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Where the little ones meet and greet

The Mini Wiz Academy in Glasgow is finding out what primary is all about. Douglas Blane reports

THE FIRST steps in primary of some Glasgow schoolchildren are less tentative this week because of an event they attended before the holidays as their time at nursery was coming to an end.

At Haghill Park Primary in early July, a small group of four-year-old boys are feeling fruit and playing with pebbles.

"I've got a joke," young Connor says to anyone in earshot. "What do pigeons eat for breakfast?"

Amanda McLeod, the English teacher, doesn't know, she admits.

"Coo-coo Pops," Connor tells her with delight.

Another youngster at the end- of-term event for pre-primary pupils and parents overhears and improvises. "What do pigeons eat for dinner?" he asks.

"I don't know," the patient teacher replies again.

"Ehhhh... chips," he decides.

Everybody laughs and the wee lads wander happily away to explore the pineapples, peat, lemons, limes and enchanted forest in the sensory experience room of the Mini Wiz Academy.

"This is our second year," says Susan Molloy, business manager of Whitehill new learning community, which includes Haghill Park Primary. "The idea is to improve the kids' confidence, give them a taste of primary school, and help their parents to know that they are 'doing the right thing'.

"I took the idea to Strathclyde University's innovative routes to learning people who run GOALS and the Summer Academy, and we sat down together last year and devised the programme."

Parents and children at the academy take part in activities together and separately, explains Ms Molloy. "It's spread over two half-days, with the first one about bonding the kids and giving them a taste of what their first day at school will be like.

"Then the kids had a whole set of activities, such as parachutes, painting, magic carpets, ball skills, music and movement, while we held information workshops for the parents on smoke-free homes, working for families, what's available at the library and out of school care."

Armani Meango, one of the few fathers at the event, found these workshops particularly valuable. "We weren't sure what we could to do to help our children, but we have been learning all about that here what you can get from the library, for instance, and how to help them with reading and with learning new words," he says.

Paired reading is a particularly educational activity for brand new primary pupils, as well as being enjoyable for parents and children, explains Ms McLeod, who is working on the programme at Strathclyde University. "We had a workshop yesterday to show the parents what their kids will be learning in Primary 1 phonics, initial sounds, how to work with books and so on.

"Parents sometimes phone up a school and ask why their P1 kids have started rubbing their tummies and going 'mmmm', or pretending to play the drums and going 'd-d-d-d-d'. So we've been telling them about Jolly Phonics and how every letter of the alphabet has a sound, an action and a story."

This came as a revelation to Alice Scott, who has just led her granddaughter Ellie by the hand through an enchanted forest of live plants, green paper and brown bark, decorated with multi-coloured butterflies and wiggly green snakes made by the children.

"There are 26 letters in the alphabet," says Mrs Scott. "But I've learned that there are 42 sounds in English. It's useful because I help Ellie's mum by working with Ellie whenever I can. This has been fabulous for us and different from the primary school induction day."

Nursery to primary might not seem much of a transition from the vantage-point of adulthood, says Lesley Morrison, headteacher of Westercraigs Nursery School. "But there are big differences for the children. This event is about getting them used to meeting lots of kids they don't know and to following instructions in a bigger group than they've been used to."

This is a key difference between the two learning environments, she explains. "In nursery, they have a number of adults around the adult-child ratio is higher than in primary school. That means it can be a challenge when they go to primary school to get them to sit in a big group and take directions from one teacher. That's one of the most important things that they're learning."

Mini Wiz Academy is about people, parents and approaches to learning, says Susan Molloy. "The parents who took part today and yesterday are really engaged with their children's learning now and that is so important."

E Smolloy@whitehill-sec. Innovative routes to learning: *

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