Enabling Environments: Let's explore ... holes

A versatile resource for early years activities often gets overlooked, because it isn't there. Try these suggestions from Diana Lawton.

What is a hole? Dictionary definitions describe a hole as 'a hollow place or cavity in a solid body,' 'an excavation made in the ground,' 'an opening through or sunken place on a surface' (Oxford Dictionary). To a young child, holes are more fascinating than that.

Many animals and insects make their homes in holes. Holes can be dug and filled, water can be poured and squirted through large and small holes, and holes can be poked into wet sand and dough.

This is a predictable interest that embraces schematic ideas such as enclosure, enveloping, trajectories and going through boundaries. It is an interest that will capture the imagination of individual and groups of children throughout the year.

A well thought-out nursery environment will provide lots of opportunities for children to explore holes through continuous provision. Having a resource box available to dip into provides opportunities for practitioners to extend and develop ideas whenever they arise.


Go for walks locally to look for holes. Remember, not all holes are round. Letterboxes, keyholes, manholes and coin slots are a few examples of this. Take photographs for a book on holes and include children's own representations.

Hunt for holes indoors and make a collection. This could include sieves, threading beads, a shoe with laces, button holes in a coat and pieces from construction sets. Set up an interactive display and invite contributions from home.

Investigate games and sports that involve balls disappearing into holes, such as golf and snooker. Make a golf course outside and provide child-sized golf clubs.


Set up a digging area outside. Screen off the site and provide signs depicting work in progress that children can display by their holes.

Offer a selection of materials for filling in holes - for example, sand, stones, gravel, bark chips, leaves, displayed in separate containers. Wheel barrows, buckets and boxes will be useful for transporting materials and child-sized gardening spades enable serious digging to be undertaken.

If space allows, it is worth making this part of continuous provision, as it is such a popular activity. A hole may be dug and filled in during a day, or could spread over a week. Some holes will be small, others larger, deep or shallow. Children may team up to collaborate on a really big hole.

Keep an ongoing record of what is happening in the area using photographs and notes of children's thoughts and ideas. Watch out for road works, engineering and so on that may be going on in the area for impromptu visits that will encourage questions and discussion.


Throughout the year there will be opportunities to explore making holes as seeds are sown and bulbs planted. Provide a selection of dibbers, fat/thin/metal/wood/plastic along with seed trays, plant pots and trowels.

Offer a selection of different watering cans with interchangeable roses the children can experiment with. Comparisons can be made as plants are watered, with and without a rose fitted. Which is the best for gently watering seedlings and which is more suitable to give a potted plant a good soak?


There are plenty of opportunities to explore making and filling holes during food preparation.

  • Support children in using an apple corer to make holes in apples that can then be filled with dried fruit and baked in the oven.
  • Make doughnuts and fill with jam. Roll out pastry and cut circles for jam tarts. Sprinkle with flour from the tiny holes in a flour dredger.
  • Examine the patterns of holes left in the pastry.
  • Fill piping bags with coloured icing and squeeze patterns through the holes on to biscuits.
  • Use a potato ricer to squeeze out strands of cooked potato, and investigate the different pasta shapes and cereals with holes.


Provide finding-out books and images of caves, volcanoes, pits and tunnels. Display them in the sand area and outside construction area to instigate interest and discussion. Children may be motivated to create tunnels and volcanoes in the sand, or to build caves outside.

Make a bear cave, and place a torch and the book Can't You Sleep, Little Bear by Martin Waddell inside. Arrange play tunnels, pop-up tents, barrels and tyres for children to experience climbing and crawling into 'holes.' Share The Spooky Old Tree by Jan and Stan Berenstain and support the children in acting out the story of the journey through the hole and inside the tree.


A focus table is a good way of supporting an interest, without it taking over or interfering with continuous provision. Positioned adjacent to different areas, it will catch the attention of children as they move about the setting. A focus table can be set up quickly using the resource box and offer practitioners the opportunity to:

  • respond to a child's interest spontaneously
  • observe individual and groups of children to find out what they know and understand in an informal way
  • teach a specific skill or concept
  • introduce new knowledge.

A child's interest in holes focuses on finding out what may be inside; looking through, moving through and into holes; making holes; and filling or putting things inside holes. Here are some suggestions for focus tables that support an interest in holes.


Resources to provide

  • a variety of hole punches, such as single, double
  • a selection of coloured card in different lengths/widths and sizes
  • a variety of threads for feeding through holes
  • a selection of pegboards and pegs to explore patterns
  • baskets of wooden beads in different sizes and shapes and laces for
  • threading

Learning opportunities

PD Handling and using tools with increasing skill
PD  Developing control and co-ordination
M Exploring patterns, size and shape

Adult role

  • Observe the children as they interact with the resources to assess what level of support they need.
  • Demonstrate how to use the hole punches safely and effectively.
  • Support children sensitively as they develop their skills, offering new challenges if and when appropriate.


Present a large sheet of paper cut to fit on a builder's tray. Let children who are interested wet the paper with plain water before sprinkling dry powder paint from dredgers to create patterns.

Learning opportunities

M Exploring pattern, texture and colour
UW Observing change as the powder reacts to the water
PSED Working as part of a group, taking turns

Adult role

  • Encourage the children to discuss what they observe.
  • Introduce vocabulary such as dissolve, change, combine.


Provide a large lump of clay on a tray with an invitation to 'make a hole.' Children may create holes by pushing their fingers in, or choose from a selection of tools.

Learning opportunities

UW Finding out about the properties of clay
PD Using fingers and hands to effect changes in the clay
C&L Using language such as soft, cold and squashy to describe what they feel

Adult role

  • Observe which children are drawn to the activity.
  • Play alongside from time to time, making holes and commenting on how it feels and what is happening.


  • Present a mound of damp sand on a tray. As with malleable materials, give the children time to explore making holes with fingers and tools.
  • Vary the activity by adding small-world worms, a finding-out book about worms and a laminated rhyme such as 'A Tiny, Tiny Worm' (This Little Puffin, p231).
  • Laminate the rhyme 'A little mouse hid in a hole, hid softly in a little hole. When all was quiet as quiet could be. Out popped he!' Display along with a small-world mouse.

Learning opportunities

UW Finding out about the properties of sand
PD Developing control and co-ordination
C&L Enjoying rhymes and using a book to find out information about worms

Adult role

  • Share the rhymes to help children become familiar with them.
  • Role model using the small-world creatures to act out the rhymes.
  • Observe and listen to the children as they interact with the activity, extending their thinking where appropriate.


  • Present miniature sand play in a tray with salt and pepper pots; a selection of sugar sprinkling spoons; small bottles, funnels and tea spoons; and miniature tea sets. Vary the combinations.
  • Outside, offer a tub of dry sand, plastic plant pots in various sizes, watering cans and paper bags with a corner cut out. Let the children trickle sand through the various holes to create trails and patterns on the ground. Provide brooms and dust pans for sweeping up at the end of the session.

Learning opportunities

PSED Displaying high levels of involvement in the activity
PD Developing co-ordination while using miniature equipment to fill and pour and when making marks outside
UW Making comparisons
M Exploring large-scale marks and patterns

Adult role

  • Observe and support the children as they interact with the resources.
  • Play alongside, putting into words what is happening and introducing new vocabulary.
  • Note individual children's responses in order to plan 'what next'.


  • Provide a selection of teapots on a tray with a tea strainer and teacups of various sizes.
  • Display the rhyme 'I'm a Little Teapot'. How many cups can be filled from the different pots?
  • Add a collection of natural sponges to the continuous provision, and shells and pebbles with holes.
  • Outside, forcing water through large and small holes to produce jets and sprays can involve children in making comparisons and estimating distance.
  • Designate an area that can be used for these investigations. Include ground and wall or fence surfaces. A water container with a tap is a good investment, as it teaches children to use the resource carefully and independently.

Learning opportunities

C&L Using language such as more and less to make comparisons
M Counting, measuring, estimating
UW Asking questions about why things happen
PD Developing control and co-ordination

Adult role

  • Observe, and where appropriate, extend children's play.
  • Model the use of specific resources.
  • Introduce appropriate mathematical language.
  • Note children's questions, comments and observations for profiles and future planning.


Animals who live in holes

Provide an interactive tray with natural materials including leaves, twigs, bark chips, small logs and stones. Have a selection of animals that make their homes in holes, such as rabbits, foxes, moles and mice. (Early Excellence stocks a good range of high-quality British wild animals, birds and insects. Visit www.earlyexcellence.co.uk.)

Display images of animals in their homes, along with fiction and non-fiction books. The Picnic by Ruth Brown and Owl Babies by Martin Waddell are familiar favourites.

Books with holes

Put together a basket of books that have holes incorporated in them, such as Peepo, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. Include some of the good-quality books intended for babies but which older children love.

Learning opportunities

L Exploring a range of books
C&L Retelling and creating own stories using props
L Using books to find out more

Adult role

  • Share books with individuals and groups of children.
  • Support the children as they retell familiar stories and create their own.


Build up a collection of objects that have holes in them for instant
interactive displays and to enhance continuous provision:

  • sieves, colanders and strainers
  • pepper and salt pots
  • garlic presses, potato ricer
  • spoons with holes
  • pipes and tubing
  • a selection of posting toys
  • peg boards and pegs
  • natural sponges
  • spray bottles and squirters
  • threading beads in different shapes and sizes and laces
  • variety of watering cans and roses
  • images of holes in the environment
  • rhymes and stories, peep-hole books (see Book Box)
  • build up photographic documentation, notes and observations oF children's responses for revisiting the interest


The Picnic by Ruth Brown (Anderson Press) - A rabbit's-eye view of ordinary picnickers who unknowingly disrupt the quiet subterranean life of the nearby field animals.

The Berenstain Bears and The Spooky Old Tree by Stan and Jan Berenstain (HarperCollins) - The small Berenstain Bears head off on a nighttime adventure. Why can't they resist that hole in the tree?

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell (Walker Books)

Can't You Sleep Little Bear by Martin Waddell and Barbara Firth (Walker Books)

Peepo! by Janet and Allen Ahlberg (Viking Kestrel Picture Books)

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly (also Who Swallowed the Sea) (Child's Play)

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (Picture Puffin)

Animal Homes by Debbie Martin (Usborne)

Worm by Jill Bailey (Heinemann).

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