Ideal home exhibitions

Carol Raby

Petra DOLLS' House, Pounds 163.80, Age range: 3-8 years, Eibe-Play, Forest House, 8 Baxter Road, Sale, Cheshire M33 3AL

First Dolls' House, Age range: 3-8 years, Pounds 52.95

Large Dolls' House, Age range: 3-8 years, Pounds 89.95

White and Black Doll Families, Pounds 22.95

Dolls' House Furniture, Pounds 12.95 per room set, Galt Educational, Culvert Street, Oldham, Lancashire OL4 2ST

Dolls' houses can open the imagination, writes Carol Raby. Children are active learners and a crucial part of their learning takes place through play, which is most successful when they are actively involved in first-hand experiences.

In a busy nursery environment where space is at a premium, providing opportunities for imaginative play is frequently a challenge, so it is by creating a variety of "small worlds" that additional opportunities are made possible.

Small-world areas not only encourage children's imaginations but provide them with opportunities to do some of the things they are not normally allowed to do. They can try out new experiences, develop symbolic thought, refine skills, understand the roles of others, re-live events, overcome fears and generally make sense of the world around them.

Watch any group of children entering the nursery and most will make a bee-line for either the home corner or the miniature world areas. This is why quality provision matters.

Many are the disappointments in schools due to the flimsiness of dolls' houses when, for example, latches on house fronts are unmanageable, thin plywood does not stand up to wear and tear, paint peels and edges and nerves fray.

Dolls' houses came in two categories: oversized mansions so large that the only space available was eventually outside the classroom, or so small and frustrating that they were suitable for only one or two children at a time. However, early years teachers will be glad to know that Eibe and Galt have addressed these issues.

Eibe has produced a dolls' house of three-layered, glued, solid pinewood. It is robust, attractive, realistic and large enough for several children to play together. It also has the advantage of completely open access from all four sides. Movable window shutters, the roof, doors and the parapet of the balcony are all painted. The house stands on a large base which forms the ground floor and is hand finished. All the rooms have opening doors on both levels and there is even a separate toilet and bathroom.

It has free-standing stairs which can be flexibly and imaginatively used and it has the advantage of coming fully assembled. With its attractive mahogany-coloured roof, this is a house of quality, durability, and is very well finished.

One design improvement would be to fit rubber feet to the base, not only to stop sliding but also to make it clear which way up to use it. The Eibe house would be a real asset to any nursery willing to pay for it.

Galt now has two new quality-finished, easy-to-assemble dolls' houses available. The First Dolls' House is accessible from all sides, and not only accommodated all the furniture and dolls in order to simulate family life, but proved extremely adaptable.

Within a few minutes of seeing it, a four-year-old girl had converted it into a multi-storey car-park, providing barriers with the use of cupboards from the living room set of furniture. Four cars were parked neatly on the top floor and business for the day began.

The flair and imagination of this four-year-old made us aware that it could also become a farmyard with the right accessories. Even the adjustable slats lend themselves to an agricultural application The large dolls' house from Galt is approachable from three sides, and though not as spacious as the Eibe house, costs less. A well-finished product, particularly pleasing features are the sliding doors which become windows and the room dividers which are pleasantly wallpapered for a homely effect.

More robust roof panels would be a design improvement in case of a sturdy child falling against the house.

Practical furniture from Galt comes separately and consists of kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, dining room and living room sets all coloured according to the rooms in primary colours. There was no television, but a three-year-old soon turned a chair back to front to accommodate this need.

Very attractive black and white doll families are also available, dressed in a colourful and detailed fashion. However, very young children have a natural desire to dress and undress dolls and these clothes are not really suitable for that purpose.

All three houses are durable yet light enough for staff to lift, are well finished and free from screw heads. These products provide quality provision for all those of us who aim for quality in our nursery and school settings.

Carol Raby is head of Wickbourne County Infants School, Littlehampton, West Sussex.

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