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Toy libraries targeted for play support

'Cinderella' service should be upgraded to help the foundation phase, says report.

Many a smile has been brought to a child's face after a trip to a toy library. But new research reveals that the "Cinderella" of children's services could contribute greatly to the success of the play-led foundation phase for under-sevens.

Robat Powell and Nia Seaton, from the Wales office of the National Foundation for Educational Research, say the libraries should be used to back up learning through play at home - especially with outdoor equipment.

However, it also concludes that many of the facilities, some of which have been running for almost 25 years, are so cash-strapped they are run from "broom and caretakers' cupboards".

The researchers looked at 18 out of 37 toy libraries in Wales. The report, A Treasure Chest of Service: the role of toy libraries within play policy in Wales, was launched last week at Cardiff's Millennium Centre.

It included some heart-warming stories of the benefits of toy-loaning. One grandmother had hired an "expensive" wooden pram to help her granddaughter walk, an item the child's mother could never afford.

The report also praises Wales for leading the way in play-led policy in the UK, stealing a march over England. But it also hit out at the lack of funding for toy libraries.

Sue O'Halloran, National Association of Head Teachers Cymru president and head of Garth Primary in Bridgend, said: "Regular core funding for the libraries should have been provided on top of the pound;15 million set aside by the Assembly government for the foundation phase in 2008. Many cash-strapped schools should be increasing their use of toy libraries to resource it."

Welsh primaries are already finding it hard to find the cash for extra toys and equipment needed for the learning through play scheme, with many resorting to fundraising and the generosity of parents. Teachers have also been making their own toys at home ahead of the national roll-out for all under-fives next September.

Education minister Jane Hutt agreed at the report's launch there was a strong argument for toy libraries to receive better funding.

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