Another day, another train track…

By | Education, fun for children, Toys

“Too often we give children answers to remember, instead of problems to solve.” Roger Lewin

Each term I do an audit of the resources we have on offer, I work out what the children have enjoyed and what seems to be great in theory but short lived in practice. I then spend some money on new and exciting resources. Today, I spent £17 in a St. Wilfred’s Hospice charity shop on resources that I’m not entirely sure what to do with myself – and that’s the point.

“Excuse me, what actually is this?” I asked the cashier brandishing a brass pot with a lid on it – “actually, ignore that – it doesn’t matter, it can be anything really.” I got a strange look when I explained I was buying resources for a preschool when in my basket I had a wooden serving dish, a toast rack, a straw hat, beads, bangles and scarves, a ceramic tea set from the 70’s and said brass pot.

I can’t predict where any of these items will lead the children in their play and that’s what excites me about it. I am tired of the same old Early Years, I am tired of previously much loved ‘Happyland’, I am tired of train tracks only ever being train tracks. I am tired of the same observations on the same children year after year and ticking a box to say they can do it. The new school year kickstarts the beginning of a brand new EYFS, an EYFS more children centred than ever before and it’s very exciting. I’ve always gone slightly outside of the expected parameters with my preschool, I’ve become accustomed to explaining my rationale for certain activities and I enjoy explaining them because I am unapologetically passionate about what I do and why I do it.

The children are predominantly outdoors and that comes with its own challenges as far as reassuring parents goes, but when I add that
I’m always on the hunt for donations of old china teapots and vintage phones and weighing scales I hear “but they’ll smash them” to which my response is always “they might do, but they will almost certainly learn something new from that experience.”

When we only allow children to play with plastic, brightly coloured and pre-planned toys, we stifle their imaginations and don’t allow any space for curiosity. We also don’t help them to learn how to handle heavier, more breakable items so inevitably when they are then given them they are inexperienced and any breakages become a negative experience. And we do nothing to foster a nurturing attitude towards the planet that we so badly need to start thinking more about. Plastic toys aren’t sustainable, they have a shelf-life and quite frankly, they’re a bit dull. That’s not to say we don’t currently have any plastic toys at the preschool but there will be a time in the not-so-distant future that we will banish them entirely.

Curiosity in children helps foster good relationships, good communication, satisfaction in play, stimulation and life-long learning. Children genuinely want to learn in the early years and it is so important that we get it right to allow that positive attitude to learning to continue throughout their school career.

A little while ago, I set up a ‘curiosity station’ instead of our usual ‘areas of development’ sections of the room. I had very few predictions about what it would achieve and it was mostly just an experiment. In part of my ‘curiosity station’ I had some metal garden spheres, initially these were just balls to throw and kick but when the children discovered their weight they became an object of schematic play, rolling them back and forth and between legs. It encouraged positive communication, new vocabulary and turn taking – all vital skills when starting school. I had a ‘tuff spot’ with sand, scoopers, jars of orange slices, conkers and pine cones, sticks, stones and bamboo cups – these became items from a restaurant where six children played together in harmony serving each other, taking orders and paying for their meals using the most expressive language and beautiful manners. It was also a dinosaur land where the children searched in debris for fossils and dinosaur bones. All of this learning was without any prompting from adults, it was in the moment, authentic, inspirational and fascinating. I was mentally noting endless observations about the children’s language, their social abilities and their natural interest in numbers and mathematical problems.

When we give children a train track and some trains and stop there, they stop there. There’s only so far they can go. A train can really only be a train but a brass pot can be anything they want it to be. When we give children a dolls house, they put the furniture in the rooms, put the people in the beds and then take it all out and start again – that’s exactly what we expect and part of the joy of working with small children is the unexpected. My favourite days are the days when the ‘plan’ doesn’t go to plan and the children become pirates following their own treasure maps because they didn’t want to make another junk modelling rocket ship, the days when they use the puddles to fill up cups and add petals and nettles to make potions and the days when I capture a little boy who previously ignored all books looking at a book because it is inside the climbing frame and not in the ‘book corner’.

The new EYFS is a new and desperately overdue opportunity for all settings, all practitioners, all teachers and anyone else working with children to continually ask themselves “why are we doing this? Who is it for?” We have been told we are to build our own curriculum. My curriculum is based on real experiences and that beautifully innocent desire to learn fostered through the medium of curiosity and I cannot wait to see where it all leads.

For more information please contact Sally-Ann at or call 07375 379148

wooden toys

Wooden toys

By | family, fun for children, Party, play, Playing, Toys
by Susan Luxford
Timeless Toys

Wooden toys- the freedom to explore, create and grow

It might be surprising to know that wooden toy brands have been around for a long time. Leicester based Lanka Kade and Surrey based Le Toy Van both celebrated 25 years in 2019 whist German brands like Goki and Heimess have been making wooden toys since the early 1970s. Despite their longevity, it is only in the most recent years that wooden toys have seen a revival and are experiencing an ever-growing popularity. But why?

There has been growing awareness of the value of unstructured open-ended play and wooden toys have often been designed with this in mind, enabling children’s imaginations and creativity to be boundless. These toys don’t have an obvious single use, instructions or rules giving children the ability to be in control of how they play, keeping their minds clear as they think through different scenarios or solve problems. By encouraging open-ended play, wooden toys can help develop a child’s reasoning and problem solving skills, social interactions, improve their hand/eye coordination and fine motor skills and aid speech development.

There’s been increasing health concerns about the chemicals used within plastic toys to make them pliable and colourful, that children then absorb through their mouths and skin. Despite regulations in place, toys made to unsafe levels are still commonly finding their way into homes. In 2018, 31% of toys sold in the EU were recalled over safety concerns with 25% of these having unsafe chemical levels1 – whilst 722,000 toys were seized and impounded by the EU in 20182. Wooden toys do not contain PVC or phthalates that cause endocrine (hormone) disruption, they are free of preservatives and formaldehyde, respiratory irritants linked to asthma and allergies and free
of Naphthalene and its chemical cousins, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are strongly suspected to cause cancer.

Parents are questioning whether previously popular electronic toys marketed as educational and interactively beneficial, are either. Noises and electronic features can interrupt a child’s thinking process and limit how far a child’s imagination can go. Overstimulation can make it difficult for the brain to think critically. Additionally, with parents now spending twice as much time with their children as 50 years ago and more time at home than playing outside, parents are seeking toys that foster a calmer home environment.

The issues of plastic pollution, waste and environmental damage are big issues we are all concerned about. 8.5 million3 new, perfectly good toys are thrown away every year in the UK, which then end up in landfills, incinerators or in the ocean. Wooden toys are robust, durable and repairable, will hold a child’s interest for longer and can become family heirlooms, yielding less waste. They can be recycled easily and will fully biodegrade harmlessly within 13 years. Wooden toys use minimal fossil fuels to create them and quality brands only use FSC woods, a global forest certification system that means the wood is not only renewably sourced but comes from responsibly managed forests that protect fragile ecosystems and respects local indigenous populations.

Last but not least, there is a growing interest in the impact our buying power has on the communities and workforces where manufacturing is taking place. Many wooden toy brands are already ahead in the toy industry for their sustainability and ethos to ethical practices. The majority are still family-owned independent companies and run charitable education foundations and reforestation programmes.

With spring now here, it’s the perfect time to declutter those shelves of unloved toys and the noisy ones that irritate you. Consider making your next purchase a wooden one, with no right or wrong, no levels, no batteries, no flashing lights or sound. Just the freedom to explore, create and grow.




Timeless Toys specialises in wooden toys and is at 103 Portland Road, Hove BN3 5DP – open from 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Saturday. For more information see Timeless Toys UK on Facebook.


Why do children love to play so much?

By | Education, environment, fun for children, Green, Playing, Summer, Toys
by Tanya Petherick
Class Of Their Own

Children love to play. We know that, but just what is it about play that children love? At this point in an article, you might expect to see a definition of play. As people who study play are fond of saying; play is easy to see, but hard to define. The desire to play is innate. Innate is a word we can define. It means natural, in built, instinctive – in other words, no one needs to, or indeed, can, tell a child how to play. Play can be facilitated by adults, yet it is essentially child-led; children doing what they want with the resources they have available. Think about all the times a young child has been more interested in the cardboard box than the gift inside. Yet, play is not just for toddlers. Children of all ages learn through play. This might be something pragmatic, such as young children playing shops and counting out one apple and two pears, through to older primary-aged children playing card games using more advanced numerical skills.

Children receive a natural satisfaction from play. In academic circles, this is termed intrinsic motivation; a behaviour which is driven by an internal reward – put simply, play is something children want to do. A lot of the time, play is fun. Playing with friends, playing outside, getting wet, staying dry, playing in pairs, playing in groups, playing alone, imagining, making, cutting, sticking, creating, cooking, discovering, exploring – they all sound like great fun. Undoubtedly, one reason children might love play is it can be enormous fun – but it isn’t always. Sometimes play is sad, unfair or physically painful; think about children role-playing sad events, not being included in a group game and that childhood staple of grazed knees.

These three examples alone show how play can prepare children for life as an adult, sad things do happen and developing skills to process these emotions help us makes sense of life, understanding unfairness helps us to process information, and those grazed knees? Well, they teach us to tie up our shoelaces or the need to take more care on the scooter.

Can you remember being bored as a child? Getting part way through the long school holiday and declaring the dreaded “I’m bored” phrase? Being bored, or more importantly, being allowed to be bored, is an important part of a child’s development. It is when children are bored that they make creative use of the resources around them. I can remember ‘ruining,’ in my mum’s words, and ‘making more fun’ in mine, a game of Connect 4 by painting the inside of all the red and yellow circles with different coloured paint and using my new pieces to create a more complex version of the game. Had I not been bored with the original version of the game, I would never have developed my own, more engaging version of the game (I have to confess that this happened years ago, and I am still waiting for Connect 4 to pick up my great idea!). It is the necessity of creativity that results from being bored that can create fantastic fun.

Children have an innate desire to play, are intrinsically motivated to do so, and are creative about it, but does that answer our question about why children love to play? In a way it does. But let’s look at the question from a different angle. Maybe it is less about a child’s desire to play, and more about the associated benefits of play that have kept play at the evolutionary forefront of a child’s development. It is through play that children develop confidence, self-esteem, independence, emotional resilience, physical skills, concentration and creative thinking. Or, put another way, the skills that follow children into adulthood. At a time when children face criticism for being too attached to electronic devices, not doing enough exercise and being ‘over-scheduled’ the benefits of play may seem an overly simplistic response, yet as we have seen, it is through play that children find out who they are, and how the world around them works.

It can be easy to overlook the benefits of your child ‘just’ playing when planning the summer holidays. Allowing a child to follow their individual interests reduces guilt when planning holiday childcare, however, do not feel the need to overschedule children. As a parent or carer in today’s busy world, giving children the time and space to play is one of the best things a parent can do to help their child develop the skills they will need growing up and into adulthood. So, turn off the tablet and let children play in the way you did: on their own, with friends, at a holiday club and don’t forget, you can join in too! Let yourself be led by your child and don’t worry if you can’t remember how to play. It is what children do, so give them 30 minutes of your time and encourage them to choose what you do together – it is invaluable time together, and your child (and you!) will love it, but, also allow them to get bored and get creative – you never know where it will take them!

Class Of Their Own offer high quality, affordable and secure out of school clubs for primary school children aged 4-11.