Enabling Environments: Tried and Tested - New scientists

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Early years settings put resources designed to encourage scientific research and exploration to the test with young children and tell Sue Hubberstey about their conclusions.

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LET'S EXPLORE LIGHT AND SHADOW KIT
REFLECTIONS ON LEARNING
AGE RANGE: 3-5 (Also Year 1)
PRICE: £29.99
CONTACT: 01732 225850
www.reflectionsonlearning.co.uk

The kit includes a set of 15 colour paddles, ten A6 plane mirrors, ten convex/concave plastic mirrors, a torch, kaleidoscope set, coloured acetate sheets and storage box with tray, plus an eight-page guide to activities.

- Tested by Frederick Bird Primary School, Coventry

'This is excellent for developing children's understanding of the concepts of light and shade and extending their knowledge of colour and colour mixing. It allowed them to explore and investigate in practical, hands-on experiences, led to many questions and expanded the use of scientific language. I introduced the torch in a darkened room and they explored shining the lights on walls, windows, in drawers, on each other and to make shadows on the whiteboard. They were particularly excited when it was shone at an air vent and they thought they could see a ghost hiding inside (actually years of accumulated dust)! The children were also very enthusiastic about colour mixing, using the paddles and whiteboards, and spent many sessions putting different colour combinations on the overhead projector and seeing the results on the board. This was ideal for children still learning to name colours. We found there was less interest in the kaleidoscope and mirrors, probably because we already have a large selection in our science area. The kit is good value for money and something we would definitely consider buying for our setting.'

5 out of 5 - Excellent

BLOCK AND TACKLE ACTION GAME
ELEMENTAL
AGE RANGE: 3-5
PRICE:£40.40
CONTACT: 0844 5574150
www.elemental-learning.co.uk

This simple pulley system demonstrates how heavy items can be lifted with ease. It can be hung from the ceiling or from a tree. The upper and interior parts, including hook, measure 36cm. The diameter of the reels is 7cm and 10 cm, and a 6m rope is included.

- Tested by Barton Primary and Nursery School, Torquay, Devon

'This was an exciting addition to the classroom. It proved good for encouraging co-operative skills and mathematical vocabulary, and being able to weigh different items extends knowledge and understanding. It is well designed and well made, with good quality materials. However, it definitely needs constant adult supervision, as some children got very excited and boisterous. We would love to buy one but, realistically, other resources have higher priority.'

3 out of 5 - Good

PRETEND AND PLAY EXPLORER SET
LEARNING RESOURCES
AGE RANGE: 3-6
PRICE: £30.95
CONTACT: 0845 241 0484
www.LearningResources.co.uk

This comes in a carry case and includes a magnifying observation box, bug viewer with tweezer attachment, butterfly net, flower pot and a wipe-on/wipe off guide with insect and plant facts.

- Tested by Hyde'n'Seek Nursery, Glasgow

'This encourages exploration and discovery and took us into a monthly topic on mini beasts. However, we found the materials were rather flimsy for this age group. Resources got broken very easily, even with adult supervision, and we thought it rather expensive. The children enjoyed using it and comments included: 'I liked using it to look at the spiders - they were very hairy' and 'I liked catching the bugs with the catcher'.

2 out of 5 - Satisfactory

MAXILOTTO NATURE
EDUZONE
AGE RANGE: 3 plus
PRICE: £19.95
CONTACT: 08456 445556
www.eduzone.co.uk

From the company's range of Maxilotto Discovery Games, this is designed to help young children discover the plant and animal kingdom. The picture cards each have a different theme: foliage, garden creatures, forest animals, wild fruits, river life and flowers. The task for the children is to complete a picture card with the corresponding counters. Included are six plastic-covered, cardboard picture cards, each measuring 33 x 23cm, 36 photo counters and a teacher's leaflet.

- Tested by Harwich Community Primary and Nursery School, Essex

'The children became really engaged within the activity and the pictures generated lots of discussion. Turn-taking, sharing skills and PSE skills were developed, alongside knowledge of names for various animals and different plants that were new to the children. We also found the resource delightful for speaking and listening activities. Each child had a picture and was able to describe some of its features to his peers, who then had to find the matching picture on the lotto card. This is an innovative and refreshing game and ideal to support knowledge and understanding of the natural world. It's excellent value for money and I would recommend it to any early years setting.'

5 out of 5 - Excellent

LIFE CYCLE POUCH
HOPE
AGE RANGE: 2 plus
PRICE: £27.95
CONTACT: 08451 202055
www.hope-education.co.uk

The pouch features the details of a frog, butterfly, chicken and seed. The pieces are stored in the pouch and, when in use, can be attached to the front with Velcro.

- Tested by Mayfield Kindergarten, Ilfracombe, Devon

'This is ideal for the time of year when we are preparing for spring and new life. It is a great touchy-feely resource with good, strong pieces and realistic colours, and the pouch should last well. It can also be used to store other life cycle resources or as a feely bag. We have used it with other science products from Hope, including Frog Metamorphosis and Butterfly Metamorphosis and the Life Cycle books.'

5 out of 5 - Excellent

MAGNETIC STARTER KIT
TTS EARLY STEPS
AGE RANGE: 3-5
PRICE: £21.25
CONTACT: 0800 318686
www.tts-shopping.com

This includes two magnetic wands, one ruler, one stand, two bumper cars, two magnetic characters, two iron filing windows, eight ring magnets and teacher's notes.

- Tested by Horsenden Primary School, Greenford, Middlesex

'The children really enjoyed investigating the various aspects of the kit. Initially, this was an adult-guided task as they needed instruction on how to set up the magnets and use the pieces. After that they were able to do independent investigations. We found it introduced plenty of new language and encouraged the children to ask many questions about what they had observed. Everything is quite robust, except for the magnet stand which got broken halfway through the testing period. It is most suited for use in small groups. We have 50 children in a session and it was a popular activity!'

3 out of 5 - Good

MONKEY WEATHER CHART
EDUZONE
AGE RANGE: 3-5
PRICE: £27.95
CONTACT As before

This is designed to help children learn the days of the week, discuss the weather and then dress the monkey in the appropriate clothes.

- Tested by Ashbrow Children's Centre, Huddersfield

'It's a wonderful resource. The children instantly named the monkey and they looked forward to changing the day of the week and the weather symbols.

'This has proved really good for learning the days of the week and for reasoning, problem solving and general chatter time discussions. For children who have a limited attention span it has been useful to focus their attention on the task for a short time. It is a good-quality product and, therefore, well worth the price. Our only reservation is that some of the items of clothing, especially the trousers, are a little difficult to put on the monkey.'

4 out of 5 - Very Good

BEST BUY

Renee Phillips-Gall, childminder, Neath

For Renee, working in a domestic setting, scientific exploration and discovery tends to revolve around activities like growing things, cooking and waterplay. She says, 'The children and I spend a lot of time in the garden, and I think one of the best value-for-money products I have found is a gardening set from an Aldi supermarket. It consisted of a little basket, a trowel and seeds, all for £3.99. I bought several of these sets and the children loved planting the seeds and watching them grow. We weren't sure what we were growing, but were delighted to produce a really great selection of different flowers.

'For water play I have lots of different sized containers for filling and pouring. I pick up cheap plastic ones and make different sized holes in them. I also use food colourings to dye the water. I am planning to buy a large water wheel to enhance our water play this summer.'

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