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Car-wash cleans up bullies' act

Philippa White on a novel exercise that is taming aggressive children and giving timid ones new confidence

It is just after break and a playground argument has come to the attention of Ann Alexander, a learning support assistant. The best solution is putting her Year 2 class through a human "car-wash", she thinks.

This new technique, in use at Wicor primary in Fareham, Hampshire, since November, aims to improve children's emotional literacy, helping to raise the self-esteem of the timid and to show the rough ones how to be gentle.

Mrs Alexander picks six pairs of pupils, including the playground aggressor, to line up on their knees opposite each other.

They stick out their flat palms and rotate them gently while making a humming noise. The playground victim is then asked to be the "car", and crawls through the "car-wash".

A drying session follows with the car-wash children making blowing noises and waving their arms. If the car is up to it, a polish is on offer whereby pupils make fists and softly "buff" the car.

"It's a game of trust," said Mrs Alexander. "The children are trusting each other to be gentle." She says it also encourages group work and raises individual self-esteem.

At the end of the session, the "car" parades round the class and is praised for its shiny bumpers, clean windscreen and gleaming paintwork.

Mrs Alexander learned the technique at a training day run by Anna-Michele Hantler at the Centre for Child Mental Health in Islington, north London, last November.

"We've seen children pair up who wouldn't usually play together," said Mrs Alexander. "We had a new child from another school who was quite aggressive.

"He was put in as a washer to see if he could be gentle with other children. We then let him be the car so he could see how gentle other children were being with him. We noticed quite a difference."

Sue Anders, deputy head, said: "It's a great idea. Anything we can do to improve their emotional intelligence is going to have a long-term impact on their learning and their success."

Alistair Smith, the accelerated learning guru, visited the school this month and was impressed by the car-wash exercise.

"It struck me as being very skilfully handled and charming almost to the point of being exquisitely so," he said.

"There was a clearly understood professional purpose behind it. The youngsters didn't necessarily perceive it but they understood that some people need more encouragement than others."

The exercise also appears to have stimulated the children's imaginations.

Shannon Whitelock, aged six, said she needed a longer car-wash than her classmates - because she decided she was a limousine.

She said: "I've been in a limousine when my mum's friend got married. "I was a gold limousine, with gold wheels, a gold outside and a gold steering wheel.

"The 'car-wash' scratched my paintwork the first time, so I had to shout 'Stop!' and go through again. I had a polish the second time and it looked good and I felt brilliant."

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