Welcome to the bean-bag feast
Low bounce foam ball, NES Arnold Pounds 4.25. Squish ball, Curriculum supplies Pounds 5.50. Carom ball, Curriculum supplies Pounds 7.30. Play Canopy, NES Arnold, from Pounds 102.95. Sit'n'Gym, Sutcliffe, from Pounds 6.95.
The best things in life may not be free, but some are simple. Try going through the paces with NES Arnold's Hands and Feet. Twelve pairs of hands and feet shapes in two sizes and three colours are available in a non-slip rubber material which can be shampoo cleaned. Scatter a set around the floor and children can stretch and contort themselves in ways which are both mind-bending and physically demanding.
Hope Education, another source of hands and feet shapes, also offers three sorts of the tried and tested bean bag. One set comes in different shapes with the name of the shape printed on the bags. Another set applies the same idea to colours and a third set comes with printed numbers. These number bags not only develop gross motor skills but also the number is printed on them in three formats so several skills are being taught alongside the purely physical ones. An optional extra is a Velcro boardgame to throw the bean bags at when you've had enough of them.
A sophisticated, if not cheap, balancing act is provided by Curriculum Supplies' Curved walking board. The bright plastic 30cm-long sections clip into each other like a wooden train-set and allow you to construct a winding serpentine shape or a gentle curve.
Learning to crawl and twist may no longer pay off in terms of a possible career in mining, but Heron's Caterpillar Playtunnel is an investment with a good return in agility and is a godsend where storage is minimal. It works as a stand-alone activity and links in well with soft-play environments. The tunnels tie up into a small bundle less than half a metre across and a few centimetres high when not in use.
Twisting your body on a circular platform while trying to control a ball rolling around a perimeter track sounds like a punishment. It is actually an exercise used in many gymnasiums and improves balance, and body and leg control. The children's version from NES Arnold, called Balancing Disc, is made from medium density fibreboard and is designed not to flip, topple or overturn.
Games using parachutes call for crawling, wriggling and confidence-building movements, with the bonus that everyone has to co-operate. Parachutes or canopies are an easy-to store source of exercise. Adding a ball or a bean bag increases the possibilities and helps to develop the co-ordination for the catching and throwing skills needed in team and competitive ball-games.
Many playthings for young children might have been developed from holiday beach activities. Throwing rings are a new version of traditional quoits which have been manufactured with ridges around the ring to make gripping much easier for young children .
Another gripping tale is the story of the Low bounce foam ball. Originally developed for people with poor or slow co-ordination, they have a peculiar delayed bounce and a delicious squidgy grip. They are available in sizes from small football upwards. Among other variations on the basic ball are the Squish ball and the Carom ball from Curriculum Supplies.
For a small and compact piece of exercise equipment, consider the Sit'n'Gym, which must have be inspired by those wretched spacehoppers which were once such a craze. The Sit'n'Gym is a cross between a seat and a ball, with four moulded feet for stability. It can be used for a variety of pushball games, bouncing, obstacle courses and much more. I wish I'd had one for Christmas.