Little Miss Teacher Blog

By Clara Fiorentini

Thursday, 30 July 2020

The Continuation of Play



I have decided to put pen to paper (or hand to keyboard) to discuss play and the incoming school year for 2020. 


With the publication of the Department's guidelines for Reopening our Primary and Special Schools, planning and preparations for a safe return to school are well underway in many settings. It is imperative that when proposing how best to organise our infant classrooms for learning, consideration must be give to the continuation of play and playful methodologies. 


We must recognise, is that the guidelines:

  • are recommending play
  • are recommending circle time 
  • are encouraging teachers to adopt the 'slow down to catch up' approach from NEPS
  • are encouraging collaborative learning 


The importance of play is clearly iterated and the recommendation that play is afforded to the infant classes cannot be ignored:


'Given the well-recognised benefits of play and its role in connecting pre-school and primary school learning experiences, schools are encouraged to provide children in infants and junior classes with opportunities for play.' (p9 - 2.3.2)


It's apparent from discussions across the various realms of social media, that there are many conflicting proposed approaches for the set up of the infant classrooms, many of which could potentially limit or inhibit playful learning. Some settings, sadly, propose to cut play altogether, a decision that hopefully can be revisited and reconsidered.


As many settings race to remove independent work stations and bring in extra furniture for rigid, seated set-ups, let us pause to consider what this may impact upon:

  • Space to play...
  • Space for circle time...
  • Space to navigate the room
  • Space to avoid feeling overwhelmed...
  • Space for sensory integration...
  • Space for movement breaks...
  • Space for learning beyond the restrains of tables and chairs...
  • Space to talk...
  • Space to form relationships...
  • Space for choice...

...and that's just touching the surface.


Play can continue:


Play can and must continue. After a decade of Aistear, we are only but beginning to reap the rewards of the immense efforts and commitment of schools school communities in acquiring resources, embracing additional CPD and embedding play as an integral part of the primary infant learning process. Granted, classrooms now have the potential to look somewhat different to how they did in September 2019, however, it doesn't need to be a blanket 'no' to play and playful methodologies. With careful, collective consideration and pragmatic approaches to changes, play can continue as a driving force in our teaching and learning approaches.



If you can clean it, you can keep it:


In terms of toys, it will be a matter of looking at what can be cleaned and what can't. The 'If you can clean it, you can keep it' motto is an approach that has been adopted my many creches and preschool settings already. The soft teddies, cushions and costumes may need to be packed away for the time being, but the majority of the remaining toys tend to be wipeable. 


In the UK, reception classes and preschools have invested in mesh laundry bags which can allow for toys like small world figurines, lego and plastic utensils to be washed in bulk in the dishwasher or washing machine, or steeped in the sink or water tank. 


Like these: Whispex Toy Storage & Organization Mesh Bags Set of 12 ...


If this is the approach taken, then the bags become part of the clean up routine, instead of tidying the toys into the boxes, the children will help tidy them into the mesh bags. The children too, will have their role to play in ensuring our play continues, learning to care for and appreciate the importance of cleaning our toys will become part of the 'new normal' - a term which many of our incoming infants will have overheard all too often already these past few months.


Full details on the hygiene procedures for shared resources can be found here.




Water play may not be feasible in the large tank this year, but can still happen in small groups with individual containers. Same idea, just their own water and their own tools.

SAMLA Box with lid - transparent - IKEA Switzerland


Playdough can still happen, but simply by ensuring the children have individual tubs. Some have concerns that the expense of this could be an issue. Another option could be to continue what has been done already! Many teachers make playdough batches on a regular basis - this can continue but playdough will just have to be stored in individual portions. Perhaps zip lock freezer bags with the children's names? Recycled playdough pots? Small air-tight lunch boxes?




If we assess Junk Art, perhaps, yes, this play 'area' poses many potential challenges in terms shared materials and the usual routines of sourcing recyclables from home. It may require work that many may not be enabled to commit to, of course, but perhaps Junk Ark could look a little different for the time being? With limited materials? Hand hygiene before handling equipment or materials. Children use their own packs of crayons, scissors or glue sticks and work with an individual, allocated number of supplies for their day at the station. It sounds a little more complicated... but not impossible. Let's not underestimate the potential and capabilities our our young learners. They generally thrive on routine and relish the sense that teacher is trusting them with some responsibility.




Circle Time:


Seeing as it is such an integral methodology, I think it important to briefly touch upon circle time too. There has been significant confusion created for teachers due to some of the reports given on social distancing in recent days, particularly in relation to the infant classroom. Regardless of how your school might be adopting social distancing approaches, circle time can and should continue, where possible. 


Drawing Look Sticker by Linzie Hunter for iOS & Android | GIPHY


  • By rethinking the size of our 'circles' through sit spots or marking the floor 
  • Ensuring spacing is maintained between each child within the circle
  • Hand hygiene before and after joining the circle
  • Use of a 'wipeable' speaking object SitSpots 30 Circle Pack | Original Sit Spots: Toys & Games

Sit spots - Image source: Amazon



Circle Time may indeed pose a greater challenge to those who have smaller classrooms. In this case, considering circle time being brought to the hall or yard may be a more feasible option. 



Change to how things have been done, is inevitable... but it doesn't have to be change for the worse. We can make the changes work. We need to maintain and encourage an open-mindedness towards the months ahead and an optimism for the changes at hand. The changes are for the safety of our pupils and our colleagues, to ensure the essential continuation of play and, ultimately, to facilitate the methodologies best suited to our young learners.














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