‘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

Your local library

Your local library

While it is not news to me that books are a great resource to have in the classroom, until recently it didn’t really occur to me to go out of my way to source books that tied in with our learning themes. Once or twice I had had a poke through the classroom library and tried to showcase any books that did tie in with the current theme by placing them on the display face of the unit. But the limited number of books available in this collection meant that I was able to find only limited examples of books related to any one theme.

It wasn’t until we were contacted by a local librarian on our Twitter pagetweet, and I had a chance to exchange emails with her, that I realised the potential for expanding on a topic by sourcing a wide selection of books that tied in with that theme. Maria from Children’s Services in South Dublin County Libraries, pointed out to me that the staff at the library would be happy to help me source books in relation to a given topic.

Immediately, I began to consider the potential for this. We were about to move on to the topic of Space (also thanks to Twitter), so I decided to visit Tallaght library and see what kind of literature I could rustle up. I came home with a basket full of Space-related books; fictional stories that took place in Space or had alien characters, as well as factual books about rockets and space travel, stars and planets. I was able to supplement these with a couple of similarly themed books and children’s encyclopaedias that I had at home, and one or two from the classroom library.

I left the basket on a table in the classroom and began to direct early finishers to the basket to select a book. It wasn’t long until the children recognised that all of the books were related to what we were currently learning, and I found that this encouraged them to engage with the content, particularly of the non-fiction books. They would exclaim; ‘aw teacher, that looks like the space station Commander Hadfield is on’ or ‘that’s the bit that falls off the rocket when it takes off’.

In fact, the children were so aware of the thematic link between our reading and our learning that when Ms. Neville (Home School Liaison) came to the class with a selection of books for the children to choose from for the Bedtime Reading Club, the children noticed any space themed ones and asked could we add them to our basket! We soon had Ms. Neville and Ms. Dee dropping in to us with any space themed books they came across, to help contribute to the effort!

JuneWhen we moved off Space and onto the topic of water, I was able to restock the basket with similarly appropriate books. Our most recent theme is Summer Holidays. In the role play area, this means that we have set up a Travel Agent. My trip to the library this time entailed collecting non-fiction books about every country I had heard the children mention during our initial summer holidays brainstorm, as well as books about the nationalities of our multinational pupils. They are now laid out as brochures at the Travel Agent and the children really enjoy looking through the pictures in the books to help them select which country they will holiday in during their playtime.

I am delighted by the additional level of depth that the presence of a wide selection of books has been able to add to our thematic learning, and how it has extended the children’s awareness of what we are hoping to learn about in any given unit, and we owe it all to @MariaMernagh. While it does take a little more effort to try to get down to the library once every fortnight-ish, it is well worth the time.

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!

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!

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.