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Putting the bounce into life

BLOCMODULES Basic kit Pounds 182, Wesco, Allesley, Coventry CV5 9DT Tel: 01203 402626.

DUBLUP MODULES, Units from Pounds 145, Ballpool set Pounds 445, Lifetime, Bingham, Nottingham NG13 8QGTel: 01949 836360

Jon O'Connor watches the next generation of gymnasts taking their first steps towards self-confidence. The revitalisation of gymnastics owes a lot to the young stars of the former Soviet bloc who captivated championship audiences with their agile bravado. The effect is easy to see in more imaginative approaches to building confidence, motor skills and co-ordination, using soft play environments in nursery and early years education.

To provide more adventurous experiences for younger children, materials which are robust yet flexible and give an implicit feeling of security are essential. Two new packages of European equipment on the market represent improvements in design, versatility and value.

The Wesco Blocmodules package originates in France. The remarkable 12-minute video shows groups from continental nurseries using the Blocmodules range with a combination of exceptional confidence and intuitive gymnastic ability. The system is modular and there is no problem in starting with a relatively low investment.

There are over 20 different pieces in the Blocmodule range, providing a good assortment of shapes and a choice of size. The shapes are made from dense, high-grade foam and have a waterproof fire-retardant polyester cover, which is hermetically sealed.

Individual pieces are light enough for children to assemble and modify activity combinations themselves, with the added bonus of exploring construction and 3-D mathematics. Each kit is supplied with a colour handbook showing layouts and providing guidance on gaining the maximum from exercise routines using Bloc modules.

An exuberant use of strong colours for the covering and the inclusion of some more novel 3-D shapes attracts younger children. The bridge sections and giant circles with a hole through the centre are big enough to roll inside and robust enough to clamber over.

The circus association is evident in use as children practise tumbling skills. The floor mats have a textured safety underside and individual pieces resist slipping against each other very well.

The system encourages basic skills, such as crawling, balancing and straddling on beams, and lends itself well to the building of action sequences. The supplementary packs enable work to develop more sophistication, focusing on specific movements and activities such as somersaults. The performance of children testing Blocmodules showed that the system quickly helps build confidence and skills.

The Lifetime company has discovered and developed a brilliantly simple system from Germany which has a multiplicity of functions in addition to providing soft play areas. Its Dublup system is also modular and has a following in special education and therapeutic applications. Physiotherapists and special needs teachers have used the system, among other purposes, for floor support in lying and sitting positions, and providing bridges and stepping stones for balance.

The system comes in three sizes for different age-groups and is compact enough to be a permanent feature of the early years classroom, forming a variety of bright and comfortable seating configurations when not appearing in one of many other guises.

A basic Dublup unit comprises two chains of PVC-covered triangular foam prisms linked with specially toughened PVC hinges, which enable the user to fold and interlock the two chains with great versatility.

The use of such a simple basic unit really can be extraordinarily demanding upon the ability to visualise inversions and rotations of shape. The Dublup design effectively promotes imaginative play and perceptual development in everyday use.

The simple printout of suggested configurations includes balancing stations, stepped and angled climbing blocks, as well as a simple slide.

The Dublup Ballpool set is excellent value, including two Dublup sets, which can be used in the same way as the rest of the range. The internal area is big enough for three to four children and is genuinely portable. The blocks are held in place with Velcro tabs to surround a cleverly-designed drawstring bag for the Ballpool.The Ballpool can be set out in minutes.

The applications and formations which are suitable for younger children with and without special needs seem endless. The Lifetime company specifically welcomes comment and suggestions for new ideas which can be passed on to new users. There should be plenty of offers.

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