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Blooming good ideas for reading corners

Brookfield County Infant School is a 270-pupil school in a village near Maidstone in Kent. The headteacher, Margaret Woollven, considers reading to be the school's strength - with good reason. In the standardised reading tests, the school has come above national average at level two and three. It is exceeding government targets for the year 2000 and more than 80 per cent of the children are at level two or above.

Often the school organises whole projects based around a book lasting, perhaps, half a term. These involve visits, writing, looking at maps and a plethora of other activities.

Two years ago, noting that reports by the Office for Standards in Education very often contained comments on whether books were attractively displayed in reading corners, the school explored ways of brightening up its reading areas, including the new library space in the reception area.

Brookfield had experienced difficulties creating distinctive reading areas, says Margaret Woollven, because of the many windows and doors in each room. The staff wanted to provide a focal point and make the areas inviting.

The furniture they bought - with the help of a vigorous parents' association - were handcrafted wooden units from Kinderwood, a small Hampshire company. One of these was put in each of the nine classrooms and another forms the centrepiece of the library.

They are brightly coloured and come in five shapes: a tree of knowledge, a sunflower, a hot air balloon, an old King Cole and an ice cream cone. Kinderwood also makes a larger "island" unit, which has more shelf space and can stand between any of the five design shapes, and a mini unit which can stand against a wall. This is useful if space it tight.

Brookfield chose sunflowers, hot air balloons and tree shapes for its reading areas.

Around the display units in the classrooms are brightly coloured soft cushions and in the library are comfortable benches.

"We wanted to ensure that there was a consistency in the character of the book corner," says Margaret.

The units are l05cm high, which means that the shelves are at about a young child's eye level. This helps to focus their attention on the books or objects on display.

At the base are boxes to store more books in an easily accessible way. Though taking up relatively little space - the bases are 60cm square - the units can store and display about 70 books.

To attract the children and help them relate to the books, Brookfield teachers often put toys and characters that feature in the stories on the shelves with the books. So, for example, Spot the dog will be displayed with a book about him. MOB the cat is another favourite.

The staff find that the younger children often like to take out the toy at the same time as the book and cuddle or play with it.

The school's library, which is part of a recent addition, is more formal in design and purpose than the classroom reading areas. Run mainly by parent volunteers and mid-day supervisors, children are bought here at different times during the day to choose a book to take home.

Surrounded by low shelving which marks the area for choosing books, it is brightly coloured with lively pictures of book characters, including the Enormous Crocodile and Scruffy Scroggles. A Kinderwood tree forms the centrepiece with benches around it.

The Kinderwood units come flat packed and are fitted together without screws. Teachers found them relatively easy to put together. They have worn well over the past two years, though occasionally a shelf comes loose and has to be pushed backinto place.

The designs have rounded edges to guard against scratches and the paintwork, which is stained to enhance the wood grain, is finished with a sealer and lacquer which is child safe, says the company.

s Mini unit pound;135; standardunits pound;185; island unit pound;350. Prices include delivery chargess Kinderwood,Kinder House, 7 Bassette Crescent West, Southampton, Hampshire S016 7EB. Tel: 01703 781000

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