Enabling Environments: Tried and Tested - Science solutions

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Puzzles, magnets and wind equipment set fun challenges for early science exploration in products that childcarers tested for Mary Evans.

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Encouraging children to explore and investigate how things work enables them to develop sustained shared thinking through problem-solving and thinking of new ideas and solutions. It is crucial, therefore, to provide science resources that encourage the children to explore and investigate and enables them to consolidate and extend their existing knowledge.

LIFECYCLE PUZZLES

WESCO

AGE: 4+

PRICE: £21.10 (human lifecycle puzzle) £17.40 (chicken lifecycle)

CONTACT: 0115 989 9765 or sales@wescouk.co.uk

Two wooden lifecycle puzzles. One shows the lifecycle of a chicken from egg onwards, and the human lifecycle puzzle goes from birth to old age.

Tested by Barton Primary and Nursery School, Torquay

'We had similar jigsaws many years ago, for example, a butterfly and frog lifecycle, which were so popular that they were tatty around the edges. But I have not seen them recently. These are very good quality and lovely looking. I would consider buying them.

'Children generally enjoy doing puzzles, and these enabled the teacher to feel that the children were really gaining a great deal. There was the very obvious physical development in learning how to manipulate the pieces and put them into the puzzle, and there was the science knowledge that could be acquired. The main benefit with this age range was the opportunities that it provided for language and vocabulary to be introduced, modelled and used.

'Staff thought that it was a good-quality resource and a valuable addition to classroom resources. The children's comments were more basic, saying they liked it, but one boy elaborated and said he liked the way the man got smaller!

'The children were allowed to take a puzzle home. One parent commented that his son sat and did it quietly by himself twice, and then his older sister did it with him and they talked for a long while.

'I have no children with specific special needs but I think from experience that this would be a very useful item, particularly the human lifecycle puzzle, because it is so relevant to the children's lives and gives them a lot to talk about in relation to themselves and their families.

'I thought that the jigsaws were good quality but a bit expensive for the present-day market.'

Star Rating: *** - Good

GRAB-N-GO WINDY DAY SET

TTS EDUCATION

AGE: 3+

PRICE: £51.45

CONTACT: 0800 318686 or www.tts-group.co.uk

A boxed set of colourful resources with which to explore the power, direction and sound of a windy day, including windmills, windchimes, ribbons, scarves and mobiles.

Tested by Marigold Day Nursery, Heswall, Wirral

'This set does enhance the children's learning, because it develops their knowledge of direction and different strengths of wind, and enables them to see the effects of wind in our environment, which can be a starter for a topic.

'We used the set with children who have speech delay, Down's Syndrome and vision impairment. Due to the bright colours of the equipment, it attracted all the children. The equipment was easy to hold and provided a range of activities for all children to take part in. They enjoyed playing rockets with the equipment, linking it in with bonfire night.

'This set seems reasonably safe, but as with most toys, supervision is required. There are strings which, if not used correctly, could be dangerous, and some of the attachments should perhaps be more secure.

'We would purchase the items that are in the windy day box set, but we would not buy it as a set as most of the equipment could be sourced individually at a more cost-effective price. However, the set was good and the children really enjoyed it.'

Star Rating:**** - Very Good

MIGHTY MAGNETS

STEP BY STEP

AGE: 3+

PRICE: £17.95

CONTACT 08451 25 25 50 or www.sbs-educational.co.uk

A set of chunky, colourful, lightweight horseshoe-shaped magnets

Tested by Clare Bears Pre-School, Clare, Suffolk

'We thought the magnets were excellent, as they covered so many areas of learning. We put them out one day on the numeracy table and the children had a lot of fun picking up paper clips and counting how many different coloured clips they had got on their magnets. They went round in pairs with the magnets, finding out what else in the room is made of metal, and that led to discussions about what different things are made from. The children also tried lifting different objects with the magnets and found some were too heavy, which led to discussions about weight and size.

'It was interesting to see how many different ways a simple resource could be used and the way the magnets sparked the children's interest.

'The two-year-olds did not really understand what was happening with the magnets, but they still enjoyed playing with them.

'The magnets are a good design and ideal for small hands to hold. The price is very reasonable and we would definitely consider buying them, as we have nothing similar.'

Star Rating: **** - Very Good

MAGNETIC SET

STEP BY STEP

AGE: 3+

PRICE: £21.95

CONTACT: 08451 25 25 50 or www.sbs-educational.co.uk

A colourful magnetic kit featuring cars that can be moved without contact, magnetic wands and iron filing cases to demonstrate magnetic fields.

Tested by University of Teeside Day Nursery, Middlesbrough

'The children really enjoyed playing with the magnets, particularly the boys who liked being able to move the cars around. They were very interested in them and how they could make the cars move. They would link the cars together with the small magnets and then push them around the table with the magnetic wands. We used the magnets in the pre-school room with children aged two to four, and the younger ones needed adult guidance. They did not really understand what the iron filings were, but they enjoyed playing with them.

'I would not say that the magnets enhanced their learning about science, but playing with them did enhance their social skills. When they were playing with the cars they played together as a group, taking turns and co-operating with each other, and they did a lot of problem-solving in getting the cars joined together with the magnets and moving them around. I think the set is pretty good value - there is quite a lot there with the cars and wands.'

Star Rating: *** - Good

GARDEN PUZZLE

WESCO

AGE 18 MONTHS +

PRICE: £29.60.

CONTACT: 0115 989 9765 or sales@wescouk.co.uk

A set of four soft puzzles showing the insides and outside of fruit and vegetables.

Tested by Mrs Heidi Evans, registered childminder, Purley on Thames

'The puzzles look relatively simple as they are only four pieces each, but they are actually quite difficult because the underneath picture does not match the one they are trying to complete as a puzzle. So these were a good way to judge how well the children concentrated and persevered with something that was actually harder than first appeared. It was good to have a variety of fruit and vegetables on the pictures as I talked to the children about them, asking what they thought they were or listening to the names they gave them. I gave them to individual children of different ages/stages of development in my setting so that I could closely watch and listen to their responses. A child of 50 months managed to do them without much help, but I learned that he did not recognise some of the foods. A younger child of nearly 35 months found the puzzles more difficult and requested help.

'When I took the puzzles to a childminder drop-in, the other childminders said that they would prefer wooden puzzles and that younger children would bite the foam pieces. We also felt the puzzles would work better with pegs on for young children, or that they should be made up of more pieces for older children.

'These were a very good resource to get children talking about fruit and vegetables, as all of the children who used them spontaneously began naming them, but I would prefer wooden puzzles and would prefer to use real fruit and vegetables if I wanted to show the children what was inside them.'

Star Rating: *** - Good

All prices exclusive of VAT and post/packaging

BEST BUY

For Gill Living, proprietor of Mayfield Kindergarten, Ilfracombe

'The First Experiments Magnetism Set made by Shaws, from Early Years Resources (earlyyearsresources.co.uk), price £26.99, is excellent. You get very good teacher support materials with ideas for experiments and an assortment of magnets - wands, marbles, a horseshoe magnet, a compass magnet, floating ring magnets and a magnet which is so strong it works through a table, so you can have the magnet under the table and move things across the top with it. The set comes in a big case so you can keep everything together. We bought it about three months ago because we wanted to do more with magnets, and it has been fantastic. We use it in our three- to-fives room.'

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