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Building blocks

Minimachine Teacher's Pack, Published by Tyneside TEC. Teacher's pack Pounds 30 plus Pounds 5.99 pp, set of four story books Pounds 12 plus pp. 1 899415 00 9. Tyneside Training and Enterprise Council, Moongate House, 5th Avenue Business Park, Team Valley, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear NE11 0HF. Concerned about the lack of information for young children about manufacturing, Tyneside Training and Enterprise Council set up Primary Manufacturing Challenge in collaboration with four local manufacturing firms and local primary teachers in seven schools.

Together they have produced a character called Minimachine, who introduces early readers (aged 4-7) to manufacturing in local industries (coats, sheet metal printing, plastic mouldings for batteries and turbine generator production).

Four colourful story books have been written by the teachers, based on their visits to the factories, both on placements and on tours with their children.

Besides these, the Minimachine Teacher's Pack contains a concise teachers' workbook, comprising information about each company and its manufacturing process, with a topic web and glossary. There is also a set of 16 photocopiable workcards for activities, which pick up themes from each reader.

Christine Paul, Tyneside TEC's education business adviser, sees the materials building on the manufacturing tradition of the area to ensure the future prosperity of the region. "This initiative," she says, "will generate interest and understanding about manufacturing industry among potential employees of tomorrow".

This signals a brave and innovative attempt to bring manufacturing, its technological processes, finance and the people employed, within the reach of young children. But can it really generate understanding and interest in children of this age?

Three of the stories are primarily concerned with watching the manufacturing process and have a weak storyline. A fuller evaluation of their use is called for if the industries are serious about their desire to produce a lasting and positive image. It would be interesting, for example, to see if teachers use the stories outside specific topic areas.

We know little about what children of this age are able to engage with, as the foundations of economic awareness and technology are laid. This material assumes that it will be the manufacturing process rather than the actual product that they could handle. It covers what someone is doing in a distant factory rather than what the child can do in its own environment.

Materials which deal with manufacturing for young children are vitally important but these initial ones are just the start of a process of research and development into producing more appropriate resources. This is interesting and important work, but teachers will only use it if it truly engages children.

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