It’s not much different for a four-year-old to join Rainbows

Leeona Rice, a Rainbow leader from Ulster, shares her story

04 October 2021

We’re really excited to announce that this month more than 1,400 units will be starting to take in four-year-olds.

For more than 30 years, Rainbow units in Ulster have been taking in four-year-olds. We held a consultation earlier this year and found that some Rainbow units in England, Scotland and Wales wanted to do the same. It's a great opportunity for our youngest section as more girls will get to enjoy guiding, waiting lists are reduced more and units open across the UK.

We spoke to Leeona Rice, a Rainbow leader from Ulster to find out what it’s like for four-year-old Rainbows.

‘I’ve been a Rainbow leader in Ulster for 18 years and have always welcomed four-year-old girls to our unit,' she says. 'I never had any qualms about it as that’s the way it’s always been. I also never worried about if I had loads of four-year-olds compared to five- or six-years-olds in my unit either.

'We have 20 girls in our unit and they enjoy a varied programme based on what the girls want to do, although during lockdown we had virtual sessions that have mostly been leader-led activities.'

The beginning of the term

'At the beginning of each term, we get the girls to draw things that they like, for example their favourite colour, toy, game, place, food or TV programme and then we’ll chat about these. If the girl is shy, which can be any age, then I’ve found drawing works best and the leader sitting beside her during the chat can talk on her behalf to the group. It usually doesn’t take long for them all to find their voice!

'Sometimes the girls find it easier to say what they like to watch on TV, or do at home, or what game they like to play at home, and we write those down to see how we can incorporate those things into our programme. If any of the four-year-olds are unable to read or write we’ll help them as leaders.

'We make placemats every year by decorating a page with the child’s name on and laminating it. When they’ve made something during the meeting, they set it on these mats and then they know which one is theirs when it comes to home time. Four-year-olds can’t always write their name, so this eliminates the need for that.'

Helping hand

'Some young girls will need more help but then again some are fiercely independent too. You get to know the individual girl. Sometimes the leaders cut out the younger one’s craft and the older girls would cut out their own. If the older Rainbow has finished we encourage them to help the younger ones if they can.

'We work in small groups and spread the younger ones out between the different leaders if we think they need more leader help.'


'Four-year-olds can sometimes be very shy and we use this as an opportunity to get their mums to stay and be a parent helper. This has helped to get us volunteers in the past. I always welcome parents to stay for the first night as they know their child best.

'By aged four, the majority are at playschool and don’t tend to look for friends as they come in the door. They can be happy just playing with themselves at the beginning of our meetings when we set our sports equipment for free play.

'We do buddy them up with an older Rainbow, especially if they know each other, if that helps them settle in on their first night. Our leaders tend to play games with the girls as they arrive, and we try to give every child a warm welcome when they come in the door.

'I would also text the parent to say they got on well on their first night too. Some parents stay for a few minutes and then slip away. Occasionally some of the little ones have cried coming to Rainbows the first few times until they settle in. The ones with older sisters at the unit are more than happy to be at Rainbows and happily wave goodbye to mum or dad.'


Playing games

'All the leaders join in with the games and song time to show all the younger children what to do. Some extra encouragement can be needed for the four-year-olds as generally they tend to not be the most competitive. For games some children need prompted that it’s their turn, and they may prefer to run with the leader who is helping their team for example. We would have a leader helping each team to make sure everyone waits their turn as the little ones commonly run with the person in front of them. Dividing the girls into teams works best if they have a coloured sticker or if we put each girl into a team.'

Making their Promise

'We tend to say the Rainbow Promise together as a unit at our Promise parties rather than individually. Most four-year-olds aren’t confident to say it all by themselves, but they will be happy to stand in a group to make it together.'

Going on outings

'We’ve had many outings over the years and have taken them to local parks, a sweet making factory, local farm, indoor play areas, cinema, county and district events. They enjoy the trip just like the older girls.'

Every child is different

'There can be very confident four-year-olds and shy six-year-olds. Having the girls in the unit for potentially three years is lovely to watch them grow in confidence, try new things, gain new skills and see their love of guiding grow as they progress through the programme. I would encourage all units to welcome the younger girls and I think you’ll be surprised at how well they fit in.'