Enabling Environments: Tried and Tested - Mind your language!

Mary Evans
Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Products to encourage children's verbal and written communication skills are tested by early years settings, who report back to Mary Evans.

Being able to communicate in verbal and written form is an essential skill. Young children must be allowed the freedom to explore, learn and develop communication skills through play, talking to each other and listening, but also through playing reading and writing, such as telling their teddy a story or 'writing' their own shopping lists.

Research points how important it is for children to be in a language-rich environment in order to develop. For practitioners the challenge is to find fun and interesting resources that will extend children's perception of spoken and written language.

AGE: 3+
CONTACT: 01764 664409 or www.mindstretchers.co.uk

Slate boards and pencils and chunky chalks to encourage mark making, drawing and writing outdoors.

Tested by Child First Nursery, Moulton, Northants

'The children enjoyed using the slates and the size of them really appealed to them. The large chalks are appropriate for the age group and are easy to manipulate. Although the small pencils that came with the slate boards broke quite easily and did not last the trial, I would consider buying a set of slates and chalks because they really enhanced the children's learning in a wide range of areas, including creative, language, literacy and physical skills. They are good value for money.'

Star Rating: *** - Good

AGE: 3+
PRICE: £7.75
CONTACT: 0800 318 686 or www.tts-group.co.uk

A record-and-play back device measuring 8.5x8.5x2.5cm each.

Tested by Barton Primary and Nursery School, Torquay

'When I first received the Big Point boxes I was disappointed because they were "fiddly" and hard to use and needed batteries.

'However, I introduced them to my class with a pre-recorded message from Santa, with a picture of Santa in the see-through top. The children were entranced and "talked" back to the box in an animated manner. They also managed to record over the message within minutes after my circle time had ended. No problems with them not understanding the technology!

'They spent an extended period of time conversing between themselves, problem solving and recording new messages for Santa and for each other. It was a hit!

'I also recorded messages for some of our beautiful winter displays and when we had parents come to the school for concerts, I put pre-recorded Big Points at relevant places with a sign, "please press here".The parents were able to hear a short message about the display - if the display was about a book, there would be a comment about the author, and so on.

'It was very impressive and my initial doubts were soon dismissed. Once you get the hang of how to record, it is actually quite easy. It can be adapted to different tasks and it is very versatile and hard wearing and is good value for money. In fact, I have bought some more already.'

Star Rating: *** - Good

AGE: 0+
PRICE: £50
CONTACT: 01422 311314 or www.earlyexcellence.com

Tested by World's End Under Fives Centre, London

'It is a really lovely product, well made and much enjoyed by the children. The story basket supported the children's communication development and also incorporated creativity and knowledge and understanding of the world.

'The children enjoyed the books but they particularly liked the dinosaurs. Some became so attached to the dinosaurs that they would carry them around the room with them. The textures and colours and physical characteristics of the dinosaurs prompted a great deal of talk about colours, patterns and physical features.

'The children liked reading the books alongside the dinosaurs and comparing the toys with the pictures in the books.

'This is very versatile and can be re-used with different toys and books to meet different developmental needs and themes. We felt it is expensive, but no more than other story sacks, and we would consider buying it.'

Star Rating: *** - Good

AGE: 0+
PRICE: £17.50
CONTACT: 0845 603 5309 or www.yellow-door.net

A set of 26 tactile pebbles, cast in resin and stone, and each one engraved with a lower case letter.

Tested by Heidi Evans, registered childminder, Purley on Thames

'I initially introduced the pebbles to some children in the woods, as we do a lot of outdoor play/forest school sessions. I put the pebbles on a log and asked the children to look for letters that they could see were in their names. They liked this and thought they were magic stones because they had writing on! They liked picking them up and putting them in the pot again while saying the letters out loud.

'Another time I put the pebbles in my lounge and just left them to see what the children would do with them. They immediately began looking at them and calling out the different letters to each other, e.g. "here's an a."

'They are good value for money as they are robust and will clearly last a very long time and can be used in many different ways. The only point I would raise is that younger children could put them in their mouths, but good supervision should not let this become an issue.'

Star Rating: ***** - Excellent

AGE: 3+
PRICE: £49.90
CONTACT: 0115 989 9765 or sales@wescouk.co.uk

Three puppets of Snow White, the prince and witch and 7 finger puppets for the dwarves

Tested by Mayfield Kindergarten, Ilfracombe

'Children sometimes need props to help them act out roles and communicate with others. We already have a variety of puppets that we use with story books and include in story sacks.

'Puppets aid children's dramatic play and make believe. The children can manipulate the figures and use them for discussion on size, such as small or large, or on concepts, such as good and bad.

'The older ones can narrate the story to young children while giving a show. New words could be used with puppets. One child remembered the story and could talk with the others about it - she used the description "ebony hair" for Snow White.

'We introduced the puppets to the children with our puppet theatre. The children knew the story and we used it to count up to ten - Snow White, the prince, witch and dwarves.

'They are completely safe and could be used in the 0-2 room with an adult. The puppets are very bright and colourful but are rather expensive, given what else is on the market.'

Star Rating: *** - Good

AGE: 5+
PRICE: £33.39
CONTACT: 0800 318 686 or www.tts-group.co.uk

Recording microphone.

Tested by Bolsover Infant and Nursery School, Derbyshire

'EYFS children often find it difficult to remember and write a sentence. This product could help them have the confidence to speak out and recall the sentence as they are scribing. It would be very useful for role-play interviewing, recording their thoughts in a group and so on, and it would be especially helpful for shy pupils.

'However, we found it was very fiddly and difficult to use, even for an adult. I found it far too complicated and the children failed to make it work due to the poor response from the buttons. I sent it to Year 2 to see if these children would find it easier, but unfortunately not.

'I think this product has lots of potential but needs more work, for example slightly bigger, improved buttons and simpler instructions. I did like the recharge facility, as batteries can be a pain.'

Star Rating: * - Less than satisfactory

All prices shown are exclusive of VAT and post/packaging


For Linda Godley, nursery manager of the Bewbush Chilldren and Family Centre, Bewbush, West Sussex, the best way to promote language and literacy is using recycled products.

'In our nursery 65 per cent of our children have English as a second language and we have a total of 24 different languages spoken. As a nursery we have a very small budget, so we recycle lots of different items from small scraps of paper to catalogues and used envelopes.

'We do a great deal of sensory play, using shaving foam, baked beans or toothpaste, encouraging children to make shapes or talk about the textures or colours.

'Our children spend a lot of time playing in our smallworld workshop area, where they will play alongside one another or together, communicating in many different languages.'

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