You’d think that all learning spaces for children aged three to five would contain similar equipment, wouldn’t you? But at some sites, what I’d consider core resources for this age group, are nowhere to be found.
This blog post will share my wishlist for sites catering to the preschool age group. It won’t contain the latest ‘must-have’ resources from glossy catalogues. Instead it will focus on the basics and why they still have the right to be there.
Large wooden blocks
Wooden blocks come in a variety of sizes, shapes and weight. They are versatile and last for decades. Block construction supports the development of early mathematical concepts, spatial awareness, imagination, creativity and language skills (there’s often a lot of negotiation taking place in the block corner).
There are many other construction materials that I adore, however none offer the same flexibility as good old fashioned blocks. Instead, the alternatives on the market are more prescriptive, bringing limitations or hints as to how they should be used.
Wooden blocks, and a dedicated space to use them, invites children to play in a multitude of ways. And with loose parts available to add, you’ll see endless experiences unfolding.
Loose parts, a term coined by Simon Nicholson, is given to materials that can be moved, modified, and used in multiple ways, together or alone.
For example, a child may add loose parts to their block play, use them as ingredients in their wombat stew or line them up in categories.
Here is a starting list of ideas, to make available in your learning space:
Paper towel rolls
Rope or string
Pebbles or stones
If you’d like to learn more about loose parts within the wider world of playwork, I encourage you to listen to this episode of the Thriving Children Podcast, recorded with Justine Walsh from Journey into Play.
Puzzles support many aspects of children’s development: fine motor, eye-hand coordination, spatial awareness, problem solving, memory, and visual discrimination.
Engaging with a puzzle can be an entrancing activity for many children, particularly when their body needs an opportunity to rest.
Puzzles are an expensive resource to purchase but when well looked after, they last the distance. A collection of them in your store room, ranging in complexity, is essential. Some children will need to start with single-piece puzzles, while others of the same age need more sophisticated puzzles. Cater to these differences so that you don’t put a ceiling on what children can achieve.
Many children gravitate towards the art easel at the beginning of their day, when there’s one available. Having it always set up, either indoors or outdoors, provides predictability, while ensuring that there’s at least one opportunity for our little ones to flex their artistic muscles.
The main reason I love art easels however, is because they provide a vertical surface to work on. When children are drawing, writing, painting or scribbling vertically, many areas of development are supported: their spatial awareness, bilateral integration, crossing of the midline, eye-hand coordination and visual processing.
In this brilliant article from the Inspired Treehouse, further benefits are outlined, such as stability for the shoulders and elbows, wrist extension (which supports good pencil grip), and core strength.
Swinging offers an intense dose of vestibular stimulation, needed by many children to process incoming information from their senses, as well as to develop balance and their ability to sit still.
Yet many outdoor spaces at child care settings and preschools no longer have a swing-set. Apparently they’ve become a safety concern. But if we value children’s wellbeing and their increasing ability to find moments of stillness, we also need to value swings.
Nothing matches the sensation of swinging. However, if your site is one of the unlucky ones suffering the consequences of a risk averse society, provide a multitude of alternative choices for children seeking a movement fix.
Here’s a few ideas: Dancing, running, jumping on a mini-tramp, riding bikes or scooters, climbing on equipment (or trees), having mats to roll on, crash into or land on from a height, or perhaps this peculiar contraption.
I’m sure this resource will surprise no one. The simple fact is that children find the motivation to become readers and writers when they have positive and enriching experiences with books from a young age.
The most popular books? Those that you’ve read to them with joy and delight. So please, no monotone voices permitted. Nor an out of reach book shelf containing the ‘special’ ones shared at group time. Make all books accessible. Every day. And at every moment.
Random Things to Stick Together
A dedicated space to create is another must on my wishlist. Old boxes, material scraps, bottle tops, wood, sticks, tape, runny glue, hot glue guns…what’s not to love? But if you have concerns about the sheer quantity of sticky adhesive being used, I highly recommend this read from Teacher Tom.
“I no longer think of glue as an adhesive, but rather as a stand-alone art medium”. Teacher Tom
Within the making category of my list, I’m also going to sneak in things for making a mess. Slime, water beads, water, sand, mud, whatever it may be. Our sensory development is dependent upon opportunities to get our hands, feet, or whole body feeling different sensations, temperatures and textures. It may be messy but it is delightful.
Pretend play is going to occur, dress ups or not. In fact, the play that evolves when there’s no Queen Elsa or Spiderman costume to be found, is likely to be more imaginative and varied.
For some children however, simple play props help to support the transition from the world of real to that of make believe. Think old clothes, bags, wallets, blankets, homewares. Nothing fancy or from a catalogue. Though I must confess that I adore playsilks-they feel beautiful to touch and can become almost anything in children’s play.
A site may have all of the ‘right stuff’ but if it doesn’t also have educators who adore the children, it’ll fall short. Without a doubt.
Money can’t buy happiness, and in the same vein, equipment can’t buy outcomes. So while I’d love to see the items on this list in every setting for young learners, the most influential resource comes in human packaging. It’s the warmth, engagement and connection that you create as an educator that has the most impact on the children in your care. And don’t ever forget it.