Child's play matters
Teachers are confident that they are ready to deliver the new early years curriculum which comes on stream in September, according to a survey carried out by the Education Show organisers, the British Educational Suppliers Association. The number of visitors to the show from this sector has been steadily increasing. Last year an estimated 9 per cent of all those attending were interested in resources for nursery and reception children.
"Children do not distinguish between play and work - nor do we," education minister Margaret Hodge said in October. The new attainment goals are much more specific than previous desirable achievements and emphasise the need for informal, stimulating, hands-on exploratory activities.
An increasing number of three-year-olds will soon be admitted into nursery classes, inevitably requiring more age-appropriate resources. Additional funding for extra staff has been announced, but the Government has not committed itself to providing more money for such resources.
The early years area of the Education Show is still heavily loaded in favour of resources which help to prepare for more formal skills. Companies are tumbling over each other to produce more and better pre-literacy and pre-numeracy materials and equipment. The challenge has been to find products that are eye-catching and as appealing as possible to young children.
Sweet Counter is an imaginative maths resource that concentrates mainly on number work and is currently being used in nurseries. The range is attractively presented in bright primary colours with cards laminated for durability. Number lines, number games, counting schemes and language material are all available in class storage packs.
Channel 4 Learning will be exhibiting its Number Crew resources based on the television programme. The good news is that there is now a Number Crew website (www.numbercrew.com) offering two levels of access. The first level is free of charge and contains information about all the programmes as well as support materials with games and activities.
The second level, available only to those who buy a CD-Rom, links The Number Crew to the numeracy framework and curriculum requirements. Teachers will be able to consult teacher notes and download lesson plans and classroom resources. The Number Crew Know Your Numbers 1 is suitable for five and six-year-olds.
Support for pre-literacy skills grows apace. New at this year's show is Pocket Chart Reading Picture ABCs from Learning Resources, which includes 192 cards and suggestions for activities. This enables teachers to teach, review and store alphabet concepts.
Handwriting for Windows 2.1 from Kath Balcombe Educational Resources (KBER) is the latest version of some software which enables teachers to convert any text into the handwriting of their choice when they are producing work sheets.
Stocking up on resources that cover many areas clearly makes sense when funding is limited. The Wide Eye Learning Programme from Children First works on the basis that children learn best when all their senses are engaged and sets out to explore pre-school concepts and skills through a range of materials, including storybooks, videos, songs, games, puppetry and posters. The programme introduces a number of different characters who live in Natterjack Forest. Toads help children recognise differences in size and shape, while Flea helps them learn about movement. A character called 99 teaches children to recognise, count and write numbers up to 100 through simple umber games, and the Fireflies help to develop writing skills.
For children at the upper end of the foundation stage there is the Games Compendium, which aims to encourage team games as well as observation, recognition, manipulative skills and hand-eye co-ordination.
Insect Lore Products, the company best known for its butterfly garden, which enables children to witness the transition from caterpillar to butterfly in their own classroom, reports requests for science resources for children as young as two. The company says its catalogue features a few hand and finger insect puppets which could suit very young children, but that most of its resources are designed for children of four and older.
No effective nursery or other early years centre is without a good and varied supply of dressing-up clothes to support role play of all kinds. The great advantage of the Charlie Crow range of outfits is that they are all essentially tabards which the children can wear over their own clothes and easily put on and remove. The company says that the Charlie Crow collection was such a success last year that it has doubled its range. Dressing-Up Sets, which are especially for nurseries, consist of seven sets of themed outfits including wild animals, fairytales, farmyard animals and panto.
The curriculum's new early learning goals acknowledge the need for young children "to express and communicate their ideas, thoughts and feelings by using ... a variety of songs and musical instruments". This is not always easy to deliver, especially if there is no musical member of staff. If this is an area of weakness in your school it is worth taking a look at the new Kindescope Songs books and accompanying CDs. The songs are written and composed by an early years teacher, are simple to learn and have good rhythms.
This is a flexible resource that can be adapted to meet the needs of individual groups of children. The backing tracks should prove useful, particularly where no piano or pianist is available, although simple piano music and guitar chords are provided for those who do have musical skills.
There are three songbooks in the series. Let's Grow is science based and covers aspects of growth, change and the environment with songs about the weather and baby animals. Holding Hands features 20 new songs supporting personal and social development and promoting positive behaviour as well as health and hygiene issues. Because It's Christmas Time includes 21 songs, boogies and lullabies with a seasonal flavour.
For simple, practical aids that don't cost a fortune but can have an impact in the classroom, check out the Lakeland Jumbo Colouring Pencils, made by Acco UK, which are specially designed for smaller hands. They have a large, easy to grip hexagonal barrel and a 5.4mm colour strip for easy selection. They are available in individual wallets containing 12 assorted colours or in classroom packs containing 12 pencils in each of the colours.
Channel 4 Learning stand W33
Charlie Crow stand EY11
Children First stand EY36
Claire PublicationsSweet Counter
Insect Lore Products stand EY58
KBER stand SN4
Kindescope Songs stand EY86
Learning Resources stand E31
Acco UK stand J25
EARLY YEARS SEMINARS
Thursday, 12 noon, room C1
Lesley Staggs: Curriculum guidance for the foundation stage
Saturday, 12 noon, room C1
Anne Henderson of the Preschool Learning Alliance: Communication skills for
the under fives
Saturday, 2pm, room C1
Margaret Lochrie: The importance of play in the early years