Enabling Environments: Tried and tested - First fun

Toys for the baby and toddler rooms are tried out by early years professionals who give their verdicts to Sue Hubberstey.



AGE RANGE: Six months plus

PRICE: £12.99

CONTACT: 0800 1387777


This is a multi-activity play cube designed to help a small child develop motor skills and co-ordination. It features a portable phone with lights and sounds and an eight-piece shape sorter with lights and sounds rewards. The cube has rounded corners and a carry handle. It requires 5 AA batteries, not supplied.

Tested by Marigold Day Nursery, Heswall, The Wirral

'We have had shape sorters that our young children haven't found particularly interesting, but this one is brilliant! Its success is down to the music and the coloured lights, which really encouraged the children to make an effort to fit the shapes into the corresponding holes. It's very sturdy and the pieces are just the right size for young ones to handle. We used the toy with a child with Down's syndrome, who found it very appealing. He found the pieces easy to grip and loved the music. We kept it on a shelf accessible to the children and invariably one of them would go straight for it when they arrived at nursery. A big hit with our babies and very good value for money.'

Star Rating: ***** - Excellent



AGE RANGE: 12 months plus

PRICE: £6.99

CONTACT: 01692 408802


This water play toy consists of a fishing rod with a hook, five different animals to be caught and a net for holding fish.

Tested by Renee's Childminding Services, Skewen, Neath

'The children had great fun with this and they were very vocal and communicative while playing with it, so it's effective in encouraging language skills. I think it's an excellent product, bright, colourful, sturdy and really good value for money. Children around the age of one don't have the fine motor skills required to scoop the shapes on to the hook, and some of our two- year-olds needed adult help, but on the whole everyone found it thoroughly enjoyable. It can be used with older children to introduce concepts like floating and sinking and they can also count the number of items they have managed to scoop up.'

Star Rating: ***** - Excellent



AGE RANGE: from two years

PRICE: £16

CONTACT: 020 8374 6254


These five smiley, stacking figures are made from wood, coloured with natural dyes. The toy is a Fair Trade product, made by village co-operatives in southern India.

Tested by Old Vicarage Day Nursery, Warrington

'It's a great toy to help develop hand/eye co-ordination and encourage colour recognition. It maintained the children's attention, as it is so bright and attractive and it looked lovely on the shelf. It seems very safe and although it was dropped a few times by the children, no harm was done. We do think Peppy 5 Stacker is rather expensive for such a small toy, but that's probably because it is a Fair Trade product.'

Star Rating: *** - Good



AGE RANGE: Six months plus


CONTACT: 08451 203005


There are 24 soft pieces in this first building set, designed for very young children to encourage their confidence and manipulative skills.

Tested by Footsteps Nursery, Newcastle

'The children were initially excited because this was a new piece of equipment, but their interest quickly waned as there were limited things to do with them. The blocks all have the same texture, although they are of different sizes. Because they are soft, it was also difficult to stack them. If the blocks had different textures or featured sounds of some sort they would have been more stimulating. This set is not something we would consider buying.'

Star Rating: ** - Satisfactory



AGE RANGE: Six months plus

PRICE: £14.99

CONTACT: As before

This is a shape sorter that also features a mirror and classical music.

Tested by Toddle-Inn Nursery, Fleetwood, Lancashire

'It's a colourful, interesting shape sorter - a well-thought-out product which the children enjoyed. They found it easy to pick up the good-sized pieces, but they did need adult help with placing the shapes in the holes, because when the shapes are squeezed they can fit anywhere. We would have liked a greater variety of textures, especially to help visually-impaired children. We found it completely safe for young children to use.'

Star Rating: **** - Very Good



AGE RANGE: Six months plus

PRICE: £25

CONTACT: 0845 120 4525


This features the baby versions of six farm animals, each with a textured finish, and is designed to encourage exploration and solution. It is washable and wipe-clean and comes with an instruction booklet.

Tested by Julie Mortimer, childminder, Sudbury, Suffolk

'When I initially unpacked this I wasn't at all sure how much play value it offered, so the instructions enclosed were very helpful. It is good for fine motor skills, featuring buttons, zips and other various fastenings. The youngest children enjoyed the different textures. One 20-month-old child, with Down's syndrome, loved snuggling the animals up against his face and others liked to play individually with the animals and take them for "walks". It is suitable for a wide age range of children, as it encourages sharing and working together as well as lot of play, including matching, sorting and talking about baby animals. The zips proved very fiddly - even the four-year-olds struggled - and I'm not sure how long the buttons will stay in place with heavy use. It would have been good if a storage bag had been provided.'

Star Rating: **** - Very Good


Jan Weall, manager, Castle Montessori Day Nursery, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

'Two of our favourite suppliers are Eduzone and Wesco. We bought the Petipano Maze from Eduzone last summer and it is used every day and still looks good. This is a wooden toy that comes with a removeable base. The children have to complete three pictures of a flower, a carrot and a fish on one side, and on the other side help a mother animal to find her baby. Although the stated recommended age is two plus, we use it with children from one year. It costs £10.95, which is great value for money. We have also been very impressed with Wesco's Sizes and Shapes Tray Puzzles, which are suitable for children from 18 months. These are wooden products, beautifully made and fantastic value at £9.70 each. We often find the other rooms borrowing them to use with the older children for mathematical concepts, which makes them an even better buy. '

Eduzone 08456 445556, www.eduzone.co.uk

Wesco 0115 9899765.

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