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Test drive

Finding the best buys for work and play is made easier by Gerald Haigh

Let's go outside

Outdoor play is an important part of primary school life and there's a growing market for good equipment, such as playground tricycles.

Winther, a Danish manufacturer, has an enormous range of robust trikes (single and multi-seater), wagons, rickshaws and scooters for all primary age groups.

Its catalogue shows how much a creative mind can conjure up from tubular steel and solid rubber tyres. I particularly like the penny-farthing for five to 12-year-olds at pound;139.

Winther says its products make children want to play. You'll find them at They aren't cheap, but they're built to last more or less for ever and will earn their keep.

The Zedbug, however, is inexpensive at pound;30, but it still looks pretty robust and at that price, maybe it's not such a disaster if you have to replace it. It's a seat mounted on skateboard wheels for children up to 11.

You swing a handlebar from side to side to produce forward movement: an old idea, interpreted in a practical and satisfying way. Zedbug's excellent for several reasons: the seat's low, there's no balancing or pedalling and, provided the rider has upper body and arm capability, it will scoot along on a level surface.

Meanwhile, back in the classroom

At first glance, CoolerRuler is just one of those 30cm transparent plastic classroom rulers. But stop, look more closely: this is also a deceptively simple and unobtrusive aid for children who struggle with reading and need to break words down. The ruler has a slot along the middle.

Two sliders run along the slot and the child uses them to isolate small, readable parts of the word. It has been devised by Sally Bruce, a special needs teacher, is for all age groups and is going to be an unobtrusive lifesaver for some children. CoolerRuler will be on the market shortly, supported by an instructional DVD.

The price isn't fixed yet.

When you see the beautiful drums sold by Drums for Schools, you know they'll encourage the relationship between action, instrument and satisfying result which comes from writing with a good pen.

Andy Gwatkin, who runs the company, spends months each year in Bali, finding family businesses to make the best quality, pick-up-and-play instruments - good to look at and to listen to. They're not expensive for their quality: an African talking drum is pound;25, a lovely big 50cm conga drum pound;59, or a jolly "squeezer shaker" with a variable sound for pound;1. There's lots, lots more. Children and teachers won't be able to keep their hands off them.

Talk to teachers about classroom technology and electronic whiteboards and before long, someone will mention the visualiser, the current product of choice. Older teachers know what it is: a hi-tech epidiascope (a fan-cooled device with a lamp and a lens which can project a book page or a printed picture on to a white screen).

A visualiser does the job electronically with a built-in camera and the image is bright and sharp. You can zoom, select bits of the picture, press a button to save and it will work with your whiteboard. You can pay a lot for full-feature devices of this kind but Avervision has a range of visualisers starting at about pound;210 (exact prices depend on which supplier you use) for a plug-and-play portable which does everything most primary schools will need. Visit for more information

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