Enabling Environments: Tried and Tested - Lacing ahead

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Threading and lacing resources help develop hand-eye co-ordination, fine motor skills and problem-solving abilities. Early years setting assess a selection for Nicole Weinstein.

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THREADING FRUIT SET
REFLECTIONS ON LEARNING
AGE: 3+
PRICE: £19.99
CONTACT: www.reflectionsonlearning.co.uk or 01732 225850

A set of 24 pieces of wooden fruit - banana, red apple, green apple, orange, pear, grape - with three threading laces and a threading bodkin.

Tested by Tamworth Early Years Children's Centre, Staffordshire

'The children found the fruits friendly to handle and quite appealing. Some good discussion occurred around favourite fruits. It was good to have larger objects to thread, as some beads can be tricky. The three- to five-year-olds enjoyed filling the string, counting the fruits and comparing with others, but they became bored when they had to unthread them. It's a shame it's not suitable for under-threes, as I think they would really enjoy investigating them.

'We didn't observe children sorting out single fruit to thread or making a pattern, but this is certainly an activity you could encourage. It would be good for a child who needs to strengthen their fine manipulative skills due to the size and the safe, wooden material the fruit is made from. We felt it wasn't a bad price for this resource, but it would be better if the string was shorter so that children didn't lose interest as quickly.'

STAR RATING: **** - Very Good.

ABC LACING SWEETS
LEARNING RESOURCES
PRICE: £13.95
AGE: 3+
CONTACT: 0845 2410484 or www.learningresources.co.uk

This pack of sweet threading beads by Smart Snacks contains 21 consonants in five colours and ten vowels in red. The two laces can be used to string together letter sequences or form words. A 'sweet jar' and scoop is included.

Tested by Castle Montessori, Berkhamsted, Herts

'The children liked the brightly-coloured "sweets" and enjoyed making pretty necklaces with their names on. Some of the features were really nice. For example, the use of letters on the beads for the children to word-build was a great idea, but there weren't always enough of some of the letters for the children to make small sentences. The product enhances learning with word-building and letter recognition and also with fine manipulative skills. But because of the size and the fact that they are called "sweets", I was concerned they would try to put them in their mouths. Also, we felt that calling the beads "sweets" conflicted a little with our focus on healthy eating. This product is not really for us, as we would need to buy more than one set so that there were enough letters for the children to build small sentences.'

STAR RATING: ** - Satisfactory.

SMALL ACTIVITY CUBE
THE CONSORTIUM
AGE RANGE: 12 MONTHS+
PRICE: £35.95
CONTACT: www.theconsortium.co.uk or 08451 999955

Wooden activity cube with chalk board, xylophone, bead coaster, number spinner and puzzle maze beads.

Tested by Carolyn Spraggons, childminder, Suffolk

'This activity allowed the children to explore and think for themselves how each side worked. The number side supported the children's interest in number recognition. On the maze side, two three-year-olds used mathematical skills to try to put the colours in the same order. One child used the maze as a control panel in imaginative play. A one-year-old enjoyed playing with the puzzle maze beads and the bead coaster - it was great for his fine motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination.

'It is also good for language development and can be used to demonstrate forward, backwards, round, over and under. The chalk board side provides an opportunity for mark-making. I would definitely consider buying this product. It is robust and easy to store and there was a lot of interest in it.'

STAR RATING: **** - Very Good.

I CAN LACE MY SHOE
WESCO
PRICE: £11.60
AGE RANGE: 3+
CONTACT: www.wesco.org.uk or 0115 989 9765

A colourful wooden shoe with holes to lace with a long string provided.

Tested by Mayfield Kindergarten, Ilfracombe, North Devon

'I wouldn't consider buying this product because I think it's a closed resource. Once the children had tied the shoelace there was nothing more they could do with it and they soon lost interest. The lacing holes are big, which is good, and the laces have wooden rods at the end to help thread them through. This made it easier to thread but meant that we couldn't use the laces for anything else. Some children commented, "That's a funny shoe." There was no enjoyment of the finished article, as there is in other threading and lacing activities. It's also too difficult for two-to-three-year-olds.

'We have a flat shoe that children can lace in and out and up and down. They find this more interesting.'

STAR RATING: ** - Satisfactory.

BABY BEADS
SBS EDUCATIONAL
AGE: 18 months+
PRICE: £24.95
CONTACT: www.sbs-educational.co.uk or 08451 252550

A set of 20 colourful round beads and flexible plastic laces that can be connected.

Tested by Kids Korner Day Nursery, Halesowen, West Midlands

'The children showed a real interest in the beads. They gained a lot of learning experiences and had fun. We have a couple of children in our setting with speech and language delay, which in turn affects their concentration. When given the beads the children succeeded in threading them with very little assistance and definitely didn't get as frustrated as they do with other threading products.

'I introduced the beads on their own first to the children, giving them all one to look at and touch, describing different textures, patterns and colours as we went along. I then introduced the laces, showing them how they interlinked, and each child started threading their bead on to the lace. Some children continued threading while others rolled the beads to each other. They have made several pieces of jewellery with them. The product is very safe, durable and hard-wearing. My one concern is that the threading laces may not last as long and so it would be useful to be able to purchase these separately. I would definitely buy this product.'

STAR RATING: ***** - Excellent.

WOODEN LACING BLOCKS
ASCO EDUCATIONAL
AGE: 3+
PRICE: £12.95
CONTACT: 0113 2707070 or www.ascoeducational.co.uk

A set of three wooden lacing blocks (square, cylinder and octagonal) pierced with holes through which thick cord with long wooden ferrules can be laced in many different combinations.

Tested by University of Teesside Day Nursery, Middlesbrough

'We introduced the product to the children by putting it out on the fine motor table and sitting with them explaining what to do. Once the children had mastered it we allowed them to explore it on their own.

'The product was good in the sense that the holes were cut at angles - we have never had a threading product do this before and it made threading more of a challenge for our older children. However, our younger children found it very difficult to unthread once used and to start again. They became frustrated at not being able to untangle it and walked around the room with it swinging from the peg, which became dangerous. I wouldn't buy it because there are better products suited to our nursery's age range.'

STAR RATING: ** - Satisfactory

BEST BUY

For Gillian Livings, Mayfield Kindergarten, Ilfracombe, North Devon

'Our children love threading together cotton reels to make necklaces, bracelets and crowns. You can bring in recycled ones from home or buy a pack of giant coloured cotton reels with threading laces from Hope Education for £9.95. They come with fine boot laces, but I buy different lengths of boot laces in bright colours so that we can also link the activity with maths. This is a simple, open-ended resource that the children never seem to tire of. They love seeing the end result and often wear the jewellery for the rest of the day.'

- www.hope-education.co.uk

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