There are so many products out there that you could buy for your out of school club, but which ones really offer value for money? And which ones will the children play with over and over again? In this section we review products that have been rigorously 'road tested' by real, live(ly) children and which have passed our informal criteria for play value, durability and value for money.
Products that we love...
We love smart phone apps
If you use a tablet computer or smart phone at your club, you might want to consider getting some apps — not just for playing games — but to help you with the day-to-day running of your club. We've collected together some of the apps that we've found most useful at our clubs. And even better, most of them are free!
We love pound shops
When it comes to buying durable toys or items of high quality equipment, pound shops are not the place to go, but if, on the other hand, you are looking for materials that are used up quickly, or for a one-off event, they provide excellent value for money, as well as stocking a surprising variety of items.
We love all things camouflage
If you find yourself with a bit of spare cash, and are considering what equipment you might invest in, we recommend that you think camouflage! Camouflage netting, tarpaulins and other camouflage resources are great because they prompt play but don't prescribe it.
We love firesteels
Fire steels are a much safer way of lighting fires than matches as the children can't easily set fire to themselves (or other equipment) with them, and they get a great sense of satisfaction from learning how to light a fire the 'hard' way. What could be a better way of developing risky play? Plus you get a nice fire out the end for toasting marshmallows or cooking sausages!
We love cheap clothes rails
Basic clothes rails provide a really flexible resource for imaginative play for very little money. By the judicious addition of a painted cardboard awning, or swags of fabric draped along the top, the children at our club have used a cheap clothes rail as a café, puppet theatre, hairdressers, a stall for the Great British Bake-Off, a juice bar, and much more.
We love slime, foam and gloop!
When planning activities at our club we always try to include something suitable for mark making for the Early Years children: play dough, sand, shaving foam, gloop, etc. But we shouldn't overlook how much fun and valuable learning all children derive from this type of play.
We love giant paper rolls
If you are considering replenishing your paper supplies at any time in the near future, we recommend that you invest in a giant paper roll. These are designed for large roll printers, suitable for printing maps, plans etc, but are great for children.
We love bingo!
It's easy to dismiss bingo as a game for oldies, but when we introduced it to our club the children absolutely loved it. Not only did they have a surprising amount of fun, but the game delivered huge additional benefits at the same time, promoting a range of social and number skills.
We love diversity and equalities resources
We take a look at a range of resources including books, posters, dolls, craft materials, etc, to help you actively promote diversity and equalities within your club (and to help you demonstrate to Ofsted that you are doing so).
We love ideas to personalise your space
It can be difficult to make the space used by your club feel like your own, especially if your club is based in a bland community hall or shares premises with a school, however it is important that you do so. Personalising the space gives the children a sense of ownership, and helps to differentiate between the time spent at school and the 'down-time' of the club. We have picked out some ideas and products to help you achieve this.
We love science kits
Science kits are great for keeping the children entertained when the weather prevents them from playing outside, and are also a good way to engage the older children who can sometimes be uninspired by traditional 'craft' activities. We take a look at two very different types of kit.
We love popcorn makers
Popcorn is a healthy snack, full of fibre and low in fat, so perfect for active children. But buying microwave popcorn for the club every week was becoming expensive, and using a pan was rather smoky and messy. So we bought a hot-air popcorn maker and the children have absolutely loved it. This has been one of the most popular products we have ever bought for the club!
We love scrapstores
With the cost of running a club rising and finances tighter than ever, we thought we should look at cheaper ways of providing activities, and Scrap Stores are perfect for this. Scrap Stores take waste materials and off-cuts from manufacturers and turn them into useful resources for craft activities at bargain prices.
We love word and number games
We have discovered a couple of fantastic word and number games that are great for keeping the brain working whilst entertaining children and adults alike. These games are hugely popular with the children here, both at the after-school club and at home.
We love instant ice packs
Ice packs are a staple of first aid treatment for minor injuries but it can be tricky if your venue does not have a freezer, or when on outings. Instant ice packs are the perfect solution.
We love big bubbles
I'm sure that most of you already have bubbles at your clubs but we have discovered a kit called Big Bubbles that helps you make bubble play even better.
We love hot-melt glue guns!
OK, we know that they do get hot, but they are so useful for all sorts of craft applications as well as for making club resources and repairing toys and equipment. With careful supervision the children can use them to create more challenging crafts, as well as experiencing that extra bit of risk through using (slightly) dangerous tools.
We love April showers
Endless rainy days can get a bit dreary for everyone. So we've rounded up some rainy day activities and resources as well as putting together some tips and strategies on how to modify your normal activities to accommodate the rainy weather.
We love fleece fabric
Fleece fabric is a perfect resource for out of school clubs: it is cheap, colourful and easy for children to work with, making it ideal for a whole range of activities.You can use it to make cheap blankets, floor cushions, easy dressing-up outfits, bunting, etc.
We love Android tablets
Older boys who think they are too 'cool' to play and who see craft activities as too 'girlie', can sometimes be difficult to entertain. But we recently bought a couple of cheapie Android tablets for our club and found that even the cool gang were impressed.
We love play parachutes
We all know that play parachutes are great for organised 'parachute games', and perfect for ice-breaker activities, but left to their own devices the children at our club found a surprising number of other uses for them.
We love instant photo printers
Instant photo printers are small, cheap, portable and so easy to use that most adults can operate them without the assistance of a child. You can quickly record EYFS observations, preserve Lego constructions for posterity, and send children home with photos of what they've been getting up to.
We love TC Kids game
If you have a member of staff who is doing their Playwork qualification you will know that you need to find inventive ways to inform children about staying healthy and staying safe. TC Kids (Take Care Kids) is a really useful board game which gets across a whole range of health and safety messages in a fun package.
We love photo posters
With many out of school clubs being pack-away settings, we're always looking for ideas for personalising a club's space. So we were delighted to come across photo posters from Pixum: for a very reasonable price you can have your own photos printed out as big posters.
We love Tuff Trays
If you have a nursery or pre-school background, you have probably already come across tuff trays, but they also have many uses for primary-aged children in a play setting. In addition, you can still set them up for typical messy activities and tick off a load of observations for your EYFS children.
We love the Busker's Guides
The playwork gurus at Common Threads have produced a whole series of Busker's Guides on a range of topics very close to the heart of anyone working with children, covering inclusion, behaviour, risk, participation, and more. These guides are short, easy-to-read, and very thought provoking and we recommend them to you whole-heartedly!
We love Magic Whiteboards™
This fantastic product means that you can put up artwork and displays, stick up signs and noticeboards, and even let children draw on the walls—all without upsetting the caretaker of your club venue.
We love digital sand-timers
For about a year now I have been hunting for an affordable sand-timer which will time at least 20 minutes, so I was very excited when I finally tracked one down. We have found so many uses for it at our club, from making sure everyone gets a fair turn on the Wii, to timing biscuits in the oven and helping set expectations about when an activity is drawing to an end.
We love Xyron sticker makers
With the Xyron sticker maker you can create laminated labels for your storage boxes and coat pegs, permanent stickers for craft activities, repositional stickers for birthday and merit badges, and customised magnets for registration boards - perfect for 101 uses at an out of school club.
We love digital photo frames
Using a digital photo frame to display pictures from your club enables you to: inform parents about their children's activities, personalise your setting, display the children's artwork and show the Ofsted inspector the range of activities at the club—all in one package.
We love skipping
More of a game than a product, skipping is an excellent activity for children, promoting fitness, coordination and communication skills. We review some good sources of skipping equipment, teaching resources, and workshops for children and play leaders.
We love gym balls
Who would have guessed that children could get so much fun from a gym ball? They are cheap, bright, versatile, and wildly popular with the children whenever we bring them out.
We love cardboard castles
These great play houses come in the shape of castles, palaces, space rockets and igloos, and are all made of cardboard which means that they are very affordable, easy to move around and simple to pack away for easy storage.
We love kite kits
Making kites and running around outside trying to get them to fly are perfect activities for an out of school club, combining a craft activity (that is not perceived as being too 'girlie') with physical play. These kite kits ensure that you have everything you need to make loads of easy-to-fly kites.
We love shrinkles
You are probably already familiar with the pre-printed Shrinkles (also known as Shrinkies and Shrink Art) which children simply colour in and cut out. But by making use of the different kinds of blank sheets and accessories now available you can tailor craft activities to any seasonal theme, and to any age or ability level.
We love tub trugs
Every out of school club should have a selection of these large, soft, brightly coloured and endlessly versatile plastic buckets.
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