Enabling Environments: Let's explore ... Aliens Love Underpants!

Judith Stevens
Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Children's perennial fascination with knickers and monsters can be explored fruitfully using this quirky, beautifully illustrated book, says Judith Stevens.

liens Love Underpants by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort (Simon & Schuster) is a zany story with a winning combination: the bringing together of two things that fascinate children - aliens and pants.

You may have thought that aliens come to Earth in search of world domination, but, according to this hilarious tale, their only target is our underwear. Aliens, it seems, just love pants, but there aren't any in space, so they fly down to Earth to steal our knickers off our washing-lines.

This madcap storyline is made all the more enjoyable by the book's strong rhyming text and vibrant illustrations, turning it into a great starting-point for an exploration of aliens or clothes.


Language that could be introduced during the children's explorations will include:

pants, knickers, underwear, shorts, names for items of clothing, aliens monsters, space, astronauts, sky, clouds, planets, pattern, the same as, different from, smaller than, larger than, small, smaller, smallest

For a purpose

All practitioners know how important it is that young children learn to read - and two key factors seem to influence children's achievement in reading. The first is that children want to read - and see it as important and serving a purpose. The second is that they love books and enjoy reading and being read to. Reading is not just a skill; it's an adventure and opens doors to whole new worlds.

Practitioners need to make reading and sharing books a pleasurable experience for all children. When children see books as exciting, interesting and fun they will choose to read for themselves and share books with others.

It is really important that settings build up a book collection that captivates young children and helps them to develop positive attitudes of themselves as 'readers'. A high-quality collection should include a wide range of texts, both classic storybooks and fun, new, contemporary texts.

Experienced and effective practitioners 'tune in to children' and their ongoing interests - and offer them opportunities to explore their current interests. Books provide one route into learning for many children.

As 2008 is the National Year of Reading, practitioners should take the opportunity to develop a love of stories, read and told. To find out more, see www.yearofreading.org.uk.


Add aliens, monsters, space ships and flying saucers, metallic gravel and metallic sand, boulders, maps of the universe.

Learning Opportunities
Co-operation and collaboration
Talking for a variety of purposes
Using the language of position
Choosing the appropriate tools
Recreating roles and experiences, imaginative play

Adult Role

- Support the children as they explore the resources and encourage them to add additional resources to develop their play.

- Ensure that other resources to support imaginative play are clearly labelled with words and pictures and are readily available.

- Encourage the children to use their imagination. Ask open questions: I wonder where the aliens could have travelled? Where do you think they could land? What do you think they would need to eat and drink? What would the aliens see from high in the sky? What would our nursery look like from the air?

- Support the children as they tell stories and develop imaginative play themes.


Add story books of aliens and monsters, posters of aliens, masks, assorted large card and paper, metallic markers and holographic wrapping paper, glitter, sequins, assorted masks, string, hole punch. (See Book Box, page 22.)

Learning opportunities
- Making links with children's earlier experiences
- Talking for a variety of purposes
- Selecting and using appropriate tools with children
- Using tools that encourage developing skill
- Using imagination

Adult Role

Discuss the resources with the children.

Support the children as they explore the masks.

Act as a scribe to record the children's language as they design and make masks or other things.

Make observations of children's play and learning that inform future planning.


Add Kid K'Nex construction kit and Lego Duplo to a space, floor mat or metallic fabric. Kid K'Nex kits, available from good toy shops and educational catalogues, help children understand the concept of construction and have been scaled down for little hands.

Learning opportunities
- Co-operation and collaboration
- Using language to imagine
- Using everyday words to describe position
- Constructing with a purpose in mind Using imagination

Adult Role

Support the children as they explore the resources and add additional resources to support their play.

Encourage the children to use their imaginations.

Support children as they design and make aliens and alien spacecraft.

Ask open questions that encourage children to explain what they are doing and why.


Add story books of aliens, flying saucers and space ships, alien soft toys and puppets, with name badges, assorted markers, sticky stars, zig-zig books and simple stapled books, blank card badges and sticky labels, paper-clips, assorted card.

Learning opportunities
- Showing increasing confidence in selecting and carrying out activities
- Using writing to communicate
- Beginning to form letters
- Designing with a purpose
- Using one-handed tools
- Using imagination in art/design

Adult role

- Support children as they explore and talk about story books.

- Encourage the children to draw their own aliens.

- Act as a scribe to record the children's language.

- Encourage children to make up names for the aliens.

- Support children as they make name badges and labels.


Add a recording and words of 'Five Aliens in a Flying Saucer', posters and pictures of space and the stars, aliens, astronauts, space ships and flying saucers, magnetic plastic numerals, wooden numerals 0-5, magnetic, laminated props of five aliens and flying saucers and a magnetic wedge or board. The words of the rhyme are:

Five Aliens
Five aliens in a flying saucer,
Flew round the world one day.
They looked left and right,
And they didn't like the sight.
So, one ship flew away.
Four aliens .../Three aliens .../Two aliens ... etc

Learning Opportunities
- Making links with children's home experiences
- Showing an awareness of rhyme
- Willingly attempting to count
- Saying with confidence the number that is one less than a given number
- Using technology to support the learning
- Exploring rhythms

Adult Role

- Respond positively and value independent attempts at retelling rhymes and singing songs.

- Plan shared sessions for children to explore rhymes.

- Support the children as they use shakers to create rhythms.

- Ask questions that encourage the children to talk about what they are doing and why.


Add assorted fiction and information texts about aliens, space and planets including Aliens love Underpants, Pants and More Pants (see Book Box, page 22); a magnetic board or wedge and magnetic story props from the story; markers, small card, scissors, magnetic tape, pictures of pants in different sizes and colours, laminated, with magnetic tape fixed (for downloads of patterned pants, see www.sparklebox.co.uk).

Learning Opportunities
- Working together as a group
- Retelling and creating own stories using props
- Exploring books
- Counting pants
- Sorting pants by colour, shape, pattern or size
- Using imagination in stories

Adult Role

- Share books with individuals and pairs of children.

- Model the use of information texts and the language of stories.

- Support the children as they retell stories and create their own.

- Encourage children to make their own story props, aliens or pants.

- Ask questions about what the children are doing and why.

- Support children as they sort and order the pants.


It's important that outdoor play isn't a repetition of indoors - in general, it should extend learning and offer opportunities for children to work on a larger, noisier or messier scale, or to use natural resources and the weather. Washing-lines are great for promoting imaginative role play about washing and laundry. They have the added advantage that children can use clothes pegs with clothes to create patterns on the line.

Add a washing-line, assorted wooden and plastic clothes pegs, assorted pants, a wicker laundry basket, and a water tray with bubbles.

Learning Opportunities
- Co-operation and collaboration
- Talking for a variety of purposes
- Creating patterns
- Investigating materials
- Manipulating objects
- Using imagination in role play

Adult Role

- Support the children as they explore the pants.

- Help the children to make connections with the washing-line and pants in the book.

- Encourage the children to make connections with earlier and home experiences.

- Support the children as they sort the pants and wash and dry them.

- Ask open-ended questions: can you find two pairs of pants that have something the same about them? Can you think of a difference too? Where do you think we could dry the pants? Which pair of pants could come next in the pattern? Why do you think that?



Developing collections of interesting things around predictable early childhood interests ensures that practitioners are well equipped to respond when children show an interest for a particular theme. Such resource boxes can be added to as new items become available. To support children's interests, consider providing collections of:

- Pants
- Socks
- Keys
- Necklaces
- Ribbons and lace
- Jewellery
- Coins
- Clocks and watches
- Boxes
- Glasses/sunglasses
- Spoons


Tuning in

Making time to talk to parents and carers is an important way of finding out about children's current interests and about what matters to them. Such information helps practitioners provide a curriculum that is both relevant and meaningful.

Having an existing interest in a particular theme means that children approach it with enthusiasm and expertise, giving them confidence and increased motivation to engage in the activities provided. Children can use this expertise best in carefully planned, open-ended learning opportunities without prescribed uniform outcomes.

Enhancing provision

Any significant interest that a child or children may have should be explored by enhancing a setting's continuous provision - that is, by adding theme-based resources to the areas of provision that are available daily to children and should comprise: role play, small-world play, construction play, sand and water, malleable materials, creative workshop area, graphics area, book area.

By taking this approach, children can choose to engage with the theme, or pursue their own interests and learning independently. Adults need to recognise that children require a suitable length of time to explore any interests in depth and to develop their own ideas.

Adult Role

If children's interests are to be used to create the best possible learning opportunities, the adult role is crucial.

Adults need to be able to:

- enhance continuous provision to reflect the interests of children.

- use enhancements to plan meaningful learning opportunities across all areas of the EYFS.

- know when to intervene in children's play - and when to stand back.

- recognise that children will need a suitable length of time to explore any area of provision to develop their own ideas.

- model skills, language and behaviours.

- recognise how observation, assessment and reflection on children's play can enhance adults' understanding of what young children know and realise how these should inform their future planning.

Areas of Learning
Personal, social and emotional development
Communication, language and literacy
Problem-solving, reasoning and numeracy
Knowledge and understanding of the world
Physical development
Creative development

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