Enabling Environments: Tried and Tested - Light and dark

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Resources to explore concepts of light are put to the test by early years settings for Nicole Weinstein.



Playing with light and dark creates magical experiences for children of all ages to enjoy. It also introduces them to the basic science concept that we need light in order to see things. Light and dark also provides a platform for children to express their fears and appreciate the fears of others. It can also allow children to discuss light and dark in other areas of life, such as people's ethnicity.



AGE: 3+

PRICE: Light Panels, A3 £79.99, A2 is £119.99; Resources set, £59.99

CONTACT: 01732 225850 or www.reflectionsonlearning.co.uk

A light box and resource pack, which includes a booklet and selection of transparent and translucent objects.

Tested by Frederick Bird Primary School, Coventry

'The light box is an invaluable resource, as children were keen to explore objects of their own choice over and over again, opening up lots of opportunities for discussion. It is easily portable and can be moved to different areas in the setting for the children to access.

'It is safe, but my only concern is that there is no tab to lift the magnetic cover on the light-box to insert resources. Also, I am unsure what would happen should the bulb inside blow. Some resources in the resource pack are quite small and difficult to manipulate for some children. Some children wanted to put the coloured sticks for the test tube mixing in their mouths.

'Initially, the cost for the light box resource pack seemed a lot of money, but having seen the range of resources and using alongside the activity ideas booklet, I believe this to be excellent value for money. The cost for the light box is reasonable, considering that it is very durable and will last a long time. I would buy these resources because our school does not currently have them, and the children gained invaluable experiences from them.'

Star Rating:*****




AGE: 0+

PRICE: £29.00

CONTACT: 01764 664409 or www.mindstretchers.co.uk

This rainbow maker uses solar energy to turn a motor and cogs, which rotates a beautiful Swarovski crystal that splits the sunshine to create rainbows.


Tested by Barton Primary and Nursery School, Torquay

'Before setting it up, we talked about the colours of the rainbow and explored the crystals and discussed the cogs and the gears of the machine. The children were very interested, but when we put the machine in the window to catch the light, their interest soon diminished when nothing much happened. I kept moving it around and learned that I could catch the rainbows for a specific amount of time a day - for about an hour if it was kept in one place - but if I wanted to keep the rainbows going, I would have to move it. When the rainbows did appear, they were very small and not clearly defined. The machine needs quite strong sunshine to make it work.

'I would not buy this product. I thought that it was expensive for the effects that it produced and I think that it would be more appropriate for much older children, who could think more about the science behind the rainbow maker.'

Star Rating: **





AGE: 1+

 PRICE: £20 

CONTACT: 01764 664409 or www.mindstretchers.co.uk

A strong, durable, rot-proof white mat which allows children to explore the shadows created through natural sunlight.

Tested by Slinn St STARters Community Pre-School, Crookes, Sheffield

'We hung the sheet up by tying it to a pergola's posts in a vertical position. It was a completely  blank screen and without it being brought to their attention, the children completely ignored it. We then experimented by standing behind the sheet and dancing, which made them laugh. However, unless you were standing immediately behind it - about 30cm - the shadows were too indistinguishable to be of interest. We then tried hanging the sheet horizontally above the children's head level - the eyelets were very useful for hanging it up - and threw a variety of toys on top of it, like balls, bean bags, a toy giraffe. The children enjoyed looking at the shadows and guessing what they were. The sheet is well-made and probably could be used as a canopy, screen or a cover, but it came with no inspiring instructions. Although the shadows were sharper on this screen, I found it hard to see why you wouldn't just use an old sheet.'

Star Rating: ***




AGE: 5+

PRICE: £5.50

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

Place an object on to the paper and leave in the sun for two minutes, then soak in water for one minute.

Tested by Renee Phillips-Gall, childminder, Neath

'I felt that this had very little use; there are better ways of showing the children the difference between light and dark. It only worked if the item you were using had a completely flat surface, for example, a toy spanner or a key. Leaves didn't work, which would have been more interesting for the children. Also, it needed very bright sunshine to work properly, and in our climate that would limit it to being a seasonal toy. The children, who were aged over five, didn't see the purpose of what we were doing and it didn't grasp their imagination as their involvement was minimal - for example, only choosing the item and placing it on the paper.'

Star Rating: *



PRICE: £179.99

AGE: 3+

CONTACT: 01274 581007, www.spacekraft.co.uk

A selection of products that consider light and seeing, sources of light, seeing in the dark, shiny objects and light sources. Included in the storage box is a multi-function lantern, a plasma ball, neon scarves and a LED Fibre Optic Mushroom.

Tested by Gaer infant and nursery school, Newport, South Wales

'The box was full of interesting sensory products. The concave and convex mirrors provided excellent comments from the children, like "It's made my head upside down" and "My head is soooo big". The stretchy rubber centipedes were a hit, being described as "squidgy", "squishy" and "stretchy". But the small hover ball was the favourite. The children wanted to play with it and roll it to each other. It had the effect of hovering and gliding over the surface as well as lighting up and it did not need batteries.

'Some of the items had limited use, especially when the batteries went flat. The lighted spinning ball only lasted one and a quarter hours, and the small hand-held spinning balls had broken connections on arrival which we were unable to fix. The Magic Electric and Sound Sensitive Ball only lasted 24 hours, because a young child caught his foot on the wire connection and the whole glass ball fell to the floor. The effects were good, but we would not purchase it, as it was made of a very thin glass. We would purchase individual items, but not the whole box, simply because some of the items didn't work or had limited function because of battery changing.'

Star Rating: ****.




AGE: 5+

PRICE: £19.95

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

Experiment with light and shadows by watching what happens when an object is moved between the light source and screen. Measures 42cm x 30cm; doors fold flat.

Tested by Bolsover Infant & Nursery School, Chesterfield

'The shadow box was introduced to the children by showing them the box and asking them what they thought it was. It didn't immediately capture their interest. We tested putting our hands and objects behind it in different lights - for example, by the window and with a torch. The children in Year 2 enjoyed this activity and started to understand which light was best for shadows.

'The catch on the box is very fiddly and quite difficult for the children to open. It could also be broken quite easily. The lid could close on the children's fingers. I don't think this product is worth the money. Although the children learned about shadows, it was not exciting and I don't feel that it was safe or sturdy enough to be left out for free play.'

Star Raging: **

- All prices exclusive of VAT and post/packaging



The Easi-Torch is a set of six LED torches with a docking station that fully recharges the torches in up to four hours. With a two-hour battery life and easy-to-read battery-life indicators, they are ideal for use in early years settings and classrooms.

The set, which can be bought from TTS Group for £39.99, won the 2010 Nursery World Resources Award for Three to Fives. See article.

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