EYFS Activities - We’ve explored… our car

Monday, December 9, 2019

A car called Freddie is proving the perfect learning resource. Annette Rawstrone reports

The children have given Freddie an MOT and carry out tasks such as fi lling up the water tank
The children have given Freddie an MOT and carry out tasks such as fi lling up the water tank

Brrrrm brrrrm!’ Harley sits in a car and demonstrates a high level of fascination as he presses the horn, feels the fabric on the seats, pulls the seat belt, turns the ignition key and pokes at the buttons on the dashboard. Previously he has demonstrated his interest in vehicles by making them out of wooden pallets, crates and chairs, but now he is playing in a real one at South Acton Nursery School and Children’s Centre in west London.

‘We always plan to the children’s interests and noted that vehicles and transport often feature highly in this,’ says head of centre Bev Kellett. ‘We were looking for purposeful ways to use part of our large outdoor area and thought it would be great if we could provide a real car in a garage setting. It turns out to be one of the best things we’ve done because of the first-hand experiences that it has given children and the endless ways that the car is used.’

Freddie the Car, a blue Vauxhall Agila, arrived at the setting earlier this year after the partner of a staff member, who works for a car website, Tweeted the nursery’s dream. A benefactor in the States loved the idea and donated $500 to buy the car. The project received highly commended in the Nursery World Enabling Environments Award category in 2019.


Freddie’s doors needed to be removed in order to get the vehicle through the nursery’s gates. It was decided to leave them off to avoid children trapping their fingers and the car was further safety-proofed. It is situated outdoors beside a large garage backdrop scene.

To get the maximum impact from the car to promote thinking, talking and learning, a staff meeting was held to share ideas across the areas of learning and Characteristics of Effective Learning. Plans ranged from clamping the car to inviting the local community police officer in to talk about road safety, and packing Freddie up for a camping trip.

Children from all rooms, including the SEND unit, have free-flow access to the outdoor area and play together there. Staff knew that it was important to establish rules for playing in and around Freddie from the outset. It was decided to limit the number of children to four at a time for safety and to make the most of the learning opportunities.


The car is now always included in staff planning with enhancements put in the area dependent on the children’s current interests – for example, suitcases during the summer term when children were exploring going on holiday. Sometimes staff will put out buckets of soapy water and sponges so that children can wash Freddie, and there are tools and clipboards for children who want to look at the engine and repair the car. A mum commented, ‘Vivian came home so excited and told us that when she grows up she wants to be a mechanic. I couldn’t have been prouder.’ Children have even made up picnics and eaten them in the car while ‘driving’ to the beach.

‘Freddie is also used in more focused activities,’ says Mrs Kellett. ‘For example, the children gave Freddie an MOT. This included mathematical development, numeral recognition, mark-making to write down the registration number and record the results of the MOT, such as a tally chart when counting all his parts, dipping and measuring the “oil”, pumping up the tyres.’

Playing with the car also supports children’s physical development – for example, they hone their fine motor skills when removing and replacing the dust caps on the tyre valves or screwing the lid off the windscreen washer bottle to fill it up. Gross motor skills are developed as children wash the car or climb in and out of it.

Staff expected Freddie to be a very popular and exciting learning resource, but Ms Kellett says they all underestimated just how powerful having the car has been for promoting active learning, such as car safety. ‘It quickly became apparent that some of our children probably have little or no experience of travelling in cars. It was lovely to see their peers strapping them in and led to discussions around safety which extended to road safety in general, a great way to develop PSED skills,’ she says.

‘Simple things, such as leaving books and maps in the pockets behind the front seats, have encouraged reluctant readers to climb into the back of Freddie and look at a book. There are discussions around “where shall we go today?” sparking a whole area or interest on places and destinations around the country, from seaside to cities to the countryside.’

One parent commented how her three-year-old daughter had taken a book on a car journey after having read books in Freddie.

Staff have noticed that playing in the car can encourage some reluctant speakers to talk more, probably because there are just three or four children and they are all concentrating on the car, which is less intimidating than sitting in circle time. ‘They seem more comfortable to chat and help make up stories while going on a journey in Freddie,’ she says.

Having the car has also helped to engage some of the more reluctant dads when they come to the setting, while new children starting in September reacted with awe and wonder when they saw Freddie.


Staff have observed that the number of sustained, shared thinking opportunities are endless and the nursery’s school improvement partner noted what an ‘inspiring provocation’ the car is after observing a significant increase in collaborative and imaginary play, talking and thinking.

‘Freddie often provides the spark for much larger exploration; for example, a group of boys have become very interested in engines and how they work, which has been expanded to other machinery and transport,’ says Mrs Kellett.

They have investigated the nursery’s leaf-blowing machine and have taken an old printer to pieces. There are hopes to eventually get a car engine that the children can take apart in order to properly investigate the spark plugs, cylinders, valves and pistons and continue to give opportunities to use real tools with purpose.

‘I couldn’t have justified spending funds on a car because I saw it as a luxury,’ reflects Mrs Kellett. ‘Now I know what an important resource Freddie is, I wouldn’t hesitate to justify it.’

Book corner

Usborne Look Inside Cars by Rob Lloyd Jones

A lift-the-flap book packed with information about cars, from how the first automobiles were invented to how racing cars get around tracks. It also looks inside a car repair shop and a scrapyard.

Car Science: An under-the-hood, behind-the-dash look at how cars work by Richard Hammond

A look under the bonnet of the world’s top supercars to find out how they work. Discover the physics going on inside every car, from horsepower to acceleration.

Cars: Facts at your fingertips by DK

Get behind the wheel of 160 types of cars, from hatchbacks and saloons to hybrids and vintage cars, and explore the exhilarating sport of car racing.

i-SPY Cars by Collins Michelin

Search for more than 140 cars with this i-SPY guide, from Minis to Maseratis, in search of i-SPY points.

Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry

A tour of everything that moves from tractors and trucks to sports cars and unicycles.

If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen

Jack has designed the ultimate fantasy car – there’s even a fireplace and a pool! Then he and his dad set off on the wildest test drive ever.

Helpful Little Mechanic by Margaret Eustace

The Little Mechanic is sure he knows what’s wrong with the great, big shiny red car, but the other mechanics won’t let him help.

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