Enabling Environments: Let's explore ... Push, pull, empty, full


Children will naturally take to activities and resources where they can make things move and play with capacity, as Diana Lawton explains.

Filling and fitting, moving and emptying are familiar and popular activities for young children. Through this enjoyable form of self-chosen play, children will be gaining experience of using forces to make things move as well as developing many mathematical ideas about size, shape, fit, weight and length. In an early years setting there will be many opportunities for children to explore these interests using continuous provision indoors and out.

RETROSPECTIVE PLANNING

Practitioners can build on and extend this play by observing how individuals respond to the provision and then interacting to take them on in their thinking. When practitioners offer resources in new and challenging ways, creative play can be encouraged without taking over the activity. Equally, having a knowledge of what children want and need to do allows learning possibilities to be built into continuous provision.

By listening to and observing children, adults can find out what familiar experiences are motivating their play. For example, moving house, collecting refuse and delivering milk are all familiar re-enactments in nursery settings. In the light of what has been observed today, adults can set the scene to develop ideas tomorrow. In this way, the environment is not static, but evolves to reflect the exciting learning journeys that take place over time.

What might be available on a daily basis?

  • Push-along equipment such as wheelbarrows, pushchairs, shopping trolleys, scooters, pedal-less bikes
  • Pull-along toys, carts and trucks
  • Large and small-world diggers, trucks and tractors
  • Cardboard boxes, crates, tyres and planks, traffic cones
  • Bags, cases, sacks, backpacks
  • Ropes and string
  • Resources for filling, such as logs, leaves, sand and found materials like tubes, carpet tiles, cartons
  • Balls, bean bags, quoits
  • Sweeping brushes and rakes
  • Pulleys
  • Builders' tray

What might children be doing?

  • Filling trucks, wheelbarrows, bags, transporting them to another place and emptying
  • Moving objects in different ways - pushing, pulling, dragging, rolling, heaving, tugging
  • Using their feet to push themselves around on scooters and pedal-less bikes
  • Playing out a familiar experience such as going on holiday, delivering a television, collecting refuse
  • Setting themselves a new challenge such as moving a truck up a slope, finding a way to transport a huge snowball to the other side of the garden

ADULT ROLE: PRESENTING RESOURCES TO ENHANCE PLAY

Choose a corner or area where the selected resources can be set up. Keep the provision simple, but present it attractively. The idea is to catch children's interest and draw them in. The following are a few examples of what could be offered. Many more possibilities become apparent as the diversity of each child's experiences and interests unfold.

  • A tyre, crate and box with a rope or belt attached to each, a couple of tyres, crates and boxes without anything attached, and a basket of ropes, chains and belts
  • Three boxes of different sizes, a pile of logs, a pile of leaves, a pile of bark chips and a truck
  • Sacks and a heap of small logs to be moved to a given point
  • A role-play shopping trolley or improvised trolley and a basket of empty cartons, bottles, yoghurt pots in a variety of shapes and sizes
  • A few milk crates, a truck and a selection of plastic bottles
  • A vertical pulley with a bucket attached. Add, at different times, bean bags, a basket of small-world animals, a tub of sand and a scoop
  • A horizontal pulley with a basket attached and soft toys or dolls to move safely across a space
  • Suitcases and travel bags in various sizes, a basket of things for packing and a bike with cart attached.
  • End points to travel to, such as a station, campsite, caravan
  • A ramp, collection of small-world vehicles and small mat
  • A pile of leaves, sacks, a wheelbarrow and small cart. Position a container nearby for leaves to be emptied into. When full, tip out and start again
  • Following a downpour, provide long-handle brooms next to puddles, a tray of small-world boats and people to push across a puddle
  • On a snowy day, fasten ropes to crates for pulling, offer trays or sledges to pull up a slope and push down, present brooms, rakes and shovels to explore ways of moving snow.
  • Provide a selection of pull-along toys and a row of cones or crates to manoeuvre round.

Learning opportunities

PSED Collaborating and co-operating as they share ideas and experiences
PSED Continuing to be excited, interested and motivated to learn
PSED Displaying high levels of involvement
C&L Enjoying books related to interests
C&L Using language to recreate experiences
C&L Talking about what they are doing
M Developing skills of size and shape as they fit things into boxes, bags and carts
UW Problem solving - how can we move the logs
PSED Trying out new ideas
EAD Recreating experiences
EAD Responding in a variety of ways to what they see, hear, touch and feel
PD Developing motor skills as they fill and empty
PD Using tools such as rakes, brooms, shovels with increasing control
UW Exploring space and direction as they transport resources, push objects and use pulleys
UW Exploring the effects of forces and movement
UW Investigating a range of different materials
UW Making predictions, suggesting why things happen and how things work

ADULT ROLE: PLANNING VISITS

Visits outside of the nursery can support and extend experiences. Capitalise on opportunities that arise within the local area, such as refuse collections, deliveries, building and road works. Ordinary, everyday experiences such as these, along with interested adults who will discuss, answer questions and introduce new vocabulary, will feed a child's interests and bring new possibilities to play situations.

Adults can set the scene to develop play following a visit by offering carefully selected resources to build on what children have seen. Provide start and end points - for example, from the post box to the sorting depot, from the refuse bins to the recycling centre.

Visit a building site or roadworks to watch a bulldozer pushing soil into a pile, a crane pulling loads up high, diggers filling lorries with rubble. Provide a builder's tray, sand and gravel and small-world diggers and dumpers.

Watch traffic go by, looking out for a breakdown truck towing a car, lorries carrying different loads, car transporters, caravans and trailers. Follow up by sharing books and recalling what was spotted. Outside, put a collection of vehicles in a basket along with a tub of chunky chalks. Help children to mark out roadways and move traffic along.

Visit a recycling centre to watch lorries and cars being unloaded, skips being filled, refuse being sorted. After watching a refuse collection, arrange 'bins' for emptying with a selection of 'rubbish.' Tie a crate or box to a bike, and provide a recycling area where refuse can be taken to be sorted. Label containers CARDBOARD, PLASTIC, GARDEN WASTE.

Look out for a post box at collection time, followed up by a visit to the sorting depot to see sacks of parcels and letters being unloaded from post vans. Later, provide 'post boxes' to be emptied, envelopes and packages, sacks to fill and a 'post van.'

If you can visit a farm, you may see tractors pulling trailers and ploughs, balers and combine harvesters collecting the crops, muck spreaders spreading manure. Back at the setting, set up a small-world tray with soil, grass cuttings, leaves and farm machines. Share finding-out books.

At the local park, let children experience being pushed on a swing, using feet to turn the roundabout and push the seesaw up and down. Set up a teddy bears' playground outside. Include a swing, seesaw and roundabout and a basket of teddy bears.

On a windy day, encourage the children to run with the wind and against the wind. Join in, and provide streamers, home-made kites and scarves to demonstrate the strength of the wind pulling. Have large pieces of cardboard available for children to hold in front of themselves as they move against the force. Experiment with moving at different angles to the wind. Run, for example, to the fence, without the cardboard, then to the fence with it. Talk about the differences.

BOOKS AND STORIES

Many related stories are ideal for dramatisation, such as the traditional Russian folk tale The Gigantic Turnip, and Mr Gumpy's Motor Car (see Book Box). Share the stories with interested children, emphasising the words 'they pulled and heaved and tugged and yanked,' in The Gigantic Turnip, and 'they pushed, shoved, heaved and strained' to release the car from the mud in Mr Gumpy's Motor Car. This is an effective way of introducing new descriptive vocabulary, which can then be reinforced as the stories are acted out.

Moving Molly tells the story of a family moving house. It will appeal especially to children who may have had or be about to have a similar experience. Sharing books that relate to real-life events, and offering opportunities to play out the situations, help children to understand and accept these changes. Create a home area outside, add packing boxes and a 'removal van' and let children move everything to another area.

There are a good selection of 'finding out' books about diggers, tractors, bulldozers and cranes, which can be made available alongside small-world building site play and role play (see Book Box).

The rhythmic words and detailed illustrations in Dig Dig Digging will instigate conversations and questions and introduce exciting new vocabulary in an enjoyable way - for example, 'bulldozers are good at push, push, pushing, over rough, bumpy ground, scraping and shoving'.

Learning opportunities

PSED Co-operating and collaborating
PSED Working as part of a group
PSED Displaying high levels of involvement
C&L Using language to recreate roles and experiences
C&L Talking about what they are doing
L Using books and stories to develop ideas
UW Investigating a range of different materials as they fill, transport, and empty
UW Exploring the effects of forces on movement
UW Asking questions about why and how things happen
UW Learning about the lives and work of people in the community
M Problem solving, estimating, measuring
M Using the language of size, shape and fit
M Exploring ideas about distance
PD Developing large motor skills
PD Developing control and co-ordination
PD Developing an awareness of space
PD Handling objects with increasing skill
EAD Representing ideas and acting out roles such as refuse collector or postal worker
EAD Expressing creativity through imaginative play

THE ADULT ROLE: KEY PRACTICE POINTS

  • Follow health and safety guidelines and do appropriate risk assessments.
  • Tune into the underlying interest by observing and listening.
  • Help the children to develop their creative ideas without taking over.
  • Plan visits out and visitors coming in to introduce new thinking.
  • Present play experiences alongside continuous provision to enhance creative play.
  • Introduce relevant books and stories.
  • Interact sensitively, putting into words what a child is doing, helping them recall what they have seen and wondering aloud, for example, 'I wonder how/why/when/where...'

BOOK BOX

The Gigantic Turnip by Aleksei Tolstoy and Niamh Sharkey (Barefoot Books)

Mr Gumpy's Motor Car by John Burningham (Red Fox)

Dig Dig Digging by Margaret Mayo and Alex Ayliffe (Orchard Books)

Moving Molly by Shirley Hughes (Picture Lions)

Bulldozers Big Machines (Franklin Watts)

Mighty Machine - Tractor (Dorling Kindersley)

Look and Play- Tractors (Franklin Watts)

Read and Play Diggers (Franklin Watts)

How Machines Work - Construction Vehicles (Franklin Watts)

Mighty Machines - Dump Trucks and Other Big Machines by Ian Graham (QED Publishing)

THE ADULT ROLE: KEY PRACTICE POINTS

  • Follow health and safety guidelines and do appropriate risk assessments.
  • Tune into the underlying interest by observing and listening.
  • Help the children to develop their creative ideas without taking over.
  • Plan visits out and visitors coming in to introduce new thinking.
  • Present play experiences alongside continuous provision to enhance creative play.
  • Introduce relevant books and stories.
  • Interact sensitively, putting into words what a child is doing, helping them recall what they have seen and wondering aloud, for example, 'I wonder how/why/when/where...'

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