Emma is a busy mum to three even busier children. She is passionate about the importance of science education and making science fun for kids. You can find Emma’s science-based activities and investigations over on Science Sparks, a website bursting with creative and engaging ideas for children of all ages.
For example a tray of colourful, glittery ice, warm water and a pipette, can lead to hours of making the ice melt, talking about how it feels and how to make it melt faster ( or more slowly ). Just a few bits of ice provide the opportunity to learn about melting, freezing, temperature, team work, problem solving and so much more. My biggest piece of advice for encouraging an interest in science is to let children explore, ask questions and design their own investigations. If they have the time and space to play, the questions will come. You just need to set up a starting point and that can be something as simple as a bug hunt in the garden, or going on a nature walk to collect treasures.
The Primary Science Lab Set from Learning Resources is perfect for inspiring scientific play. Use the magnifying glass on a bug hunt, the pipette for dropping water on ice or trying a bit of chromatography and the beakers and test tubes for making fizzy potions.
I find STEM challenges are a fantastic way for children to learn using their natural problem solving skills, if the first attempt to solve the challenge doesn’t work, they can try again, changing the solution a little each time.
Coding activities are also wonderful for inspiring children and Botley the Coding Robot from Learning Resources is a brilliant starting point. Botley is a coding robot that helps children develop critical thinking and problem solving skills which is so important in later years.
Science gives you an invaluable opportunity to learn alongside your children and make the ordinary, extraordinary together. There really is nothing better.
If you’re anything like me (late 30’s, balding, social life not as full as it once was) you’ll have had the 19th September circled in your diary for a long time – International Talk Like a Pirate Day!
Yes, it’s time to batten down the hatches, hoist the main sail, and fly the Jolly Roger once again as otherwise sane people pepper their vocabulary with a boat load of ahoy, aha and avast.
The salty seadogs at Learning Resources asked me to don my captain’s hat and take a look at three of their fantastic products to make sure they were ship shape ahead of this year’s talk like a pirate day and to think of a few ideas for how each product could be used to aid learning.
This is a great game for 2-4 players to begin to recognise fractions, specifically halves, quarters and thirds. The pirate loot is gathered in the centre of the board and players take it in turns to use the spinner to determine which piece of treasure they will be able to take from the centre pile: ½ a gem stone, a 1/3 of a gold medallion, a ¼ of a treasure map or a whole golden chalice?
The winner is the first person to fill up their treasure chest, helpfully indicated by empty shapes split into halves, thirds and quarters. But, crucially, there is not enough treasure for all four players; there will need to be some skulduggery in order for any pirate to complete their haul. Once all the treasure has been collected from the middle you can then steal treasure from the other buccaneers, robbing them of their whole fractions whilst adding to your own.
Opportunities for learning
- The strong, clear visuals of the game really help reinforce the differences in the fractions and how many parts make a respective whole. If a player has ¼ of their treasure map, ask them what fraction they have still left to find (3/4).
- Collect more parts than can fit on your whole to demonstrate improper fractions i.e if you collect four parts of a medallion this would be 4/3
- For more advanced players you could use decimal or percentage equivalents, encouraging children to recognise that ½ = 50% = 0.5
National Curriculum links
- recognise, find and name a half as one of two equal parts of an object, shape or quantity
- recognise, find and name a quarter as one of four equal parts of an object, shape or quantity
- recognise, find, name and write fractions 1/3, ¼, 2/4 and 3/4 of a length, shape, set of objects or quantity.
- recognise and write decimal equivalents to ¼, ½ and ¾
No pirate plunder is complete without some sterling, and this set of UK coins and notes has everything you would need to introduce working with money. The coins are exact replicas of all current UK coins from 1p up to £2 – they’re even a little bit chunkier than the real thing to make handling a little more straightforward. Also included are a set of notes from £5-£50. Everything you might need to set up a role play area or to start working with money more in depth.
Opportunities for learning
- Thanks to the fantastic accuracy of the coins and notes, this set makes a fantastic introduction to recognising the different shapes, sizes and values of the coins and notes.
- Asking children to find all the different ways they could make a certain amount with the money they have is a great investigation and really gets them to start to see that there is more than one way to reach an answer.
- Understanding the relationship between the notes and the coins can sometimes be tricky so working out how many of the different coins would be needed to make a £10 note can help children understand both money and place value (10 x £1.00 = £10, 100 x £0.10 = £10 etc)
National Curriculum links
- recognise and know the value of different denominations of coins and notes
- recognise and use symbols for pounds (£) and pence (p); combine amounts to make a particular value
- find different combinations of coins that equal the same amounts of money
- use place value, known and derived facts to multiply and divide mentally
A pirate is not really a pirate unless they have a tall ship upon which to sail the seven seas and this fantastic resource allows them to build just that. The set comprises of a number of different cardboard bricks: some shaped in squares and rectangles; some in triangles and pyramids. This range of building materials allows any budding Blackbeards to create a ship, a fort or anything they want as part of their pirate universe. Thanks to some clever reinforcement in the construction of the bricks they are all impressively durable as well.
Opportunities for learning
- This set is a natural fit for any Early Years roleplay area and, though it comes with a number of decorations to help give it that pirate look, the bricks themselves could be reused for any number of different scenarios.
- The variety in the types of bricks also makes this a great opportunity to introduce the properties of 3D shapes to the children by introducing them to cuboids, prisms and pyramids.
- Don’t miss an opportunity to use this set with older children. The set comes flat packed with the shapes having to be assembled from nets. Whilst the assembly would be too tricky for younger children, children in Years 5 or 6 should find a great challenge in predicting what shape will be made from each net before justifying their reasoning.
National Curriculum links
recognise and name common
2-D and 3-D shapes
My children and I had a great time working together to design and create the activities in the book, it was a real family effort. People often ask me how I think of ideas for Science Sparks, but the truth is most of the activities come from questions my children ask and then one thing tends to lead on to another.
By actively exploring science at home you are changing youngsters’ perception of science, supporting their learning, and having fun all at the same time! Science based activities encourage the development of core skills from logical thinking and problem solving, right through to communication skills. But if you are lost for where to start when it comes to science play at home, then read on for my top pointers.
Tops tips for getting children involved in science at home
Many of our activities are inspired by books. For example, we’ve made bridges for The Gingerbread Man, underpants for Aliens, a zip wire for Jack (and the beanstalk) and houses for the Three Little Pigs. So my first top tip is to read a book together and then work on an idea to solve a problem for the characters.
For older children, try a non-fiction book and work to demonstrate something. For example use a prism to split light into the colours of the rainbow.
Science projects are a great way to learn together whilst working as a team. You could work on a tricky project together or try something more simple independently and then come together to share your results.
A great project to work together on is something like our viscosity race. In This Is Rocket Science a viscosity investigation is used to demonstrate lava flows on Venus. You can see we found our Learning Resources test tubes and holder very handy for this activity. The test tubes are easy to hold and generously sized making them perfect for holding our test liquids! We also used one of the handy stopwatches to time how long each liquid took to flow between the lines.
If you have a child who loves art projects our filter paper chromatography planets are sure to be a winner. Simply draw small dots on a piece of filter paper and use a dropper to drip water onto the ink spots. Watch the colours spread through the filter paper and leave to dry. For a longer project try to create a filter paper picture to match each planet of the solar system.
Look around, ask a question and try to find the answer! This Is Rocket Science has lots of activities demonstrating gravity for example. It contains 70 fun and hands-on activities designed to help children understand how a rocket is able to blast off into space, how astronauts manage to cope with the difficulties of living in space and also takes you on a tour of our incredible solar system learning about the unimaginable distances involved and features of each planet.
How do you get children involved in science at home and what are their favourite investigations?
We’d love to see your experiments, be sure to tag us on Instagram using @learningresourcesuk and @sciencesparks.
Learning Resources are giving children the chance to have their very own Beaker Creature design made into a plush toy!
Throughout August, we’re inviting your kids to send us their unique Beaker Creature designs to enter our competition. Five lucky winners from the UK will then be chosen at random and will receive a plush toy of their design made by Custom Cuddlies.
See below for full Terms and Conditions.
Rule the countryside with a nature crown
Rule the countryside. All you’ll need is some paper, a roll of tape and some scavenged bits and bobs from the great outdoors. This fun activity comes courtesy of Muddy Puddles. They’ve even got a printable activity sheet that you can take out and about with you. Alternatively, watch their video:
- Start by measuring a strip of paper to roughly the circumference of your child’s head, add a few inches more to allow for fastening, and cut to size.
- Go outdoors and get little hands gathering anything from leaves and feathers to sticks and flowers. Visit any green space and you’re sure to forage a whole host of seasonal curiosities.
- Apply double-sided tape to the strip of paper and get sticking. Children can have a lot of fun positioning the items, layering leaves and making patterns.
- Use sellotape to join your crown together to fit. Voila! You are countryside royalty!
“This crafty activity helps to improve children’s observational skills as they hunt and gather in their surroundings. It also advances their fine motor skills as they pick flowers, leaves and more, and carefully attach them to the headband.” — Katie Smith at Learning Resources
Build a brilliant birdbath
Birdbaths aren’t just for drinking from: our feathered friends also use them to preen and keep their feathers in top condition.
Build a birdbath, fill it with cool water and place it in a nice open spot (safe from predators such as pouncing cats). The birds will be grateful, and you and your little ones can have fun identifying the different species that stop for a drink.
You will need:
- a terracotta pot
- a terracotta saucer
- all-purpose glue suitable for outdoors
- 4-7 large stones
Did you know that it’s International Bath Day on June 14th? What better way to celebrate than letting your kids splash in the bath with some super fun, but educational bath toys!
All three of these bath toys are part of the Bright Basics™ range by Educational Insights. The range was created to inspire your little ones to play and learn as they grow. All three of them are not only super fun and will be loved by kids aged 2 – 5, but they’ll help your kids to develop some key developmental skills through play.
The first bath toy I’m going to share with you is the Bright Basics™ Slide & Splash Spouts toy. This toy is suitable for ages 2 – 5 and I personally love that it’s a toy that can grow with your child and that can be played with in so many different ways as they get older. The Bright Basics™ Slide & Splash Spouts come with:
- Two elbow pipes
- A straight pipe
- A spinning faucet
- A sprinkle cloud bin
- A sun-themed pouring cup
- An ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’ themed ball
- Parent Activity Guide
How To Play
The Bright Basics™ Slide & Splash Spouts toy is such an amazing tool for using with little minds because there are so many teaching opportunities. Firstly, you can build it together!
The Bright Basics™ Slide and Splash Spouts comes with three colourful pipes, two of which are different sizes. Each of the pipes come with suction cups so that you can stick them to the bath. This makes it super easy for kids to slide the pieces around, so that they can build themselves a route.
Evie loved becoming a little engineer and had lots of fun designing different routes with the pipes. The idea is to set up a route that allows the ‘Itsy Bitsy’ spider ball to run through the pipes and the spinning faucet, all the way to the end. You can encourage its movement by pouring water through the pipes using the sun cup.
I really enjoyed watching Evie experiment, make predictions and learn all about trial and error with this toy. Just by playing with this toy she’s already building on her early maths and science skills without even realising it!
The first time we played with it, we planned and designed a route together. We planned where each pipe would go and then we watched which way the water flowed to try to work out how to get the ball through all of the pipes and if we needed to make changes. Evie found it so tricky at first but seeing her think, experiment and put together the puzzle was a lot of fun to see. This was also amazing for encouraging discussion, developing fine motor skills and for recognising cause and effect. After the first go, Evie wanted to try building several different routes by herself and she did so well.
Another fun way you can play with this is toy is by playing a ‘Sense It’ game. This particular game is great for very younger kids as you can use the sprinkler cup to pour the water onto your child’s hands. They can then try and catch the water. As Evie is older we used both a pipe and the sprinkler cup to pour water onto her hands. I then asked Evie to talk about the differences in feeling, which encouraged a lot of discussion. I also loved using the sprinkler cup to talk to Evie about rain and how the water collects in clouds and then sprinkles down on us. She then used this idea to make it rain down the pipes on the spider ball.
This encouraged another way to play with the Bright Basics™ Slide & Splash Spouts toy; singing. This is also a game that is encouraged in the toys main activity guide.
The Itsy Bitsy Spider ball that comes with the Bright Basics™ Slide & Splash Spouts toy, has been cleverly named after the famous nursery rhyme. During one of our play sessions I started singing the nursery rhyme and as I did I tried to push the ball back up one of the spouts.
Evie grinned and instantly took over and role played the song with the Itsy Bitsy Spider ball. She made him climb up the pipe and then when he reached the top, she filled the rain cloud with water. She then used the rain cloud to pour water down the pipes so that it would push the ‘Itsy Bitsy’ spider ball back out again. Then she picked up the sun cup to ‘dry up all the rain’ and pushed the spider ball all the way back up to the top again.
For smaller children, singing the nursery rhyme will help to encourage their listening skills and language development. It’s also such a fun way of learning with this toy.
Once you’ve finished play time, the Bright Basics™ Slide & Splash Spouts can be tidied away into a mesh bag which comes in to the box. This can then be hung to dry when it’s not in use.
The second bath toy I’m going to share with you is the Bright Basics™ Bath Blocks. These are also suitable for ages 2 – 5 and again there are so many learning points for little minds. The Bright Basics™ Bath Blocks come with:
- 15 floating sandcastle bath blocks
- 4 floating sea creature friends
- A floating foam base
- Parent Activity Guide
How To Play
Just like the previous toy, there are several ways to play with these bath blocks. Evie is 4 years old and currently she is a mini builder. She loves constructing things so straight away she started to play with this toy by building it.
The Bright Basics™ Bath Blocks comes with a large floating base and lots of bricks and accessories that can be stacked and built on top the floating the base. The idea is to make a giant floating sandcastle.
For early learners and younger children, they can start off playing with this through balancing and stacking. Why not build a huge tower with the bricks so that your child can see what happens? Then you can knock it down so that your child learns cause and effect, before you build it back up again. This will help them to develop sensory awareness and fine motor skills as they try and balance the blocks on top of one another.
As Evie is a little bit older, for her it was all about working out where the different parts could go, so that she could complete the sandcastle.
The bath blocks also come with four sea creatures; a seal, a whale, a dolphin and a turtle. As soon as Evie finished building the castle, the imaginative play began and for the past few bath sessions Evie has been turning the castle into a home for the four sea creatures, who she makes interact with each other. I also used this toy to introduce Evie to a new nursery rhyme that we haven’t sung to her before.
One thing I love, is that Bright Basics™ team include an activity guide in each toy pack, so that you get inspiration of things you can do with your child. One thing they encourage with each toy is learning through singing.
Singing helps with listening skills and the repetition in songs such as ‘nursery rhymes’, really helps to support early language development. The song they recommend singing for this toy is the “She Sells Seashells by the Seashore” nursery rhyme. After I sang this song to Evie, she was inspired to turn the castle into a ‘shell shop’, where the creatures would come in to buy shells from the turtle who was chief shell collector. She would re-sing the song as each animal swam around the bath and up to the front door of the castle.
The final toy we were sent to review is called the
Bright Basics™ 123 Tubbies
I run The SEN Resources Blog, a site to support parents and teachers. The SEN Resources Blog provides advice and suggests fun, skill-based activities that can be tried at home. It also recommends children’s resources, toys and books.
How Toys Can Help Children With Special Educational Needs
Play is so important for all children and not just because it’s enjoyable, but it’s how children of all abilities and ages first learn. You may be surprised to know that simple games that generations of children have played are rooted in key developmental learning. For example, hide and seek and peekaboo both teach children an array of skills such as counting and object permanence (the idea that something can exist even if you can’t perceive it anymore). Throwing and catching develops hand eye coordination and gross motor skills. Hopscotch teaches early writing skills, number recognition and gross motor skills. The list goes on!
Whether it be playing independently, alongside other children or with a caregiver- it is essential that children are given the opportunities and time to play. For children with special educational needs and/ disabilities – free play may sometimes present a challenge with factors such as accessibility, visual/auditory impairments, social difficulties etc needing to be navigated. However, parents are often experts at trying to find ways to create opportunities for play and provide adaptations that are needed to allow it to take place.
What’s brilliant is most toys are also designed with learning in mind. In my experience for children with special educational needs, chosen well, a toy can help provide fun and engaging ways of mastering skills that they may be finding difficult and frustrating. Here are a few examples of skills that I believe toys can play a part in helping to develop.
Fine Motor Skills
If a child is finding it challenging to grip a pencil or do up buttons on their clothes – it might be an idea to provide them with options of fun fine motor skill activities. These should help build strength and develop the tiny muscles in their hands and fingers needed for these tasks.
For example, one fun activity is using squeeze tweezers to pick up colourful pom poms and put them in a bowl. Children can also be stretched to sort the pom poms by colour, or try picking up trickier, smaller objects.
Some children love nothing better than to throw themselves into Imaginative Play, whether it be pretending to be shop keepers, police officers or vets.
Imaginative Play can help children practise their speech and language skills as well as make sense of the world we live in. But for others Imaginative Play presents a challenge. It may be that a child is not yet at that level of play and still plays with toys in a more functional way (e.g pushing a car to watch it move). In my experience, patience is key – give the child time, provide them with Imaginative Play opportunities but without pressures, play is meant to be enjoyable, so allow them the freedom to play how they choose to.
Speech and language
In my opinion, some games can be brilliant at helping to get kids talking and expand their vocabulary. Played as a family, games such as Petting Farm can help to reinforce key descriptive language. In this game children spin the spinner and try to find the animal that matches the texture, taking it in turns to describe what they feel like from touch alone.
Learning to Read (Phonics)
About Botley: Botley is a fun, friendly robot that teaches critical coding skills to children as young as five through play. Botley is entirely screen-free.
Jo Moore, a reception and year 1 teacher at Snettisham Primary School in Norfolk, was asked to test Botley™ the Coding Robot Activity Set.
Botley the robot is a fun, friendly way to teach critical coding skills to children as young as five and is entirely screen-free.
After taking Botley into her school and allowing her children to play and explore the new robot by Learning Resources®, Jo Moore gives us her feedback…
How was this product used within the classroom?
I introduced ‘Botley’ to the children as a whole class carpet session. We discussed what ‘coding’ meant…’making a sequence to make something do something’ and we looked at his basic functions. We set up a little course and I gave the children the challenge to get the ball to the goal. We started off just programming in one-step instructions. Then after this we tried programming a sequence.
After a short whole class session, I left Botley out during our coding session on the computers and children freely chose to come and play. They set up their own mazes and challenged each other to code Botley.
How did Botley support learning in the classroom?
Botley is a perfect way to introduce and develop coding with this age group (4 – 6). They absolutely loved how Botley looked and were so engaged in the activity. Everyone wanted a turn and were sad when we had to put it away for lunch! ‘Coding’ can be a tricky concept to explain to young children but is a requirement of the National Curriculum and essential for our modern technology, so Botley helps children to learn in a simple effective way.
Do you believe Botley is innovative?
Yes, I haven’t seen any other products like this that offer so many features. You can begin to teach coding with Botley but because of the range of features he offers it enables you to build on the learning and introduce more complex features and coding such as the object detection. Also, the hand held remote is a great addition as it really helped my younger children to look at the directions and position. One of them worked out they could turn the remote to match the way Botley was facing and this helped them to understand the way that he needed to go or turn.
Do you feel Botley has a positive impact?
I have a child in my class who does not have any speech. For her, this made the activity fully inclusive as it was so-hands on and active. She could show everyone which way she thought ‘Botley’ needed to go by showing the cards or the arrows on the remote.
Do you feel Botley supports your role as a teacher?
Yes, it’s a fantastic resource to introduce coding to the children. They can be very hands-on and active, learning the ideas of ‘coding’ before they try more complex coding programmes on the computer or ipad. Everything comes in the box that you need so it doesn’t take any time at all to plan and set up.
What would you say are the greatest benefits of Botley, both to you as the teacher and to your students?
Amy and her three year old daughter have enjoyed playing with Learning Resources’ toys. Here is Amy’s feedback…
“Having recently received a few different toys from Learning Resources, I quickly went back to the website and got carried away ordering more. They are so different from any other toys on the market AND they are educational which, as a parent, I feel is a huge bonus!
The Playfoam Pals comes in lovely bright colours and it’s great for creative play. Added bonus is that it doesn’t ever dry out and it’s easy to scoop together and tidy away. My toddler and teenage niece and nephew spent half a weekend playing with it non-stop! They loved creating different shapes with it.
The New Sprouts Serve It gets played with every day and I love that my daughter’s (almost!) learning how to set a table for dinner already :). She loves imaginative play and tea parties so it’s a huge hit and I’m sure we’ll still be playing with it in years to come.
We also love the Sneaky, Snacky, Squirrel Colour Matching Game. It’s brilliant for little hands learning patience while carefully picking up a coloured acorn with the fun squirrel squeezer. And also for learning when they have to miss a go or to lose all their acorns to another player. Learning to lose with good grace I think is a good thing to instil in children from a young age so I have no problem in not letting her win all the time. Nobody likes a sore loser so to me, you’re never too young to learn to lose as well enjoy the joy of winning.
We also love sitting down with the Trace And Learn Writing Activity Set. It is great as it as an erasable pen so we can use it again and again and there are many different pages with letters, numbers and shapes to choose from. It’s wonderful to watch a child carefully try and follow the dotted lines to make the shape and look so pleased and proud of themselves afterwards! It also easily tidies away and has a handle so we can take it on outings easily. Perfect for entertaining them in a restaurant I’ve found!
I’ve since ordered more from Learning Resources as I love it all so much but rather than bombard my child with them all at once, I’m just introducing them slowly so she focuses on them individually and learns how to play with them first.
They are also perfect for gifts as they are so unique and different to other toys on the market.
I’m so pleased to have been introduced to this wonderful toy company and hope I can help spread the word to everyone who has a child to buy a gift for. I will definitely be coming back for more!”