Teaching on a Shoestring

An A–Z of everyday objects to enthuse and engage children and extend learning in the early years

By: Russell Grigg , Helen Lewis


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Products specifications
Attribute name Attribute value
Size: 222 x 182mm
Pages : 208
ISBN : 9781785833076
Format: Paperback
Published: September 2018

In Teaching on a Shoestring: An A–Z of everyday objects to enthuse and engage children and extend learning in the early years, Russell Grigg and Helen Lewis explore the educational value of familiar objects and suggest practical activities to help develop young learners’ cross-curricular skills.

We take many everyday objects for granted. But in a time of ever-tightening school budgets these objects can be invaluable in affording low-cost, high-impact opportunities for learning. With these value-for-money principles in mind, Russell and Helen have packed this practical A–Z handbook to the brim with fun facts, inspiring ideas and exciting activities to help teachers make the best use of familiar objects as launch pads for effective learning.

Underpinned by solid theory, Teaching on a Shoestring investigates the learning potential of twenty-six inexpensive, readily available resources – from apples to ice cubes to zebra-patterned fabric – and shows how they can be exploited to develop in young learners the four skills widely regarded as essential in the twenty-first century: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.

The book is organised into two parts: covering theory, then practice. In Part 1 the authors examine the nature of an object-rich learning environment and discuss the benefits of enquiry-based learning, in which the emphasis is upon promoting collaboration, dialogue and higher-order thinking in real-world contexts. In Part 2 the learning opportunities around the twenty-six objects are laid out in detail to illustrate how they can be put into practice. While the book focuses on object-based pedagogy employed with the under-sevens age category, many of the principles can also be applied with older children.

There is a common format for the enquiry into each object, arranged into the following sections:

  • In a nutshell – key background information about the object in its broader
  • Did you know? – interesting facts about the object.
  • Ready – key vocabulary, resources and health and safety factors to consider.
  • Steady – learning goals and intentions.
  • Go – activities which show how teachers can develop the four skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity around
  • Other ideas – follow-up cross-curricular ideas.
  • Find out more – websites and other references for further information.

 Suitable for early years educators and anyone who works with young children.

‘10 at-home learning ideas that hardly cost a penny’ - click here to read the full article on The School Run.

Read the feature of Teaching on a Shoestring in Humanising Language Teaching Magazine here.

Check out the new Teaching on a Shoestring website.

Picture for author Russell Grigg

Russell Grigg

Dr Russell Grigg was previously an associate professor at the Wales Centre for Equity in Education, and has extensive experience in teacher training and has written many books and articles on the subject of primary education. Since 2018, Russell has been working as an education inspector for the Ministry of Education in the United Arab Emirates.

Click here to take a look at Russell's Padlet page, where he asks for your contributions to the question, What's the best idea in education ever?'.

Check out the new Teaching on a Shoestring website. 

Picture for author Helen Lewis

Helen Lewis

Dr Helen Lewis is Programme Director for PGCE at Swansea University School of Education. Part of her role involves leading an educational anthrozoology module, and undertaking original research into the impact of animal-assisted interventions in educational settings. After studying animal and human behaviour at university she became a primary school teacher and has worked in education for over twenty years.

10 at-home learning ideas that hardly cost a penny' - click here to read the full article on The School Run.


  1. The authors of the book are educators who have a very strong primary experience. As they say “We take many everyday objects for granted” and then they show how these objects can be given second live or many more lives when they are put to new uses. By doing so the authors offer exercises in lateral and divergent thinking, as well as develop creativity of teachers and their learners. It is important to use the real objects, so called realia, in the classroom as they relate the classroom experience to the outside world; one could say they are a kind of bridge. This approach also taps into the children's natural, inborn creativity. In the playground we often see how kids find new ways how to play with everyday objects. On the pedagogical side the authors apply the See Think and Wonder Approach (STW) which gives the approach a clear structure used to enthuse, engage, challenge and ask questions. As for the objects used -¦ there is an A-Z: A for Apples, B for Bubbles, C for Cardboard Boxes, etc.-¦ Finally using all these objects -˜things bright and beautiful' in the age of plenty and abundance promotes the idea of sustainability, recycling and environmental protection. This book is not only a must for teachers, but also for parents and grandparents. I absolutely love it.
  2. In a world where education cuts are headline news, I can see teachers picking up this book with great enthusiasm. Parents and teachers of young children are generally well aware of the potential learning value of everyday objects, but we can always do with a boost to our ideas, and that's just what this practical book offers. Along with identifying educational value, it suggests practical object-related activities to help develop learners cross-curricular skills. Four key skills are particularly emphasised - communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. The book is attractively laid out for easy reference, and ideal to have to hand for ongoing inspiration with its encouragement of imaginative use of resources - it's more than just a one-off read and will have lasting value. It includes: background information and interesting facts about the object, questions and focus points for the teacher to consider pre delivery, guidance on the resources and preparation required to carry out the suggested activities, and further ideas and signposts to follow up on and extend the learning. Topical and practical, there is plenty here to inspire teaching and ensure practical use of ever-decreasing resources.

    Read the review on Parents in Touch website here.
  3. On of America's most shameful realities is that a majority of public school budgets are chronically underfunded -- often with classroom teachers having to dip into their own funds to provide teaching materials for their students. Underpinned by solid theory, 

    "Teaching on a Shoestring: An A-Z of everyday objects to enthuse and engage children and extend learning in the early years" investigates the learning potential of twenty-six inexpensive, readily available resources from apples to ice cubes to zebra-patterned fabric and shows how they can be exploited to develop in young learners the four skills widely regarded as essential in the twenty-first century: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. "Teaching on a Shoestring" is organized into two parts. Part 1 examines the nature of an object-rich learning environment and discuss the benefits of enquiry-based learning, in which the emphasis is upon promoting collaboration, dialogue and higher-order thinking in real-world contexts. Part 2 focuses upon the learning opportunities around the twenty-six objects are laid out in detail to illustrate how they can be put into practice. While "Teaching on a Shoestring" has as its focal point as 

    object-based pedagogy employed with the under-sevens age category, many of the principles can also be applied with older children. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Teaching on a Shoestring" is an exceptional and highly recommended addition to school district, college, and university library Teacher Education collections and supplemental studies lists. It should be noted for education students and classroom teachers that "Teaching on a Shoestring" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $20.99). 
  4. In these austere times where schools are on ever decreasing budgets and teachers striving to provide engaging and creative teaching in such a backdrop this is an absolute gem and gold nugget of a book.
    The book uses the letters of the alphabet to describe activities that can be done using everyday objects. It enhances the ability to question and develop critical thinking skills in a fun and proactive way involving the children in their learning. It has several activities within each and a section on finding out more which allows stretch and challenge of children as well as encouraging curiosity.
    I would highly recommend this book for creative teachers who want to enthuse and engage their teaching on a budget!
  5. With a focus on encouraging skills for life, communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity, the book looks at a variety of objects - from apples to zebra-patterned fabric - and shows how they can inspire seeing, thinking and wondering in learners, as the adults enthuse, engage, challenge and ask questions.
  6. “-‹PROS:

    - A fantastic list of activities that can be used from everyday objects.
    - Clear explanations of activities, with most objects being recyclable to prevent unnecessary waste.
    - Strongly referenced and inspiring for Early Years practitioners.
    - The use of everyday, inexpensive, objects helps resourcing activities easy and manageable.
    - Great for any EYFS practitioner who wants further inspiration and ideas to support teaching and learning linked to key areas.

    With educational budgets being squeezed within many jurisdictions, the opportunity to properly resource classrooms often falls to the individuals working within the setting to help enrich the environment for the young learners who enter each day. But the cost of providing enriching experiences does not have to be great, and involving the whole community in providing resources and opportunities can bring many rewards to all those involved.

    In their new -˜Teaching on a Shoestring' book, Russell Grigg and Helen Lewis focus upon 4 C's (communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity) for the early years of schooling, but they also acknowledge that some of the resource ideas can also support mathematical development and knowledge and understanding of the world. In fact, the introduction of the book explores some of the crucial questions that need to be asked when using everyday objects, including an exploration of some of the key areas of learning in the early years across the UK (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales - as each country has their own specific titles for areas of learning). Also, the author's justify their thinking in concentrating more so on the 4 C's as these skills are internationally recognised as essential for children and young people's development. The foundations for lifelong learning begin in the early years so, the argument goes, early childhood is a critical period in children's development and education because this is when they are most receptive to interventions that can have a lasting impact. Essentially, the role of the early years' practitioner is also given attention within the book as the enthusiasm, engagement, challenger, and questioning aspects of the role are given due consideration.

    Onwards, the book offers the A-Z of everyday objects that can (and should) be used in the early years' classroom, with a fantastic range of activities and ideas to help inspire practitioners to offer practical, engaging learning opportunities.

    For example, practitioners (and parents) will have seen the value of empty cardboard boxes (large or small) to help open up the imaginations of young people and provide them with stickers, pens and glue, and a whole world is created supporting creativity, communication and collaboration.

    To me, what is most admirable about this book, is the sustainability of the objects being used and the activities suggested around them. Each letter opens up opportunities for exploration and learning, and also help fire the imagination of the practitioners being able to use the activities as a starting point. There is not a reliance on plastic products (apart from the Yoghurt pots), and most of the ideas and objects used can be recycled after use, which allows for a learning opportunity within itself. There are also a vast range of activities that can (and should) be taken outside to support outdoor learning (where possible), along with sections of -˜Did you know?', that can also be used as a teaching and learning point accompanying each object highlighted.

    So, is this book for you?

    There are a lot of lessons for teaching and learning that can be gained from early years practitioners, who arguably have the balance right in providing real-world, practical ideas for the young people who inspire them each day. With that in mind, this book is perfectly placed for student-teachers (who want to work in the earlier years of education), early years practitioners just starting off in a new role, or more experienced early years practitioners who want to refreshen up their ideas and classrooms. A lot of the ideas and activities collected are referenced towards the back of the book, and these could be the starting point for different ideas in different settings, based on the environment and young people involved.

    To conclude, this book is packed full of inspirational, practical and creative ideas that can easily be implemented in any early years classroom. Linking the activities and objects to the key learning areas helps to focus on providing experiences for young learners that are relevant, engaging and encouraging development and key skills. If you are looking to add more practical learning into your classroom without spending your hard-earned money, then this is the book for you.”

    Click here to read the review on UKEdChat's website.
  7. Teaching on a Shoestring is an indispensable guide for any teacher eager to use everyday objects effectively in the learning environment. The A-Z format makes the book easy to dip into and guides practitioners to consider learning outcomes and skills progression, as well as wider aspects of the learning process. Beautifully simple, the activities excite further curiosity and would encourage any child to ask questions. 
  8. What a fantastic book!

    Accessible, engaging and well-written, Teaching on a Shoestring is a refreshing and inspiring read that invites the reader to consider how everyday objects can be used in the early years setting to stimulate children's natural curiosity and creative thinking. Russell and Helen draw on current theory and research to provide a cohesive and well-structured A-Z guide, as well as an opportunity for practitioners to reflect on their current practice and the resources that they currently use.

    An excellent learning and reference tool that will appeal to a wide audience.
  9. Teaching on a Shoestring is a must-read for any educator, providing a plethora of ideas with which to create an object-rich learning environment that needn't cost a fortune. It brings a common-sense approach to twenty-first century learning and takes the reader on a beautiful journey through the effective use of objects to achieve this goal.

    The book is full of practical ideas and suggestions that will be useful to any trainee teacher or experienced educator, and it will be of particular value to early years practitioners who recognise the importance of enthusing and engaging learners within a communication-friendly learning environment.
  10. Rich with child-centred insight, Teaching on a Shoestring not only provides the educational theory of using everyday objects such as a cardboard box to enhance learning, but also presents numerous practical examples of activities for teachers to use in their classrooms.

    All schools should have a copy of Teaching on a Shoestring so that they can inspire teachers with new, creative ideas with which to nurture independent learners.
  11. Teaching on a Shoestring offers a wonderful insight into the teaching and learning opportunities that everyday objects can provide for. By making links to the curriculum and to learning outcomes, Russell and Helen have compiled a valuable resource for early years practitioners.
  12. Teaching on a Shoestring provides a balanced blend of theory and practice, explained within relevant contexts, which will interest anyone working with children. As an enthusiastic hoarder, I find myself smiling and nodding as the authors question the use of expensive resources and champion the natural and day-to-day objects all around us. However, the book also made me stop and ponder over other beliefs, and reflect on my own practice of over twenty years - a vital element of any good book! 

    Refreshing, stimulating and practical, Teaching on a Shoestring offers a staple diet for all new and experienced teachers to dip into - whether for inspiration, support or enthusiasm - as they work through the curriculum. 
  13. Teaching on a Shoestring offers an excellent guide to the use of everyday objects as stimuli, packaged into a helpful A-Z breakdown that will provide teachers in all settings with fresh ideas.

    I like how the book explains the usefulness of objects and the theories surrounding their importance, and the way it maps all the activities against the 4 C's - communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. The website links are also very helpful, as are the interesting facts, various activities and the -˜Find out more' sections.

    Ever mindful of changes in the curriculum, teachers will find the book especially helpful as they work to develop cross-curricular topics using everyday objects that make the learning much more meaningful for the children. As a student teacher mentor, I will endorse Teaching on a Shoestring as a fantastic resource to all the students I work with.
  14. Fresh and innovative, Teaching on a Shoestring will enthuse and engage both learners and teachers alike. Experienced educators, trainee teachers and all those who work in educational spaces such as museums and galleries will describe this concise companion as a -˜little gem' - providing a wealth of creative and innovative approaches to teaching without the need for expensive resources.

    But this is far more than a collection of tips and tricks for object-based educational practice. Rooted in academic theory and research, it offers informed and practical examples of how everyday objects can be used to develop young learners' communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. Its step-by-step guidance on how to share the stories behind the objects will help teachers develop in children such qualities as imagination, persistence and resourcefulness - and will bring about active, creative and effective learning with clear goals and plenty of opportunities for progression.

    After reading this book teachers will look at everyday objects in a very different way, and it will help them inspire awe and wonder among their learners by using some of the most familiar of resources. Although primarily aimed at early years practitioners, Teaching on a Shoestring is also a must for teachers working with older children too. The objects may change, but the principles of object-based pedagogy remain.

    This book should help to put an end to teachers' head-scratching on a Sunday evening, thinking about what to use and what to do to keep children interested and engaged. If you're looking for an inspirational, simple and straightforward guide to teaching with everyday objects, this is the book for you!
  15. Even though we often see children playing with seemingly simple objects, as a teacher you may not necessarily think to include such items when organising your teaching resources. Up until now, I felt that I would have to buy or make something that looked -˜amazing' - spending time and money I don't necessarily have, being a PGCE student.

    Teaching on a Shoestring helped me understand that I do not need to waste my energy looking for the latest or most expensive resources, and highlighted how a random, familiar object can be brought to life in all areas of the curriculum.

    The book has been written in a way that is relatable, and the layout makes it easily accessible, with each of the twenty-six objects afforded a variation of learning opportunities and fun activities based around it. The provided web links to the sources of information are also very useful - making it easy to access and explore the sources for further facts and ideas.

    Teaching on a Shoestring definitely provides a boost to the imagination, and offers teachers a wide range of adaptable ideas to incorporate into the planning and resourcing of lessons.

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