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Wooden Market Stall (75) and Cash Register (15) from LDA Early Years LDA, Duke Street, Wisbech, Cambs PE13

Wooden Market Stall (75) and Cash Register (15) from LDA Early Years

LDA, Duke Street, Wisbech, Cambs PE13

SAB (01946 463441, fax 01946 587361)

Tested by Lawnswood Nursery, Solihull, West Midlands

The stall comes complete with crates of wooden fruit, vegetables, eggs and other foods, making 60 pieces in all. It is supplied flat packed for self assembly. The cash register features a digital display showing pounds and pence, totals and change to be given, a barcode reader, swipe-card slot, flashing lights and sound effects.

Tester's report

These covered all the early learning goals and the children gained many new experiences. They help to develop sorting and communication skills, introduce new vocabulary and extend the understanding of monetary value. The food items were easily identifiable. The till is a great piece of equipment which we would recommend to other nurseries. We have some reservations about the market stall as it was not as durable as it might have been to justify the price.

Two of the crates were broken on arrival and a third broke the first time the children played with it. We also felt that, given time, the children would discover that the slats and root could be removed and might be used for less desirable activities like hitting each other.'

Kate Nicholson, Nursery Supervisor

Giant Dominoes

(16.50) from Beam

Education

Beam Education, Maze Worksbops, 72a Southgate Road, London N1 3JT (020 7684 3323, fax 020 7684 3334, email info@beam.co.uk)

Tested by Vicar's Green Primary School, Alperton, Middx

This large, double-nine set is designed to help children with number and calculation throughout primary school. The dimensions of the chunky card dominoes are 95 x 190mm and they come complete with a booklet of whole-class and group activities.

Tester's report

I used the set with groups of children aged from six to nine. The first thing I discovered was that many of them had no idea how to play dominoes. That was a good starting point and the size of the dominoes meant that I could demonstrate how to play the game to a large group. We then tried many different sorting and number activities and investigations with them. We played Bingo games in which the children had to total each of their dominoes and with the older children we looked at the concept of probability and introduced the terms 'likely' and 'unlikely'. I have always known that dominoes are an excellent resource for numeracy lessons and I liked this set because it was quite sturdy and distinctive. May I suggest the additions of a magnetic set for us on magnetic and white boards and a set made of clear plastic obviously lot smaller which would enable the teacher to demonstrate to a whole class using an overhead projector.'

Laurence Keel, Headteacher

Glub the Sub Watery World Project Pack

(Pounds24.95 single user) from The Worm That Turned

The Worm That Turned Ltd, Gorse Farm, Wymeswold Road, Hoton, Loughborough, Leicestershire LE12 5SN (01509 880794 fax 01509 889067 email: mail@worm.co.uk

Tested by Longmeadow C of E Primary School, Shrewsbury,Shropshire

This multimedia resource is designed for children from three to seven. It contains 200 screen activities on CD-Rom, 30 lesson ideas and a mouse mat. There is also an accompanying wall frieze and 14 sea related printable colouring pictures. The dual format is suitable for both Pcs running Windows '95 or later, and Macs with OS 7.5 or later.

Tester's report

'This is ideal for new reception children and nursery children, who found it more challenging, so the level is right for four- to five-year-olds. We noted that children who never normally go to the computer were attracted by the music and colourful animation. We tried it as part of literacy hour and they enjoyed listening to the story but it could be more interesting if there were some interaction. The matching letters and numbers games were very easy for them. The puzzles were a great favourite. We found that children could access Glub the Sub independently once the teacher had gone through the instructions. It would have been very helpful to have a Q for quit button as it takes at least 10 minutes to close down.'

Michala Hoyland, Reception Teacher

The Rabbitts Mat (Pounds39. 50)

Available direct from www.rabbitts.com(01727 768191)

Tested by Marigold Day Nursery, Wirral, Merseyside

This nappy-changing mat incorporates a restraining shoulder and waist harness designed to prevent babies escaping or falling from high surfaces.

Tester's report

'The mat is bright, cheerful and the children enjoyed looking at the pictures on it so it is good from a language point of view when nappy changing. However, the staff feel that it is more suitable for home use or a very small nursery. At the moment, we have four main nappy changes a day including babies of three months to toddlers up to two years which means that they need to be done quickly and efficiently. We found it safe and secure if the straps were adjusted to the individual child. Unfortunately, it's difficult to gauge how far to adjust before lying the child on the mat and it's impossible to alter once the baby is on it. This mat also takes some time to clean between changes as there are a lot of straps, ridges and corners to wipe. For that reason we did not find it a viable piece of equipment for our nursery.

Sharon Lewis, Deputy Nursing Manager

Spordas Targetwall (Pounds123.50) from NES Arnold

NES Arnold, Novara House, Excelsior Road, Ashby Park, Ashby de la Zouch, Leics LE65 1NG (0870 6000 192, free fax 0800 328 0001, email: orders@nesarnold.co.uk)

Tested by The Column Nursery, Shrewsbury

The Targetwall is designed to develop striking and throwing skills and for playing scoring games. Depending on skill and accuracy, one to five points can be scored for each throw or kick.

It's suitable for use with all types of balls and bean bags. A floating backdrop sheet slows down or stops the object thrown. It can be either suspended from a goal or ceiling or alternatively can be combined with two Big Red Bases (Pounds39.40 each) and two large posts (36.30 each).

Tester's report

'The children loved it. The staff were not so sure at first as there were no instructions as to how to put it together and it took about an hour and a halt to get it right, It was used most during our holiday sessions when we had a greater number of school-age children attending. However, it's good for hand/eye co-ordination and encouraging teamwork and great for number recognition with the preschool children. We tried it indoors and outside and found the 'floating backdrop' was useful to prevent beanbags and balls from travelling too far (ie. into windows!). The Targetwall is very strong and hardwearing although think the mounting elbows which fix it to the posts need to be a bit more durable and flexible. The set can be made even more versatile with other accessories, We have since bought extra posts and a tennis net to extend its use and one group of children love playing volleyball over a high net.

Kay Rogers, Officer in Charge

Talking Scanner (pounds 12.95) from NES Arnold

Contact details as before

Tested by Dorothy Stringer Pre-school Playgroup, Brighton, Sussex

This has a dual function. It has a random button which can be used to scan' in pretend play but it does actually read the barcode labels provided with it. Each price is shown in pounds and pence on the LCD screen and a voice announces the price. This talking facility can be turned off. The scanner comes complete with suggested activities.

Tester's report

'This is a fun addition to shop role play and the buttons respond easily.

While the display adds interest, it proved too advanced for children in our age group and an explanation by an adult tended to interrupt the flow of imaginative play. We also found that the sound was insufficient in a playgroup situation; it needed a slightly louder beeper at our noise level and the voice was barely audible. It would work much better in a home situation.

However, even without the display and voice, we found it a good product for enhancing our role play.'

Fran Goulding, Play Leader

'Laptop'magnetic whiteboards (pounds 12.50 each) and magnetic accessories (pounds 7.90 per pack) from Magiboards

Magiboards Ltd, Unit B, Stafford Park 11, Telford, Shropshire TF3 3AY (01952 292111, fax 01952 292280, email sales@magiboards.co.uk)

Tested by St Luke's Primary School, Cambridge

The whiteboards are available in a number of different versions pre-printed with guide lines for handwriting or with a grid of squares for number work as well as plain and in A4 and A3 sizes. All are two-sided with rounded corners.

The magnetic version can be used for Dri-markers as well as for magnetic shapes, letters and numerals.

Magiboards are supplied direct in packs of ten along with On-marker pens, board cleaners and magnetic accessories.

Tester's report

'The boards would appeal to any young child and are very versatile.

They can be used in a variety of learning situations and could be a particularly valuable tool to aid emergent writing and as a precursor to pen and paper tasks. They seem very tough and hardwearing and are good value for money. While the children enjoyed using the board and pens, I thought the magnetic accessories were too small for young children and they did find them hard to manipulate. They can also get easily lost in a busy classroom.'

Margaret Edwards, KS1 Teacher

Calypso Kitchen Range

(from pounds 55.95 to pounds 350 per individual unit) from NES Arnold Contact details as before

Tested by Cornerstone Amington Pre-school, Tamworth, Staffs

Each unit is made from melamine-faced MDF. Specification of all units, unless stated, are 60cm high x 41cm wide x 33cm deep. They are delivered ready assembled except for taps which are supplied with fittings.

Tester's report

When the kitchen first arrived, it couldn't be seen for the children gathered around it. They were able to easily identify what each piece represented and we liked the colour scheme not too bright which created a calming atmosphere. It offers lots of opportunities for individual and group role play. Items were constantly being taken out of cupboards and off shelves and replaced, the freezer was regularly opened and there was a lot of cooking and washing up. An extraordinary amount of laundry was also washed and dried during every session over the testing period!. They had clearly been observing how their parents behaved at home. Interestingly, although the dimensions of the kitchen are most suitable for two- to five-year-olds we found, overall, that the older, out-of-school children, from four to eight, played with it more consistently. Just a few quibbles: The lack of handles makes it difficult to open the doors. This is especially true of the washing machine which the children assumed didn't open and would therefore have had limited play value without adult intervention. If handles were fitted they would encourage manipulative skills. That said, we will be very sad to say farewell to the Calypso Kitchen.

Neena Heath, Centre Manager

Button Box Maths (9.95) and Seashore Shapes Lacing Cards (6.65) from LDA Early Years

Contact details as before

Tested by Nursery Department Butlins Skyline, Minehead, Somerset

The Button Box Maths includes 96 plastic sorting buttons, eight double-sided activity cards, four 91cm-long laces plus teaching suggestions. The Seashore Lacing Cards involve the children in lacing seashore shapes and then punching them out to see a rectangle square, triangle, circle, hexagon and star. Each card is printed on board and measures 15 x 15cm. There are also six 91cm-long laces with extra-long plastic tips.

Tester's report

'The children had great fun playing with the Maths set and it has really helped with their shape recognition.

The pieces are very strong and easy to handle and we thought this was great value for money. Good for children from three to six years. The Lacing Cards were less successful and we would not recommend them for both durability and safety reasons.

The cards have sharp edges and could easily become bent or broken if used on a regular basis.'

Cheryl Beynon, Manager

Compose 'n' Play Orchestra (approx pounds 28) from Fisher-Price

Fisher-Price, Vanwall Business Park, Vanwall Road, Maidenhead, Berks SL6 4DB (02628 600000, fax 01628 500075, stockists 01628 500302)

Tested by Green Top Private Day Nursery, Bradford

This toy is designed for babies from the age of six months and allows them to make their own music by commanding an orchestra of five characters. Each character has its own instrument and if the baby removes a character from the base of the toy, the voice and/or instrument relating to that character will drop from the song. Once the character is replaced, the voice/instrument is audible again. The Orchestra has three modes: voice only, instrument only, and both voice and instrument.

Tester's report

This is well worth buying. I think it's one of the best toys for young children I have seen. Although it's designed for babies, children of every age group in our nursery were mesmerised. Even very young babies loved it and it worked well if there was a crying spell.

The older children enjoyed sharing it.

Could be good for children with special needs, especially those with a short concentration span, as it's so calming and relaxing.'

Tammy Robertshaw, Senior Nursery Nurse

Little Doll House (pounds 49.99) from Plan Toys

John Crane Ltd, 11 Deer Park Road, Moulton Park, Northampton NNZ 6QD (01604 678790, fax 01604 670808, email: sales@john-crane.co.uk)

Tested by St Leonard's Early Years Centre, St Leonard's on Sea, Sussex

The house measures 31 x 51 x 12cm and features a kitchen, dining room, living room, bedroom and bathroom. It comes complete with furniture. A set of four dolls mother, father, brother and sister costs pounds 22.99.

Tester's report

'This is a good quality, well furnished house. Because of its size, we found it most useful when working with small groups. It encourages creativity, extension of language and the development of fine motor skills. We also used it on a one-to-one basis with special needs children and for this purpose it proved excellent. Although it was unsuitable for large groups, it worked well in conjunction with our big dolls' house. We encourage the children to tidy away the activities and the house proved very child friendly.

They were easily able to carry it and put it away.'

Kathryn Dixon, Nursery Manager

Weebles Shape Sorter Express (pounds 10.99) from Learning Curve

Flair Leisure Products Plc, Century House, Station Way, Cheam, Surrey 5M3 8SW (020 8643 0320, fax 020 8642 8462 email: sales@flairplc.co.uk)

Tested by Platform 1 Pre-school Day Care, Chesham, Bucks

This comprises three Weebles, three shape blocks, one train engine and two carriages. It features rolling wheels, two detachable free-rolling carriages and a tooting chimney. Designed for children from one year.

Tester's report

'Constant supervision was needed for this toy as the shapes are too small and the figures too heavy. The children found the Weebles difficult to roll so threw them instead. Another problem was that the train fell apart because the tow hitches are too small.

The children enjoyed the noise it made but found it frustrating that the pieces would not stay together. It would be a more satisfactory product if it were bigger.'

Sharon Duncan, Nursery Leader

Fastening Skills Dolls (pounds 14.95 for two) from Step By Step

Step by Step, Lee Fold, Hyde, Cheshire SK14 4LL (0846 300 1089, free fax 0800 056 1438, email: sbs@stpbystp.demon.co.uk)

Tested by Cherry Orchard Creche, Burton upon Trent, Staffs

A pair of boy and girl soft dolls designed to help children learn to dress and undress using buckles, zips, laces and buttons.

Tester's report

'The very youngest children in the creche some only nine months old found these were nice to touch and cuddle. The toddlers over 18 months managed to remove the dress, trousers etc with help. The two to three-year-olds enjoyed practising fastening, zipping, buttoning and so on. The dolls are bright, attractive and well made and proved a useful addition to our creche. The only criticism we had was that the zips were a bit short and had to be held at the top in order to unzip them. Not all the children realised this. I would like to see some dolls with a variation of skin colour and style of dress.'

Vera Poynton, Creche Supervisor

Activity Robot (pounds 19.95) from Hope

Hope Education, Hyde Buildings, Ashton Road, Hyde, Cheshire SK14 45H (08702 433 400, fax 0161 366 2909, email: enquiries@hope-education.co.uk)

Tested by Castle Montessori Nursery, Berkhamsted, Herts

This features different textures, a rattle, mirror, squeaker, buttons and laces.

Every part of the robot is fully attached to the main body.

Tester's report

'The children really loved the robot and he was attractive to a wide age range although most suitable, we think, for the 18 months to three-year- olds. He was used regularly for imaginative play, including being bandaged when he 'hurt his leg'. He offers lots of learning opportunities and could be useful for children with manipulative difficulties. I could suggest a couple of improvements: The button holes are too small, making it difficult to stretch them over the buttons and the laces would be better if they had stiffened/plastic ends to prevent fraying and make threading easier.'

Gayle Romney, Deputy Manager

Feltkids Interactive Story Books (pounds 19.99) from Learning Curve

Contact details as before

Tested by Chelmsford YMCA Day Nursery, Chelmsford, Essex

These soft story books feature re-tellings of classic tales and nursery rhymes. Each contains re-usable felt play pieces which allow the children to participate by moving characters and props from page to page as the story is read. They are supplied in clear vinyl tote bags.

Tester's report

'These really grabbed the children's attention. There is so much learning potential - new vocabulary, social skills such as sharing and taking turns They encourage concentration, self expression and confidence and can provide the first steps to reading. On a one-to-one basis, they offer unlimited play. Because the pieces fall off, they cannot be held upright and have to be used at a table, so they did not work well in circle time. The children were confused about what some of the objects were and we found the pieces were easily damaged if the children fought over them.'

Vicky Flint, Head of Childcare

Happy Cube (pounds 16.95) from Gait

Gait Educational & Preschool, Johnsonbrook Road, Hyde, Cheshire SK1 4QT (08702 424477, fax 0800 0660314, email: enquiries@galt-educational.co.uk

Tested by Flying Start Nursery, Wallingford, Oxon

This soft toy features different shapes and textures, including a safety mirror and removable small toys. Designed for babies from six months.

Tester's report

We offered this toy to five of our babies and only one, aged six months, seemed to enjoy it and played with it for any length of time. We feel that it would have 100 percent more learning and playing value if the sides of the cubes had been covered in a variety of different materials and textures and if it had produced more sounds. Of most interest to our children were the mirror and the toy dog.'

Jan Thorp, Manager

Wooden Lacing Cubes (pounds 19.95 for a pack of six) from Galt

Contact details as before

Tested by Little Echoes Day Nursery, Egham, Surrey

These are solid, rubberwood blocks of different shapes square, hexagonal, cylindrical with a threading pencil attached. Each is perforated with lots of tunnels through which thick cords with long ferrules can be laced in different combinations. Each cube has a different configuration of holes.

Tester's report

'The set was used very successfully and proved suitable for a range of abilities through the age range but is most suitable for children from three to five years. It is unusual in that it is a threading activity which promotes a variety of skills; dexterity, observation and problem solving. The younger children needed adult input but the three-year-olds and above threaded at various angles and made more complex patterns (one member of our staff who is dyslexic found it difficult to undo the threading, proving how intricate some of it was.) A durable resource which I would recommend to other nursery staff.'

Christine Richardson, Nursery Manager

Colour Bear (pounds 13.95) and ABC Puzzle Blocks (pounds 18.95) from Learning Resources Learning Resources Ltd, 6 Merchants Close, Oldmedow Road, King's Lynn, Norfolk PE3O 4JK (01663 762276, fax 01663 769943, email:sales@learning-resources.co.uk)

Tested by Beehive Day Nursery, Barford, Warwickshire

Colour Bear is a stacking game. When the hardwood pieces are stacked on the pegboard, the face of the bear changes expression eight different expressions in all. It includes 20 counting pieces in four shapes and four colours.

The ABC Puzzle Blocks are made of natural wood and feature individually shaped and cut letters. They are supplied in a wooden storage box.

Tester's report

'These two items became clear favourites with the children.

The Colour Bear is particularly good for children with language difficulties.

Most suitable for children from three years plus. The ABC puzzles are attractive and well made.

Unfortunately, the letters are all capital which the children found confusing.'

Kerry Brown, Pre-School Teacher

Gears, Gears, Gears Activity Card Set (pounds 14.95) from Learning Resources

Contact details as before

Tested by Jelly Babies Nursery, Longbridge, Birmingham

This consists of 12 double-sided activity cards, four bases and 24 gear plastic, snap-together building pieces. The activity cards are designed to cover four square gear bases in order to help young children connect and manipulate gears within each illustration. The recommended age range is two years plus.

Tester's report

This scores ten out of ten with us. The pieces are nice and chunky and should last for years. The children loved the activities and worked well in pairs. We found they needed adult intervention to start with and a member of staff asking questions will extend thinking and also encourage counting skills. its most suitable for two- and three-year olds; the four year-olds enjoyed it at first but it's probably not challenging enough to sustain their interest.

However, a five-year-old girl with learning difficulties became frustrated at first but was so full of pride when she managed to put a gear on.'

Julie Kite-Lightfoot, Nursery Leader

The Playsquare (pounds 450) from LifeEd Direct

Lifetime Education, P0 Box 72, Retford, Notts DN22 9XF (01777 816110)

Tested by Kids Korner Day Nursery, Halesowen, West Midlands

The Playsquare is designed to offer a multi-sensory approach to play. It's made of fire-retardant foam and wipe-clean PVC and is comprised of six panels plus a central block with pocket. The cube measures 700mm when packed and requires a maximum space of 1800 x 1800mm when open. The panels feature shape and number-matching, different textures, a clown's face, a cat with a detachable face and body parts, a clock with moveable hands and a flower bed.

Tester's report

'A bright and attractive piece of equipment. We found that the greatest learning potential was gained by separating it into sections and supervising small groups according to age and ability. It was very well made, and safe, and had the benefit of providing activities for babies to five- year-olds. It would also be excellent for children with a variety of special needs. However, we did think it was very expensive, and it is not very practical if you have limited storage.'

Heather De Souza, proprietor

The Bear Family Toss 'n' Play Activity Set (pounds 16.95) from Learning Resources

Contact details as before

Tested by Small World Day Nursery, Alvaston, Derby

This consists of a double-sided vinyl mat measuring 4 x 5ft, three bear bean bags and an activity book, all supplied in a totebox. Designed for children from age three.

Tester's report

'There are many ways in which this game can be adapted to suit an age range from two and a half to five, It offers plenty of learning possibilities, including recognition of colours and numbers, developing co-ordination and turn taking.

After the game was finished, we let the children use their own imagination and it was interesting to see what they came up with. They had lots of fun. Our one quibble is that it seems a little expensive.'

Joan Widdowson, Nursery Manager

Teddy Game (pounds 34) from LifeEd Direct

Contact details as before

Tested by Silver Trees Day Nursery, Nottingham

Designed as an aid to numeracy sessions, this consists of six large and six small wooden teddies and two stands. Six colour necklaces are supplied to provide pairing, sequencing, colour matching, 'next to' and 'in front of' games.

Tester's report

'We used this with children between three and four years of age and found it worked well, providing plenty of different games according to individual ability. It's good with small groups or on a one-to-one basis, depending on what learning outcome practical aid for maths, which the children really enjoyed. It also encourages personal and social development as it's fun and boosts self esteem. It helped the children to interact closely within their groups. It's well made, the instructions are clear and easy to follow and it also enables you to make up your own activities and games.'

Nikki Hare. Officer in Charge

Best of the Bunch

Products most highly recommended by our, testers were:

Cash Register from LDA

Beam Education's Giant Dominoes

'Laptop' Whiteboards from Magiboards

Compose n' Play Orchestra from Fisher-Price

Wooden Lacing Cubes from Gait Learning

Resources' Gears Activity Cards

Teddy Game from LifeEd

Many thanks to the companies who provided the products for assessment and to the testers for taking time to write thoughtful reports.

Please note that not all the prices quoted throughout the magazine include VAT. Please check before ordering.

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