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Discovering Nexus learning resources happened several years back when I was working as a reception teacher. My class had a higher than usual proportion of children who had significant difficulties with fine motor skills; for some it was control, others strength and some both. Interestingly, this particular cohort, when discussing with parents and carers had had very little ‘tummy time’ as babies. If you want a brief read on the link between tummy time and writing skills check out this article here. We introduced a modified version of tummy time as a physical education activity, Dough Disco (using play dough to music) and also used a programme called Write Dance.
Next we needed resources to enhance the fine motor opportunities that we had on offer both for continuous play and for directed sessions. We were looking for materials that would develop skills, promote independence and build confidence. Too often a lack of dexterity can feel very frustrating for a child who is trying to communicate their thoughts and feelings through play, drawing and writing. The act of recording can also get in the way of their creative flow if they are having difficulties in forming letter shapes or exhausted from having to try and give enough pressure to form marks.
A Nexus representative came to our school and introduced us to a range of products and I fell in love. It was as though they had been made specifically for my class! We placed an order for Link and Lace Boards (I’ll say now that these are totally AMAZING, but I’ll be writing a separate review about these soon), triangular shaped whiteboard pens, clear boards and triangular paint brushes.
One little lad who had an incredible imagination and really wanted to write down his stories struggled to write a sentence because he was unable to apply enough pressure to make marks on the paper. With the clear boards and whiteboard pens we were able to add in whatever template we were using in class. He easily gripped the triangular pens. This, with the smoothness of the the clear boards allowed him, for the first time, to write his stories as he wanted. So, that’s how my love affair with Nexus started.
Since then, Nexus have added several new lines to their range including a Peg to Paper range that support development of the tripod grip, further handwriting resources and arts and crafts plus a wooden toy range. So, when I was asked if I’d like to review their Chalky Pastels and ‘Cromocolour’ Crayons I jumped at the chance.
My little one Floss is a creative little soul who loves nothing more than making, mark making and creating. She has increasingly good control over media, but can at times lack strength to be able to make the marks she wants. In our kitchen she has a little desk with a range of mark making materials that she has free access to. She was delighted to find the new items from Nexus.
Are they a chalk? Are they a pastel? Well they’re both and they’re great as both! Floss was really drawn to these and I understand why, they look so pretty, the range of colours are truly beautiful. I’ve tried lots of media with Floss, but I hadn’t tried pastels before.
I love pastels, but from my days in school I remember the chaos and mess left behind from a creative pastel session with parents asking me why I couldn’t have done it on a Friday as their child’s uniform was now a masterpiece too! Sorry to all those mums and dads, now I’ve got my own, I totally get it! Nexus Chalky Pastels are all the beauty and creativity of pastels without the mess.
Each pastel has a little reusable case that you hold onto with an octagonal grip. Floss worked out very quickly how to twist the end to get more of the pastel out. They are able to be retracted away and put back in their protective case. They seem very robust as we have had occasions where there has been excessive twisting and we don’t have a broken pastel yet! Refills are available to buy and I think it’s great that Nexus have thought about making these reusable and not a disposable resource.
“These are actually really nice, the way they go on the paper has a rich, smooth, waxy consistency which is really satisfying.” – Floss’s Daddy
I nearly dropped a plate when Floss’s Daddy commented on the Chalky Pastels. He comments on nothing, EVER, even if you ask for an opinion and here he was giving an unsolicited endorsement about them. I’m in total agreement with him. Floss loves using them and even with only a very small amount of pressure you get a good coverage. This has been most pleasing for Floss who, as I mentioned before, can sometimes struggle to use the pressure needed to make a satisfying mark.
I love that you can use them on so many different materials. So far we’ve tried them on paper, watercolour paper, card, glass, plastic and metal. They are water soluble and blend really well together – we might have made a little mess at this point! They are so versatile and a really fun product to use.
Here’s some puppet spoons we made to go with a little song (can you guess which song?) using the Chalky Pastels and our dessert spoons. They washed up easily too!
Looking for some pastel inspired ideas? Here are some that we’ve really enjoyed or I’ve done in the past to get you started. Whenever introducing new art media or materials I always like to give ample time for free exploration without me intervening. I find it fascinating observing the way children interact with new resources and often they come up with ideas and combinations I hadn’t thought of.
Space is a fabulous one with pastels. To give a real sensory experience you could play music by Holst – The Planets and look at the pictures in books about space. We love the pictures in Planetarium, but you could also find images online. Using black paper or card is often very exciting for children too as they are so used to using white paper.
This is another one that I love doing with pastels on black card. Watching clips of fireworks is a great way to immerse them in the idea before putting pastel to paper. If you’re looking for something to listen to then Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture is a great one to go for while you create.
Probably one of the simplest, but loveliest ideas is just to play any music you like while you are drawing with pastels. You can leave them to it or narrate what is happening in the music a little for them. For example, the music goes really slow/ fast/ jumpy/ smooth there and encourage them to move their pastel in that way. Asking questions such as ‘What does that sound like?’ can give them ideas of how to utilise the pastels too.
Using an object or a picture to investigate and study is another way to get the imagination rolling. This is lovely way of introducing other cultures and places in the world to your children. I also love using old stamps as a starting point. Can you continue the stamp? What would have been outside of that little square/ rectangle?
Linking creations to books that you are sharing together is anothersimple idea. You could pick a particular character to study and recreate. Maybe choose a setting to draw or an imaginary setting that the characters from the story could go to. This activity really helps to bring books alive for little ones and helps them recall the story more easily.
Shooting Star Stencils
It doesn’t just have to be stars, it could be any shape. Depending upon the age of the child you or they can cut out a shape as a stencil. Place that over the paper/ card – you might want to use a bit of masking tape to hold it in place. Then colour over the edges of the stencil working from on top of the stencil to the paper. Remove the stencil and add any other details you’d like.
The case that the pastels come in is highly transportable. Pastels keep firmly in place and can easily be popped in your bag on a nature walk with a little paper or a journal. You could see what trees, leaves, plants, minibeasts or animals you could find to record what you’ve seen on your journey.
‘Cromocolour’ Jumbo Crayons
‘Cromocolour’ Jumbo Crayons look so inviting. Beautiful, bright jumbo coloured pencils. They are hexagonal in shape, yet due to the jumbo size allow little ones to get a good grip on the pencil. Although jumbo, they are very light weight so Floss has had no trouble holding them.
One thing that has been particularly pleasing about this set of colours is the ability to depict skin tones more accurately. Often the first things that children begin to draw are representations of themselves and the people around them; formed of circles for heads and lines coming off for arms and legs. I love that you can do darker and paler shades of skin using the set, rather than everyone looking neon pink!
Again, as with the Chalky Pastels, you need very little pressure to be able to make a mark on your paper and if your little one has lots of strength behind them the lead is robust and withholds a good deal of pressure too. They’ve been used daily over the last couple of weeks, we’ve not needed to sharpen them yet and you can see from this photo (below) how long lasting they are. You will need the chunkier style of pencil sharpener for when you do need to sharpen.
Would we recommend?
Both the Chalky Pastels and ‘Cromocolour’ Jumbo Pencils got a big thumbs up from Floss. I love the durability and longevity of both products, both very important qualities when you have a toddler as your main user! The fact that I don’t have to keep sharpening the pencils frequently is a huge plus for me too. Daddy and I have both been secretly found to be using the Chalky Pastels even when Floss isn’t and we’ll most certainly be purchasing the refills when these run out.
If you purchase products from Nexus Home Learning you have the option to nominate a school or nursery who then receive 20% of your purchase back in points to spend on Nexus products. What a great scheme. To find out more click here.
I can’t wait to share the next review of the Link and Lace kit with you soon, such a clever product with lots of learning opportunities.
I only choose to review products that I think we as a family will love and use. Chalky pastels and pencils gifted by Nexus. The opinions in this post are my own.