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If Ofsted's hackneyed phrase 'awe and wonder' belongs anywhere it has to be with the under-fives

There's something special about working with under-fives. Do it well, like Gill, my inspiring nursery teacher, and you give small children a thirst and passion for learning. Mess it up, and you create a wet playtime situation where children become bored and distressed.

As I go in on my daily visit, they're sitting in a circle singing a song about Sandy, who's lonely and wants a friend to dance with on the beach. Senna's in the ring, and she picks Alfie, who jumps up and grabs her with gusto. They cavort happily, until the verse finishes and it's Alfie's turn to choose. You'd never believe it, but it's only a couple of months since Alfie showed an unpleasant tendency to whack Gill in the thigh and jump on his peers. Looking at him now, he's almost eligible for Come Dancing.

The children disperse for their activities, and Hana and Sadie ask if I'd like my hair done. Without waiting for an answer, they lead me to their corner "salon", ask me to pick a style, then assault my head with brushes, curlers and pins. I pray that my dandruff shampoo has done its work. I'm tidied up and told to look in the mirror. The children chuckle as I move on, curlers still in my hair.

I sit down with the twins, Ron and Ed, who joined us recently. Mum is very proud of "her boys", but so, I recall, was Mrs Kray. Ron and Ed are constructing a building from wooden blocks. It falls, pieces narrowly missing two children on the carpet. I suggest they shouldn't make the next one so tall, and we explore ways of making a firmer base. Ed flicks a block into my lap, then stares at me. "What are you gonna do about that?" his eyes ask. I move on

Shadna started today. Quiet, shy and with little English, she watches everything that's going on. I smile at her and tell her what a beautiful dress she has on. "I wish I had a beautiful dress like that," I say. She looks at me in disbelief and bursts into a fit of giggles. Sultana, the nursery assistant, takes her gently by the hand to see the guinea pigs. Her brother was fascinated by the guinea pigs, and his language rapidly improved.

Ellie and Julie are exploring water, a wonderful activity when you're small. Their sleeves rolled up, they experiment with a range of containers.

They live next door to each other in a high-rise block and, as they pour, they chat. "Fat Darren ain't with us no more," says Ellie. "Ain't 'e?"

replies Julie, interested. "No," says Ellie. "Me mum chucked 'im out. Fed up with 'im. 'E didn't 'alf go a wallop." A story there, I think, but I decide not to ask.

"Come and see what we've found," says Hamid, grabbing my hand and urging me to the garden area where his friends are poring over the earth they've been churning. "We've got worms." I admire the juicy pair they've discovered, and we discuss how they feed. "Can't see how they do that," says George.

"They ain't got no face." They decide to take them inside for a closer look under the microscope. I keep my fingers crossed for the worms.

If Ofsted's hackneyed phrase "awe and wonder" belongs anywhere, it has to be with the under-fives. At a friend's nursery recently, Lucy and Sharleen were startled by a new arrival. "Oh, wow! Look, an egg, an egg!" cried Lucy, pointing at the round white shape newly nestled among the grasses in the nursery pond. She was so excited my friend hadn't the heart to tell her it was a table tennis ball...

Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark.


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