Nursery Equipment: Construction - Work it out
Monday, May 28, 2012
Construction play is ideal for developing both gross and fine motor skills. Ruth Thomson provides a round-up of the building sets on offer.
As treadmills, exercise bikes and steppers start to make an unwelcome appearance in some settings, it is worth reminding ourselves of the full-body workout that children can enjoy when using large construction equipment. With the physical challenge of pushing, pulling and lifting comes creativity, designing, planning and co-operation - with none of the tedium of a junior gym (there is even a junior weight bench out there).
Setting out the all-round benefits of construction, early years consultant Penny Tassoni explains, 'There's a huge difference between the exercise needs of adults and children. Children need a stop-start approach to exercise rather than continual aerobic activity. Traditional outdoor equipment such as crates, wooden planks and logs are a much better option. Not only do they provide children with good gross motor activity, but they also provide opportunities for imaginative play and problem solving. Construction play also provides children with naturally occuring opportunities to play with others.'
Large hollow and solid blocks, invaluable for their flexibility and potential for open-ended play, are seen as the staple commercial products for constructing on a large scale.
Both are available from Community Playthings, with prices starting at £361 for the introductory set of large hollow blocks and £227 for the introductory set of unit blocks.
Other companies supplying hollow blocks include TTS Group, whose range includes Giant Outdoor Hollow Blocks (from £189.95 for a set of 15) and 'Empire Builders' Hollow Blocks (from £124.95 for a set of 18). Galt supplies Giant Building Blocks (£129.95 for a set of 18), while a 26-piece set, priced £495, is available from Alphabet Educational Supplies. Hope Education's special offer price on a 26- and 14-piece set, when bought together, is £699.90.
Alphabet also offers a Wooden Block Trolley, a 192-piece set of large and small solid blocks in varying shapes (£229.95). Alternatives include the TTS Outdoor Block Cart (£199.95), containing 40 assorted pieces designed for outdoor use, and its Wooden Blocks sets, from£209.95.
The physical benefits to be had from constructing are not limited to gross motor skills, however. Ms Tassoni explains, 'Traditional construction play also involves fine motor skills and these should not be overlooked as they do provide opportunities for hand-eye co-ordination. Another great thing about traditional construction toys is that not only are they open-ended, there is also a good range available and so children can play with anything from wooden blocks and crates through to creating a complex space rocket with Lego.'
SPOILT FOR CHOICE
Settings will find themselves spoilt for choice when it comes to buying construction kits, as the variety of sets, large and small, is enormous and continues to grow.
New to the UK are Wooden Construction Planks from Kapla. All in the same size, these long, thin planks can be used to create sophisticated designs without gluing or fixing. Sets, including a 200-piece set, priced £37.71, are available on Amazon.
New to the market is Wesco's Lego-style Large Construction Blocks, aimed at children aged from six months (£19.30 for a set of 18) and Rainbow Bricks from Reflections on Learning (£119.99 for a set of 36). These non-slip bricks, available in two sizes, allow children to use an 'offset bricklaying' technique, making towers more stable and potentially taller than the children themselves.
The bricks are the latest addition to an expanding selection of construction sets with eye-catching inserts. Among them are Sliding Window Blocks from TTS Group (£234.95 for a set of 36), which have two panes, one coloured or mirrored and one transparent. The larger transparent windows slide open, so bricks can be filled with items such as feathers. Alphabet Educational offers Pom Pom Blocks, with transparent sides and filled with sparkly pom poms (£199.95 for a set of 24).
There is also a growing supply of 'natural' sets. Box of Sticks (£40) and the Construction and Building Box, containing wooden reels, grooved building sticks, bamboo sticks and dolly pegs (£18), are both available from Mindstretchers. Reflections on Learning offers Small Branch Wood Bricks (£15.99 for 40), while Asco supplies Bamboo Building Blocks (class set, £79).
Also popular are magnetic blocks. Nexus offers 3D Magnetic Blocks (£59 for a 20-piece set; £199 for an 80-piece set), while Reflections on Learning has Chunky Mag Sets (£74.99 for 96 pieces).
Acrylic block sets include Colour Perspex Blocks from Mindstretchers (£14.40 for six) and Pattern Cubes from Reflections on Learning (£39.99 for 16, each measuring 50mm).
Basic interlocking construction sets are readily available, and in abundance - Hope offers Lego Dacta Basic Bricks (£34.94 for 844 pieces) and 1000 Basic Bricks (£24.95) - but there is plenty of choice, from Clack Construction (£36.70 for a 52-piece set from Asco) to Klimba (£90 for a 41-piece set, from Mindstretchers) and Giant Polydron 40 Piece Set from Nexus (£60).
For more information on how to choose construction sets, see 'Building sites' by Diana Lawton (Nursery Equipment, November 2008; www.nurseryworld.co.uk/news/866935
- www.alphabet education.co.uk
- www.asco educational.co.uk
- www.community playthings.co.uk
- www.galt educational.co.uk
- www.hope- education.co.uk
- www.reflectionson learning.co.uk