Huge thanks to Alan Hally who runs ‘Magic of Education’ on Instagram for this guest blogpost on play and learning. Some really lovely ideas to share with parents. 

The schools have been closed for almost 2 months now. It is hard to believe! 7 weeks ago, I thought that we would be back after the initial 2 weeks and how silly I feel now!

Our teaching has now turned virtual for most of us but in a way, doesn’t that take away from children even being children? As a teacher of Senior Infants, I am trying to make my daily online lessons as interesting and as engaging as possible for the children. Literacy and numeracy are my top priority when it comes to sending out daily work. So, how can I get the children more interactive and more playful at home in their learning? There are a few simple things that teachers and parents can do to promote play and learning during the Covid-19 school closures.

Keep routine going:

It is important, especially for children with SEN, that routine is kept the same throughout these closures. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, bedtime…these should all remains as much the same as possible. Allow time to play, such as the time they have for break and lunch in school. When does your child work best, in the morning or afternoon? This is the time when you should do any assigned schoolwork where possible.

Dedicated play time:

When you have made a small timetable for breaks, schoolwork etc., you can fill the rest of the day with child-led play which is what is promoted within the primary school at infant level. Children do their best learning when they are imagining, being creative and inventing during play.

What do I need for play?

You don’t need any fancy resources or new toys to incorporate child-led play at home. Root out any toys that may be lying around the house, in cupboards or in the attic. Position open-ended toys like blocks, cars, dolls etc. to the top of the pile. Now its time for the parents to take a step back and just watch. Limit your involvement as play is the child’s job. If you are invited to play, accept! But, don’t feel bad if you don’t get invited, children need to learn to play independently also.

Role play:

Give a topic to children to act out either on their own or with their siblings at home. I did a week’s worth of Space topics recently and the children had to act out what an astronaut would look like when they are in space or walking on the moon. The pretended to be the rocket blasting off into space also. Some wore a plastic bowl on their head to pretend to be the astronaut.

Junk art:

Look in your recycling bin. There are plenty of useful art supplies that are stored in it. You don’t need to have fancy art materials to create something from your imagination. Again, work off a theme. Sticking with the space idea from earlier, some of my students created a rocket ship out of toilet and kitchen roll holders along with wastepaper that may be lying around. All they needed was Sellotape or glue and their colours and they had a full art lesson.

Small world:

This may require some preparation from the adults in the house. Use an old box that can be broke up into its net. Draw a road map on the blank side of the box. Let the child play with it using toy cars and people to see what they come up with!

Water:

Fill the sink or wash basin with water and dish soap. Allow the child to put in some toys and play away. Listen to their chat as they are having fun messy play. It may be a good idea to put a towel underneath or an old table cloth, judging from experience in the classroom!

Reading:

Allow for opportunities for the child to read during their play time. Keep old newspapers or magazines, display some books that may be at home, save the old leaflets from Aldi or Lidl and place them in the play area. This keeps the child engaged with a variety of print and text during the time away from school.

Screen time:

An area that is completely up to individual parents. Some prefer to have it on, some limit it. I would limit screen time at this time. Some children are using the screen for online learning. If this is the case, ensure that there is a set time for when the screen will be used in this way. Turn the screen off at the given time limit – if you say 15 minutes of TV, follow through with the time limit. Outside of this, save screen time for big moments when you choose because you need it. It may be a moment for a parent to catch a breath, make the dinner, brush your teeth even!

Develop life skills:

Now would be a brilliant time to really engage with your child to develop life skills. This could be teaching your child to make their bed, tie their shoelaces or dress themselves. Allow them to take part in baking and cooking lunch or dinner. This teaches both social and life skills and we may never have an opportunity to have time like this again to teach these together.