Catch a star in your net

Nets are a cheap, readily available, versatile resource. Use them to make dens, catch carboard stars and all sorts of other objects. Talk about how they keep us safe and have fun crawling beneath them.

Nets provide a great material for creating dens that can be constructed quickly and easily
Nets provide a great material for creating dens that can be constructed quickly and easily

Start by asking children where they are likely to find nets. Here are some ideas:

  • On the back of baby buggies
  • Holding fruit and vegetables
  • Protecting plants and flowers
  • Used for shopping bags
  • On our body – hair nets, beard nets, hats with nets
  • Sports nets
  • Laundry nets
  • Pop up food covering nets
  • Decorative bed nets/dens.

Nets can be used with many different themes/interests and so can be adapted or reused.

Providing a few new resources which are low cost can give your learning environment a boost it sometimes needs and encourages staff members to think outside the box. Nets can be made, or bought online or in suppliers or pound shops in some cases.

Start with some adult initiated learning to introduce your nets, ensuring health and safety. Observe how some children immediately run with their own ideas, needing little prompting or support.

Starting with the more obvious

Small handheld nets

Simple handheld fishing nets require children to use their hand-to-eye skills and coordinate their wrist to scoop and collect things. Fishing nets with handles come in various lengths and meshes. With longer handles it is important to be aware that the stick or handle can be dangerous as some children are not so coordinated as they move them around but with practice and observation, they can learn how to be careful.

Pond dipping nets are the smallest and least expensive. Simply use them dry, to move items such as sand or rice pouring and filling using nets instead of jugs or spoons.

Pond dipping nets are the smallest and least expensive to have accessible for children. Use them to move items such as sand or rice, or to collect objects such as plastic crabs and fish.

Collecting ping pong balls (dry or in bobbing on water)

The larger the target you have to collect the easier. Marking ping pong balls up with letters or numbers on, introduces mathematics and phonic recognition into the activity. Or using different coloured balls introduces colour recognition – this introduces collecting and sorting. Children are natural collectors.

Introducing heavier items and small nets gives children the concept of weight in their net and co-ordination is different with weight. It is harder to collect these. Go big – landing nets or larger fishing nets

Use outside to collect things – for example plastic items – plastic crabs or fish with numbers or sounds, as part of a learning game.

Catch a star

Add a new dimension by using nets to catch stars. Use star shapes with nets to begin and then introduce stories and narratives – how do you catch a star? And what about dream catchers – made from nets and embroidery hoops, or spray glitter and make a special star catcher net?

Introduce children to this idea if they haven't already heard of them.

Extending learning

Add a giant sifter

This is a metal form of nets – great to use outside with mud and bark and these are starting to be included in early years suppliers' catalogues as mud kitchens and outdoor play are more popular – they have different mesh styles and sizes.

Crab sifter nets and lobster nets

These are different shaped and so are more interesting

Save the planet – upcycle and recycle nets

Mesh bags are nets that hold our fruit and are often just thrown away. Encourage children to recycle for our future, looking at resources that can be useful and not just thrown in the bin.

The nets that hold our oranges, lemons and onions are a resource and can be used for the following:

  • To press and make patterns in dough
  • For printing and splatter painting
  • To make an interactive alphabet or number line
  • To hold items in a creative area that you can see and pick out easily
  • Put things in them for birds to take and make their nests in spring
  • Make hammocks for small world play dolls/soft toys
  • Cut the net bag up and stretch over a jam jar and use to put pencils or flowers in to keep them upright – put a child's name on to denote their collect jar.

Nets provide a great material for creating dens that can be constructed quickly and easily

Food nets

Collapsible food nets are a great resource – not for just covering cooking and snacks.

Use it as an interactive display for children to collect items that begin with a sound. They can out things underneath the net and you can see through it what the items are. This can be used for many things linked to concepts such as colours, shapes, sizes for sorting if you use several.

How to use nets to cover the EYFS areas of learning

Communication and language

Use nets to make dens and reading areas, or places to communicate in. Let children help with making it.

Physical development

Gross motor skills are used for climbing or crawling under nets; using them for football, tossing, catching and moving with nets parachute style.

Fine motor skills

Use small hand nets to catch and call items, pop up laundry basket nets to practise hand-eye-skills, water net fishing skills.

Personal, social and emotional development

Talk about nets that keep us safe – protecting us from danger – on a trampoline or at a soft play place, orange plastic netting to stop entry into a danger zone, hairnets for health and safety when cooking in the home corner, net aroma bags stimulating smell.


Catch words in a net, providing a visual dictionary, create net story and prop bags.


Explore shapes within nets, use photos of different net shapes and copy them. Collect, count, sort and sift objects in net bags.

Understanding the world

Nets to protect plants and hold fruit; fishing nets (for pretend fish – or fish that can be put back in water), camouflage nets.

Expressive arts and design

Explore weaving and collecting, printing net using patterned net curtains, imaginative play with nets as backdrops, make boats from big boxes with fishermen's nets.

Key points

  • Encourage young children to do some simple recycling and upcycling with household packaging, using it as a resource
  • Introduce new resources to enable children to revisit and reinforcing learning in mathematics and language
  • Allow open-ended play and be prepared for new resources to be moved and used in different areas of learning in spontaneous, child-initiated play
  • Netting has open weave so should not present issues but remember some children want to enclose themselves, but others may not

Useful resources

  • Have a wide range of different sized nets and enough for groups to have not just one of each variety – found online, educational suppliers and pound shops in some cases
  • Lengths of camouflage nets can be purchased at early years suppliers now/online – so can be adapted and cut to suit the size needed or shared and used inside and out.
  • Collecting and recycling nets – fruit mesh bags – as found on supermarket foods. Ask parents to collect them
  • Youtube as a resource has some demonstrations on projects recycling mesh nets – show these so you and the children can see quickly and visually how things can be changed and used

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