Enabling Environments: Tried and Tested - On the move

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Various kinds of equipment that will encourage toddlers to develop their gross motor skills are put to the test by early years settings for Nicole Weinstein.


Physical gross motor skills underpin child development. Children depend on the development of their gross motor skills so that they can balance, walk, run and manipulate objects. It is important to develop these skills by having equipment that they can push, move, ride on, throw, kick and crawl in. After mastering large scale movements, children eventually develop their fine motor skills and higher cognitive skills.

The equipment below was tested with children aged one to two years.




AGE: 6 months +

PRICE: £159.95

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

A versatile tunnel with four doorways, a wooden floor panel and safety mirrors fitted to the three angled ceilings. Four sets of curtains which can be rolled up or down to create different atmospheres. Size w75cm x d90cm x h100cm.

Tested by Mayfield Kindergarten, Ilfracombe, Devon

'This is more of a small house than a tunnel to look at from the outside, but inside the roof is mirrored and gives the impression of a tunnel that goes on forever. The children love it - they use it all the time. We've used it as part of an obstacle course; we've introduced torches and small mirrors, both with the curtains up and down; we've used it for relaxing times with books and stories. It's completely safe, made from good-quality material, and easy-to-construct; quite heavy, but this is a good thing, as we have used it with all age groups. We have a child with a special need and he has enjoyed some one-to-one time in the tunnel with lights and music. The effect is wonderful. We have no concerns at all. It's excellent value for money. I would have expected it to cost more than it did. I would recommend it to any nursery.'

Star Rating: *****




AGE: 1-5

PRICE: £25

CONTACT: 0845 130 8697, www.holz-toys.co.uk

A wooden, push-along mouse with a bell attached to its arm which jingles when moved along. Length: 45cm.

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

'All the children showed an interest in this piece of equipment. It looks exciting and they loved the noise that it made when moving along. We found that it encouraged the non-walkers, who are just starting to make their first steps, to walk. The walkers used it to listen to the noise it made when they pushed it along. We would definitely consider purchasing it because it's well-made, sturdy and attractive to a child. It has been used by children at different stages of their development and so far we have been pleased with its safety and durability. We get through equipment quickly because of children breaking it, but this seems to be standing up to the children.'

Star Rating: ***





PRICE: £55

CONTACT: 01526 351919, www.millhouseathome.co.uk

A range of wooden ride-on vehicles, crafted in the UK and made from sustainably-sourced materials, each fitted with multi-directional castors allowing the vehicles to go forwards, backwards, sideways and around with minimum effort.

Tested by Blyth Valley Children's Centre, Northumberland

'The children loved riding on this fire engine vehicle. We would definitely consider buying it. It's an appropriate height for children 18 months to two years old, who were able to access the vehicle freely and direct themselves around the room, pushing themselves along with their feet and experiencing motion and movement in a form that they can control. It's very well made and finished to a high standard. It's sturdy and has so far shown no signs of wear and tear, although there have been lots of bumps and crashes. We didn't encounter any safety issues; however, some children could move the vehicle very fast, so staff needed to be vigilant when supervising the children. It's good value for money because it's built to last.'

Star Rating: ****




AGE: 1+

PRICE: Large sensory ball, £7.95; Felt balls, £6.50, £5.25, £3.50; Spiky balls, £3.45,£2.95,£2.45

CONTACT: 01422 311314, www.earlyexcellence.com

Soft balls of different sizes, textures and colours to feel, squeeze, kick and roll.

Tested by Red Hen Day Nursery, Lincolnshire

'These balls are an invaluable resource. All the children enjoy playing with them. They completely enhanced children's learning, indoors and outdoors. We encouraged children to roll them through tubes and along guttering; we used them in treasure baskets; we compared them with other colours; we hid them in boxes; we encouraged children to throw them into buckets; we painted with them and we used them in gloop, flour and mark-making in playdough. The children especially enjoyed kicking the large ball. The balls were completely safe. The spiky ones could be quite painful for anyone at the receiving end of a throw, but that was a learning experience in its own right. The balls are not cheap and it is possible to source cheaper ones from local toy stores. However, the quality of the spiky balls was very good and the felt ones are not so freely available. All of the balls survived well with no punctures and all, barring the felt balls, are easy to clean.'

Star Rating: ****




AGE: 1+

PRICE: £38.98

CONTACT: 0161 8653355, www.earlyyearsresources.co.uk

A push-along walker containing colourful building blocks. Size: 48cm x 27cm x 48cm.

Tested by Dulverton Children's Centre, Somerset

'The children were immediately drawn to the colourful trolley. The pre-walkers used it for pushing and pulling and getting from one side of the room to the other. Those more steady on their feet used it as a pushchair and for transporting toys around the nursery. The bricks were a good size and children added them to other areas of the nursery to enhance play. It's the correct height for children to push and it is sturdy enough to not tip up, which is a real positive. It's made from good quality wood and the paint has not chipped, despite much usage. As with many walkers, it did sometimes 'run away' with the children, but this is a common problem. It was aimed at one- to two-year-olds, but all the children in the nursery enjoyed it and we observed some lovely role play. We even loaned it to the school, who used it for a pushing and pulling experiment for science.'

Star Rating: ****




AGE: 1+

PRICE: £79

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

A wooden rocker, made from alder, which converts into a low seat for very young children. Size: 60cm x 33cm x 15cm.

Tested by LARK Children's Centre Daycare, Plymouth, Cornwall

'This rocker offers some of the outdoor challenges indoors, which is useful in a busy nursery day. A girl of 20 months carefully stepped on to the centre of the rocker in the arched position. She then leaned to the right and then to the left to make the rocker rock. She turned around with a big grin to look at an adult and pointed down to indicate she was on the rocker. This was a confidence-building experience which gave her a lot of pleasure. Another child turned it over and used a duster to dust off the seats, which enhanced her imaginary play. The children who were arguing for a turn shared it, with one on each seat, but they needed adult support as there is limited leg room for two. They found it was a good prop for singing "Row, row your boat". It's very safe and stable for the youngest children; it could almost have a bit more of a rock. It is good value for money because it will last a long time due to the quality of craftsmanship.'

Star Rating: ***


All prices are exclusive of VAT and post/packaging

This is a two-part series. Next month, 14 April: fine motor skills



For Janet Graham of University of Teesside Day Nursery, Middlesbrough 

'We have a tunnel made of tough fibreglass material that we use inside and out. There is a pod in the middle that connects two tunnels, and the children love crawling in and out of the tunnels and popping their heads out of the pod. It's fantastic for developing toddlers' gross motor skills. We've had it for over 18 years and it's stood the test of time. Similar products on the market include the Make A Maze tunnel, a pop-up set with three tunnels and four pop-up rooms (priced at £99.95 from NES Arnold, 0845 1204525), or the Hidy Tunnel (£69.95 from Galt, 08451 203005), which is part of a modular play system.'

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