A number of childminders have complained to me recently that they have been told by Ofsted inspectors to label their toy boxes. They say ‘we are working from our own homes... these are our children’s toys... we don’t want labels all over our houses.’
There are 2 ways of looking at this action from Ofsted...
1. It is not a requirement of the EYFS 2012 to label toy boxes and you could argue that it is an inappropriate action... or maybe that too much print turns children off learning... or maybe that your husband says 'no, absolutely not' to labels in his home.
2. You could think about what the inspector is actually saying and how you can enhance your play areas to improve children’s access to print. Ofsted want to see a ‘print rich environment’. It’s not really about labelling toy boxes - it is about how you promote literacy in your house and garden.
There are many different ways you can provide a print rich environment without labels. Most of them can be taken down at the weekend or during holidays.
Here are some examples...
• Alphabet - put one up on the wall or on a window for the children to see; print and laminate one for the drawing box. Make sure the children recognise the pictures - they have to mean something to them or the poster will be ignored.
• Name labels - print and laminate a label for each child with their name typed out in Comic Sans font. Use about 48 point size so children can copy it when they are learning to write. Include their photo or a picture they have chosen so the label is personalised for them.
• Pegs or shelves - if the child has a peg or shelf where they put their bag, shoes and coat, put a label on it with their name so they know it is their space.
• Register - when children arrive in the morning, help them to register by putting their name card onto an ‘I am here’ poster or put some photos with their name underneath near a laminated ‘welcome’ board. Some childminders have a ‘registration sheet’ which children use to sign in every morning. It is displayed for the day and then goes into the recycling - with a few copies saved to show how well children are making progress in their writing. If you write their name they can sign in underneath and copy the letter shapes.
• Books - put books with different resources. For example, make some menus and recipe cards to laminate and go in your cooking box; add books about numbers to your maths resources; put magazines in a box so children can read them independently; display some books forward facing so children can select them from the title.
• Clipboards and paper are great for taking mark making outside. Add interesting pieces of paper to the clipboard, attach a pencil and put words outside on the fence and near toys so children can copy them. For example, the children could help you to decorate and laminate pictures of butterflies, birds, snails and other outside inspired things and add a name label so the children make links between the picture and the word.
• Signs - nobody is asking you to put ‘window’ on your windows! However, signs can be used and made by the children for their games. For example, a window cleaning business can have a ‘we are working here’ A board sign... a role play shop can have an ‘open’ and ‘closed’ sign etc.
• Mark making tables can have pre-printed sheets featuring shapes, words, alphabet, numbers etc which are laminated for longer life.
• Home made books - when you visit the farm, park, soft play or zoo take lots of photos which, when printed, can be used to make a book with the children. This is an excellent way of ensuring your book provision reflects the local community and the children’s home and family lives - for example, you might ask parents if they would like to contribute pictures of home festivals and celebrations so you can make a book for all the children to read.
• Label artwork - when the children have put artwork on the wall ask them what label they want you to add and help them to type and print it.
• Pre-school children might enjoy exploring a ‘letter of the week’ through words, pictures, favourite toys and books.
• Buy or make some posters to display - put them on a board and take them down at the weekend.
• Label your own folders - the children will learn that print has meaning if you talk about finding a folder and look for the correct label. Children’s names and a picture chosen by them or photo will help them to find their own Learning Journey files so they can look through them.
• Use real food boxes in your cooking box - taken from children’s favourite home food and drink as well as things they enjoy while with you - so they learn to associate the labels with the contents.
• Make and put up a birthday display featuring children’s names and their birth month.
• White boards or chalk boards - write and draw something on them for children to copy and to provide inspiration.
• When children are making models, give them some writing paper with squares on it and work together to make a drawing of the model. If you do this regularly it will become part of the children’s normal play routines and they are more likely to do it as part of their play when Ofsted are in the house!
• Rebus rhymes and stories - are great for combining words and pictures to support early reading. Have a look on www.enchantedlearning.com for lots of ideas.
• Number lines can be made by the children featuring their favourite toys torn from an old catalogue or if you have a laminated number line on an easy to access shelf they can put little toys along it to count.
• Food cartons - empty ones for role play from the cupboard so they are real and things children see in their own homes.
• Some children are auditory (listening) rather than visual (seeing) learners and will enjoy listening to story tapes or CDs. Provide them with headphones, the CDs, a copy of the book to read along with the story as the are listening.
And if you actually want to label toy boxes... for very young children, words alongside good quality pictures work best - you could tie labels to your toy boxes with a short piece of ribbon which can be removed at the weekend if your own children object or you think it looks messy. Some childminders use laminated labels attached to toy boxes with Velcro so they can be removed easily.
I hope this inspires! Chat soon, Sarah x