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We asked six early years practitioners to tell us about their favourite educational resources

The Gruffalo story sack

Well, any story sack really. I have a passion for children’s stories and I love putting together items for a sack, especially animals. I have adapted a soft toy animal to be the Gruffalo by sewing on a purple spine, eyes and a nose. I love using the props to make the story come to life. I enjoy watching the children interact and ultimately seeing the pleasure that they get out of creating the story themselves with the props, especially time after time. The best thing is seeing a child who goes from having very little interest and just listening to a story, to using a story sack and being able to tell you and other children around them the story they have heard. What could be more fun?

Jan Messingerpre-school assistant

Fiona Mukerjee--early years practitioner

Home-made play dough

Squish it, squash it, cook it, knead it, paint it, dry it or freeze it – whatever you do with it children just love it! It is cheap and fun to make and there are loads of recipes available. You can even add food colouring or fragrant oils to make it more interesting – just make sure they are non-toxic for the children who just can’t resist a nibble!

Fiona Mukerjeeearly years practitioner

Heidi Reitze--deputy head and Foundation Stage coordinator

The school field!

It is the most stimulating, exciting and fascinating resource I have ever known. It changes constantly with the weather, it can be dry or wet, windy or icy, freezing or boiling, every day is different. The textures and colours with the forever changeable climate is a delight. It is always available at no cost, and space is no limit. Time is endless and with the whole curriculum accessible, the children stay on task all day. The level of concentration and collaborative work, from building fires to making natural dens, is outstanding. There is always something to discover, explore and investigate, from the tiny snails and luscious mud to the delicious blackberries. And the frogs… well that’s another story!

Heidi Reitzedeputy head and Foundation Stage coordinator

My builder’s tray

It is so versatile – it can be used indoors or outdoors; it is simple to fill up with rainwater for puddle play; it is great for a small group of children to play with shaving foam together; it is ideal to keep marbles or building blocks contained; or even to create a small-world of twigs and leaves, wood shavings or sand. It is also easy to clean and store and it was a wonderfully cheap resource to buy. I love it!

Sarah Smithregistered childminder

Alison Comfort is a nursery manager

My song box

Over the years, I have noticed that the same old songs are sung time and time again and sometimes your mind goes blank when it comes to thinking of different songs. I have created my own song box from an old hat box. It is a round box, covered with a traditional teddy bears pattern. It has a lid and can be carried by the rope handle. When all the children are sitting, ready for song time, they are intrigued by what is inside!

I have a prop for each song and a small song book for those children who do not know the words. The children can choose an item to sing about, for example, a miniture teapot for ‘I’m a Little Teapot’ or ‘Polly Put the Kettle On’; or a candle for ‘Up the Tall White Candlestick’ or ‘Jack Be Nimble, Jack be Quick’. Not only is this good for helping the children to take turns, make choices and respect others, but the box can also be used for memory games and making up a story using the props.

Alison Comfortnursery manager

Nicola Ellis--early years practitioner

A chest or box of dressing-up clothes

There is nothing better than seeing a child’s face light up when they delve into that magical box of make believe! It is so easy to make or obtain, and provides hours of fun. Try raiding your own wardrobe to find fluffy scarves, hats, long flowing skirts, over-sized shirts, elbow-length gloves, waistcoats, trousers, beads, jewellery, bags and shoes that you knew would come in handy one day!

Ask friends and family to donate old clothing. Additional items can be obtained really cheaply, such as a glorious feather boa, and costumes such as firefighters can be purchased from local shops, for those children who already have ambitions in life.

Dressing-up boxes create wonderful opportunities for the children to let their imaginations go wild. They encourage role play and language skills as the children explore the contents and ask about the items, as well as help to develop the children’s fine motor skills – doing up those buttons can be a pesky business sometimes! A dressing-up box can provide hours of imaginative play. With parental permission, take and display photos of the children dressed in the outfits they have ‘designed’ – this provides such a feeling of satisfaction.

Nicola Ellisearly years practitioner