Enabling Environments: Collections - For real

Nicole Weinstein
Monday, January 23, 2017

Nicole Weinstein explores how settings can resource effectively for ‘people who help us’ role play

People who help us’ is a popular theme for role play, and it can be a useful way of supporting children to find out more about their community, the jobs people do and how people relate to each other. Practitioners can broaden children’s interest in this area by enabling them to meet local community workers – a visit to the fire station or an in-house visit from a police officer – backed up with plenty of role-play resources in the nursery. To support the children’s learning, provide books, DVD footage of real people at work and role-play materials that will help children create scenarios and dress in the role of their chosen profession.


Nancy Stewart, principal consultant with Early Learning Consultancy, warns that it’s important to introduce a themed role play ‘carefully’.

She explains, ‘Children can only make sense of a role-play theme if they have some experience to bring to it, and then they can act it out in their own ways. If children have never been to a dentist, a post office or an optician, then they can’t build on what they know as they take on roles and make up stories. Ideally, a visit to the place of work is a great start, or at least a visit from someone who brings tools, uniforms, or whatever is relevant to their role.’

Julian Grenier, head of Sheringham Nursery School and Children’s Centre, advises visiting in small groups. He says, ‘Avoid large groups of children sitting down for 20 minutes being talked to by community workers.’

When Ann Langston, director of the Early Years Matters consultancy, asked her grandson if he had ever been to a vet’s and what he did there, he replied, ‘I sat at a small table and I played with some beads.’

Ms Langston says, ‘This reinforces the importance of the real experience. It tells us that the child hasn’t got a script for the vet. It would be very hard for an adult to role-play being a Roman if they had no idea of what life was like in this era. So in the same way, we need to really think about what the child might know and tailor it accordingly.

‘Settings often provide the resources, but unless it is talked and thought about and considered, they are not going to get the high level of play that might be expected. This type of role play is a vehicle for PSED… being caring, sympathetic and empathetic – and for language development.’


Custom-made costumes or tabards can help to sort out roles, but the ‘best resources’ are real materials gathered from parents and friends, and those that the children have been involved in making, according to Ms Stewart.

She adds, ‘Before putting the area together, talk with the children about what will be needed, make a list together, and let them problem-solve about what we could use or make. There is always room for some mark-making equipment, such as notebooks for police records, appointment books, order books, and so on.

‘When the space is ready, the adults can put on a “show” for the children, taking on the roles to model the action and language to give children a starting point so they can practise behaving and speaking in these more mature ways.’

Be prepared to welcome children’s ideas when the theme suddenly turns into something else. ‘The richest role play will come from the ideas children are excited and intrigued by,’ explains Ms Stewart.


Resource boxes containing collections of items for different emergency services are great if settings can afford to stock them – and they are useful to have at hand, following children’s changing interests. However, according to Ms Langston, who supports settings in the private and voluntary sector, ‘The reality is often a tub with a mismatch of outfits from Batman to Frozen and a separate home corner area. The two often don’t go together and, with limited resources, it’s hard to extend children’s learning.

‘I always advise settings to provide simple, open-ended resources that are multi-functional. For example, lots of things could be appropriated into different role play, like the metal curry dishes that can be bought from the pound shops. Also, the resources for the doctors’ surgery and the vet may have some overlap.’

When it comes to dressing-up outfits, Ms Langston says that if they are over-complicated, they can restrict the play. She also says that there is a danger of confusing role play with dressing up.

‘There’s a distinction between the two. Dressing up has its place and may lead into role play. But if we want to act out roles in a vet or a café, it’s really important that there’s a gathering of the children’s experiences to base the role play on.’


Here are some points to consider when building up a core collection of ‘people who help us’ resources:

roleA wide range of role-play equipment will stimulate high levels of communication, interaction and language. Try the Role Play Real Life Resource Collection, £345, from www.earlyexcellence.co.uk, which allows children to explore the lives of different people including vets, paramedics, doctors and more. Or, outdoors, try the set of two Firefighter Helmets, £6; Firefighter Hose, £18; Firefighter Jacket and Helmet, £22; a Set of Emergency Cones, £12; and a Collaborative Vehicle (4-7 Years), £395. Also in the range is a Police Tabbard and Hat, £22; Police Notebook Set, £4; Paramedic Jacket, £23; and Paramedic Box, £16, with safety blanket and bandages.

The Young Writers’ Role Play Pack, by www.childseyemedia.com, priced at £149.95, contains two People Who Help Us DVDs with eight films on firefighters, police, postal workers, refuse collectors and recyclers, nurses and doctors, dentists, vets, and car rescuers; eight bespoke role-play outfits made by Three Bears Playthings; two digital handbooks of ideas; and a ‘printables’ disc with 30 Role Play sheets linked to the films (also available to purchase separately from www.cosydirect.com).

tabardsTabards and jackets are a useful dressing-up resource that can ensure more children are involved in the play. The set of six Occupation Tabards, £32.29, are available from www.earlyyears.co.uk. Alternatively, try the nine pack of Maxi Pack Of Costumes ‘Professions’, £188.40, from www.wesco-eshop.co.uk; or the six pack of People Who Help Us Role Play Tabards, £31.95, from www.tts-group.co.uk. For complete outfits, try the five pack of Role Play Occupation Outfits, £79.95, from www.tts-group.co.uk; or the Vet Dress Up Costume, £15.99, from www.reflectionsonlearning.co.uk.

Police, fire-fighter and nurses’ hats are all useful accessories in the role-play area. Try the six pack of People Who Help Us Hats, £33.99, from www.hope-education.co.uk; the three set Dressing Up Role Play Hat Set, £14.99, from www.tts-group.co.uk; or the six pack Firefighter’s Hats, £17.79, from www.cosydirect.com.

medicsProvide the tools and accessories for children to be able to fulfil their roles in the community. For medics, try the Doctor’s Case, £14.90, from www.wesco-eshop.co.uk; the Role Play Doctors Equipment Kit, £34.95, from www.tts-group.co.uk; and the My First Doctors Kit, £32.99, from www.reflectionsonlearning.co.uk, which is suitable for toddlers and younger pre-school children. Or try the working Stethoscope (single), £4.99, or Doctor Case, £17.99, from www.cosydirect.co.uk.

Provide a range of emergency vehicles and signs to direct traffic for outdoor play. Try the Power Police Wagon, £182, from www.cosydirect.com. Alternatively, try the Circleline Police Trike, £244.99, from www.hope-education.co.uk. Use the Road Signs – People Who Help Us, £44.99, from www.cosydirect.com to direct traffic.

heritageTo re-enact emergency scenarios in small-world play, try the set of Figurines Professions, £28.50, from www.wesco-eshop.co.uk; the Adult Career Figures, £24.99, from www.cosydirect.com; or the Heritage Playset Fire Station and Engine, £54.95, from www.cosydirect.com.

Teach children about different occupations and help them to understand what they contribute to the community with the People Who Help Us Book Pack, £46.99, a set of five hardback books, from www.hope-education.co.uk; the topics are: Dentist, Police Officer, Firefighter, Doctor, Paramedic and Vet. Also, Topsy and Tim Meet the Police by Jean Adamson – the twins’ class is visited by two police officers, who explain to the children what their jobs involve.


coll-boyChildren at Russell Scott Nursery in Tameside, Manchester, often revisit the topic ‘people who help us’. ‘Not only is it a popular theme,’ explains nursery teacher Verity Jones, ‘but some aspects of it touch directly on the children’s experiences and we find that they want to explore these through role play.

Take doctors and nurses, for example. Many children will have been to the doctors’ surgery for minor illnesses and their jabs. Some will have even been to A&E.

‘To introduce the topic, we read the story Maisy Goes to Hospital and the information book A Day in the Life of a Doctor during our circle-time sessions. We discuss scenarios where we’ve had to visit the doctor or go to hospital, and we look at some of the equipment a doctor or nurse may use as part of their job. Children learn what each piece of equipment is called and what it is used for. To consolidate their learning, the children make their own doctor’s or nurse’s bag using some real objects which have been gathered over the years.’

Higher-level teaching assistant Sharon Boulton, who has collected the resources over the years from charity shops, pound shops and through donations from parents, says, ‘We also set up a hospital and baby clinic with costumes, medical equipment, prescriptions, medicines and other resources. There has been fantastic role-play scenarios, language and knowledge used.

‘Going to the dentist is another popular theme that is often revisited. During circle-time sessions we discuss why it’s important to keep our teeth healthy. Through a variety of activities and crafts the children learn how to keep their teeth healthy. Children learn that milk and milk products help to keep teeth strong. Carrots, apples, and other crunchy fruits and vegetables help to clean our teeth. We read the story Maisy, Charlie and the Wobbly Tooth and watch Auntie Mabel and Pippin in Come Outside – Toothpasteon our smartboard.’

A video of the children role-playing at Russell Scott Nursery is at: https://youtu.be/ymSPZMh98Bk

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