I FOUND the huge bin of old-style milk bottle tops quite irresistible and I plunged my hand deep into the silvery pile of crinkly foil.

It made a very satisfying noise and reminded me of the days when everybody had milk delivered to their doorsteps in glass bottles with tops like this.

Rediscovering my inner child was just one enjoyable aspect of my recent visit to Osmotherley Pre-School and Out of School Club.

I was in what Pre-School manager Gill Hunton calls their Provocation Pantry, an Aladdin’s cave stuffed full of materials - from pine cones to plastic bottles, tin cans, cardboard boxes and various fabrics designed to stimulate young children’s creativity.

As soon as I entered the Pantry, I couldn’t help but exclaim: “Wow!”

The Pantry is just one of the reasons why the Pre-School was rated as Outstanding following its recent Ofsted report.

It’s a novel approach to early learning which uses recycled materials – other’s people rubbish – to energise young children’s imaginations.

Gill calls the fantastic array of things in the Pantry for the children to play with stuff. It’s the only word that can cover the incredible range of items for the most part donated by parents and local businesses.

Like the huge number of corks given by the village’s pubs – the Golden Lion, Three Tuns and Queen Catherine – or the shiny tin cans given by a local manufacturer, or the plastic bottle tops sourced from the canteen at County Hall in Northallerton.

All of which would have gone into the rubbish but is now providing intelligent play for the youngsters who attend this outstanding establishment.

The use of recycled materials to provide opportunities for learning through play was pioneered in the Reggio Emilia area of Italy and Gill has adapted it for use in her pre-school. The basic principle behind it is that children have an innate curiosity which drives their interest to understand their world and their place within it.

Through exploring how this all this different stuff feels, stacks, fits together, can be counted and comes in different colours and sizes, their creativity is stimulated without being taught in the conventional sense of the word, or led.

I saw for myself how the children were creating their own little worlds out of the objects they found around them, some of them quite intricate and involved.

Gill explained to me that educational catalogues contain many products objects designed to provide a similar experience for children. But they can be very expensive while everything in the Osmotherley Provocation Pantry has been provided free.

She said it also provides a very early lesson for the children about the importance of protecting our environment and how we can look after it by not throwing things away unnecessarily.

Gill’s work in this area is setting an excellent example in North Yorkshire. As an accomplished early years practitioner her advice is widely sought and many other pre-school leaders from around the county come to Osmotherley to see how it works.

She is supported by her excellent team who were singled out for praise in the Ofsted report and committed parents and chair Dr Anthea Howlett. It was a pleasure to meet them all.