Learning and Growing

During the month of March we have been learning about Spring and the whole concept of growth, gardening etc. This theme has been particularly enjoyable as an Aistear theme and both I and the children have enjoyed playing and learning about the topic. In the Role Play area we had a Garden Centre, and in place of the sand or water box in the messy play area, we had a Mini Garden.

My intention in setting up the mini garden was that the children would have the opportunity to play at digging, raking, breaking soil, planting seeds, watering, etc. While I had read mentions online etc. of gardens being set up in play areas, I wasn’t actually able to find the details of what people used or how they structured the area. Ultimately, I filled our sand box with compost and laid out a variety of garden tools; trowels, rakes, forks, watering can, soil sifter, flower pots, plant tags; blank and labels for specific varieties; as well as a generous handful of pinto beans (bought in the food section of Tesco and selected for the high quantity of the beans, the price, bean size and colour, and generally satisfactory ‘seedish’ appearance) and some shallot bulbs (selected for their low price and similar appearance to daffodil bulbs as it was too late in the year to buy daffodils). Needless to say, as the children would be planting and replanting these seeds, making sandcastles containing seeds, digging through the seeds, I had literally no expectation or hope that the seeds would DO anything.

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For the garden centre I pillaged my daughters’ old garden tools from the back garden (rake, spade, wheelbarrow) and brought in a few pairs of their old wellies, as well as some envelopes with printed seed labels and some signage/ posters that I found online. Coinicidentally, Lidl had a special offer for garden tools that I couldn’t resist, which meant that our props were boosted in the second week. I also picked up a handful of potted plants and the tray they came in, which really helped to set the scene.

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The theme was a great success – the children really got on board with the garden centre and began to play in the soil differently to how they would in sand. When the beans began to sprout, to our delight – particularly mine!, the children were really able to pretend that their plantings had grown and they enjoyed it all the more.

To my mind, the best thing about having the garden play area was that the children were free to explore the seeds in a way they wouldn’t have been if we were planting them with the intention of growing something. Had we done that, we would have been looking at a pot of compost for over a week and after that had some green shoots to watch. This way, the children had the opportunity to pick up the seeds as they sprouted – look closely at the way they were growing and compare various seeds with one another. Sure, plenty of them got broken along the way, but that was all part of the learning experience, and by the end of two weeks’ play, there were still dozens of beansprouts that had stayed the course!

seed growth

After the children left this afternoon, when I started to clear away the garden in preparation for the next topic, I decided on a whim to plant some of the sprouting beans and the few shallots that had shown signs of growth. Fingers crossed we’ll be greeted by a pleasant surprise when we go back to school after the Easter break!

March (2)

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Towards Independent Play

When we first began with our Aistear scheduled play times, the biggest problem I faced as a teacher was encouraging the children to embrace their independence. The Aistear framework advocates that children should take as much ownership as possible in their own learning. Within Aistear play time, this meant encouraging the children to feel an ownership of the resources within the classroom, so that they a) felt free to use whatever was necessary to augment and maximise the play experience, and b) began to appreciate the role of responsibility they hold in the good maintainence of the resources.

Aistear> Principles and Themes> Exploring and Thinking> Positive Attitudes Towards Learning…

In partnership with the adult, children will
1. demonstrate growing confidence in being able to do things for themselves
2. address challenges and cope with frustrations
3. make decisions and take increasing responsibility for their own learning
4. feel confident that their ideas, thoughts and questions will be listened to and
taken seriously
5. develop higher-order thinking skills such as problem-solving, predicting,
analysing, questioning, and justifying
6. act on their curiosity, take risks and be open to new ideas and uncertainty

http://www.ncca.biz/Aistear/pdfs/PrinciplesThemes_ENG/ExploringThinking_ENG.pdf

I have tried to allow the children to feel out this freedom for themselves, as I did have concerns that an announcement at the start of the year that Anything Goes, could translate to a Free For All. As such, most children still ask tentatively before using something that hasn’t been clearly designated as belonging to a given area, but it is catching on, and the children have begun to realise that if there is a good reason to integrate a particular toy or resource into their play, I am unlikely to refuse.

Most recently, the children have started to move the furniture in the role play area to suit their needs, something that they wouldn’t have considered earlier in the year.

The children are starting to make the role play area into whatever they need on a given day

The children are starting to make the role play area into whatever they need on a given day

The role play area expanded somewhat on this day to allow space for the builders to work and the Mammies to look after the babies.

The role play area expanded somewhat on this day to allow space for the builders to work and the Mammies to look after the babies.

Independence has developed too,  in terms of the children’s ability to set out their toys and tidy away efficiently. In the beginning, both I and Nicky; our SNA; had to resist the adult impulse to help the children with everything in order to speed things along. They now confidently and competently carry out this daily business and only look to the adults for help when it is genuinely necessary.

Independent Set Up and Clean Up

Independent Set Up and Clean Up

Children have ready access to Junk Art supplies

Children have ready access to Junk Art supplies

And while in the beginning, some children floundered when faced with the challenge of making ‘anything they want’ at the Junk Art table – repeatedly asking:

‘but teacher, what will I make?’

‘…. I don’t know what to make….?’

– those same children now spend time outside the classroom considering what they are going to make and come in to school with a clear vision of their intentions. It is exhilarating to watch the child who lacks the confidence to speak out in class creating a masterpiece and confidently explaining what every last  button represents!

In recent weeks, the children’s  independence has grown further as we have done away with our Play Rota and the children now have the freedom to choose which of the areas they would like to play at.

We sometimes vote using Tally Marks on which play stations we would like to have for the week.

We sometimes vote using Tally Marks on which play stations we would like to have for the week.

Children self-register upon arrival in the classroom each morning.

Children self-register upon arrival in the classroom each morning.

I keep track of the stations chosen each day to ensure that each child is exposed to the learning at every station.

I keep track of the stations chosen each day to ensure that each child is exposed to the learning at every station.

Our most recent step towards independence has been my taking a back seat as teacher and allowing the children to do the talking. It is easy for me as a teacher to spend the whole day doing all the talking. In an effort to give the children more of a voice I have handed over post-playtime Show and Tell entirely to them.

Each child with a piece of Junk Art to show presents their piece and leads a Q&A session with their classmates, while I sit out and say nothing. Initially, this was hard for the children to accept – after each answered question, all children turned to me for a cue as to what came next. My response to this was to look expectantly at the Q&A leader to indicate that the ball was in their court. It has been very satisfying watching the children’s confidence grow and to see them asking considered questions of their classmates’ work. I look forward to watching this independence blossom over the coming months.

#antearrach – A Twitter Project

Some of the #antearrach tweets

Some of the #antearrach tweets

Over the past few weeks, we have enjoyed a number of conversations about the Signs of Spring that we have begun to see in the world around us. But the #antearrach Twitter project (coordinated by seomraranga.com) has added so much to this discussion. The idea is that any class tweeting about signs of Spring that they have observed, includes the hashtag #antearrach, thus providing a grouping for tweets on the topic.

With the use of this project hashtag, we have been able to expand our exposure to the various signs of Spring, which has been particularly useful in terms of developing an appreciation for the larger impact that Spring has on a rural community. We have seen photographs of baby lambs, tractors spreading slurry, and frogspawn and tadpoles – all of which would have been limited to textbooks had we stuck to traditional lessons.

And since many of the classes we see tweeting about #antearrach are classes we have interacted with before, we feel a more authentic connection with the images we do see, and have an opportunity to ask questions and learn more.

Click here to read more about seomraranga.com’s project.

Before and After

Before Christmas as part of the reflective process, I asked the children to consider the differences between the way they played when they were in Junior Infants, and the way they play now, during Aistear time. As they offered comments on the two experiences, I jotted their observations on the board.

Play Comparison

Play Comparison

The chart did not end up being very coherent! We started with a summary of the order of events before and after Aistear. There wasn’t much more to say about the Pre-Aistear Era, and there was so much input for the ‘After’ aspect that it ended up spilling over onto the ‘Before’ half of the page.

Q.E.D.