Enabling Environments: Let's explore ... Tractors

Marianne Sargent
Friday, August 9, 2013

Big, noisy and colourful - these machines offer inspiration for activities that are both fun and educational. Marianne Sargent takes a closer look.

What is it about a tractor that grabs the attention of young boys in particular? Is it the noise, the size, the features, the colours or the sheer power of these great machines? Tractors are a great theme to explore because they come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and fulfil a range of purposes with a multitude of accessories and machinery.


Source a tractor wheel for the children to examine up close.

  • Try local farms and scrapyards and arrange for the wheel to be delivered and installed in the outdoor area of your setting.
  • Ensure the wheel is safe for the children to climb on and inside -this may mean lying it flat instead of standing it upright.

Adult role

  • Allow the children to explore the wheel by climbing on and inside it. Encourage them to touch the tyre and feel the treads. Provide rulers for the children to measure how deep the treads are.
  • Ask the children to think about why the wheel is as big as it is, why the treads are so deep and why the tyre feels so hard.
  • Provide clipboards and pencils or set up a painting easel for the children to draw and paint pictures of the wheel.
  • Give the children digital cameras to take photographs of the wheel from various angles.
  • Provide rectangular blocks and poster paint for the children to recreate tractor wheel tracks.
  • Help the children to make a cast of a tread using Modroc or clay. Then examine the cast and look at the depth of a tractor tread.
  • Provide toy tractors for the children to look at the wheels in relation to the real specimen they have outside.

Alternatively ...

  • If a large wheel is too impractical for your setting, visit your local farm and see what else it has on offer. The farmer might even be willing to bring a small tractor to the setting for a visit.
  • Another idea is to take photographs of different tractor parts from strange angles. Show these to the children and ask them if they know what each part is and what it is used for.

Learning opportunities

CL: Uses talk to organise and clarify thinking and ideas.

M: Uses everyday language to talk about size and explore the characteristics of everyday objects.

UW: Talks about how things work.


Use a remote-controlled toy, such as the Make - Go from TSS Group (£24.95), to get the children practising their co-ordination and navigation skills.

Adult role

  • Draw out a large floor plan of a farm with a barn, fields and paths large enough for the remote-controlled vehicle to drive on.
  • Give the children the vehicle and some Duplo and ask them to make it into a tractor. Provide a Duplo trailer to hook on to the back.
  • Ask the children to help add details to the floor plan by putting toy animals in the fields and stacking hay bales in the barn, for instance.
  • Allow the children to take turns with the remote-controlled tractor to carry out tasks. For example, ask someone to drive the tractor to the barn to collect a hay bale and take it to a field to feed some animals.
  • Encourage the children to give each other instructions.
  • Extend the activity with a Constructa-Bot, a digger that has the same controls and movement capabilities as the Bee-Bot, both from TTS Group (£49.95). Children will enjoy pre-programming it to undertake particular tasks.

Learning opportunities

CL: Follows instructions involving several ideas or actions.

CL: Expresses themselves effectively, showing awareness of the listener's needs.

UW: Shows skill in making programmable toys work by pressing parts to achieve movements


For those or you with hard-core tractor enthusiasts in your setting, look out for tractor-pulling events around the country this summer. Arrange an outing and invite parents to accompany their children to watch this thrilling sport.

Although some of these events start on a Friday, many take place on a weekend. So tractor pulling could be a fun activity for a Dad's Day, when settings invite fathers to accompany their children on a day out.

You can find more information and dates for upcoming events at www.uktractorpulling.co.uk.


Chugging tractor

Recite this rhyme in a large space and encourage the children to join in with the actions:

Chug chug, chug chug

We're driving tractors up and down (move around pretending to steer)

Chug chug, chug chug

We're tugging trailers, pulling ploughs (make tugging and pulling actions)

Sow sow, sow sow

We're dragging harrows all around (make dragging actions)

Sow sow, sow sow

We're sowing seeds in the ground (pretend to sow seeds)

Chop chop, chop chop

We're cutting wheat and collecting grain (make chopping actions)

Chop chop, chop chop

We're baling straw before the rain (make wrapping actions)

Can the children think of any more farming activities that involve using tractors? Can they think of any ideas for making up new verses?

Tractor lotto

Share a book, such as the board book Tractor by Dorling Kindersley, which gives a clear explanation about the different jobs a tractor can do and the types of machinery it uses. Then make a tractor-themed lotto game to reinforce learning.

For a simple version: make a set of four boards with nine squares featuring pictures of tractors and machinery. For example, a manure spreader, hay rake, harrow, plough, grass cutter, hay baler, seed hopper, front loader, bale fork and trailer. Make a set of cards featuring the same pictures for children to match to their boards.

For an advanced version: make a set of four boards with nine squares featuring pictures of tractor machinery as above. Then make a set of cards featuring pictures of the jobs or produce that the machinery is responsible for. For example, a picture of a plough would be matched to a picture of a ploughed field, and a baler would be matched to a hay bale and a seed hopper to a bag of seeds.


  • Provide trays of ready-mixed paint for children to drive toy tractors through and create tyre track paintings.
  • Set up a small-world farm with a variety of tractors and farm machines. Playmobil has a fantastic tractor and trailer that comes with farmer, hay bales and interchangeable front loader tools (www.playmobil.co.uk).
  • Buy a ride-on tractor and trailer for the outdoor area. The Early Learning Centre has a good range (www.elc.co.uk).



  • Tremendous Tractors by Tony Mitton and Ant Parker (Macmillan). Rhythmical and rhyming information text, available with an audio CD.
  • The Usborne Big Book of Big Tractors by Lisa Jane Gillespie and Mike Byrne (Usborne). Very informative book with fold-out pages featuring large pictures of a wide range of tractors.
  • Jack's Tractor by Thomas Taylor (Hodder Children's Books). The story of a little boy who goes on a journey and picks up animal friends along the way.
  • Goodnight Tractor by Michelle Robinson and Nick East (Puffin). Rhyming story about a little boy who says goodnight to all his toys, including his favourite - his tractor.
  • Tractor, part of the DK Machines at Work series (DK Publishing). Simple and clear information book with colour photographs.
  • Tractor Ted series by Alexandra Heard (Tractorland). Series of photo books featuring a little tractor called Ted who introduces children to all aspects of farming and farm machines.
  • Driving My Tractor by Jan Dobbins and David Simm (Barefoot Books). Rhyming picture book with accompanying audio and a visual CD with sing-a-long and video animation.


Items to support the suggested activity ideas

  • Up close: tractor wheel, digital cameras, paper, pencils, paint, Modroc or clay, rectangular blocks, toy tractors.
  • Where to?: large sheets of card, Sellotape, marker pens in various colours, Make 'n' Go and Constructa-Bot, both available from TTS (www.tts-group.co.uk), Duplo. Also find Britain's Big Farm Radio-Controlled New Holland Tractor on Amazon (www.amazon.co.uk).
  • Tractor lotto: small colour pictures of tractors and farm machinery sourced from the internet, card and a laminator.

Marianne Sargent is a writer specialising in early years education and a former foundation stage teacher and primary and early years lecturer.

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