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5 practical resources to develop an understanding of democracy

It’s easier than you think to help young children gain an understanding of the 4 core British Values. Here are the top 5 resources as recommended by our early years practitioners to help children understand the concept of Democracy – essentially encompassing decision-making, turn-taking and collaboration.

Posted on Thursday 19th May 2016

1. Water Channelling

Water Channelling

  • Let children become the architects of their own play! Water channelling is a super collaborative play resource which allows children to work together and explore.
  • Water plays a central role in our daily plan. Here the tough spot becomes a puddle or paddling pool or with a bit of sand can quickly turn the session into a holiday by the sea. Allow children to set up the equipment themselves, providing opportunities for them to make decisions, take turns and listen to other’s opinions.
  • Try using crates as platforms to guide the channels through and take turns pouring water in buckets to measure how much is lost by running it down the chute. Better still, use 2 sets and let the group choose their teams to build the longest channel to roll 10 balls down into a basket. This type of activity encourages children to make choices collectively and experience the benefits of working together. It allows them to develop independence and to think for themselves (also covering ‘individual liberty’).

2. Sing It Bag

Sing it Bag

  • Group times provide an ideal opportunity for young children to take turns and collaborate with each other – it’s democracy in action, every day. This Sing-It Bag can be used to support group times for babies, toddlers or young children.
  • Whilst much of our focus is about child-centred play, we feel that well-chosen group activities provide the opportunity for children to take turns and listen to others as they select their favourite song.
  • Group times should always be relevant to the age/stage of the children, and it is important that the content and duration are appropriate. Babies and young toddlers have a much shorter attention span, but use your professional judgement to ensure they are all engaged and you’ll get the balance right.
  • Equally, it is important that all the children are at a similar developmental level to ensure that they are all engaged, so we find smaller groups work best.
  • You could also try adding real objects to the collection, such as some oranges and lemons, a shoe or a kettle. We once varnished 5 currant buns to preserve them and the pre-school children loved them until they eventually needed to be thrown away!

3. Time to Talk Picnic Basket

Time to talk picnic basket

  • Another wonderful resource to support sharing and turn-taking and what a fabulous addition to the role play area. Children can play independently with the picnic basket, passing each other a plate and sharing out the sandwiches and fruit.
  • This basket also provides great opportunities for children’s conversation whilst they handle and talk about the different things in the basket: “Would you like a cup of tea?” is a regular phrase heard in our role play area.
  • Because the objects are familiar, they encourage the extension of children’s vocabulary which in turn supports them in developing collaborative play and interacting with each other.
  • Let the children create a picnic on the grass or use in the role play kitchen. You could set up a mobile lunch shop, travelling around selling their contents to hungry customers. (Why not have a pretend price list with pens, paper and coins for everyday maths scenarios for older children?)
  • There are lots of lovely books about sharing. Two of my favourites are Sharing a Shell by Julia Donaldson and The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister.

4. Giant Outdoor Hollow Blocks

Giant outdoor hollow blocks

  • Block play is about as open-ended as it gets. These outdoor blocks will considerably support the concept of sharing, allowing small groups to immerse themselves in sustained shared thinking and collaborative play
  • As these blocks are made from pressure-treated timber they can be used outdoors, so try putting them with crates, planks and fabric to see just what the children choose to create; a castle, fort, magical kingdom or play house. Playing together, they will make decisions and choices, think for themselves, take turns and listen to each other’s points of view
  • To stimulate conversations, add in vehicles, people, zoo or farm animals and small world scenes will unfold, giving practitioners the opportunity to join in and talk about the world around us.

5. Mini Mobile Phones

mini mobile phones

  • Use these mini mobile phones to encourage children to take turns. They are also a great way to get children to share their opinions and listen to each other.
  • The phones have a 50-60 metre range, allowing you to rehearse conversations and then work from either end of the playground to turn take.
  • Record simple instructions using the pre-record facility so children can replay the details over and over until they know what to do. Try hiding objects outside and then use one of the mobile phones to guide each other phone-user to the treasure. Children can be asked to raise a hand when they want an instruction or call you using the correct coloured button to ask for more help.
  • This versatile resource also supports the Rule of Law value well as children really do have to use their listening ears to follow instructions if they want to be first to the prize.

doubtfiresThe ideas and advice in this blog are by Steve and Christine Doubtfire, directors of Smarties and Cedar House Day Nurseries in Mansfield. They are both qualified teachers with extensive experience in education, for the last nine years focussing on early years. Steve was one of the first men in Nottinghamshire to be awarded Early Years Professional Status and went on to work as an assessor for the University of Northampton. Christine spent 28 years in FE before leaving to join Steve in the nursery. To support her transition to Early Years, she undertook Early Years Professional status followed by a Masters in Early Years Education. Keen to support professional development in the sector, she worked as an assessor on the EYT programme and as a visiting lecturer at the University of Derby.