My work experience: Singing and scoops


From singing with toddlers to eating two great big scoops of Banoffee ice cream with a local boys’ group…

These are two of the events I was fortunate enough to attend run by Doorsteps, Viva’s partner network in Oxford, which creates partnerships of hope for children and young people in Oxford and the surrounding area.

A week of work experience. For many, this may immediately trigger memories of standing by a photocopier for five hours trying hard to keep their eyes open!

Photo: Ezra Comeau-Jeffrey

But for me, my Tuesday morning began with a hefty cycle ride up a hill on a slightly broken bike to St James’ Church, Cowley.

Once here (and I’m honestly still surprised I made it) I had the privilege of reliving my childhood, singing and doing actions to the old-time classics of Humpty Dumpty and Sleeping Bunnies, in the local church toddler group.

But why did I lug myself up a huge hill in 23 degree heat, arriving feeling disgustingly sweaty and flustered just to sing some songs?  (No, it wasn’t to feel like I deserved my Sundae Gelato later, even though I must admit my cycling efforts did make it just that bit nicer.)

Mind the gap

You see, as unimportant as they may seem to some, a child’s first 1,001 days are crucial to their development, setting them up for the rest of their lives.

Songs, music, actions, play, and interaction with other children at this age really do make the biggest impact on the skills needed for later in life, such as language, coordination, communication, confidence, self-control and making choices.

Although we don’t realise it, these are not characteristics that have come to us naturally, we have learned these from the very day that we are born, by going to groups, listening to sounds, being read stories and the list goes on.

However, with the attainment gap in Oxfordshire growing, more and more disadvantaged children are ending up further behind at the beginning of primary school than the average child in England.

In early years, the gap in development is three to four months, which may seem like a small amount of time but, as I’m sure many parents will have experienced, the speed children change and develop at this age is fast, and it sometimes feels as though you may not recognise their picture from just a month ago.

Unfortunately, this gap only increases, and by the time these children are at secondary school, the gap has spread to 19.3 months between those disadvantaged and those not.

What may seem small is actually helping close the gap between children in struggling areas of Oxfordshire and the rest of the UK, who are far more likely to be income-deprived and far less likely to develop the skills that children need to flourish.

Opening up

My next ‘outside’ event of the day included meeting in the local café with a reading club for Year 7 and 8 boys – no cycling this time, just ice cream: their end-of-term treat for hard work in writing a series of stories together.

Again, it’s understandable from an outside glance to wonder how playing Monopoly Deal whilst discussing our favourite books has much significance but, in fact, with issues concerning mental health and low self-esteem on the rise for young people, seeing a space where boys encouraged one another and could value their love for books was an extremely joyful thing to witness.

Not only this, but their open conversations with me about their interests, likes and dislikes made it clear that their time in the book club had not just built up communication skills, but also their confidence and social skills.

Photo: Séan Gorman

These much-needed skills are ones that, without the work of Viva Doorsteps’ youth projects, young people from struggling families may be unable to obtain.

So, although I found out that I’m not very good at Monopoly Deal, and I certainly won’t be racing in the next ‘Tour de France’, this work experience week has taught me the importance of networks such as Doorsteps in giving children of all ages around Oxfordshire the opportunities to develop skills and aspirations for a bright future where they can fulfil their God-given potential.

Eleanor Simpson is a Year 12 student from Abingdon, and spent a week doing work experience at Viva’s office in Oxford