Enabling Environments: Tried and Tested - Making music

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Musical instruments can help children develop the sound recognition skills essential for reading, spelling and writing. Early years settings call the tune as they try out a few for Nicole Weinstein.

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NURSERY RHYME SINGING SACK

TTS Group

Age Range: 3+

Price: £34.99

Contact: 0800 318686 www.tts-group.co.uk

This sack contains six nursery rhyme character puppets, six instruments and a sheet of stretchy cloth.

- Tested by Arnbrook Primary School, Nottingham

'It's a very versatile pack which can be used for a quick sing-song with the instruments or a longer activity with the fabric and puppets. It's also very inclusive because there's no end product and no right or wrong way of using the bag.

'We sat in a circle and sang nursery rhymes together doing the appropriate actions. Each child held a piece of the fabric and I placed a puppet connected to the rhyme on it and we sang while making the puppet dance. Sometimes we stretched the fabric wide and said "1, 2, 3" and let go and watched the fabric fly away. I would certainly buy this and over time I would add other things of interest to it to re-establish the awe and wonder aspect of retrieving something from the bag. It's good value for money. To create your own bag from scratch would cost considerably more. I think it could be used in some way with all age groups from nought to five years.'

Star Rating: ***** - Excellent

MINI STEEL PAN

Music Education Supplies

Age Range: 3+

Price: £47.95

Contact: 08450 264703, www.mesdirect.com

An eight-note steel pan which sits on a PVC tubing stand. Song sheet and sticks included.

- Tested by Three Monkeys Playgroup, Muswell Hill, London

'The children enjoyed testing this product. Some enjoyed simply striking the notes, while others pretended to perform entire songs, in spite of not being able to play the instrument properly. The noise it produces is unique compared with our other instruments and it was clearly stimulating for the children to play with, although very few were able to use it in a co-ordinated manner.

'The majority of the children were under four years old and this is too young to follow the notes sequentially to produce a tune. However, even after a week of using the drum there was very little improvement, suggesting it would be more suited to a primary school age range. It is a good addition to the nursery because of the exposure the children gain to an unusual instrument and it can be used by the adults during music time. This instrument is something we would consider buying due to the amount of interest shown in it. It is safe, only minimal supervision is required and it is a high quality product.'

Star Rating: **** - Very Good

BELLS MAXI PACK

Wesco UK

Age Range: 3+

Price: £53.20

Contact: 0115 9899765 www.wesco-group.co.uk

This pack includes five belts and five packs of two bracelets.

- Tested by Oaklands Children's Centre, Yeovil, Somerset

'The bells were popular at the two parent and toddler groups that had access to them. Most of the children held them in their hands but weren't keen to have them wrapped around their waist. The babies seemed to spend longer playing with them than the older children, aged two to three years. One of the mums said she liked the fact that the bells were different sizes and colours and made different sounds.

'The bells were completely safe. The splits on the metal of the bell are very thin so there is much less chance of the babies getting their tongues stuck. We tested them at Christmas time and it was fun linking the bells with the song "Jingle Bells". They are simple to use, easy to store and great fun. We would consider buying them because they are robust and durable.'

Star Rating: **** - Very Good

TALKING DRUM

Mangotree Kids

Age Range: 3+

Price: £30.00

Contact: 0845 6524521, www.mangotreekids.co.uk

In ancient African times the talking drum was used as a form of communication. This drum, with its quirky sounds, is made from white wood and comes with a beater.

- Tested by Sasha Edmunds, childminder, Totnes

'This is a beautiful object made of high-quality materials. I liked its natural appearance - unpainted and unvarnished. We used the drum during singing and rhyme-time. We explored the different sounds when tapping it gently with our fingers and banging it hard with the beater. It worked really well for the song "Who's that tapping on the window? Who's that banging at the door?" It was very popular with all of the children. They each came back to it and experimented with different ways of making sounds. They all felt comfortable handling it and playing with it. One child commented on its shape and appearance, which allowed me to explain where the drum originated from and how it has been used in different cultures.

'It's a quality instrument and worth the money, but I feel it would be too expensive for a childminder to spend on a single item.'

Star Rating: **** - Very Good

EARLY YEARS KIT

SBS Educational

Age Range: 3+

Price: £59.95

Contact: 08451 252550 www.sbs-educational.co.uk

A strong storage box full of a mix of percussion instruments: a pair of green frog maracas; animal castanets; one K jingle, one K tone guiro, one K tok, one K handbell and one K snocker.

- Tested by Happy Child Nursery, Kenton, Harrow

'The animal idea appealed to the children as it gave them an extra topic to talk about while playing these instruments. The maracas were light and easy to grip. The castanets had an elastic string which was useful for children who didn't yet have the physical skills to open and close them with one hand. The K Kit Range was made mainly from natural woods, which became another topic of conversation.

'The children investigated the new sounds and compared them to the instruments already at the setting. Some noted the difference in the volume of the instruments. The only component we found may pose a safety risk was the elastic strings from the animal castanets and the coloured ribbons on the frog maracas. This set is a good investment but for the quantity of instruments you get, we feel it would be a little too expensive for us to buy.'

Star Rating: **** - Very Good

BOOMWACKERS

Hope Education

Age Range: 3+

Price: £18.95

Contact: 08451 202055 www.hope-education.co.uk

Eight diatonic tuned percussion tubes that vibrate the note printed on them when struck against a hard surface. Teaches rhythm, melody and harmony.

- Tested by Jack in the Box Nursery, Upton Hospital, Slough

'The instruments came with no instructions so it was hard to know what to do with them. They are basically coloured plastic tubes of different lengths that make different sounds when hit against something. We introduced them at music time and the children were quite taken by their bright colours. But unfortunately the younger ones just wanted to hit each other with them. We hit them against the floor, the radiator; outside on the metal railings and the fence. But we found that the sound of it being banged against something was louder than the note itself. Even our five-year-olds found it difficult to distinguish the different sounds. We felt they would be more suited for six- to seven-year-olds. They did not help at all with musical awareness in our nursery. For what we got out of them we could have bought some plastic guttering or cardboard tubing.'

Star Rating: ** - Satisfactory

BEST BUY

For Eddie Hayden, music teacher for pre-school children, EenyMeenyMusic.co.uk

'The Halilit Train Whistle is an instrument that always provides amusement and excitement and creates genuine enthusiasm for the children to participate in the song. The three separately-pitched brightly coloured whistles are fused together with one mouthpiece to produce a tri-tone train whistle. It is easy for children to hold and produces a vivid and authentic train sound. Just one blow is enough to catch the children's attention. It's good value and robust in design and suffers no loss in sound quality over time.'

Priced at £3.39 from DJMusic, www.djmmusic.com. (As featured on 'Eenymeeny Music Vols 1 and 2')

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