Equipment: tried and tested - Messing around

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Useful resources for sand and water play involve many factors for early years settings to consider, as they put them on test for Sue Hubberstey.

TRI-WAY EXPLORE AND DISCOVERY TRAY

TTS EARLY STEPS
AGE RANGE: 3-5
PRICE: £49.99
CONTACT: 0800 318686
www.tts.shopping.com

This tray, which comes with a lid, can be used for sand, water and other materials, and the stand allows for height adjustment. It can be packed away for easy storage.

Tested by Frederick Bird Primary School, Coventry

'This gave the children the opportunity to experience and explore a wide variety of multi-sensory materials independently. These included shaving foam, tree bark, leaves and stones and cornflour gloop for writing letters in. It also allowed them to extend their imaginative play when we placed shredded green paper and grass in the tray alongside jungle animals and green jelly and frogs and tadpoles to create pond life. The baby dolls also got bathed in it and, at one child's suggestion, we even used it as a realistic baby incubator in our hospital role play. The equipment was very easy and quick to assemble and because we could alter its height, it was suitable for both nursery and reception children. Another plus is that being lightweight, it's easy to transport between the indoor and outdoor learning environments.'

RATING: 1/5

WATERFUN PLAY TABLE

HOPE PRE-SCHOOL
AGE RANGE: 12 MONTHS PLUS
PRICE: £17.95
CONTACT: 08451 202055
www.hope-education.co.uk

This plastic laptop play table features a boat, an operating water pump, wave maker, water mill and crane. The legs are removable.

Tested by Child First Nursery, Aylesbury, Bucks

'This is a good idea but doesn't work in a group setting. It's very light and it tips over if a child pulls himself up on it. It's a pity, as our youngest children don't usually have access to water play and they were very interested. However, the small pieces just got thrown around. We took the legs off and tried it on a table, which made it a bit more accessible, but it really didn't work with more than one child. It could be useful in a home setting, and it is good value for money.'

RATING: 1/5

VIADUCT WATERPLAY SYSTEM

ASCO
AGE RANGE: 3 PLUS
PRICE: FROM POUNDS 295 (STARTER SET) TO POUNDS 460 (ACTIVITY SET)
CONTACT: 0113 2707070
www. ascoeducational.co.uk

The system consists of wooden channels and supports, made from untreated European pine wood, which allows children to build their own water courses and ball runs on grass or on a sand area. It's designed to be flexible and a water hose can be connected to one end.

Tested by Bolsover Infant and Nursery School, Chesterfield

'It's a fantastic resource for developing children's thinking skills and problem solving, and stimulated a rich range of language. Language is essential in order for children to make decisions and evaluate the suitability of their systems. Further work could be done on drawing designs, writing simple instructions, developing scientific enquiry and simple investigations. Although it's an expensive item, the benefits to the imagination of the children and staff are limitless, making it a worthwhile expense. We wonder if a smaller version could be made for settings which do not have much space and which could be used indoors for cars, balls and other items.'

RATING: 5/5

MOONWALKER SAND SET

ASCO
AGE RANGE: 3-5
PRICE: £29.95
CONTACT: 0113 2707070
www. ascoeducational.co.uk

A roller, dozer, scoop and drill are included in this set of sand tools designed for 'the junior civil engineer'.

Tested by Kids Korner Day Nursery, Halesowen

'This set encouraged lots of language, like digging, grabbing, shovelling, as well as helping to develop the children's fine motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination - the one-handed grabber was particularly good for this. The children asked for the tools on a regular basis. They said they loved them as they were lots of fun. A successful product and good value for money.'

RATING: 5/5

LARGE WATERMILL

FINE SOLUTIONS
AGE RANGE: 3-5
PRICE: £16.95
CONTACT: 0115 9899300
www.finesolutions.co.uk

This measures 48cm tall and features a hopper and two waterwheels.

Tested by Mulberry Nursery, Halesworth, Suffolk

'It enabled children to explore the different way things move and how sand and water flow. However, it is limited in its use and while the children enjoyed it at first, they quickly lost interest. We would say it was safe, although care is needed when putting it together as fingers can get caught. The price is a bit more than we would be prepared to pay.'

RATING: 3/5

SPECIAL EFFECTS MODELLING TOOLS

GALT EDUCATION
AGE RANGE: 3-5
PRICE: £7.99
CONTACT: 08451 203005
www.galt-educational.co.uk

This is a set of three rolling pins, designed to be used in sand, paint or modelling material to imprint the pattern.

Tested by Holly Lodge Playgroup, north London

'These rolling pins are beautifully made and easy for the children to manipulate. We tested them in wet and dry sand daily over the testing period and also had one session using paint. However, the children showed little interest in exploring the different patterns and line spacings and they were just as happy to use our own smooth rolling pins. We had no feedback from them at all, despite encouragement, and so we have to conclude that this product is of limited interest and does not enhance play or language development. The rolling pins are now permanently paint stained, even after being in our dishwasher.'

RATING: 1/5

SAND AND WATER MILL

LETTERBOX
AGE RANGE: 12 MONTHS PLUS
PRICE: £11.95
CONTACT: 0870 6007878
www.letterbox.co.uk

This stands 40.5cm high and is designed for experiments with spinning, turning and flowing. It comes with a scoop, which hooks on to the front.

Tested by Uxbridge Centre Playgroup, Middlesex

'The children learned about the flow and force of the water and were fascinated by how it created movement through the wheels and rockers. We tried it with dry sand, but this was not as visually stimulating as with water. It's good value for money and definitely something we would buy. We would need at least three for our group. A safe toy which the children really enjoyed using.'

RATING: 4/5

BEST BUY

Liz Saunders, manager, and the rest of the staff at Trinity Lodge Nursery, Teignmouth, Devon

'One of our most successful purchases this summer has been some small plastic spray bottles. They're the sort you buy from garden centres. The children have thoroughly enjoyed those. We have a large sand pit outside and the big diggers, especially those they can sit on, are very popular. But we mainly tend to use things people give us or that we bring ourselves from home - like pipes, tubing, guttering. We have found that many of the manufactured sand and water toys just don't last; they are not strong enough for group use, although plastic crabs and fishes are useful. We offer our children some type of water play on a daily basis, although it obviously comes into its own during the summer months.'

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