It'll be all right on the day

3rd July 1998 at 01:00
Alice Witherow's special circle time for children about to transfer to secondary school isa winner, writes Reva Klein

It's that time of year, when all the bravado and superiority that top juniors have assumed over the year give way to insecurities, worries and trepidation in the face of the great unknown ahead.

In acknowledgement of this, Alice Witherow, deputy head of Jack Lobley County Primary School in Tilbury, Essex, has constructed a series of special circle times focusing on secondary transfer.

Each is structured in the same way. She starts with a warm-up game to relax the children, then on to a "round", where everyone is asked to speak about whatever is on their mind, followed by an open forum devoted to problem-solving. The circle concludes with a celebration of their successes and a finishing game.

The warm-ups were lightning quick and funny. The game called Gloop was hilariously disgusting: a child makes a slurping noise and pulls the imaginary gloop from their face, usually accompanied by an expression of unutterable revulsion, and throws it on to the face of someone else in the circle. You have to watch carefully to make sure you catch the noxious stuff if it's thrown to you.

Then on to the circle "round", which Ms Witherow kicked off by asking children what their best memories of Jack Lobley primary were. A Russian egg was passed round as, one by one, they shared their memories.

"My best thing was getting my bum stuck in the tyre in the playground," offered one joker in the class.

Skilfully, the teacher moved things on to a slightly different plane for the next step. She told them about a little girl's first day at secondary school and how she cried all the way down the road, but when she got there, "she discovered it wasn't so bad. And I know this story because that girl was me".

Like magic, it opened the floodgates for the children to share their own worries ("What happens if I get lost?"; "I'm afraid of getting into trouble and being sent to Room 29"), to which she offered her own perceptions, which could broadly be defined as belonging to the comforting, "It's not that different to here" school of thought.

The feel-good stuff came next. Ms Witherow declared that she wanted nominations for anyone in the class who had worked hard on their behaviour. Those nominated were promised a gold sticker. Hands shot up.

"Paul - 'cos he's got gooder in class."

Then came nominees for improved work.

To round things off, the group played the memory game. In a room of 22, plus two adults, this is no mean feat. Every person was asked to add an item to a list of what they'll be taking to secondary school, beginning, "I went to secondary school and I took a I" It's all right if you're at the beginning of the circle, but the ones who quickly saw that they'd be at the end looked a bit worried. They needn't have. The generosity of the rest of the group made everyone feel that they were part of a team rather than that they were being singled out to prove themselves.

Since the introduction of this particular method of circle time at the school five years ago, Alice Witherow says the impact has been impressive in terms of improved behaviour. "It's the whole idea of allowing children to be listened to and heard, to solve problems and celebrate their successes."

Alice Witherow's circle time is based on a model developed by Jenny Moseley, which is used in hundreds of schools in the UK. For more information, ring Jenny Moseley on 01225 767157

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