Little Miss Teacher Blog

By Clara Fiorentini

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Happy Birthday Aistear!

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Play gives children opportunities to be in control of what is happening and what they know. (Levin,1996)

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Through play, children exercise self-control, develop previous related knowledge, take turns, co-operate and socialise with others. (Glover, 1999)

It's hard to believe that Aistear
the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework celebrates its tenth birthday soon. It's safe to say that the curriculum framework has helped bring the teaching and learning methodologies in our primary infant classrooms on in leaps and bounds. For the most part, teaching in the early years of primary school in many classrooms has a significantly different appearance now, compared to what it did over a decade ago. More formal ways have been set aside and a more playful approach adopted. I know, my own practice and my approach to teaching and learning have been immensely enhanced by elements of the Aistear framework.

As primary school teachers, we definitely have a lot to thank Aistear for. The
 concepts of 'play' and 'playful pedagogy' are still undergoing a journey of their own in the Irish primary educational context. Over the past decade, play-based practice with less an emphasis on didactic, formal approaches has indeed been a source of rejuvenation to our teaching at the junior end of the school. 

Through my own experience with the Aistear framework, as an infant teacher, I felt more and more equipped on a year-to-year basis contending with the ever-evolving, ever-diversifying Irish infant classroom. Our classrooms are in a constant state of evolution and while this can be a challenge, there-in lies a need greater than ever for a playful approach to teaching and learning
 to meet the different learning needs of the children.

From the perspective of a teacher who spent several years dedicating immense effort (proudly) into getting an Aistear approach up and running in an infant classroom, it was (without a shadow of doubt) a truly beneficial learning curve but didn't come without its challenges. The biggest challenge of those, being simply, the attitudes towards play.

'How would you be bothered?'

'There isn't enough time.'

'There aren't enough resources.'

And my favourite of all...

'It's an awful lot of mess.'

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One thing is for sure, when you look beyond what a small few may see as 'mess' and appreciate the sheer amount of skill development, language development and interaction at hand, the immense value of play in the primary school stands before you. 

Where are we going with 'play' at primary level?

As stated in the Aistear Framework (p9);

"Early learning takes place through a reciprocal relationship between the adult and the child – sometimes the adult leads the learning and sometimes the child leads. The adult enhances learning through a respectful understanding of the child’s uniqueness. He/she alters the type and amount of support as the child grows in confidence and competence, and achieves new things."

To fulfill the aims of the Aistear framework, it is imperative that playful pedagogy is valued and prioritised at primary level
 as a natural transition support for the children. The Aistear hour was of its time but it worked! It helped people get into the 'swing' of things and let go some of the overly formal classroom practices. But is the notion of the ' Aistear hour' restricting the potential of playful learning across all the elements of the infant school day? We must strive to ensure that the the precious elements of 'child-led' play so evident in our early childhood contexts are maintained and continued to be wholly fostered at primary level. Child-adult ratios are a significant and unavoidable factor. After the transition from ECCE contexts to primary school; and with brimming class sizes, tackling the best 'led' approach to play can be a concern. As primary school teachers, ensuring that the child-led element continues to be fostered is important yes, but using our role as facilitator of play by embracing open-ended invitations that playful pedagogy awards will only continue to maximise the intentional teaching opportunities that play provides. Finding the balance and recognising the balance is key. We can play, teach and observe learning simultaneously.

Intentional teaching involves educators being deliberate, purposeful ad thoughtful in their decisions and action. Intentional teaching is the opposite of teaching by rote or continuing with traditions simply because things have 'always' been done that way. (Duncan, 2009)

Those of us who have embraced playful pedagogy in classrooms can most definitely recognise and agree that play is not a simple, singular term. It is indeed a very multifaceted teaching methodology.
Is there a need for child-led play? Absolutely.
Is there a need for playful learning? Definitely.
Is there a need for intentional teaching through play? Without a doubt.
Do I need to go on? Surely not.

Play is play and it is here to stay. It is serious business – it is the work of the child and it involves serious learning. 
Our new Primary Language Curriculum (2019) recognises the significance of 'appropriately playful learning opportunities' when developing literacy skills in junior and senior infants which is a welcome inclusion for many.

What is evident in schools now, is that children, who have been immersed in playful learning and instruction framed by Aistear's themes, are now journeying through the senior end of the school, armed with the learning skills and dispositions practiced and embedded during their play-rich learning experiences. A scenario which can only but blossom over the coming school years.

Happy birthday Aistearwe have learned a lot- the children have benefited significantly- here's to the next decade!

Portraying Playful Learning:

Are you interested in Aistear or playful pedagogy in the primary setting? Many wonderful teachers share their journeys through playful learning online - particularly on Instagram. They play an extremely important role in promoting good practice and through their platforms are inspiring many young and long-standing teachers to embrace playful learning and highlight the benefits of the Aistear framework and playful pedagogy at primary level.

Look out for:

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