What have the children done at the weekend? Mrs Meadows grins at them, sharing a joke. "I was not very well at the weekend. I had a tummy ache. My children had to look after me." There is a rustle of sympathy. Not funny, they don't think, if a mummy is ill.
"Now we're going to talk about what we have done at the weekend. That's called our News. And then we're going to write it down in our blue books and draw a picture about it. That's what we're going to do every Monday. Our News. So, do you have any News?"
A forest of hands shoots up. "Yes, Jake?" My child's mouth gapes, unappealingly, I think. He looks at me. "What did we do, Mum?" Slightly unwillingly, I remind him of our trip to the country. Excitedly, he recounts various aspects of the weekend. Whereas I would have placed my crashing of the car first on the list, he seems to be more preoccupied with (1) his brothers fighting over a football, (2) not having a second tube of sweeties on the train and (3) the dogs being called Beth and Sam. Ah well, I suppose that was his weekend. He wasn't in the car when it crashed so for him, in a sense, it didn't happen.
I remember, with the older children, being mortified that when we had spent the weekend in the country or gone swimming or to the theatre, the children wrote something in their News books like "bought a comic" or "saw Nanny", or even "stayed at home". So it proves with Class 2. Many of them "had a bath" or "met David on the way home". "Did you play with David?" Shake of the head. "Did you have a chat with him?" Shake of the head. "You just saw him?" Nod.
What did anyone else do? Nigel "went to Disneyland". This is the third weekend now that Nigel has been to Disneyland. Stifling a giggle, Mrs Meadows tries again. "Did that happen on Sunday, Nigel?" Shake of the head. "Did it happen when the weather was warm? Inthe summer holidays, maybe?" Relieved nod. "That's not the weekend. We want to talk about what happened just this weekend. Saturday and Sunday. Then we can write it in our News book. Did you go anywhere this weekend, Nigel?" Perplexed stare. "Did you go shopping maybe?" Shake of head. "Perhaps you stayed at home?"
Hesitation, then brief nod. "Ah, you stayed at home." Suddenly I understand all those "stayed at home" entries in the older children's News books. I wonder what Nigel really did at the weekend.
Fenella is still not answering to her name. This is becoming a problem even to the teachers, because the other children occasionally copy her. Last week the staff tried not noticing. They also tried talking to her mum, who said she was fine at home. This week they are trying saying she isn't there. If she isn't there she can't have an apple at apple time. The other children are not slow to point this out. But can any nursery nurse and reception class teacher be so hard-hearted as not to give a child an apple at apple time?
In every other way, Fenella is settling in well. She is not one of those who cries on Debbie's lap or who walks around with a wet patch seeping down their legs. She listens to the stories and does her drawings. When she is in a smaller group than the big carpet-sitting group, she even speaks, not to say giggles. So what can be done?
In the playground, it's bean bag time. Some children would rather throw their bean bags at a friendly adult (me) than play catch. Some would like to catch. Some would rather run in a great giggling chase with red cheeks and panting breath. And one little boy, Greg, will stand and cry angrily.
"What's wrong, Greg?" "They won't play with me, they won't." "Oh dear. Well, can you play with someone else?" Shake of head. "They MUST play with me, " he wails. The whistle blows. "Look, let's go into the line. Have you got another friend to line up with?" Another wail. "They are my friend! But they won't play with me!" No escaping the bitter moments.
Patience is a parent helper in a reception class.