Nursery Equipment: Introduction - All purpose

Penny Tassoni, an early years consultant and author
Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The provision of stimulating equipment and the input of caring adults are essential for the development of babies and toddlers. Penny Tassoni offers some tips on how to create a nurturing environment for the under-threes.

It has become clear over the past few years that children's first few years are important for their later development. Therefore it is essential to think about the environment that we create when working with the under-threes.

A good starting point is to spend some time considering what it is that babies and toddlers really need in their lives. The answer is, of course, not some fancy toys or beautiful furniture, but the attention of the adults who are with them. Babies and toddlers need the input of interested, skilful and caring adults.

It is the adults who provide language and stimulation and plan activities. Positive outcomes for this age group of children are significantly associated with the adults who are with them. This means that resourcing and buying equipment for children under three needs to be done with careful regard to the adults who will be spending significant periods of time working alongside the children.

An environment that has been carefully planned and resourced should allow adults to spend most of their time interacting with the children and enjoying being with them. It should not be one in which the adults become frustrated, bored or demotivated by the hassle factor of, for example, moving babies and toddlers outdoors because the buggies are impossible to unfold singlehandedly.

With this in mind, here are a few points that might be worth considering if you are looking to update or refurbish your current provision.

Access to ICT equipment

Observation is an essential part of working with young children. Not only should it inform our planning, but it is also vital in sharing information with parents.

This means that a computer or laptop at a proper height for adults in the room is a must, alongside a digital camera and an MP3 sound recorder.

Digital folders can be created and copied for parents to take home. Ideally, staff also need to learn to touch type so that they can fill in observation and planning sheets quickly, enabling them to spend more time with the children and less on administration.

Effective Storage

Good storage that is easy to use is absolutely vital for efficient working. It also allows staff to quickly select new materials, resources and toys for children. Changing what is on offer several times during a long day is absolutely essential if children and staff are to remain stimulated.

A ten-hour day is fairly standard for many babies and toddlers, and toys and resources can lose their interest if everything is on 'permanent' display.

Ideally, it is worth creating a rotational system so that when staff take out a box or basket from the cupboard it contains several very different toys that will meet a range of different needs and interests. (There is little point in putting out a whole box of shape sorters or rattles.)

There should also be space to allow for several treasure baskets or heuristic play materials so that children do have 'new' things to discover.

Access to water

Water is an essential ingredient for babies and toddlers' play. This means that a sink in the room and a water tap outdoors is vital.

It allows for adults to spontaneously fill up a bucket, paddling pool or shallow tray of water for children to explore, and then easily pour it away when it has served its use.

Furniture and layout

Adults who work in home-based care with the under-threes have many advantages. They are likely to be able to move with the children from room to room. This in itself is a stimulating experience for babies and toddlers who are likely to be seeing different colours, furniture and textures.

In group care, it can be worth trying to recreate such an environment by considering the layout of a room and subdividing it into smaller places and also by furnishing parts of a large room quite differently.

While there has been a trend for plain wooden furniture, it can look quite bland en masse and is also not representative of most people's homes.

In terms of making adults and children feel at ease, it is worth thinking about having sofas where adults and children can cuddle up together and even proper dining tables where children can sit up and eat alongside adults as they might do in their own homes. For children's stimulation, it is also useful if they are able to see their world from a range of heights and so being able to sit on a sofa or be put in an indoors swing, for example, is essential.

Flooring

It is surprising how the flooring in some settings can act as a barrier to certain activities. While some soft carpeted area is useful and cosy, hard flooring that can be easily wiped is just as important.

For crawling babies, it is helpful for them to feel the 'cold' of a hard floor and its different texture.

In many countries, hard flooring is the norm, with rugs put down on top. This approach has many advantages. The rugs can be properly washed and disinfected and babies can be stimulated by the provision of a range of different coloured and textured rugs.

For toddlers, watching an adult sweeping the floor or unrolling a rug is an activity in itself, particularly if they come alongside to help.

Access to the outdoors

Everyone knows that babies and toddlers need to spend time outdoors. When you consider that a child who began attending a full-time setting at the age of six months will by the age of three have spent 6,000 hours in the setting, the need to broaden their horizons becomes apparent.

In practical terms, it means widening doors, creating areas where staff can easily put children into buggies for walks and making sure that the outdoor area has equipment that is suited for their young age. This might include baby and toddler swings, and equipment that gives babies and toddlers sensations such as being rotated by a roundabout.

For mobile children, it means good quality sit-and-ride toys and, of course, to prevent boredom as a result of familiarity, we need excellent storage outdoors too, so that equipment can be rotated. As we need babies and toddlers to go out in virtually all weathers, it might also mean providing garments that are quick to put on and places to store them easily.

Materials for play

Working with babies and toddlers is particularly demanding. Unless given genuinely stimulating resources that intrigue them, babies and especially toddlers soon lose interest. It is unfair on everyone if play materials are scant or not up to the job.

Cardboard boxes, tubes, fabric and ordinary household items such as spoons and saucepans often have more possibilities than bucket loads of plastic toys. Useless too are toys and resources destined for children over three, because most toddlers will drop a teaset behind the radiator rather than pretend to have a Teddy Bears' picnic. Items that allow for posting, transporting, throwing or hiding on a large scale, based on children's actual play patterns, are worth exploring. So too are treasure baskets and opportunities for heuristic play.

Treasure baskets and heuristic play

Treasure baskets, composed of natural materials that are safe for babies to mouth, are an essential resource. They allow babies to discover textures and noises and learn about size and shape. But one paltry basket filled with five items will not do for babies who may be spending 50 or so hours a week in a setting.

As with other key resources, several different baskets are required so that when the adult places them out, 'discovery' can really take place.

The same is true of heuristic play, because toddlers need a range of items, some new and some familiar, so that they can keep making new connections. Most items for treasure baskets and heuristic play can be found in kitchen drawers and hardware shops, although good-quality commercial ones can be bought (see pages 21-22).

Books

Finally, let's not forget books. Time spent showing books to babies and toddlers also promotes language and communication skills and so is an important form of stimulation. Books can also create genuine moments for adults and young children to come together and snuggle up.

For the magic of books to work, adults have to enjoy the books that they are sharing with children. This means stocking a wide range of books that appeal equally to adults and children. It also means culling tired, tatty books that induce a bored indifference. As with other resources, consider a rotational system so that 'fresh' books keep appearing (see page 30).

INFORMATION

  • Key Times for Play: The First Three Years by Julia Manning-Morton and Maggie Thorp (Open University Press)
  • Nurturing Babies and Children Under Four: Achieving Best Practice in the Early Years Foundation Stage by Sally Thomas (Heinemann, £260 plus VAT). Resource pack with 90-minute DVD aimed primarily at trainers. No copyright so can be photocopied
  • A Nurturing Environment for Children up to Three written by Sindhu Hope with editorial help from Anni McTavish for the Islington Primary Strategy Early Years Team. Contains information, ideas and a wide range of pictures to help promote best practice (£22.00 plus p&p, www.islington.gov.uk)
  • People Under Three: Young Children in Day Care by Elinor Goldschmied and Sonia Jackson (Routledge)
  • Working with Babies and Children from Birth to Three by Cathy Nutbrown and Jools Page (Sage)
  • Working with the Under-3s: Responding to Children's Needs edited by Lesley Abbott and Helen Moylett (Open University Press)

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