Planning a Play Activity for Early Childhood Education

I am a student at BTEI Carlow and I am doing Early Childhood Care and Education course QQI Level 5. This assignment is a part of my Early Childhood Education and Play module. For the purpose of this assignment I am going to plan a play activity for children in yearly childhood setting.
I am going to use my observation skills to choose, plan and implement play activity that promotes child development in all these areas: physical, intellectual, language, emotional and social. I am going to link my play activity to all Aistear themes: Wellbeing, Identity and Belonging, Communicating and Exploring and Thinking. Aistear recognizes the enormous body of research that shows that young children learn most effectively through play and more directive methods do not work but actually curb children’s natural desire to explore and discover (Eilis Flood and Catriona Hardy, 2013, p. 92). I am also going to reflect on activity and evaluate it and give recommendation for future activity plans.

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I chose to plan activity which linked to the current season of the year. During circle time we discussed a lot about autumn, leaves changing colours and falling down, animals going to hibernate and Halloween. Children showed great interest when we talked about this, they also were great observers. I worked with children between 2.5 and 3.5 years old, so I had to choose an activity which is appropriate for this age. After conversation with my supervisor I decided to decorate paper pumpkins using colorful leaves.
Record of consultation with a supervisor
I am working in pre-school room. There are two childcare assistants, one special needs assistant and me. There are 15 children aged between 2.5 and 3.5 years old. One of the children is autistic and needs one to one supervision. Every Tuesday before work me have team meeting and we discuss plan for next week. Because of the time of the year we plan activities connecting to autumn and Halloween. During a nature walk with children we had in beginning of October we found in our garden pumpkins hiding behind the leaves.  That brought me an idea to make paper pumpkins and stick colorful leaves on the top of them. My supervisor was happy with this and she put it on our “Short term Curriculum Plan”. She also advised me to go to our outdoor play area with children the day before planned activity to pick up fresh leaves, which would be easier to stick them to the paper.

Detailed benefits of the activity
What are the benefits of the activity to the child development?
Decorating paper pumpkins promotes all five areas of child development: physical, intellectual, language, emotional and social.
Physical benefits:
Physical play is very important and essential to children development. Physical play promotes health and wellbeing because it increases appetite and tires children so that they sleep well. Physical development also involves the development and refinement of fine-motor skills; creative and construction play are both particularly beneficial in this area (Eilis Flood and Catriona Hardy, 2013, p. 92).
Intellectual benefits:
Intellectual, cognitive development takes a big part in children’s development. Cognitive development includes the development of each of the following: imagination, creativity, memory skills, concentration skills, problem-solving skills, concept formation (Flood, 2013, p 96). Through play children can explore and think about a wide range of concepts in a non-threating way. Play cannot be “wrong” so children are much likely to take risk with their learning when they engaged in play (Flood and Hardy, 2013, p 93). 
Language benefits:
Language is any form of communication, can be spoken, written or signed. Language consists of words and a system of combining them (Flood, 2013, p. 122). Children negotiate their roles, talk about what they are doing and talk about their plans for what will happen next (Eilis Flood and Catriona Hardy, 2013, p. 93).
Emotional benefits:
Emotional development involves children learning to deal with their emotions (both negative and positive) in a healthy way. Emotional development also involves the promotion of a positive self-image and high self-esteem (Eilis Flood and Catriona Hardy, 2013, p. 93). Children learn to share their emotions with adults and peers. Emotional regulation is an important part of child development (Flood, 2013, p. 175).
Social benefits:
Social development basically involves the development of three related skills: (1) the ability to interact effectively with others, (2) learning and understanding the norms of the society in which the child lives and (3) moral development (Eilis Flood and Catriona Hardy, 2013, p. 94).
What themes of Aistear does the activity support?
Aim 1: Learning goal 5: respect themselves, others and the environment
Aim 2: Learning goal 1: gain increasing control and co-ordination of body movements.
Aim 2: Learning goal 3: discover, explore and refine gross and fine motor skills.
Aim 3: Learning goal 1: express themselves creatively and experience the arts.
Aim 3: Learning goal 5: care for the environment.
Aim 4: Learning goal 1: show increasing independence, and be able to make choices and decisions.
Aim 4: Learning goal 4: motivate themselves, and welcome and seek challenge.
Identity and belonging:
Aim 1: Learning goal 5: feel valued and see themselves and their interests reflected in the environment.
Aim 2: Learning goal 4: understand and take part in routines, customs, festivals, and celebrations.
Aim 4: Learning goal 1: develop a broad range of abilities and interests.
Aim 4: Learning goal 6: be motivated, and begin to think about and recognize their own progress and achievements.
Aim 1: Learning goal 1: use a range of body movements, facial expressions, and early vocalizations to show feelings and share information.
Aim 1: Learning goal 3: interpret and respond to non-verbal communication by others.
Aim 1: Learning goal 6: express themselves creatively and imaginatively using non-verbal communication.
Aim 2: Learning goal 4: use language with confidence and competence for giving and receiving information, asking questions, requesting, refusing, negotiating, problem solving, imagining and recreating roles and situations, and clarifying thinking, ideas and feelings.
Aim 3: Learning goal 1: use language to interpret experiences, to solve problems, and to clarify thinking, ideas and feelings.
Aim 3: Learning goal 6:  develop counting skills, and a growing understanding of the meaning and use of numbers and mathematical language in an enjoyable and meaningful way.
Aim 4: Learning goal 1: share their feelings, thoughts and ideas by story-telling, making art, moving to music, role-playing, problem-solving, and responding to these experiences.
Aim 4: Learning goal 2: express themselves through the visual arts using skills such as cutting, drawing, gluing, sticking, painting, building, printing, sculpting, and sewing.
Aim 4: Learning goal 6: show confidence in trying out new things, taking risks, and thinking creatively.
Exploring and Thinking:
Aim 1: Learning goal 1: engage, explore and experiment in their environment and use new physical skills including skills to manipulate objects and materials.
Aim 1: Learning goal 3: develop an understanding of change as part of their lives.
Aim 1: Learning goal 4: learn about the natural environment and its features, materials, animals, and plants, and their own responsibility as carers.
Aim 1: Learning goal 5: develop a sense of time, shape, space, and place.
Aim 2: Learning goal 3: use their experience and information to explore and develop working theories about how the world works, and think about how and why they learn things.
Aim 3: Learning goal 1: make marks and use drawing, painting and model-making to record objects, events and ideas.
Aim 3: Learning goal 2: become familiar with and associate symbols (pictures, numbers, letters, and words) with the things they represent.
Details of resources and materials
One of requirements while planning this activity is low cost. I am working in community playschool and at this time of the year we are short of money. I am going to use only materials we already have, there is no need to buy anything.
Materials required for 15 children:

15 sheets of orange hard paper (it was the only colour of hard paper we have)
Plastic containers to pour glue into
Wooden spatulas/sticks
Leaves collected by children

It’s hard to evaluate the cost, however I think it won’t be more 50 cent per child.
Equipment required:

Staff required:

There are four adults in the room: two childcare assistants, one special needs assistant and me – student.

We won’t need extra staff or extra equipment.
Details of planning and implementation of the activity
Choosing an activity
1. During circle time children and adults talked a lot about autumn season. that made me to decide to do an activity which would link to autumn.
1. I got an idea of this particular activity in the beginning of October when we went for a nature walk with kids and we saw pumpkins in our garden covered with colorful leaves.
2. During our weekly Tuesday team meeting I came up with my plan of decorating paper pumpkins with real leaves.
3. We discuss details, my supervisor put my idea to our “Short term Curriculum Plan” for the next week.
Planning the activity
1. First of all, I had to check what we had in stock for arts and craft activities, because we had no more funding.
2. I decided to make pumpkins from hard paper. The only one we got was the orange.
3. I found in the internet nice pumpkin contour, I downloaded and printed 15 copies on coloured paper.
4. I cut the shapes and wrote child name on each pumpkin.
5. The day before the activity, when children were outside in our playground area we picked up colorful leaves.
6. In the last hour on the day before the activity I prepared all materials needed: paper pumpkins, glue, wooden sticks, plastic containers for glue and leaves.
7. Because of the age of children my supervisor advised me to do the activity the way we always did arts and crafts. We have 3 tables in the room, each morning they are prepared for 3 different activities. One is for arts (drawing, playdough), second is for cars/trains/dinosaurs and the third is for constructive play (pegs, jigsaw, blocks). When child comes in the morning usually goes first to the table he/she likes most and after completing play goes to another table or plays in other dedicated areas (kitchen, dressing up, library). When my colleagues want to do an art activity with each child, they do with those first at art table and then call children one after the other. If child doesn’t want to do an activity, they don’t push him/her to this, they let to do what child wants to do.
8. I decided to do the activity in the morning when children are coming to the room and see what’s new on each table.
9. On the day of activity I came to work 10 minutes before playroom is open for children and prepare the arts table.
Implementation the activity
1. Three children start at 9.15 each day, rest of them come at 9.30.
2. I started the activity when all three children came to the room. I introduced what we would going to do and explained the rules. They finish sticking leaves to the pumpkins when other children started coming to the room.
3. One by one, every child came to the table and decorated the paper pumpkin. I told every child what we were doing. I helped them to spread the glue.
4. While we did the activity we talked a lot about autumn, colours, textures, sizes, hedgehogs, hibernation, witches, Halloween etc.
5. While I was doing my activity, there were other three childcare assistant in the room. The supervisor of the room took care of all other children who was doing different activities. My second colleagues was taking photos during the time of the activity. My third colleague – special needs assistant – took care of the autistic boy.
6. When all pumpkins were completed I left them to dry (children used a lot of glue and paper was soaked).
7. All children who were in the room that day took part in the activity.
8. All children had to wash their hands after.
9. I tidied up the table, it wasn’t easy because glue was very hard to remove.
10. I kept remaining leaves, while we were decorating pumpkins children and myself decided to make a new activity – bed for hedgehog.
11. Next day I stuck all decorated paper pumpkins to designated wall area, easily visible for children and their parents.
Evaluation of the activity
First of all, I must say that all children present that day took part in the activity. When they came to the playroom in the morning they were delighted to see something new and different on the art table. They didn’t need any encouragement to do that. I was really surprised and delighted that autistic boy participated in decorating the paper pumpkin. I didn’t expect that, because he only recently had started to show an interest in doing arts. I spend about an hour at the table doing the activity with children. Everything went according to the plan, thanks to my colleagues who had advised me to do the activity not for the all children together, but for groups of 3-4. It was the way they always did arts in this room. I spent few minutes cleaning the table of the glue and all children had to wash their hands, but that was ok. Doing arts and using glue by little children is always messy, and I expected that. In my opinion everything went very well and I was really happy that I succeeded to complete it. All children were happy about their creations. Next day I stuck all the paper pumpkin to the wall and they were delighted to see them. When parents were collecting children, they were proudly showing the display and pointing their pumpkins (I put the name on each pumpkin before we started to decor).
The only thing I would change next time would be using white paper instead coloured. Unfortunately, I didn’t found any hard white paper in our resources while I was preparing to the activity. The orange pumpkin was very easy to decor with leaves, but at the same time made this activity very short. If I had white paper, I could ask children first to paint it and then to decorate it.
Value of the activity on child development
Decorating paper pumpkins promotes all five areas of child development: physical, intellectual, language, emotional and social.
Physical benefits:
When children were decorating pumpkins they used fine motor skills through small movements that involve picking up and sticking leaves to the paper. They developed hand-eye coordination – watching and doing and coordination these action. Because they went outside to pick up the leaves they also had all the benefits of fresh air. They used gross motor skills through movement of the large muscles their bodies, i.e. legs and lower bodies got involved from squatting to pick up the leaves from the ground.
Intellectual benefits:
Intellectual, cognitive development takes a big part in children’s development. They counted how many leaves they had and sorted them by sizes and colours (developed math and logical thinking). They compared their leaves to find out who had the largest one. Through art children developed their creativity. When children were decorating pumpkins they talked about seasons of the year, about pumpkin life cycle (planting seeds in spring, harvest in autumn). That gave them an idea of changing and repeating of nature and extended children’s knowledge about their world. This activity also gave children chance for problem solving i.e – why this leaf didn’t stick to the pumpkin? Was it too big, too heavy, or maybe it’s too little glue on it? They learnt about different sizes and shapes i.e – this leaf was small and round, that leaf was bigger and long. They learnt about different types of leaves and most common trees, such as maple, birch or chestnut.
Language benefits:
Decorating pumpkins encouraged children to learn about amounts, colours and shapes i.e. – asking questions “what colour is this leaf – is this orange or red?” “How many more leaves are you going to stick to your pumpkin?” “What shape is pumpkin?” This activity was great for language development because required speaking and listening and following the instruction. It also extended their vocabulary.  It was very easy to link the activity to all “autumnal” words, i.e – hedgehog, hibernation, bats, chestnuts.
Emotional benefits:
Play is important part of emotional development and decoration of paper pumpkins can help in that. During sticking leaves to the paper children had to deal with emotions like anger or frustrations when something didn’t work the way children wished to or they were happy and proud when they got it right. Those good emotions promoted self-esteem, children were happy about themselves, especially when they completed the work and saw it on the exhibit wall. Children learnt to share their emotions with adults and peers – i.e when they show proudly their completed pumpkins to their mums and dads.
Social benefits:
When children sat together at a table doing arts, they were often faced with problems involving sharing tools or negotiating for play space. By playing together in a common space, children learnt empathy and how to recognize and understand the perspectives of the other children while working together and sharing glue, sticks or leaves. They also learnt to be patient while waiting for their turns.
The role of the adult
 There are two styles of play that are relevant to adult’s role in children playing activities. There are structured play and free play. Structured play is planned, guided and led by adults. Structured play can be useful but there is a risk that if is too adult-led children will lose interest. (…) Adult can provide support by demonstrating skills that the child can then try out for themselves, e.g. how to use a piece of equipment (Eilis Flood and Catriona Hardy, 2013, pp. 87-88). Free play is no adult-led. Adults provide equipment, materials and resources for free play, but they do not direct it in in any way. (…) In free play, children direct and figure things out for themselves and it is believed that that children gain deeper understanding of what they are doing as a result of this (Eilis Flood and Catriona Hardy, 2013, p. 88). Decorating paper pumpkins was structured play. I planned it, I prepared all materials required, I told children the rules and led the activity. Vygotsky emphasised the importance of scaffolding. That relies on careful observations of what children can do and planning a curriculum which challenges their current capability. Adult’s participation can scaffold children learning, extending their language, teach mathematical concepts, naming colours and shapes. During the activity we talked a lot about colours, sizes. We compared our leaves looking for the largest one. We counted the leaves (mathematical concepts). We talked about hedgehogs hiding behind the leaves, hibernation, I named few trees in our outdoor playing area (extending language). We talk about seasons of the year, about pumpkin life cycle which gave them an idea of changing and repeating of nature (extending children’s knowledge about their world).
My aim was to use my observation skills to choose, plan and implement play activity that promoted child development in all these areas: physical, intellectual, language, emotional and social. I linked my play activity to all Aistear themes: Wellbeing, Identity and Belonging, Communicating and Exploring and Thinking. I listed all materials, equipment and staff needed for this activity and evaluate the cost per each child. I listed all details of planning and implementation of the activity. I evaluated the activity. I describe how the activity impacted on child development. I also looked at adult’s role in this activity. I found out my planned activity as a valuable for children development.
Overall I found this activity as a beneficial for children development. It was easy enough for three years old children. It didn’t take too much time, so children didn’t have time to be bored. The only thing I would change for the next time it would be using white hard paper instead of coloured. Children could paint or decorate it the way they want.  It would be also great idea to add some glitter to make pumpkin sparkle. Using paper plates instead of ready to use pumpkin shapes would be also good idea.  I also recommend talk a lot while doing activity because that would expand children knowledge about the world and bring new ideas. We talked about autumn and autumn activities, what happened to animals and that brought us an idea of making bed for a hedgehog. We also talked about real pumpkins in our garden, we planned to pick them up and carved them for Halloween. We also planned to keep the seeds and plant them next year. It’ amazing that such simple concept as decorating paper pumpkins brings so many ideas scaffolding children’s knowledge.

Eilis Flood and Catriona Hardy, 2013. Early Childhood Education & Play. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan.
Flood, E., 2013. Child Development. 2nd red. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan.
NCCA, 2009. Aistear. Dublin: NCCA.

Appendix 1 – Final work: decorated paper pumpkin

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