Children were in for a big surprise when they returned to school this week, as they found an additional welcome awaiting them.

Pupils at Arlecdon, Dearham, Flimby and Thornhill primary schools were delighted to discover furry friends located in their classrooms.

With the combined support of the schools’ PTAs and The West Lakes Multi-Academy Trust a teddy bear was purchased for each child and customised for each of the four primary schools with the school logos emblazoned on the teddy bears’ t-shirts.

The schools, aware that children may have mixed emotions about returning, with some excited and others anxious, hoped that the bears would be a supportive and entertaining way to help them settle back into their school routine.

Some of the bears were sitting at desks and others hiding in treasure chests.

West Lakes Multi Academy Trust chief executive Mr Johnson said: "We have incredible staff, parents and PTAs who are always thinking of exciting ways to make a difference to the children and families we serve. They create the most magical educational wonderland in our schools and I am proud beyond words that we were able to give the children such a warm welcome back to school."

Mrs Finlay, from Arlecdon Primary School said: "We moved our World Book Day celebrations to coincide with all children returning to school and the bears formed part of these celebrations. Early years children re-read one of their favourite books We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and then went on their very own bear hunt in our outdoor area. We found a treasure chest full of bears all named for each child. The older children incorporated their bears into their book times during the day reading to them, listening to stories with them and even creating stories with them."

Mrs Mitchell, Year 1-3 teacher at Arlecdon Primary School added: "The children came in and found the bears on their chairs. Throughout the day they named the bears and made clothes and accessories for them. The bears joined in with all of our activities. Lots of children took their bears outside during playtimes and incorporated the bears into their games."

Parent Stacey Pryde said: "Lots of parents have said it was a nice idea and how lovely the teddy bears are. They are a comfort to the children and keep a connection between home and school. It is also a memory of this time in history that our children are living in."

Maxine Langley from Flimby Primary School said: "There were lots of smiles around the classroom as the children were greeted by their furry friends at their desks. The teddy bears certainly gave a warm welcome and will be perfect reminder to keep for the lockdown champions they truly are."

Ms Wilson, acting headteacher at Dearham Primary School said: "We were all very aware of how challenging returning to school might have been for some of the children so what better to welcome them than with a new friend. The bears were ready and waiting when they came into their classrooms and brought much joy and excitement as well as easing anxiety and ‘first day’ nerves. Our reception children found their bears hiding in the classroom and were very pleased with their discoveries. It was a delight to see the children taking their new friends home at the end of the day and feedback from parents and pupils has been lovely."

Mrs Figes, executive headteacher at Thornhill Primary School said: "The bears were a massive hit with pupils, parents and staff. They were a personalised touch for pupils and helped to reduce any anxiety which children might have felt on re-entering the school building. We know that during this time, everyone has been missing the positive feelings associated with touch. We have fewer people we are allowed to hug and social distancing has had an impact on wellbeing as many of us crave this sensory stimulation. The bears provided a much-needed buddy to hug as children returned to school and over the weeks and months to come as children attempt to process the events of the last year. We hope they will become treasured mementos for each child and a lasting link with the school as each child grows and matures."

The trust said the response to the teddy bears from students, parents and staff has been incredibly positive with posts on all of the primary schools’ social media.