Enabling Environments: Tried and Tested - Let's pretend

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New resources for role play are reviewed by early years settings that observed how the children used them and reported back to Mary Evans.


Role play enables children to explore all areas of learning through imaginative play. By calling on their own real-life experiences and imaginations they can travel the world of make-believe and identify with different characters while expressing themselves and affirming their own personality.


AGE: 3+

PRICE: £44.99

CONTACT: 0800 318 686 or www.tts-group.co.uk

Atmospheric jungle with background measuring 1.2m x 3m made of Correx, making it lightweight but durable. It folds away flat for storage.

Tested by Bewbush Nursery, Bewbush Children's Centre, West Sussex

'When this piece of equipment arrived I was initially a little disappointed, as I thought it would never last a day in our nursery. We set it up straightaway and it has been in the nursery now for a month - and it is still in one piece and being enjoyed by all our children!

'It has enhanced our children's play and learning, as we have used this as an opportunity to talk, look at and role-play being in a jungle. We set up the area before the children came in and then let them investigate it. They immediately started to play. We have put books out on the jungle. We have also developed the area - a member of staff made a large tree with the children, found some posters and some animal cushions. We introduced different music for the children to listen to.

'It has made a nice feature in the nursery. However, as we operate under a very small budget, this piece of equipment costs more than we could justify paying, especially when it is something we could have made ourselves.'

Star Rating: *** - Good



AGE: 3+

PRICE: £24.95

CONTACT: 0845 241 0484 or www.learningresources.co.uk

A set for children to play at party time celebrating a friend's birthday or re-enacting their own, with a cake in five segments, plates, candles, three boxes for presents, plastic hat, colouring-in cards, invitations and play camera.

Tested by Mayfield Kindergarten, Ilfracombe, Devon

'The children liked it when we first unpacked it, but soon tired of it as there was not much scope for extended play. They used it in the correct context - putting small toys in the boxes provided to make birthday presents - but they were disappointed and frustrated that the stickers, which should have been re-usable, kept falling off.

'The younger children liked the boxes. They stacked inside one another, and children liked the play hat.

'The children found the camera rather basic and it is not very tactile. It is so small they couldn't look through the lens and it didn't click when they pretended to take photographs of each other.

'The set includes a cake with five numbered candles and five slices, but if it had been divided into six it would have given us an opportunity to talk about fractions.

'Overall, it is a safe product, but the candles can be put in children's mouths - even at age three, some children still feel the need to put things in their mouths. Without the candles I would say this was suitable for children aged two to three, but with the candles I would say it is suitable for children aged four.'

Star Rating: ** - Satisfactory



AGE: 3+

PRICE: £89.95

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

A shop with display shelves, signboard and a barbecue grill

Tested by Ashbrow Children's Centre, Huddersfield, Yorkshire

'It promoted some good opportunities for the children to engage with each other, working together and co-operating as well as promoting language development and number recognition.

'We set the unit up as a shop with a selection of fresh fruit, vegetables and tins, and placed a till on the top, leaving space for the children to stand all around the unit. The children did start playing there first, but when they had bought their produce they quickly moved away, expanding their play in other parts of the home area.

'While the children engaged with each other for a small amount of time they quickly moved away, taking the fruit and vegetables to another and area leaving the unit standing empty. The children also preferred real fruit and vegetables and didn't really play with the wooden ones provided. The children quickly discovered that the shelves easily pulled apart and they were often found on the floor.

'The staff were a little disappointed with this product, as even with a lot of staff involvement the children quickly moved away from it.'

Star Rating: ** - Satisfactory



AGE: From birth

PRICE: £22

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

Washable fabric doll dressed as a fireman

Tested by Caroline Bennett, registered childminder, South Ham, Devon

'This is a friendly-faced dark-skinned doll with removable outfit. The doll has a fabric-style hood rather than a hard plastic helmet. One child befriended the doll and gave it special attention. The children named it "Nicco".

'We have had fire as a topic this month and the children quickly incorporated the doll into the firefighter game they were playing, with the tent being the fire station and the sofa being the fire engine.

'The doll was not played with exhaustively, as it was limited in its scope. (The setting's mascot from 'Build a bear' was in greater demand, as the outfits are interchangeable and so enable play with life beyond the professional role.)

'The fireman's clothes are easily removed, with the only fasteners being Velcro on the jacket. However, this limits the variation of fasteners the children can practise manipulating. The boots are stitched on. The suit is generic in design rather than specific for English, European or American markets, while not detracting from the role attributed.

'We used the doll to enter discussions about fire drill practice, what a firefighter would do/look like in the event of an emergency, and the differing roles within the fire brigade.

'The doll cannot sit unsupported and there are few possibilities for manipulation. However, being fabric, it can be washed on a 30 degs cycle - something that would be invaluable for any settings with very young children.

'The doll has a darker skin colour, exposing the children, subconsciously, to cultural diversity.'

Star Rating: ** - Satisfactory



AGE: 3+

PRICE: £29.95

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

A pop-up tent petrol station-car wash with tools

Tested by Frederick Bird Primary School, Coventry

'This provided excellent opportunities to extend children's learning in many areas. The children opened the pack with us and were able to model reading the instructions of how to set it up. They helped us to make it and were very excited.

'It quickly proved very popular and encouraged children to learn to take turns to go in the garage and to use the tools. As the weather has been cold we did not provide water and sponges etc for car washing, but we will do so in warmer conditions.

'Children were able to use their own real-life experiences of going to a petrol station and car wash and to develop their language skills in addition to their imaginary play.

'We developed the learning further by using the resource as an opportunity to encourage children to write for a purpose. As boys are underachieving in all areas of learning in the EYFS Profile, particularly in writing, we provided resources linked to the garage to encourage children to write - appointment sheets for car services, a garage checklist of faults in the car, receipts for the petrol, price lists for the washes. The boys loved this and were very enthusiastic in writing. The tools added to the play possibilities and were good for developing children's fine motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination.

'This is good value for money. We have a large reception setting of 90 children and the resource stood up well to robust use by a large number of children.'

Star Rating: ***** - Excellent

- All prices exclusive of VAT and post/packaging



For Anne England, reception teacher and year group team leader at Barton Primary and Nursery School, Torquay

'The one role play resource that I would not be without is a resource that I got about a year ago and use in nearly every different role play. It is a chip and pin till with a pretend microphone attached. The children really like the speaker bit. I use it for my role play garden centre as the till, in my shop, obviously, but also for my theatre role play for the children to buy tickets to the performances. The children use it on occasions when it is not used for role play, such as a home corner. It promotes maths, language, knowledge and understanding of the world, as well as physical development through using the coins.' (www.toysandinteriors.co.uk, £15.95)

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