‘Dip’ Planning and Aistear

Aistear is a tricky area when it comes to the probationary year, as play seems hard to plan for, but as so much of the timetable is given over to play, it is important to be able to see its benefits.

I have already addressed the issue of fortnightly planning here, but for ‘dippers’ there needs to be some kind of termly plan too. As I did not have a template to follow, I created my own layout. Page 1 of my Aistear termly plan did not change from term to term, as it just lists the principles, themes and aims of Aistear, but I thought it worthwhile to list them, both for my own reference, and in case the inspector was not familiar with Aistear; it would give them an at-a-glance idea of where I was coming from.

Termly Plan for the Learning Through Play

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

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

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.

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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!

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

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.

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.

Planning Our Play

During our early timetabled Aistear play sessions, the differences between ‘old-fashioned’ play and our new Structured Play were subtle – our efforts at Planning our play were vague and very much teacher-led, and our idea of Reviewing play amounted to wholesale nods of approval that yes, we had had fun. Over time we managed to hone our skills in these departments and others. As a teacher, this was as much a learning experience for me as it was for the children. My initial enthusiasm for the framework was challenged in the first few weeks of our Structured Playtimes, as the children had not yet learned the skills of plan and review, and I found it difficult to teach these skills without being didactic and prescriptive.


I soon learned that Oral Play Planning was not enough for the children – they did not yet have a clear enough idea of what was expected of them and this meant that our plans were vague and uncertain. The introduction of a planning chart on the Interactive White Board gave us a more tangible way to express and record our plans, and the children a clear sense of what was expected of them. I tried to incorporate as much imagery as possible into these plans in order that they would be understandable and accessible to all.

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The on-board planning also gave us an opportunity at a Whole Class level to discuss any challenges we thought might be faced by a particular group, at a particular play station. The children began to foresee problems and talk through some possible solutions, and through this, I believe they began to appreciate the value of planning.

In time, I was able to use the Planning period to address issues of particular concern to me – I noticed that while all of the children were enjoying play at the Junk Art table, some of them were having difficulties in visualising how they could use the junk available to them to make the piece of art they wanted to make. There was a tendency to draw an object in their plan without any forethought as to how this would be created. By breaking down some individual projects; on the board and using Think Aloud; I was able to demonstrate to the children the types of thought processes required in order to effectively plan the assembly of a Junk Art piece.

Junk Art planning

Initially the children drew what they would make but not the component parts, though sometimes their drawings made it apparent what they planned to use

Initially the children drew what they would make but not the component parts, though sometimes their drawings made it apparent what they planned to use

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Tymek does not speak much English but really enjoys Junk Art

Tymek does not speak much English but can talk me through what he is making in Junk Art

Later, we used the Planning period to hone in on our practices at the Role Play area, highlighting the importance of staying in role, and of investing in the characters and actions portrayed by others. We planned extensively, for one whole week, the exact character that each child would portray and how that character would interact with the others. Each day we built on the experience of the day before, using the previous groups’ notes to inform that day’s planning.

Brainstorming possible Role Play scenarios that would be linked with topic of Water

Brainstorming possible Role Play scenarios that would be linked with topic of Water

The following day our Role Play scenarios were more specific as the children warmed to the topics of pirates, mermaids, and an attacking shark

The following day our Role Play scenarios were more specific as the children warmed to the topics of pirates, mermaids, and an attacking shark

It was during this week, and specifically in relation to our Role Play, that we began to take a more critical approach to our Play Review, which had been slowly evolving over a the course of several weeks. We will look at this progression in the next blog post.