Company: Hope Education
Price: £38.99 for 6 or £7.49 each
Age range: 3-7
Record and play back 40 seconds of high-quality audio on these attractive, blue cloud-shaped devices. Practitioners can record activity ideas, while children can use them to build recognition of phonics and language. Each device contains a built-in hook, magnet and clip as well as a wipe-clean writing surface.
They're a ‘great shape’ for little hands and the audio is ‘very high quality’ even with whispered voices, the testers reported. Some younger children were challenged to use the switch and the contact points used to switch between play and record, although this was seen as a positive because it would prevent a recording being accidentally recorded over. Children enjoyed hearing back their own voices and storytelling, which is great for phonics, reading and spelling. They were also used for listening activities where practitioners recorded sounds to see if the children could recognise them. They were used indoors and out.
Tales Toolkit online training package and resources
Company: Tales Toolkit
Price: £800 for a year's subscription with resources included
Age range: 2-5
With the aim of helping children to create and write interest-led stories, this toolkit provides ongoing online training to support practitioners to achieve this. A set of resources are labelled with symbols for Character, Setting, Problem Solving and Solution, which gives the children the tools to create fun, interactive stories and weave magical tales.
Described as the most ‘innovative, unique product’ by one tester, who added, ‘Not only is it open-ended and easy to use but it's such a simple concept with fantastic results. The training is first-class, there are lots of links for interesting articles and videos, for further knowledge and good practice.’ A ’fun way to learn’ which increases communication, comprehension and teaches storytelling and structure is how another practitioner testing the product described it. She said, ‘It's great for problem-solving and, in turn, conflict resolution.’ It is ‘highly recommended’ by the testers.
Blackboard Writing Shed
Age range: 3-plus
Encourage children to mark-make, leave messages for friends or list instructions for games on this shed that doubles as a giant blackboard. Internally, the shed can hold all the essentials for writing so that children have easy access and free choice of resources.
Testers were impressed with the ‘sturdy design’ and the ‘easy access’ of materials and the ‘wide shelves’. One commented that it would have been useful to have some layout ideas included but they were very happy that it came fully assembled. For an additional cost of £245, a bespoke set of writing implements and storage boxes can be purchased, which includes writing belts, pencil pots, chalks, a selection of clipboards, natural whiteboards, rustic letters, chalkboards and coloured chalkboard discs.
Jonny Lambert's Animal ABC
Age range: birth to 5
An illustrated lift-the-flap baby book that reveals an entire animal alphabet with charming illustrations that bring the animal kingdom to life. With snippets of information and surprises under each flap, this book also helps expand children's vocabulary and language skills.
One tester described the book as ‘visually appealing; hard-wearing and an enjoyable experience for young children’. Another commended the ‘realistic illustrations’ and the design of the book, which includes ‘fold-out’ sections rather than flaps, which makes it more robust. She said, ‘The learning potential is good because it can be used for teaching the alphabet, letters and phonics and also for identifying the sounds that the animals make.’
‘The children found the soft covering of the cube tactile; they were interested in the text and letters and enjoyed using them to make up stories. They used the cube as a seat in the reading area’
Company: Millwood Education
Age range: 3-plus
Story Cube encourages children to use their imagination to create stories. Roll the cube and use it as a prompt to either begin a new story or integrate it into your own story-telling. Prompts include ‘One bright and sunny morning I…’ and ‘Long ago in a faraway place there was…’ It's a good resource for building vocabulary skills and it's great for encouraging communication.