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“We have entered a different world”

We speak to Miss Jenifer Hillman, Head of Pre-prep at Cheam School on life back at school and how they’ve incorporated the positives of lockdown into their everyday curriculum

“I can’t hear you!”. A frozen screen. Sitting at a computer whilst the sun shone outside. Tears from a parent. Tears from a child. My tears. Holding my head in my hands thinking “This is not what I signed up for!”

Now I look back at lockdown with a certain nostalgia. It gave me a real opportunity to get to know the children; those small group lessons were inspiring as we made cartoons of superheroes, practised poems and made maps with coordinates. We had children making bee hotels, parents filming sports skills and teachers creating home videos for assemblies.

So we returned to school with mixed feelings. Would we be able to give to the children the pastoral care that we knew they all needed, or were we going to be tied by classroom zones, PPE and sanitiser? How would the children react? They had been at home for two months, some had no siblings to play with, they had not seen their friends and they had had 1:1 attention from their parents for the learning.

We were entering a different world.

The staff were unanimous that the most important aspects of school that we needed to focus on were friendships, communication, sharing and learning how to think about other people. But above all, we had to create a safe environment for them. Our mornings were designed to continue with the learning in literacy and maths.  In the afternoons, we explored!

We have woods and streams and den building and a child sized assault course at the bottom of our grounds and we made sure we used them! We held outdoor games sessions on the pitches, science experiments with water and bubbles, maths lessons on the grass, art lessons on the decking and we planted petunias and tomatoes in our gardens.

And we thrived! We were amazed by how much progress the children had made and how eagerly they listened and learned. We saw children holding hands as they walked through the woods; children working together to plant and water their vegetables; children working together to find objects that sank in a basin of water and friends laughing as they played in the playground.

I think we have learned some lessons. Whilst we are more reliant on technology in the classroom we have put into our timetable weekly woodland learning lessons. All our after-school activities are outdoors, and the children are loving the opportunities to do golf, tennis, rugby, football, gardening and woodland walks.

I am sure that as the weather closes in we will become a little more despondent and the relief of being back at school will slowly dissipate however we have learned over lockdown that we are all working together, from parents to teachers to cleaners to kitchen staff, to make this a happy place and safe environment for the children to thrive in.


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