Summer Courses: Review

With family events and a friends wedding during the next school year, I decided to do two Summer Courses this year. One online and one face to face.

My face to face course was Exploring Primary Science in conjunction with Lifetime Lab @ Old Cork Waterworks. I love teaching Science and with my move to Senior Classes I wanted a refresher on lessons for older students. The verdict: this course delivered this and more. The two tutors Mary and Una were excellent, really animated and clearly passionate about teaching Science. I got some excellent examples on introducing topics, the importance of teaching specific language to students even the older ones and of course where to start with planning. From day 1 we were busy working as scientists, there were lots of hands on activities and plenty to keep a bunch of teachers entertained. I really enjoyed this course, and only that my school is located a little bit outside of Cork I would be lining up for the opportunity to take my class to Lifetime Lab next year.

My online course was an Irish one with The course I chose was acmhainní cumarsáide don Rang Gaeilge bunscoile. Again I chose this course with my class change in mind. For me it was very daunting, as I felt my level of Irish wasn’t enough for Senior Classes. However, I surprised myself. Each topic gave examples of interactive activities for one of the themes in the curriculum which also incorporated a grammatical lesson. While this sounds quite daunting it was again a very practical course with suggestions for lessons and websites shared by participants in the forum. This course has definitely helped my confidence in preparing for senior classes in September.


Aistear: The Mechanic

A new theme I introduced during the year was the Mechanic. I used the book Busy Garage to introduce the topic.

Set Up:
For the socio-dramatic area I used my gazebo tent as my garage, I had builders tools which I added to the tent. I also found overalls in the dress up section of Dunnes which were a great addition to the area. I was fortunate that my colleagues helped me with finding vehicles for my garage. They gave me a loan of a ride on tractor and a little tykes car which really helped to set the scene.
Not forgetting the office section of the garage, we had the phones, cash register and laptop.
In small world there were a variety of cars and tractors along with a garage that a parent kindly donated.
In construction children were given free play to make a car using the build your own play centre, or to build a garage with the large blocks.
I changed the sand to a science area and using ramps and cars the children investigated how far the cars would travel. They used their books to build ramps and make them higher for this area too.
Lastly Junk Art, the children made cars and other vehicles from recycled materials sent in by the parents.

Books: I used the Busy Garage to introduce the topic, we had lots of non-fiction books in the library too.

There is lots of scope for cross-curricular integration with this topic. A thematic plan along with a parents’ newsletter for the Mechanic topic is available in my store.

Aistear: Room on the Broom

Everyone knows, one of my favourite children’s authors is Julia Donaldson. For October I like to use Room on the Broom as a topic for my Aistear areas. The children love this book and there are ample opportunities for cross-curricular integration. Apart from the storybook, there are songs and activity books for Room on the Broom also.

In setting up the Aistear areas, my socio-dramatic area contains lots of Halloween dress up along with masks for the different characters in the story. Using masks is another way to introduce the concept of characters in stories as part of the Building Bridges Comprehension.

Small world and construction are areas where the setting of the story can be created and explored. Sand can be for making all those magic potions, especially if you could get some cauldrons in the Euro shop. In Art I like to make witches hats, wands and other Halloween Art. The children always have lots of ideas on what to make in Art for this topic.

I have also made my own story sack for Room on the Broom. It contains the book with an audio CD, character cut outs, a maze activity and a wand activity. The children get to choose the activity they want, I like to encourage fine motor activities in my story sacks where possible. Both the children and their parents enjoyed this story sack this year. It is ideal to encourage parental involvement with fun activities. There are great activities and printables to download on the site below.

My thematic plan for Room on the Broom is available in my store. The parents newsletter and story sack task card will be available in the next few days.

Aistear: Where to start

I’ve had a couple of messages from followers on where to begin with Aistear. Aistear is not prescribed as a stand alone subject, it is a suggested methodology within the new Language Curriculum. The Language curriculum reflects the key principles of Aistear also. Aistear involves integrating subjects with playful learning and hands on learning activities as core methodologies.

Where to start in your classroom??

An earlier blog post has identified the key play areas, socio-dramatic, small world, construction, junk art and sand/water.

To establish Aistear in your class it is important to set up these areas and have appropriate vocabulary and signs at each area also. This also helps when introducing your class to Aistear and how it works.

I have five groups within my class, these are separate to my table groupings. Each group is an even mixture (where possible) of boys and girls, juniors and seniors for a mixed class and mixed abilities too. I explain to the groups that each group works together and they must try and solve problems within the group before seeking teachers help. This does take a few lessons to identify problems in a group and how to solve them. If an issue arises within a group on a particular day I discuss it after, what was the problem? how did you solve it? What could you have done to solve the problem? How could you avoid it the next day? This is an important part of Aistear for me, learning to negotiate and share with their peers without teacher intervention. While it may seem difficult at the beginning of the year, the children learn to solve problems and arguments within their group during the year and they become more confident in doing so.

Aistear is on my timetable everyday for approx 45 mins. This includes the plan, play and recap after. It is important to discuss what they did in their areas for ideas for other groups and for oral langauge too. Each group spends a day at each area, so by the end of the week the groups have been to all the areas. I like to run a topic over 3-4 weeks. So each group will get 3 or 4 days in socio-dramatic/dress-up etc. However, it is important to be flexible with this, not all topics will work and don’t be afraid to change them. Similarly, they might love one topic and are really engaged which can make it hard to change the topic. Once I let a restaurant topic run for 5 weeks because they just loved it.

I have a visual timetable for Aistear on the wall, I took pictures of each area and printed them in A4. My Aistear groups change with the seasons, hedgehogs, squirrels for Autumn, rainbows and chicks etc for Spring. This way I can change the Aistear groups each term too. At the start of the year children can often be confused about their groups, so I had ‘clothes pegs with their name and a picture of their animal on it. I gave each child their clothes peg each day and they could find their group and the play area they were in.

If anyone has any questions about implementing Aistear in your class, please send me an e-mail or a PM.

If you’re introducing Aistear to your class it can be daunting, deciding where to begin and what topics to choose. My term 1 Planner is available in my store and includes four topics that I like to use at the beginning of the year. It contains curriculum links and suggestions for discrete lessons to link with your topics. Aistear plans for specific topics are also available in my store.

Aistear: Introducing the Topic

Some people have asked about introducing the topic in class.

I like to spend time on Monday mornings on Oral Language, and I use this time to introduce my new Aistear topic if necessary. Most of my topics are introduced through a story.

I show the book to the class and read the story to the children, then we have a class discussion about the story including the Building Bridges Comprehension Strategies. After the discussion I explain to the class that it is time to change the Aistear topic and ask them to guess what the topic is from the story. Usually they can guess easily with few prompts and we make a word map on the board of all the words we can think of that link to the topic. This helps to increase the vocabulary for some children. We then have a quick chat about what we could do in all the areas. Initially the children can easily tell you about socio-dramatic and art and I have to probe for ideas for the other areas. However as the year goes on the children become more familiar with this set up and can come up with great ideas for construction and art. This is all in my oral language lesson on Monday.

Before they begin to play in Aistear, we chat about the topic again, what extra things we might need and the rules for bringing in things from home (name on it and always ask permission). At the end of Aistear, we come together as a group and chat about what we did in different areas. At the start of the year I always took photos of the different groups in action, I put them on the Smart board at the end of the session and they got to tell everyone what they were doing in the area when the picture was taken.

As the weeks go on, we chat and write about the Aistear topic in English, if it links to Irish we include it, sometimes I use the socio-dramatic area in Irish. In Maths we often relate it back to the Aistear topic. S.E.S.E. can be related to the story for the topic or discrete lessons or vocabulary that can add to our Aistear session. I integrate as I go, some topics lend themselves to cross-curricular integration more than others.

I like to check back to the word map a few times during the week, asking the children for more new words that link to the topic. For some topics I often take time to role-play the situation with the children. For example, the travel agents, I was the travel agent and the child came to book their holiday. I modelled the questions and filling in the booking form with them, then another child was the travel agent and I was booking my holiday. Through role-play the children can see how to use the language from our word map. I always use role-play and modelling in discrete lessons so as not to interrupt the Aistear session.

Finally after introducing the topic to the class, I email the parents about the new topic. I include the story I used to introduce the topic and always ask for resources from home too. Over the year I developed a newsletter for parents on the different themes and this included songs and rhymes in English and Irish where possible and suggested activities for parents at home. These newsletters are available to purchase on my store.

I hope this gives a general idea of introducing an Aistear topic. If anyone has any questions regarding introducing the Aistear topic, please drop me an email. Happy planning.

Aistear: Travel Agents

A nice topic for the end of the school year is the Travel Agents.

I got some travel brochures in the travel agents for the display and Twinkl have a lovely photo-pack on different landmarks from all over the world. This is an excellent focus to introduce the topic and to look at different countries too. Twinkl also have a role-play pack for the travel agent including booking forms, vocabulary and passport templates. The class each made a passport that they would need for their travels.

Each week of the overall topic we focused on a different country, this year we looked at Egypt. We discovered how you could travel there and what they could see. We also looked at the story of Tutankhamen in History. The travel agents is a great topic where you can easily see cross-curricular integration in both the Aistear time and also discrete lessons.

Aistear: The Library

Do you hold a book fair in your school?

Looking for a nice idea for World Book day?

I introduced the topic of The Library the week before our annual book fair, we explored the books in the class and school library. We identified the authors and illustrators of books that we like. Then we set up a library in our socio-dramatic area. The children really enjoyed it.

I found the story The Library Lion on It is a great story, while introducing the topic of the library, it also provides great scope for classroom discussion about being fair and unfair which links with SPHE.

Resources for this topic are readily available, book shelves with lots of different books, a toy cash register with a barcode scanner if you have one and library cards for the children to use.

This topic is ideal for cross-curricular integration, as a class we chose Martin Waddell as one of our favourite author. Each day I read the class a different story from Martin Waddell. At the end of the week each child chose their favourite and wrote about it for a book review. We also painted some new pictures for these books.

Parents can also get actively involved in this topic at home by bringing their child to visit the library. Hopefully their local library won’t have a library lion too.

Aistear: The Gingerbread Man

Looking for a nice topic to begin the school year?

I like to introduce Aistear in September with the Gingerbread Man. This traditional tale is a nice introduction to using Aistear with the class and can easily be covered witihn the different play areas.

Socio-dramatic could be the home corner, where they retell the story. Alternatively it could be the Bakery where gingerbread men are made. Simple resources you would need are a tea set, cookie cutters, play-doh if you wanted. You could also have a toy kitchen to make the gingerbread man and retell the story.

In Small World puppets could be used to retell the story. You could also use animals to retell the story.

In Construction the children could build the house for the gingerbread man using different materials.

In Art I like to use Play-Doh with gingerbread man cookie cutters. Play-Doh is great for fine motor too which is often a key focus area in the early days with Junior Infants. Alternatively with Senior Infants you could make some play-doh with them or paint different pictures from the story.

Finally the sand area could also be the bakery. Simple resources for the sand area include a colander/sieve, baking cups and tins. Large spoons or small sand shovels.

To develop home-school links for this topic I made a Gingerbread Man story sack. A story sack contains the story book, character cut outs and an activity based on the story. I often include fine motor activities in my story sacks to highlight the importance of if for parents. Play-doh maths and character cut outs for this story are available from

This is a great topic for earlier in the school year.

Aistear: The Aquarium

This year I introduced The Aquarium as a new theme to the class.

I introduced the class to the story the Rainbow Fish, there are lots of other under the sea books to choose from such as Hooray for Fish and Sharing a Shell. I had made some large sea animals for a display previously and with some creative use of my childrens’ gazebo we made an aquarium in the classroom. Some children had visited an aquarium before the topic and brought us in maps and information leaflets. The children gave guided tours around the aquarium in the socio-dramatic area. Parents also sent in lots of non-fiction books for the class to use during the topic. I used a small paddling pool in the sand area and got some fishing rods and plastic fish and sea animals in a Euro Giant shop. The other areas linked to the theme also. Using cereal boxes the children created their own aquariums too. Both myself and the class really enjoyed this theme.

Ready Set Go Maths

A few years ago I attended a course on Ready Set Go. it was an interesting course and had lots of very simple games to develop the children’s sense of number. The Ready Set Go manual was written by Eunice Pitt and while it is only available from NI Curriculum, they can post it to you.

Ready Set Go recommends 3 days a week spent on number and two on topic such as length, data, weight.This has worked well for me in my class. A copy of my Maths scheme will be available soon in my store.

Counting is a hugely important daily task in Ready Set Go. There are few rules to follow, never start at 0 or 1, always cross the 10 (or 5 initially) and always count forwards and backwards. I saw it in my own class, they were so reluctant to count past 10 and counting backwards was tricky for some but with daily practice and perseverance they became more confident in counting forwards and backwards.

Show me is another activity in maths, beginning with a 5 frame and cubes ask the children to show you a number. it is important to reinforce left to right and one box at a time. As the children become more confident, you will see them adding more cubes to show you the next number instead of taking them all off and starting again. Junior Infants use a 5 frame but I use a 5 frame with Seniors initially and then move onto a 10 frame.

There are lots of activities in Ready Set Go but counting activities and 5 frame and 10 frame activities are the best place to start. Check out my Ready Set Go Maths Pack in my store. It has large blank 5 frame and 10 frames, smaller 5 frame and 10 frame cards for the children, set card for sorting, number cards and a number line.