Ingredients of My Play Based Classroom Here
I don't know about you, but often at the beginning of a year in a new entrant room (or any room probably) you often stop and think about the journey and how it seems it will all come together.
At the beginning of the year, each one of the ingredients listed in my mind map seem so seperate, yet they come together as one so quickly.
It amazes me, how in a play-based room and using Number Agents as my mathematical/inquiry approach children just begin to make their own links...almost effortlessly things come together and there is no longer 'curriculums' happening at various times, but just one....play becomes the curriculum and all of a sudden all areas of learning come together...children are learning what they need when they need it.
Learning and teaching become enjoyable, natural, reflective and responsive.
As we start feeding and inviting in all of the ingredients listed in my mind map, we start to see children self-directing their play in these directions to learn even more.
Hooking in children over the last week into Number Agency has been incredible. To watch their excitement and imagination take over the classroom has been almost entrancing. Even after we finish our session children are taking the session and expanding on it during their self-directed play. Finding characters in our puppets and soft toys and using them through dramatic play, making up their own math problems, sharing and conversing about the message in the bottle, how it got there, where it came from and the magic portal that must be in our classroom. They have been drawing maps, writing stories etc, all in response to just a couple of hooks.
It can be really difficult when people ask questions like "how do you teach writing in a play based room" - In fact the most common question is about writing and to be honest, when you are sitting in front of a new, new entrant class it can be one of the most daunting things to think about...how am I ever going to get these children writing?
I think the writing question is the hardest....as unlike reading it is harder to give people a clear picture of what is actually going on in a play-based classroom that ultimately means children will be able to write. So I am going to try to break it down here. Writing and the process of learning to write is complex...I'd even like to put it out there that it is harder than teaching children to read...I think that is why it is often done so badly and in such a surface way. I think it is often why we see so many reluctant or struggling writers later on.
The process of learning to write is hard, and the one biggest reason for this is we often don't understand the crucial building blocks that have to be in place for children to take part in all areas of literacy...and more specifically to learn to write.
So I teach writing....but not in one session and not in one way...and it often does not look like writing....and ultimately when I have things just right...the honest truth is children teach themselves to write...through play.
Crucial Elements in My classroom: (I am not saying they are the be all and end all)
1)Understanding that some children are not ready for writing...they need to build up other crucial building blocks first...one of these being vocab and the ability to use this vocab to create a story out loud.
2)In my class we draw a lot...we start out with opportunities to draw....to talk about our picture and to understand that this is the starting point of our writing. taking time to develop fine motor skills through play is also really crucial for some children before they even handle a pencil. Then just time to scribble and experiment is important. Big pads of paper are an absolute must.
3)Phonics....we start by understanding what a sound actually is...listening for environmental sounds....making different sounds ourselves....listening for rhyme....listening for words that start with the same sound. We then move onto understanding phonemes, attaching a letter name to the sound it makes. We use a range of different approaches here, but particularly love to link in nursery rhymes as they are great for building up word and rhyme awareness.
4)Oral language - understanding that talking is the start of literacy...giving children vocab...taking time to talk...building vocab and not taking for granted that children understand words that we think they should. Taking teachable moments...using things that children are interested in that come up during they day and taking the time to explore and talk about these further. For example the other day a child was reading a book about animals that eat flies, at the end the venus fly trap was mentioned...we then took time to find a short video on this and talk about this incredible plant together. The biggest learning I had with oral language was the fact that we as teachers need to spend more time just 'talking around' objects or ideas and allowing children to listen. We ask questions and expect children to have the vocab to answer...often they don't have this vocab. Three statements to one question was the advice I was given by an SLT and this has worked wonders for me.
5)Puppets - I use puppets a lot...they often have problems for us to solve...questions they need answered....they elevate children to the position of expert and children love this. I often video my puppets having similar problems to those that the children are having...this allows them to process these problems at a much deeper level.
6)Growth mindset - this is huge...we always start the year with this and keep pushing it. Class dojo has some excellent videos for this and we use them frequently. We use the learning dip and that really helps children to understand the learning process.
7)Time to write - we use blank journals...once a fortnight (or more often if needed) I will take a teacher-led session, where we will all write together. Otherwise children will write about their play. They draw and just have a go at writing. We use the writing progressions to guide us and I use a scrapbook to write in, just like them. I take samples, but I never mark these books. They can return to each story as often as they like to add to it and we use these journals during play-based time if they want to.
8)Daily six is crucial - we teach one facet each week and slowly we start to see children using these during their play-based time. They all have letters or words they are working on learning and this helps. They can learn these at school and at home.
9)Gruffalo words - we have a pet Gruffalo, he is greedy but only eats interesting words. Whenever he hears an interesting word, we hear a deep growl....he can gobble this word off the page, or directly out of a child's mouth...these words later appear on our word wall.
10)Mimicking and copying - I am a big believer in using a child's natural disposition to mimic in my teaching. I will often just write words up on the board when I hear them trying to sound them out...children will often spend time writing and learning these words in their own time.
10) Great pieces of writing - we have not started this yet, but further into the term I will start to show them examples of lovely pieces of writing. I wont expect them to go away and write their own based on the same topic, we will just look at it, discuss it, talk about why it is good and what works.
11) Questioning my work - I write alongside my children. As they grow as learners I will ask them to question my story, to encourage me to add detail to my story.
We have just finished week three and already I am seeing children's writing develop. Some children are already using finger spaces, recording words and letters they know, beginning to sound out those they don't. Some children are already selecting from our stack of blank books to make their own stories. But you notice I say some children...because not all are ready YET...but they will get there.
The great thing, is they are all willing to write, they are all happy to write...they write about their play, they write about the magic portal, they write about our puppets.....they write about whatever they want!
They write without tears and without sulking, they write without uttering the words "but I can't write" - that is what I call winning :)
And so in a play-based room, when you are asked "but how do you teach..." it can be hard to answer...because it all comes together like a beautiful spiders web. And like a beautiful web...if one part is broken, or if one connection drops....it isn't as smooth...but the great thing is that the thread can be rejoined and learning can go on :)
I no longer teach curriculum, I teach learning and I love it!
I expand more on the ingredients of my play-based room in my short book The Power of Play. You can purchase a copy here.
- Number Agents in a Nutshell
- Mantle of the Expert
- Children and Numbers - My Belief
- What is in the book?
- Learning Through Play
- How to order
- The Villains and The Heroes
- A sample of one days planning filled in
- Teachers Pay Teachers Store
- Sample weekly planner format
- My PDF Products - Available on TPT or Teachers Helping Teachers
- What I love about Number Agents!