Children Know Best

Yesterday I conducted brief interviews with the children, asking them about their favourite play areas. First I showed the children a slideshow compiled of several photos of older play areas, to try to offset the fact that they would likely remember more recent toys and themes best. There were several play areas that I had no photos of and no child remembered any play area that was not represented in the slideshow, but the results still gave me some valuable information.

Despite my ongoing concerns about the Role Play area, seven out of the fifteen children I interviewed chose the Role Play area as their favourite – some of them mentioning a specific theme, such as the Optician or the Doctor’s Office, and others just referring to the play area generally.

Click play on the file below to hear the interviews.

Chanel: The Garda Station… cos you get to be robbers… cos you get to have guns… cos they can shoot

Kyle: Builders, because you get to make stuff… a door… I put two sides at the edge and one at the top… 

Emeraude: Role Play…. the doctor…. cos we get to play the patient…. I love to be the patient. 

Katie: My favourite play time was the glasses….. because I was the girl who does the eye test… because em, you know when other people get glasses and em, you just get glasses….. 

Taylor: Role Play…. the doctors cos you get to fix babies….. with the nurse thing. 

Kenny:  favourite playtime was pirates. Cos we got to have swords. Cos I like am, getting swords and trying to slice up somebody. I sliced up the mermaid. 

Ayse: the doctors… because we got to do lots of things with the patients… I got to do lots of things… I got to fix the patients. 

I was also interested to get some critical feedback in relation to Junk Art as during the course of the school year, I have occasionally wondered whether I should rotate Junk Art off the ‘menu’, for fear it would become tired and boring for the children. I was surprised that three children chose it as their favourite, although five children did mention it as their least favourite. I was glad to hear strong opinions one way or the other.

Abbie: cos you get to make fun stuff out of it… (coolest thing I made in Junk Art was) the house… well I used things like the soft, like cardboard? – the  foam and I used a marker. 

Deepak: cos you get to bring your junk art home… you can play with it at home… (I brought home) the car…

(Tymek voted for Junk Art as his favourite too. Tymek does not speak much English but would happily choose Junk Art every day and loves bringing his creations home to show his parents.)

Kyle: – yes, cos you make things… (I made) a car…. 

John Paul: I like building stuff… with like scissors and all.. 

Some did comment that they don’t like Junk Art –

Teacher: Do you like doing Junk Art?

Darragh: nope… cos I just don’t like doing junk art.

Sofia: no…. cos I have nothing to make in it… 

Taylor: no… cos… (shrugs)

Abdulmaliq: Didn’t like Junk Art… stuff gets messy

Kenny: Em, I didn’t like doing junk art. I don’t like really making stuff

But the trauma of the alien slime lived on for many of them! –

Chanel: Alien slime, cos it was so gooey, and it makes your hands smelly. 

Kyle: Alien slime…. cos eh, it smelled

Katie: Slime… because it was smelly… I only like smell of blueberries and hairspray and flowers… 

John Paul: I liked the moon dust because any time you smelled the goo you feel sick but if  you do it to the sand you didn’t feel sick. It didn’t because it wasn’t as gooey as the other one. 

Abbie: The goo was stinky, it made me feel sick and horrible.

Darragh: Didn’t like alien slime… cos it wasn’t nice… the smell of it.

The interviews yielded some very interesting results and served to remind me that my perception of what is working well is not necessarily the case. And despite my constant concern about the Role Play area, it is clearly not going anywhere!

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Teacher Role Play Planning – A Place to Start

Sometimes I find myself at a loss to think of a suitable premise on which to base the Role Play for a particular scheme of work. Other times I have a clear idea of what the Role Play should be based around, but am unsure how best to resource the area to facilitate productive play.

I have found the following Role Play booklet, which was prepared by the University of Cumbria, an invaluable resource in this task. If I already know what the Role Play area will contain, there is usually a cheat sheet available in the booklet for me to print off as a starting point for my resourcing. Better yet, if I haven’t yet figured out what to put in the Role Play corner, having a flick through the booklet usually yields a couple of suggestions.

I would recommend that any teacher who is tackling Aistear should save a copy of this to their desktop, or print out a copy to keep on a bookshelf nearby.

University of Cumbria Role Play Booklet

Curriculum Tracking

One of the concerns with embracing the Aistear framework for play is the amount of time that needs to be sacrificed from other subjects in order to allow long blocks of structured play. While this is an undeniable struggle, it is reassuring to know how many curriculum objectives are being fulfilled within that time slot.

To that end, I try to list the curricular strand units/ specific objectives that are most pertinent to the current activity within my Aistear fortnightly plans. Taking this into consideration when preparing my plans also helps to direct my interactions with the children as they play, as I am more mindful of what each play area is aiming to achieve.

They slot easily into the play plan shared by Sinéad Guinan at the DWEC Aistear course (thanks Sinéad!)

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Trial and Error

Our Aistear play theme for the first half of April is Space. Initially, the stations were comprised of the two regulars; Junk Art and Role Play; as well as Small World (rockets, moon buggy, astronaut/ alien figurines) and a tub of Alien Slime.

As expected, the alien slime (a.k.a. cornflour gloop as per recipe here) drew much attention on Monday morning when the children arrived in. They were all eager to get their hands in and investigate. Unfortunately, their enthusiasm was quickly tempered by the pungent smell wafting up from the slime! (I haven’t been able to find any references online to gloop being smelly, nor did I notice any smell from the much smaller batch I had made at home to test it out, so I can only guess that the smell was lingering from the well-used sand that occupied the box previously.)

I encouraged the children to persevere despite the smell and over the course of a week, over half the class enjoyed exploring the fascinating qualities of the ‘non Newtonian liquid’ (learn a little more here). The other half of the class varied between strongly opposed to coming anywhere near the gloop, and being intrigued, but still too wary to participate! Most of those who did play with it, chose to come back and play with the gloop on a second day, as it is a very enjoyable, tactile experience. The play elicited new alien-related words and encouraged the children to imagine more about the properties of slime, and as such, I would still call the inclusion of the slime in our play a success.

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Day 1: The two girls had to be coaxed to join in. When I rolled a ball of gloop, then opened my hand to watch it ‘melt’, they were intrigued enough to ask me to roll one and put it in their hands.

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Day 3: Everyone who chose the Alien Slime knew to expect a smell, and went on to insist that ‘it just smells like paint’!

 

Nevertheless, on Friday afternoon; half way through our fortnight of focusing on the theme of Space; and despite my own undiminished fascination with gloop (Try it!!), we put it to a vote. The vast majority of the class voted to get rid of the slime and we will now need to introduce a new play station for next week.

Maybe I can reintroduce gloop again in a couple of weeks, in a fresh box, and hopefully without the accompanying stink! And in the meantime, we have had the valuable experience of trying something, deciding it didn’t work, and voting to move on from it.

It’s Good to Talk

Throughout our experience thusfar with Aistear, the Role Play area has continued to be an area of concern for me, as mentioned in previous posts. The children are very happy to play there, and more often than not do engage in role play, but I have noticed them struggling sometimes to engage properly with the relevant theme. Earlier in the year we addressed this difficulty by engaging in extensive planning and review of play in that area, and more recently I have made an effort to ensure that there is an adult present in the area as much as possible, particularly in the earlier days of a new theme, in order to give the children any necessary nudges to remain on topic. In many cases, the children are happy to stay in role but can run out of ideas as regards what they should be doing while playing in a particular role. Having an adult there, playing in role, is often all the support the children need to maintain the drama.

But one of the issues I have recognised is that at the beginning of a new scheme of work, the topic is still new to the children and as such, they haven’t been exposed to the necessary learning to give them a jumping off point from which to base their pretend play. I have wondered whether it would be better to introduce a topic for several days or a week before then changing the play areas to match, but this seems clunky and disjointed.

At the beginning of March I introduced an Oral Language slot early on a Monday morning, during which I can introduce the new topic of the week (or build upon the topic established last week) and provide any vocabulary the children may be lacking. I write the topic up on the board under the heading “This Week We are Learning About”, and I have found that drawing their attention explicitly to the desired learning has been useful in terms of the children’s recognition of an overarching theme to our learning throughout the week. We have an opportunity to brainstorm the types of things we may like to do in the Role Play area (and others) – listing the types of questions we might ask, and the sequence of interactions that will need to take place (e.g. buying something, making something, discussing something). This is valuable because it is killing two birds with one stone – there is productive play planning taking place, as well as being a valuable oral language slot. I have found that this gave the children more confidence when planning their own play in the Role Play area. I have then been able to supplement the children’s grasp of the topic at the Conversation Station.

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IMG_2310In a recent Professional Development seminar at school, I was introduced to the idea of a Conversation Station, something I had never heard of before. It’s a pretty simple concept – an area is set up in the class, where the teacher has an opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with four or five children each day, with a particular topic in mind. The area may have posters, flashcards, other resources to stimulate conversation, as well as prompts such as rules about good conversation, listening skills, etc. The Aistear hour of play provides a window during which I can have these short chats and the Station provides me with a perfect opportunity to get each child talking about the topic of the week.

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I think the Role Play area will always be one I would like to improve upon – and naturally certain themes will come more easily to the children than others – but the interventions we have made as the year has gone on have made significant progress.