Focus on Cottontails (November 2005)
Cottontails is an institution of Girton life. A considerable proportion of its young people (and some of the not-so-young) have passed through its doors since Cottontails in its present form was established in 1972 in the historic Cotton Hall.
The mission of Cottontails is to provide education and care for the pre-school children of Girton. It operates Mondays to Fridays, 9.00 am to 12 noon during the three school terms, with one extra afternoon session in the Summer Term aimed at those starting school in September. Usually children start at Cottontails in the term before they are three, and continue until the July before they enter primary school at rising five. Up to 28 children attend for each morning session, normally starting with two sessions a week and building up their attendance during the year. There is a small registration fee and a modest charge for each session. Some 90% of children proceed to Girton Glebe Primary School, but Cottontails is not part of the state education system.
As a registered charity, Cottontails is supported substantially by Early Years Education Funding via Cambridgeshire County Council. Its management however is in the hands of a ten-member Parents' Committee currently chaired by Mr Matthew Moore. Cottontails is affiliated to the Pre-School Learning Alliance and is also registered with OFSTED, whose recent inspection resulted in a very favourable report - see Girton Parish News January 2005. Additional funding comes from a variety of activities such as the famous sponsored "Trundle" (children complete up to 30 laps of the school), coffee mornings, an "Indulgence" evening of health and beauty treatments, and a "Pampered Chef evening has recently taken place, raising over £150. Finances are tight and fundraising is a necessity to ensure that resources are in place for all aspects of Cottontails' work.
The ethos of Cottontails is learning through play - there is no formal teaching. The enormous range of activities designed to stimulate and encourage children includes both the traditional and the modem: play- dough, sand and water play, puzzles and games, graphics of all types, manipulative and assembly toys, and computers. The OFSTED inspectors particularly praised children's role-play activities covering social and family situations. While some activities are adult-led, the emphasis is on children's choice and enjoyment.
Entry to Cottontails is solely based on age. Children of all backgrounds attend, including those with additional needs. Last summer term, 15 different nationalities were represented. This diversity is also reflected in the seven-strong staff (all part-timers) who have a range of experience and qualifications including teacher and pre-school assistant training. The enthusiastic Coordinator is Sally Clilverd who has been at Cottontails for seven years.
The active participation of parents shows through the Parents' and Carers' Rota. One parent assists in the school for every session - although sometimes it is a grandparent, aunt or uncle! Parents' suggestions have resulted in numerous changes and improvements in the children's day.
As Coordinator, Sally Clilverd is conscious of the challenge of meeting the changing needs of Girton's growing population. The Cotton Hall Foundation (from whom the premises are rented) has plans for major extension and refurbishment - costing around £385,000. Meanwhile, the joyous decibel level from the Cottontails playground on fine mornings confirms that Girton's pre-school children are certainly relishing learning through having fun.
Address: Cottontails Preschool, Cotton Hall, Cambridge Road, Girton, Cambridge CB3 OPN
Telephone: 07935 224 607 (M-F 8.30am - 12.30pm)
'Focus on Girton' is a series of occasional articles on the public service, commercial, charitable and other organisations of Girton, for the information of local residents. Articles are written independently by members of the Editorial Staff of GPN, with the consent and cooperation of the organisations concerned. The selection of organisations featured in this series is entirely at the discretion of the Editorial Team. The articles do not in themselves represent an endorsement of the products or services of the organisation concerned. No connection exists between the publication of an article and any advertising in the GPN, and the article does not form part of any marketing or other promotional activity on the part of the organisation.