Making the most of your assembly time

Written by: Mike Kent | Published:

The primary school assembly is a golden opportunity to inspire and motivate children’s curiosity for the day ahead. Experienced headteacher Mike Kent, author of a new book of assembly ideas, offers some food for thought and a few pointers

A school assembly for primary children should be exciting and interesting – a time when children can learn, share and contribute to a valuable learning experience. Most of us, especially older teachers, remember school assemblies that bored us to tears. If we didn’t actually fall asleep, we couldn’t believe that time could stand still for so long.

When I began teaching back in the 1960s, I learned, very quickly, how an assembly shouldn’t be done. At my first school, we’d file into the hall and things would begin with a prayer. Then there was usually a telling off because a school rule had been broken, a song would be sung, and out we’d go again. It was an utterly pointless 20 minutes.

My second headteacher had a thing about lost property. Brought up in an age of austerity, he expected children to label their clothing and keep track of it at all times. Frequently, he’d find a single plimsoll or glove in the corridor, and spend much of the assembly holding up pieces of clothing to be identified. It merely seemed a way to avoid thinking of something worthwhile to do with the children.

And yet a 20-minute primary school assembly can be a wonderful time for both children and teachers. Young children have a real thirst for knowledge and an endless fascination with the world around them which we, as teachers, need to nurture. By providing a great start to the day, children can be inspired and motivated and teachers can be given ideas and themes which they may want to develop in their own classrooms.

And if the headteacher or deputy is taking the assembly, it’s a great chance for them not only to entertain and enthuse the children, but to prove that even though they are no longer in the classroom, they can still fascinate them and hold their attention with ease. It certainly gives them a great deal of “corridor credibility” with the teaching staff.

Right from the start of my headship, I wanted to make my assemblies a valued feature of the day and if possible introduce some features that teachers might want to develop once they were back in their classrooms. Often, ideas would come to me on the spur of the moment, or would be inspired by something a member of staff had done or said.

Sorting out her loft one Sunday, a teacher had discovered a 1930s phonograph. It was complete, but in pieces. We had a wonderful time in assembly on Monday morning: gradually putting it back together while the children tried to guess what it was as it took shape.

On another occasion, after seating five teachers on a wooden gymnastics bench, I challenged a tiny infant pupil to lift up the bench. The children all said it was impossible. Then, to their great amusement, I introduced the car jack I’d been using before school started, put it under one end of the bench and the infant pumped it up with ease! This led to a discussion on other amazing machines and how they work – the crane, for example, which was being used on a housing development opposite the school.

Often I would bring my own hobbies and interests into an assembly, and these themes could last for a week or more. Classic cars being one of them, I showed the children how I restored a 1970s Mini, starting on Monday’s assembly with a photograph of the car as it came when I bought it, and finishing on Friday with a picture of a gleaming, fully restored car. In between, they learned how a car works and how I restored all the various parts.

On other occasions I showed the children how I taught myself the banjo, designed and built a garden workshop, and turned some banister rails on my woodworking lathe for a member of staff. The children were always very aware that I was no television couch potato.

Since all kinds of music, and classical especially, are another of my passions, I would introduce a “composer of the month”, tell the children some interesting facts about the composer’s life and times, and then play snippets of the composer’s music at the end of each assembly.

The children were astounded by what Beethoven could do even when he was completely deaf, delighted by Chopin illustrating in music some raindrops he watched dripping down a window, and appreciated how clever Mike Oldfield was, not only in playing so many instruments on “Tubular Bells”, but also in mixing the sounds so cleverly on a simple tape recorder.

Sometimes my own children would provide the inspiration for assemblies. When we walked in the rain and saw a rainbow, my youngest daughter provided enough assembly material for several days. How is a rainbow formed and why are there seven colours? Why were they always in the same order, and how do we see colour anyway? And the children themselves, of course, are an amazing resource for assemblies.

Many of them will have a hobby or interest and it only takes a little gentle persuasion for them to share it with everybody else. Bobby, one of my year 6 children, fished every Sunday with his dad, and although he was only 11-years-old, there was precious little he didn’t know about it. He gave the children a fascinating lesson in how to become an expert fisherman, demonstrating rods, lines, floats and flies – and what could be caught where.

Teachers and classroom assistants can usually be persuaded to do a turn as well. One of my classroom helpers was a dab hand at building Victorian-style dolls houses, and the children were fascinated to learn how she constructed all the tiny furniture for them. Another teacher explained that he loved learning something new, and showed us how he’d taught himself to play the banjo, adding that it was a lot more fun than playing computer games, fiddling with a phone or watching TV!

  • Now retired, Mike Kent was a headteacher for more than 30 years and is the author of the new book Amazing Assemblies for Primary Schools.

Amazing Assemblies

Amazing Assemblies for Primary Schools: 25 simple-to-prepare educational assemblies by Mike Kent is published by Crown House Publishing (ISBN 9781785830693).

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