, the children had to measure the length using building blocks and then go on a scavenger hunt to find things around the classroom that were the same size.

All of the children are given lots of responsibility and there is a great amount of trust between them and Mrs Gillard. Each day someone is appointed the ‘Helping Hand’ and they get to tell the class what day it is, what the weather is like, and also lead the count of how many days they have been in school for. There’s also a ‘Register Monitor’ who takes the register to Mrs Nichols, the Junior School Secretary, with a buddy of their choice.

Activities like today, where the children are allowed to explore the classroom and collect objects from anywhere, are brilliant. Mrs Gillard trusts that they won’t collect anything dangerous or intrude on anyone else’s belongings. This trust can also be seen in the Forest School where they are allowed to be independent; there are clear rules that keep everybody safe and the children know this.

9.00am - Maths

A fantastic thing the children do every morning is count how many days they have been in school for. The numbers are drawn on a big board for them all to see. They can see their progression from their very first day up to today, their 73rd! Counting becomes so easy for them because they can visualise the numbers and see what number comes next.

The children also love using Numicon, which is a series of shapes with holes which make numbers ‘real.’ They can see the numbers and touch them. It ticks all the boxes and interests everybody. The children can touch the ‘numbers’ and move them around; they can literally see the ‘numbers’ and visualise them in figures.

Children can then translate what they’ve done to the table or the carpet, depending on the size of the pieces. It’s brilliant. They’ve learnt what odd and even numbers are, and when we covered the pieces in foil so they couldn’t rely on the colours, they knew which was which just by looking at the shapes.

10.00am - Snack time and free time

It’s snack time now and today’s snack was little cherry tomatoes with Ritz biscuits and a glass of milk. Snack times are always well balanced. Some days we had home-made bakes by our Head Chef, Vanessa.

11.00am – Forest School

For today’s Forest School session, we joined up with the Nursery children and one of our qualified Forest School Leaders, Mrs Louisson. Today’s activity was making bird feeders to take home and put in the garden.

I’ve seen first-hand how the Forest School enables little people to be able to run a little wild but in a safe environment. They have the chance to pick up muddy, dirty things and they have a real opportunity to discover and explore. The activities vary from building nests to foraging and making garlic bread with wild garlic picked from the forest. The older year groups progress to making their own bread!

For Reception, the walk into the woods alone is a fantastic event. It’s like walking into a fairy-tale and the children really let their imaginations run wild.

The skills the children gain from being in the Forest School are invaluable. The independence they have in a safe yet exciting area is amazing to see and they develop so many team-working skills. They build dens and pirate camps together and they’re taught how to tie knots and gather wood. They also have lots of fun!

There are clear rules and boundaries in the Forest School and they often remind me of them! It’s great that they know their boundaries and can keep one another safe.

The morning today showed one of the strengths of the Junior School as a whole and that’s the amount of interaction the children have with other year groups. They benefit from so much continuity from Nursery, to Reception and onwards into Years 1 and 2.

Just as an example, today Reception had assembly with Mrs Breare and Year 1 and 2, then they had Forest School with the Nursery children. There are lots of familiar faces around, particularly for those who were in the Nursery as they see Mrs Hardie and Mrs Bartlett on a regular basis – this definitely makes the transition into school much easier for them. When they move up to Year 1 they will already know Mrs Breare too.

The standards of behaviour and manners are also set from Nursery, and it shows. The children are so polite and the teachers all praise the same good behaviour - this consistency really encourages them to do it more.

12.00pm - Lunch time

One of their favourite times was up next... lunch time!

The food here is fantastic we are so lucky to have such great chefs. Each week Mrs Gillard and the other teachers look at the menu and choose a meal for their class which they think would be most enjoyed. Each meal has vegetables and they are expected to eat them, or at least try them. The team is really careful with allergies and special meals are made in certain cases. The children are really good at making sure they look after each other too.

The children eat in the dining hall where the rest of the Junior and Senior School eat and it gives them a chance to experience what it’ll be like when they grow up through the school. The staff are brilliant and Abbie in the catering team really makes them feel comfortable so that they enjoy their food.

One of my favourite moments from my week in Reception was actually at lunch when one of the boys told me off for talking with my mouth full. I didn’t even realise I was doing it but he was watching me for the rest of the meal to make sure I didn’t do it again!

1.45pm – Music and adult-led activities

After lunch they had music with Mrs Louisson then adult-led activity time.

One of my favourite activities are the Rainbow Challenges set by Mrs Gillard. Different challenges (some of which aren’t easy!) are set up around the classroom based on the weekly theme and the children choose the challenges they want to tackle. They really test themselves.

For each completed challenge, the children can earn 4 merits to put up on their merit charts on the board. When they reach 25, 50 or 100 merits, Mr Roberts gives out a certificate at the weekly Distinction Assembly. These challenges have been an eye opener for me as my children did not have that opportunity to test themselves and spark curiosity when they started school.

The Distinction Assemblies are full of parents and grandparents and are a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the achievements of individuals and groups. During my week in Reception, I received the prestigious ‘Head Teacher’s Sticker’ from Mr Roberts for all my hard work, positivity and effort in helping the class. I was extremely embarrassed because it was my first time but from the age of four, the children get used to standing up and receiving recognition for their efforts in front of their family and friends.  

3.15 Home time or activities and after school club

Looking back at my week with 5-year-olds, I’ve found it amazing how many different activities they get up to. From early morning club all the way through until home time, they’re busy and have so much purpose. They have French with Madam Barker who is always speaking in French to them. (I think the pupils know more French than I do now and that’s because they are always exposed to it.) They have PE with Mr Lawrence who even had me rolling around on the floor and catching things with them the other day! Even after school they have such a variety of activities to choose from. They have extra Forest School sessions, for those that always want more time in the mud, martial arts, arts and crafts, or even a ‘pot luck’ activity where they have no idea what they are going to do; this is always a good one because the children are encouraged to try something new.

The amount of space they have in the Reception classroom is amazing too. The task with the giant’s footsteps today was such a success because of the space each child had. We had mountains of things that the children collected and not one child didn’t have enough space. It’s fantastic because there will inevitably be little disagreements between the children some days but they have enough space to be away from each other until they’ve made friends again.

One of the major benefits I see from Reception here is the class size. Class sizes throughout Rendcomb College Junior School are kept deliberately small but I think it really benefits the children at this age. Every single one of them gets the chance to shine. They all get the chance to ask and answer questions and they all feel confident enough to talk to the teacher and with each other.

While we encourage independent learning, every pupil has the opportunity to have one-to-one time with either me or Mrs Gillard and we can help them in whatever they may be struggling with. Today I had a boy come up to me and say he was finding it difficult to read a book, so I sat down with him and we read it cover to cover! He wouldn’t have been able to do that if he hadn’t been given the time by one of the teachers. The smile on his face when he’d finished the book was priceless. Moments like these are always my favourite.

My children really struggles in their primary setting. They didn’t feel they were particularly good at anything and because of that, showed the typical attitude of not being that bothered by school. I wish they had had the opportunity to experience what is on offer here. Since they’ve joined Rendcomb College, they have really flourished and they haven’t really had to try to stand out, they have just shined naturally because they have been afforded the chances from the day they joined. They are now both in the Senior School and are excited and happy to go to school each day. In fact, I think they like it more than home sometimes! You can see it in the Junior School here as well, from the Nursery upwards, they are really happy at school and are excited by the different activities they get up to. Rendcomb is a really wonderful place to be!