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.


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.


The Review Process

Like our approach to Play Planning, our Play Review was something that grew and developed over time. At the beginning of September, our oral review after play time was general and undirected. The children were inclined to comment positively about every play experience, saying that they had had fun, regardless of any organisational or interpersonal problems they may have had. They were also unlikely to recognise any discrepancies between the play they had planned and what they actually ended up doing.

Plan tick reviewOur first pointed attempts at Reviewing our play were  gentle and designed in such a way that all of the children could easily participate. Having planned our play as a whole class and noted our plans on the board, we returned to the board after play time, to ‘check in’ and see how our actual play compared to our initial plans. A simple tick beside each achieved plan allowed us to see how many people’s plans usefully informed their play, and gave us the opportunity to analyse why some people’s plans were insufficient to inform their hour of play.

It was around this time that the children were given an opportunity to draw a picture of their play, again in an attempt to have them reflect on what they had played and with who. They were encouraged to comment on any challenges or difficulties that they faced in their play, but the children seemed to draw a blank when asked about this.

Please click on images of children’s work to see more detail.
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Junk Art
“I cut a plate to make a vampire mask” -Killian

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Traditional Games
Tymek and Emeraude playing Snap Apple.
Tymek and teacher playing Conkers.

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Role Play
“I was walking into the bakery and the person is holding cakes in their hand”

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Role Play
“Me going to the bakery” -Chanel

During the week in which our planning focused specifically on the Role Play, we used Review time to  focus on the Role Play area as well. Perhaps the freedom to discuss only one of the play areas at length was what gave us the time to reflect specifically on the positives and negatives of a particular play experience.

The children still contributed what was 'fun' for 'What Worked Well', but began to see the value of commenting on aspects of play that frustrated them.

The children still contributed what was ‘fun’ for ‘What Worked Well’, but began to see the value of commenting on aspects of play that frustrated them.

RP Plan WWWEBI Template

Over the course of that week we developed a ‘What Worked Well/ Even Better If’ template for review, which the children now immediately recognise and respond to.

The following week, our Review template was broadened to apply to all play  and we began to use it on a daily basis as a structure by which to reflect on our play. It wasn’t long before we began to notice  common problems with our play.

Issues with Playing Gently were highlighted in yellow

Issues with Playing Gently were highlighted in yellow

Issues relating to cooperative play are highlighted in green and planning issues are listed in red.

Issues relating to cooperative play are highlighted in green and planning issues are listed in red.

We regularly had issues with children knocking each other’s creations (when playing with blocks, or doll house, or even in the Role Play area) or accidentally hurting one another, and began to categorise these problems under the title ‘Playing Gently’. Children also began to comment positively if their creations weren’t knocked, so that Playing Gently could be highlighted as a positive result of our efforts to play more considerately.

IMG_1837Other common issues we identified were those of inadequate planning, leading to insufficient time to complete the planned play (which we try to list in a red font) and failing to play cooperatively, which can cause conflict in relation to sharing of toys/ resources, and can limit the enjoyability of play in more interpersonal areas like Role Play and Doll House/ Small World (these issues are highlighted in green).

Developing the habit of referring to the WWW/EBI template at the end of play allowed the children to develop the skill of casting a critical eye on their play. This has led to us now being capable of critically reflecting on Play time, without the framework. This progression has been satisfying and fulfilling for me as a teacher.

Please click on images of children’s work to see more detail.
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