Enabling Environments: Tried and Tested - Role up!

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The latest products to enhance younger children's role play are tested by settings for Nicole Weinstein.

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Role play is important as it develops the minds of two-year-olds and encourages them to be creative in the way that they play. Children of this age are experimenting and copying what they see around them. With recognisable equipment, such as cooking and cleaning utensils, they can mimic carers to a degree. But largely what they are experiencing is role play in a more random, sensory way than a child of three years old. Schematic behaviour is more prevalent in two-year-olds - putting things in and taking them out of containers, making things go round and round and lining things up.

ANIMAL ROLE PLAY WRAPS
TTS GROUP
AGE: 2+
COST: £39.95
CONTACT: 0800 318 686, www.tts-group.co.uk

Animal print fabric wraps with hook and loop strips for easy access that children can wrap around their shoulders, waists and heads to create different effects. Fabric lengths 40 x 100cm.

Tested by Bewbush Children's Centre, West Sussex

'The wraps were a very popular item in the nursery. I would consider buying them because the children were able to use them in lots of different ways. Not only did they enjoy dressing up as the animals, they also used them as baby changing mats and pretended that one was a nappy. Some put the wraps around just their waists or wore them as capes. They were completely safe, but we found that the Velcro was in the wrong place, so we added our own. I like this piece of equipment; I think it will last some time.'

Star Rating: ****


2-in-1 KITCHEN
EARLY YEARS DIRECT
AGE: 2-3
PRICE: £130
CONTACT: 0845 6033195, www.earlyyearsdirect.com

A compact kitchen unit made from birch plywood with open shelves that comes with a plastic sink, H50, D40CM, W85cm. Tested with an 88-piece Food Parcel Set, which includes wooden fruit and vegetables, a tea set and a pan set, priced at £105.

Tested by LARK Children's Centre Daycare, Plymouth

'The kitchen promoted rich imaginative play. Many of the two-year-old boys, as well as girls, really engaged with this play and it gave opportunities to explore how things work. One child got excited placing the frying pan, saucepan, food and lids all in the sink, saying 'Cooking, cooking!' He then poured on pretend washing-up liquid and rattled them around the sink to wash it all. Another child carefully pieced together the cake slices and took a long time cutting them up.

'Children are not able to complete the full action of putting food in the oven because it is open shelving. However, they did use the turning motions of the taps and were able to pretend to wash real Brussels sprouts under the tap. The kitchen and accessories are completely safe and well crafted - there are no cupboard doors to catch fingers in. The height is perfect for two-year-olds. It's good value for money and it's particularly well-suited to smaller nursery spaces. The accessories in the Food Parcel Set are durable and very attractive.'

Star Rating: ****


SUPER HOUSE CLEANING SET
DG EDUCATIONAL
AGE: 2+
PRICE: £39.95
CONTACT: 01484 860506, www.dg-educational.com

A six-piece set of mops and brushes scaled down for young children.

Tested by Daisy Chain Nursery, Liverpool

'All the children loved using the cleaning set and often copied staff when they were doing their cleaning duties after meal times or messy play. The set was just the right height for two-year-olds. The boys particularly enjoyed using them and we noticed that they were keen to take turns and share them. One little boy said he was cleaning up like mummy.

If there was ever a spillage, the children would immediately go to where the cleaning equipment was kept in the role play corner and begin to help clean up. Some would say "I do it". The children understood exactly how to use the equipment. It's completely safe and all mop heads are easily removed and able to go in the washing machine. It's excellent value for money.'

Star Rating: *****


PICNIC SET
EARLY EXCELLENCE
AGE: 2+
PRICE: £22.60
CONTACT: 01422 311314, www.earlyexcellence.com

A picnic set containing a canvas basket; a real plastic mini Thermos flask; two melamine beakers; two melamine plates; two realistic-looking bananas, bread rolls and chocolate chip biscuits.

Tested by Slinn St STARters Community Pre-School, Sheffield

'The children were initially attracted to the brightly-coloured set but they did not remain interested in the picnic theme for long - and certainly not without supervision. The bag was a big hit but they just took it off to fill it with other things unrelated to the picnic. They were unable to get the lid off the thermos flask, which is much too big and tricky for little hands. The cups were also too large to be appealing to such little children and they didn't have handles. Although the quality of the equipment was very good, all the constituent parts could be bought or acquired for a fraction of the cost. The notes provided input on maths ideas, for example, indicating that the set of food could be used to share out. However, there were only two of everything, so it was rather limited in its scope for sharing. It would have been great to have a picnic rug included and a box in which to put picnic food would have been appealing to this age group. It would be more suitable for children aged three to five years.'

Star Rating: **



THE SHED
AGE: 1+
PRICE: £29.95
CONTACT: 01424 893709, www.paperpod.co.uk

A 'shed' made from recycled corrugated cardboard. Flat pack size: 91 x 70 x 4.5cm; assembled size: 85 x 69 x 90cm.

Tested by Carrie Bennett, childminder, Hampshire

'This is strong and simple to construct and it can be folded back into the delivery box for use another day. It was a great tool with which to broaden the children's imagination. They turned it into 'Chuggington's repair shed'. The space inside is limited - it only had capacity to fit two children comfortably - and when resources were taken inside it felt cramped. Getting in and out is easy and the door was strong enough to withstand constant movement. Although it has suffered some damage, it stood up well to our use. It couldn't be used outside unless completely dry, but I love the fact that it is cardboard and can be painted and it has no pre-prescribed identity. Cardboard boxes would be cheaper and stretch the children's creative skills further, but this was really solid to play in. I think it's best from ages 18 months to four years.'

Star Rating: ****



WOODEN IRONING SET
NES ARNOLD
AGE: 3+
PRICE: £46.95
CONTACT: 0800 3280001, www.nesarnold.co.uk

A colourful set which includes an iron, ironing board, iron rest and a clothes airer with ten chunky pegs.

Tested by Red Hen Day Nursery, Lincolnshire

'The children really enjoyed using these and it definitely enhanced their role play. They used the ironing board to copy their parents ironing at home but they also tipped it over to investigate how it worked. The older children were more adept with the pegs but the two-year-olds were able to hang items without using the pegs. The ironing board came apart with rigorous play from the two-year-olds, but it is recommended for children age 3+. The airer could potentially trap fingers, although this did not happen with us. The products represent good value for money in comparison to similar equipment on the market, but a simpler, more robust version would be better for two-year-olds.'

Star Rating: ***


BEST BUY

For Carrie Bennett, childminder, Hampshire

'One of my most treasured pieces of equipment for role play is a car steering wheel that my husband found in a scrapyard many moons ago. The children use this anywhere their imagination leads them to explore in their play - in a box, on the sofa, in a tent or on the floor. They can drive cars, fire engines, ice-cream vans, buses, ambulances, dump trucks ... the list is endless. Both genders have great fun with this resource. We also have an old computer gaming joy-stick for space exploration.'

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