Alternatives to Sparklebox

Remove Sparklebox Toolbar, how and why 3

Are you worried about how to remove the Sparklebox tool bar?

Remove Sparklebox toolbar – via @mikemcsharry

Do you have the Sparklebox toolbar on your school laptop? I know lots of teachers still do despite all the warnings about the site. I also know that removing toolbars can be a bit daunting. I found a resource via  a Twitter conversation the other day that makes it much easier and explains just why you should.

You can download this pdf file (sparklebox notes march2011) mentioned in this tweet and use it to help you (or your technician) remove it. Mike includes quotes from several LEAs who are blocking the site in his blog post Sparklebox Removal

I hope most teachers now understand just why the site is banned by so many local authorities but if you are not sure then have a look at this from the BBC. There seems to be no evidence that the ownership of the site has changed recently, despite several rumours to that effect.

Of course we all get tempted to install things we probably shouldn’t, especially when they offer us incentives. It is worth remembering that if something seems to be free then access to your information is often the hidden price. That is why I think it is important to use trustworthy sites for free resources. This PDF will help you, or your technician if you are lucky enough to have one, to fully remove the toolbar.

As for where to find good quality free resources from trustworthy CRB checked sites have a look at the rest of the articles in this series Alternatives to Sparklebox and if there are some you’d like to add just leave them in the comments and I’ll link to them here:

Alternatives to Sparklebox wiki page


Display Resources for Role Play Areas 1

Display resources for role play

In my series Alternatives to Sparklebox I’ve mainly concentrated on downloadable resource suppliers but sometimes the best plan can be to buy high quality pre-printed resources and these can be very hard to find.

UPDATE: Sadly this site is no longer active. What a shame!

Recently I was lucky enough to be contacted by Lucy from She said:

easypeasyclassroom was established 2 years ago by myself, and my partner julie. Julie has been a primary school teacher for 15 years. She told me it was really hard to find good, inspirational classroom resources that didn’t take a huge amount of time to prepare. As I had married into the printing business we set about setting up a company, with our main aim being ” to reduce preparation time for teachers” .

One of our products is role play sets, in a coated card for indoor use, and on plastic for outdoor use, all products we produce have a classroom life of at least 4 years so that teachers don’t have to re-print, re-laminate etc every year and it helps them to reduce paper and card waste. (the outdoor sets can be left outside in any weather)

Our sets include Fire Station, Building site, Garden Centre, Post office etc.  Please have a look at our website at

Of course I was delighted when Lucy went on to offer me a set of their banners to review for the Classroom Displays blog. The banners and word card sets arrived beautifully packaged just a day or two later. A parcel arrived

The kind of resources that is simply is not worth trying to make yourself

These banners and vocabulary word sets are really splendid. These are a  perfect example of the kind of resources that is simply is not worth trying to make yourself. Something like the building site set, which is very strong and robust is going to last for years. Even with the best will in the world you would be unable to make anything to this standard with normal school equipment.

Reasonably priced ready to use resources for indoor or out

The sets are very reasonably priced too. The can be ordered in an indoor or outdoor version, making them perfect for outdoor learning areas.

The indoor sets are lovely and are printed onto strong yet flexible card. Easypeasyclassroom say that their resources have an average classroom life of at least 4 years.

The Builder’s Set is only £7 for the indoor version but I’d really go for the outdoor plastic version at £20. (All prices + p&p). The set comes with 10 word cards and one large banner. The outdoor banners and word cards are printed on to a weatherproof, wipe clean, plastic. They are extremely durable yet still thin enough to staple or hole punch so that you can attach to fences with staples, string or wire. A low melt glue gun can be used to attach banners to a dry brick wall.
The banners all have an intensity of colour and there has been a real attention to detail. The Post Office set is much more realistic than others I have seen. Using exactly the right colour and font might seem like an insignificant detail but it can really help to create just the right atmosphere in a role play area. post office role play area

The site sells other display and visual timetable resources. (Those are so good they are going to get another post all of their own!)

One more thing. I found some shocking stats on their site about the amount of printing and paper waste that goes on is schools. Just look at this:

In 2007 WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Program) commissioned a ‘WastesWork’ report to analyse the waste produced in our primary schools. They found that our primary schools produced approximately 186,500 tons in England. That’s 45kg/pupil/year. More than 30% of this is paper and card.

It doesn’t even try to address how much is spent on coloured ink for displays. It might be worth thinking about that before you print off another set of fancy letters for your next display.

Alternatives to Sparklebox – part 3 6

Alternatives to Sparklebox – Part 3. Click through to read Part 1 and Part 2.  In Part 4  I’ll cover some of the smaller sites you might find useful. I am also preparing an ebook of all these posts which will be available as a free download to subscribers to my new Classroom Displays newsletter (coming soon!).

“Do you know of any alternatives to Sparklebox ?”- this subject still keeps coming up in my email, in direct messages on twitter and in face to face INSET days.

This series of posts has been one of the most popular I have ever run on this blog so here are three more alternatives to Sparklebox.

Just a word of advice first. Please remember the best  alternative for learning is usually to produce your own resources with the children. Save these ready made resources for when times are hard and you really need the help.

First up is Early Learning HQ and Poster Play, two projects from Peter Samuel. Peter is keen to provide resources that are different and perhaps a little less ‘kitsch’ than some commonly in use. Although his background is not in education he’s guided by his Mum, an experienced early years teacher. Peter says:

My name is Peter Samuel. After finishing a masters degree in law a couple of years ago I decided that rather than pursue a career in the legal profession I would start a printing and design business (a bit of a departure I know). In order to expand this business I have created two websites aimed at the early years sector and Both sites were created with the input of my mother who is an experienced early years teacher, but the design work is all mine. Poster-play was created in order to provide a solution for early years practitioners who need a cost effective way of providing large, laminated banners for inside and outside the classroom. There is a particular focus on creating educational and inspiring role-play backdrops. This site complements ELHQ which offers hundreds of free foundation stage and key stage one resources. These resources are completely free, however if visitors require any of them printed and laminated in a larger size they can arrange this through poster-play for a very reasonable price.

ELHQ was created following the demise of Sparklebox. I felt that following the appalling actions of its creator, there would be a need for an alternative. I also felt that  despite its popularity there were many problems with the site, both in terms of its design and the quality of some of its resources. In particular I felt that many of the resources are purely decorative and lack educational value. I have tried to avoid this by concentrating on quality rather than quantity. I have also tried to give the site a fun yet professional and grown up feel. When putting together the design I wanted it to be clean, easy to navigate and free from gimmicks.

Whilst I want my site to be used as extensively as possible, I am aware that there is a danger that all classrooms end up looking the same. As such I encourage visitors to create their own unique resources using the pictures that I have drawn and the many photographs I have accumulated (all of which are contained in the photos and illustrations section of my site). Moreover, I have also tried to create many editable Microsoft Word resources as well as PDFs. Finally, it might be worth noting that I intend to translate many of my resources in to several different languages (although this is a long term project).

Next up is Pencil Street. I’m really glad to be able to feature them as their resources are quite special. They use lots of high quality stock photos in the resources and this attention to realism makes their resources shine out. They have an active Facebook presence as well as their website and they do seem very keen to talk to their customers.

pencil st

Karl Jenkins, the Managing Director says:

Pencil Street is not one person but a team of dedicated people who all work extremely hard to make the product work. I may be Pencil Street’s Managing Director and the person who set up the company, but without the team there is no company.

I formerly managed an aviation software company until six years ago – when I realised I had missed my true vocation and I became a teaching assistant at my daughter’s school. Currently I am midway through a degree to become a teacher, with several qualifications in primary support, focusing on children with special educational needs. In June 2009 I secured a BIS Enterprise Loan to establish Pencil Street, which launched in December 2009. Nine months on and we have 14,000 members in 124 countries, who have performed some 80,000 downloads. There are currently 8 members of staff plus a dog called Merlin.

I’m often asked what makes Pencil Street the company it is and I believe it comes down to three main principles.
The first is that all our resource designers work in schools or nurseries and have many years of teaching experience. We are lucky that one of our staff is a former head teacher.
Secondly, I have always insisted that the resources at Pencil Street must be of a very high quality. They are relevant, varied, engaging, beautifully produced and all go through a triple check process.  Relevant means following the curriculum and expanding upon it.
Thirdly, I believe in the use of ‘real life images’ where applicable, these are bought under licence from photographic agencies. Whilst this is highly expensive practice, it adds another dimension to the resources, benefiting the children using them.  (Note: We do use Pencil Street cartoon characters for some early years resources)

Our wealth of expertise, across Early Years, KS1, KS2, modern teacher training and business acumen, provides the professionalism teachers expect and most importantly the classroom displays, worksheets and activities they need. Obviously all our teaching staff have CRB checks through their current schools.

The site is always going to be work in progress. We started with the basics and have expanded outward. Currently we are working on Geography, SEN, R.E., Citizenship and a new Role Play category; plus some very popular requests from our members. In truth we are always working on every section, as our work is never finished.

Finally in this section I’d like to introduce I was a huge fan of this site when I was a TA (cough – that’s quite a long time ago!) and the resources are still excellent. Lots of the resources are suitable for use in mainstream classes so don’t be put off by the SEN tag.

Simon Evans who runs the site says:

I have a popular and all-free teaching resources site @
It targets Special Needs teachers but gets a lot of use from the Primary Sector also – the most popular resources are user-editable templates to produce worksheets, certificates and manipulatives but I also have several resources for display and classroom organisation purposes. The site also has a bit of free educational software, some search tools and a SEN links collection – all focused on stuff which is free, creative commons etc
The site has been going since 2000 – I was a Special Needs Teacher until 2001, but now work as a research developer. I’m freelance but have been retained at 50% for the past 8 years by the Rix Centre @ University of East London who will act as referee – I work mostly on research projects around Web, software and multimedia with adults who have intellectual and cognitive disabilities and am therefore regularly CRB Checked under Enhanced Disclosure [my homepage for this work is]. Since leaving teaching I have kept SEN Teacher running with my other half who is still a specialist language/autism teacher.

Watch out for Part 4 in November.