Setting the Scene

Today in Room 2 we upped the ante in terms of our Role Play preparation. Following regular chats with Ms. Dee (blogging about her Aistear experiences here) who teaches Senior Infants across the hall from me, I decided to follow her example and let the children become much more involved in the set-up of the Role Play area.

Up until now, with the introduction of a new theme, I have had to get in to school extra early on the first morning in order to dismantle the previous Role Play area and set up the new one. Often, I have printed out relevant signage and other stimuli and need to spend time setting the scene. There also tends to be a fair amount of clearing out to be done, as I find bits of ‘shrapnel’ that have fallen behind benches etc., during previous play times. After setting a scene according to my vision of how it should look, it is also necessary to explain to the children what I thought each table/ box/ etc was for.

Ms. Dee always seems to be able to involve the children far more in the set-up. So after discussing in detail how she goes about it, today I was able to introduce the children to the New Day 1 of Any New Theme: Preparation Day.

Brainstorm Shop

First we discussed our new theme – Shopping – and brainstormed the kinds of things that you see, do and buy in a shop. Then we divided the responsibilities of arranging a shop in our Role Play area into four categories, and started adding suggested tasks to each topic.

Jobs: 1. Dismantle old Role Play set-up and move furniture to create shop 2. Make things for use/ for sale in shop 3. Find things already in the classroom for use/ for sale in shop 4. Make and stick on price tags for everything in shop

1. Dismantle old Role Play set-up and move furniture to create shop
2. Make things for use/ for sale in shop
3. Find things already in the classroom for use/ for sale in shop
4. Make and stick on price tags for everything in shop

Next we chose volunteers for each group. There was a clamour for the ‘set-up’ role but everybody was happy with their assigned jobs in the end and the children all worked well to achieve their goals.

Straight away the children in the set-up area started to come over and ask me whether they could use this or that as a prop. Soon the others started to add their own creative flair to proceedings!

Abdulmaliq suggested we use the wheelbarrow from our gardening theme as a trolley. Killian wanted to use a box of nails from our construction theme, and sell them like it was a hardware shop. Abbie found a hanger for a dress in the dress-up box and suggested the dress could be for sale. Chloe wanted to use an empty Ribena bottle from the junk art supplies, and pretend it was full. Several of the children wanted to sell their favourite toy in the shop. Ayse suggested that we could turn a table sidewards and use it as a conveyor belt.

The children’s suggestions started off tentatively and their confidence visibly grew as the shop began to take shape.

The pricing station

The pricing station

The children at the pricing table priced up a storm using sticky sheets, pencils and scissors. My concerns that they might not be sure what price to assign to particular items was unfounded – once they got started there was no stopping them! In fact there is now a price on my stool!

Lollipops - 6c each

Lollipops – 6c each

The junk art table generated a balloon, a variety of lollipops and a selection of canned goods among others. Finally we had the shop set up exactly how we wanted it. In our enthusiasm we went over our allotted time, meaning we had to eat lunch AFTER yard time, and THEN discuss what we had achieved – but take a look at what a great shop has been installed in our Role Play corner!

One of our shelving units was appropriated (and the toys that usually live on it carefully stacked out of the way) for use as a display for all of our wares. Tables and chairs were moved. Unnecessary props like the rocket from our Space theme (which had more recently been appropriated as a prison during our Garda Station theme) were unceremoniously disposed of and the area soon began to look and feel like a shop.


Now that we have put the Shop together as a group effort, I feel that the children are more likely to add to the scene as necessary. In our discussions after finishing setting the scene, the children remembered some things that they hadn’t yet found or made, including some more signage – and I am optimistic that they will use their time at the Junk Art station to make the Shop even more authentic.

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I hope that having spent time considering the form the shop would take, the children will be even more likely to immerse themselves in Make Believe as they play in the Shop. This will take me one step further towards feeling content that our Role Play is all that it can be!


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!

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.

Space 002

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.


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.

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.

March (88) March (63)

March (44) March (108)

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.

March (60) March (32)

March (115) March (83) March (81) March (68)

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)

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

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.