Enabling environments: Tried and tested - Write on!

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Early years practitioners get to grips with the latest resources for children's emergent writing, letter recognition and fine motor skills and give Sue Hubberstey their verdicts.

AGE RANGE: 4-plus
PRICE: £5.95 (single book), £17.95 (set of five)
CONTACT: 0845 2410484

This 24-page, write on/wipe off, spiral-bound book allows children to trace upper and lower case letters and also features manuscript lines for further letter-writing practice.

- Tested by Mayfield Kindergarten, Ilfracombe, Devon

'The book stimulated the children's interest and encouraged them to think about letters. It also offers a range of activities to help them with letter recognition and linking letters to words. It was particularly helpful for one child with speech and language difficulties. We liked the fact that mistakes could be easily corrected and that upper case letters are included. We thought the set of five books very good value for money. A great resource for the older ones in our kindergarten.'

RATING: ****

AGE RANGE 3-plus
PRICE: £42.99
CONTACT: 0845 1204776

This contains a set of complete lower case letters with ligatures and a set of six ball bearings. The task for the child is to choose any letter, place the ball on the starting point and watch it roll along the groove, tracing the correct formation.

- Tested by Harwich Community Primary School and Nursery, Harwich, Essex

'Our children thought this was "wicked" and "magic". It is a great multi-sensory learning tool for teaching children letter formation. The children were captivated, watching as the ball moved up and down while forming the letter, and were then encouraged to do the same. It's a very useful resource for sight-impaired children and for those with speech and language delay, as they can repeat the sounds and words while tracing the letter shape with their finger. It is a very durable product, completely safe for the early years classroom and excellent value for money.'

RATING: *****


AGE RANGE: 3-plus
PRICE: £39.95 (pack of five)
CONTACT: 08451 252550

These are from a range of double-sided, dry-wipe framed lapboards.

- Tested by Gaer Infant and Nursery School, Newport, South Wales

'From the first day these were in constant use. We liked the larger size - the boards we already have are smaller - and the children found them easy to manipulate. They are great for mark-making, and adults can use them as well, of course. We do wish the dry pens lasted longer. Younger children tend to leave the tops off, so they don't last more than a couple of weeks. There were no instructions about how to clean the boards and we were surprised that a cleaning cloth or sponge wasn't included. We found the border was difficult to clean if the children wrote over the edge. Despite these few grumbles, the boards were a success with our Foundation Stage children.'



AGE RANGE: 3 - 5
PRICE: £36.95 (set of 26)
CONTACT: 0845 1204525

This is a set of 26 boards, one for each letter of the alphabet, each measuring 13 x 25 cm. A series of letter grooves, with the letter size gradually decreasing, is designed to help children enhance their motor skills. The boards can be used with a chinagraph pencil or waterbased felt pen and then wiped clean.

- Tested by Bolsover Infant and Nursery School, Bolsover, Derbyshire

'We weren't impressed with these plastic letter boards, I'm afraid. In fact, it was difficult to find a good use for them. They also look as if they might split easily and possibly cause injury. They certainly seem an expensive resource for something which seems to serve little purpose.'



AGE RANGE: 3-plus
PRICE: £24.95
CONTACT: As before

This is designed to help develop fine motor skills at the pre-writing stage. The solid wood board comes with eight double-sided pattern cards. There's a full colour task on one side of each card and a black and white pattern, which is photocopiable, on the reverse. These can be coloured in and matched, using the labyrinth board.

- Tested by Bolsover Infant and Nursery School, Bolsover, Derbyshire

'This was well liked by all the children. It's good for their thinking skills, manipulative skills and hand/eye co-ordination and kept them very focused. It's useful for dyspraxic and dyslexic children as well as being challenging for those who are gifted and talented. We found it had benefits for a child who has autistic tendencies. He spent a lot of time using this product and thinking carefully about how to manipulate the coloured pegs to reach the correct colours. He was also using it carefully, which was a huge achievement for him.'




For Barbara Scorer, deputy head, Whitehall Infant and Nursery School, Uxbridge, Middlesex

'We use lots of resources with emergent writing, but mostly they're things we have made ourselves. There is a writing table in each room where lots of different types of pencils are available. We are always looking for novelty pencils - anything to encourage a child to pick them up. We have football ones, and fluffy and sparkly ones. We use role play a lot. We might create a building site scenario when the children wear hard hats and count the numbers of bricks. Or we have a clinic, where the "babies" are weighed. The results are marked on clipboards, which the children love using. We have a laminated list near where the bikes are kept and children are encouraged to 'book' a bike by writing their name there.

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