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.

IMG_2713

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.

IMG_2714 IMG_2718

IMG_2719

IMG_2717

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!

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

http://www.ncca.biz/Aistear/pdfs/PrinciplesThemes_ENG/ExploringThinking_ENG.pdf

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.

#antearrach – A Twitter Project

Some of the #antearrach tweets

Some of the #antearrach tweets

Over the past few weeks, we have enjoyed a number of conversations about the Signs of Spring that we have begun to see in the world around us. But the #antearrach Twitter project (coordinated by seomraranga.com) has added so much to this discussion. The idea is that any class tweeting about signs of Spring that they have observed, includes the hashtag #antearrach, thus providing a grouping for tweets on the topic.

With the use of this project hashtag, we have been able to expand our exposure to the various signs of Spring, which has been particularly useful in terms of developing an appreciation for the larger impact that Spring has on a rural community. We have seen photographs of baby lambs, tractors spreading slurry, and frogspawn and tadpoles – all of which would have been limited to textbooks had we stuck to traditional lessons.

And since many of the classes we see tweeting about #antearrach are classes we have interacted with before, we feel a more authentic connection with the images we do see, and have an opportunity to ask questions and learn more.

Click here to read more about seomraranga.com’s project.

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.

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.
Scan 6

Junk Art
“I cut a plate to make a vampire mask” -Killian

Scan 5

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

Scan 7

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

Scan 4

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.
Scan 3

Ayse

Scan 2

Kenny

Scan 1

Abbie

Scan

Sofia

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.

Planning 7 December

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

Screen shot 2013-03-08 at 16.39.57

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.