Play Policy


The Department of Education issued special instructions as to how four year olds should be catered for in Primary Schools.  Children of this age should not be given direct instruction in formal skills.  Instead, the aim should be to foster in them a happy attitude towards school and the desire to learn and thus to prepare the way for later work.  Their relevant needs at this stage may be summarised as follows:-

  • They need ample opportunity for free movement indoors and out-of-doors;  it is undesirable that they should be compelled to sit still for long periods.
  • They need to engage in play with a wide variety of creative materials, selected and presented to them in such a way that it will stimulate curiosity and encourage investigation and experiment.
  • They need an environment that will promote growth in speech and give scope for the  use of increasing vocabulary.  Accordingly, they should be encouraged to speak freely and naturally about their experiences at home and in school;  the teacher’s contribution through stories, rhymes and music is significant.
  • Any rigid division of time is undesirable for children of this age.  Most of the day should be devoted to play, stories, rhymes and music as outlined in pages 17-19 of  “Primary Education:  Teachers’ Guide”.

The suggestion contained in the Teachers’ Guide are by no means exhaustive but they give some indication of the way in which teachers can meet the needs of children in the 4-5 age group.  Little is gained by beginning formal work too soon:  indeed, much harm can be done.  Suitable provision for the immediate needs of the children is the most effective preparation for later school work.



Working on the above guidelines we accept that time has to be allowed for the children to settle into the bigger and wider environment of the Primary School.  Relationships have to be developed between child and teacher and child and other children.

Young children very often have difficulty with coping with large numbers in the canteen and in the playground.  In these areas they have to learn to accept people in authority other than their own class teacher.

The number of pupils in the school makes it necessary for a routine to be established and this in itself can cause problems.  Time and effort has to be spent on the following:-

  1. Care of personal belongings - coats, shoes and school-bags.
  2. Taking of milk at break-time.
  3. Toilet-training, washing of hands etc.
  4. Use and care of work and play materials in the classroom.
  5. Tidying up after working and playing with equipment.  It is advisable that children  have easy access to all play materials.  They can be trained to take out play things themselves, tidy up and replace them when finished.
  6. Sharing and taking turns.
  7. Use of library and care of books.
  8. Training children to sit and listen for short periods at story-telling time and for television programmes.
  9. Elimination of anti-social behaviour.


Play is a natural and spontaneous way of learning for all children.  In addition to giving pleasure we believe that play provides for all aspects of children’s development - physical, intellectual, emotional, social and aesthetic.



Our aims in providing opportunities for play are:

  • To develop manipulative skills.
  • To extend language development.
  • To help children communicate and co-operate with each other and adults.
  • To help children socialise and form friendships.
  • To give children opportunities to share equipment and experiences.
  • To extend understanding and skills through experimentation and investigation.
  • To develop creative skills.
  • To motivate children to learn through discovery and experimentation.
  • To increase their concentration span.




  •  developing manipulative skills through handling and controlling materials and equipment.
  •  hand-eye co-ordination.
  •  extending sensory awareness through experiencing a variety of materials e.g. looking, listening, touching, smelling, tasting.






  • co-operating and communicating with other children and adults.
  • sharing equipment and experiences.
  • expressing feelings about sensory and emotional experiences.
  • developing a positive self image.
  • developing a positive attitude to school and to learning.







  • communicating practical needs.
  • exchanging ideas and information.
  • using language to organise, persuade, reason, report experiences.
  • using literature to refine, extend and ‘link’ experiences.
  • asking and answering questions.
  • developing the skills of talking, listening, reading and writing.





  • ordering and sorting.
  • non-standard measurements.
  • matching shapes and colour.
  • handling and using 3D shape in construction.
  • observing.
  • predicting outcomes.
  • testing and re-assessing predictions.
  • discussing and recording.
  • problem solving.






  • imaginative play
  • role play
  • creative activities including painting, drawing, model making, writing.





Play activities will take place in the morning to allow children to settle happily into the school routine.

In the reception class there will be no rigid division of time.  The children’s activities will be informal and their time spent on play, stories, rhymes, music and P.E.

In Primaries One and Two approximately one hour will be spent on play  activities first thing in the morning.

In Primary Three time spent on play activities will be more flexible and may vary.




Time should also be provided to allow children to tidy up materials and equipment as this is seen as an essential part of play in the classroom.  Children will be encouraged to take responsibility for the care and proper use of materials and equipment.  They will be made aware of the necessity for safety within play activities.




It is important that there is no traditional stereotyping of children and that opportunities are provided for boys and girls to take part in all aspects of play.




The teacher will create a stimulating and safe environment which will promote learning and development.  The classroom will be organised so that materials are readily available and easily accessible to the children.

Teachers will observe children at play initially to ascertain their needs, personalities, skills and individual stages of development.  Teacher’s observation should also detect when the children’s play needs some added stimulus in the form of extra ideas, equipment or discussion to clarify concepts.  Only observation and knowledge of children can tell the teacher when to or not to intervene.


The teacher may intervene:


  • when invited to do so by the children
  • when the children have a problem they cannot solve
  • to help children arrive at a logical conclusion
  • when other children are disrupting play
  • when children are at risk because equipment or materials are being abused
  • when the play is interfering with the activities of other children in the classroom
  • when the play has reached stalemate.



The teacher should not intervene:


  • until the children have been given time to work out the solution to their problems or resolve their disagreements.
  • unless she knows that the children are capable of comprehending the logical conclusion
  • when repetitive play is serving a purpose.


Even when a teacher intervenes to further development in the child’s play the child may reject attempts to incorporate suggestions into subsequent play for a number of reasons e.g. the suggestion is too difficult for their state of development or we may have misjudged the children’s understanding of their play situation.

At the conclusion of play the teacher might participate by:


  • giving children opportunities to talk about play.
  • help children to display models or write captions etc. for them.
  • initiate follow up work e.g. writing activity - reading a book either story or factual about some aspect arising out of specific play activities.




All children whether in the nursery or infant classes need to be given the opportunity to approach play activities in their own way and in their own time.  Young hesitant children may need to act as spectators before they feel they can join in.  They need time to explore and experience a variety of materials and activities.  During this free play stage the children may be developing their sensory awareness, learning to interact with other children and beginning to understand the properties of materials they are using.  This must all be done at the child’s own pace.  At this stage the children may not welcome direct intervention from an adult which could divert or distract them from their discoveries.  Teachers may find that the most appropriate form of intervention is indirect and possibly unseen.  This non intervention is a positive act, freeing the child to engage in play at his own level.  After a period of uninterrupted play more direct support and encouragement will gradually become more appropriate.  Children can be helped to extend, refine and reinforce their experiences.  Children at all levels need time to repeat their play so that an experience can be absorbed, a role understood or to reinforce what has been learned.



In playing with sand and the appropriate equipment and materials, children will have opportunities to recognise similarities and differences in shape, colour, texture and at the same time improve their hand/eye co-ordination.  Most children enjoy the tactile experience of handling sand although some children may find that messy play with sand is unpleasant.  They can be encouraged by starting off with dry sand and with teacher intervention and the use of appropriate and stimulating equipment be gradually led on to the properties of wet sand.



Where possible there should be one wet and one dry sand tray per class.


  • Only two children at a time can effectively use the sand trays.
  • Sand trays should be kept away from books and other restricted areas.
  • Children should have easy access to equipment for both wet and dry sand.
  • Pupils should be trained to sweep up and discard sand which has been spilled on the floor.
  • When not in use a lid should be placed on top of the tray.
  • Children should be made aware of the dangers of throwing sand.





This will include:

buckets, spades, moulds of various shapes, rakes, scoops, sand combs, pastry cutters, plastic egg cups, yoghurt pots and plastic containers of varying shapes and sizes, sieves, funnels, shells, pebbles, twigs, fir cones, flags, trucks etc.




buckets, spades, rakes, sand combs, sieves, containers of various sizes, funnels, jugs, spoons, scoops, colanders, small cars, sand wheels, etc.



Early Experiences in Playing with Sand.

In the beginning children will feel, smell, touch and play with sand, trying to discover some of its properties.


  • sand runs freely when dry and ticks to hand when wet
  • making piles of sand - high/low, rounded, conical
  • different ways of moving sand about - pouring, filling, pressing, funnelling
  • lifting sand up with both hands, pressing sand down, burying hands in sand
  • making patterns, writing in wet or dry sand.





  • smoothing and levelling sand
  • comparing differences between wet and dry sand
  • pouring sand from a height and allowing it to fall on sand, wood, paper, plastic and metal surfaces, listening to the different sounds it makes         
  • damp sand scooped up into conical, rounded and flattened piles.
  • finger and hand impressions made in flattened damp sand
  • inverting scoops to make patterns
  • moving sand to make castles, mountains roads etc.






  • sift sand from height
  • sieve sand from various containers
  • watch pattern of sand as it falls
  • observe length of time to empty various containers through sieves.





  • make patterns with rakes and sand combs
  • rake sand into piles of different sizes
  • bury equipment in sand and ask children to feel for different items.  A magnet  could be used to help find toys containing metal.





  • fill moulds, beakers and buckets with wet sand and make moulds
  • notice the different quantities of containers
  • fill buckets using containers
  • make castles with turrets and moats.




  • Pour a jug full of sand into a large bowl/basin.  Try with both wet/dry sand.
  • What shape does the sand make in the bowl?  Does it always do that?  Try again.
  • Spread a small, deep tray with dry/wet sand and slowly tilt it.
  • Observe what happens to the consistencies of sand.
  • Pour sand into a bowl and then gently tap it to see how it finds its level.
  • Compare with water finding its own level.
  • What happens the water?  Does it pile up like sand?
  • Watch the cone-shape form as sand falls through an egg-timer.




  • Making designs with sand combs or small rakes on wet/dry sand
  • Can you see any patterns?  What are they like?
  • Stirring bowls of dry/wet sand with a spoon, stick or finger.  Observe how it feels and what happens to the sand.
  • How did it feel when you stirred the sand?




            -           Filling containers with dry/wet sand, packing it down and levelling it off, filling it to the top.

            -           One child holds a bucket while another fills it.  Discuss the changes in weight.

            -           Guess how full various buckets are when blindfolded.

            -           Guess which container a given amount of sand will fill.




            -           pile two or more sand pies on top of one another discussing what size/shape of containers are most suitable.

            -           Make a row of three pies getting taller and taller.

            -           Make a row of various sizes of pies and ask children to find the containers that made them.

            -           Collect a set of containers which can be fitted over a ready made sand pie without damaging the size.  Predict, test and discuss.

            -           Fill one of two containers with sand.  Guess if it will fill the other container.

                        Test and discuss answer.

                        Did it fill the container?  Was there any sand left over?

            -           Which container holds more/less?

            -           Experiment with sets of containers of same capacity but different shapes.

                        Which do you think holds more/less sand?

            -           Using pairs of containers which look similar but have different capacities.

            -           Repeat with damp sand observing the differences in weight.






            -           Guess how many eggcups, yoghurt cartons etc. it would take to fill various sized containers.  Test and discuss answer. 

                        If you try again will you get the same number?





            -           Fill two different sized containers with eggcupfuls/ cartons etc. to see which holds most/least.

            -           Pour sand from a small bucket into beakers, then cartons and discuss the results.

                        Did you fill the same number of beakers as you did cartons?

            -           Fill a container, first with eggcupfuls, then with cartons and discuss the results. 

                        How many of each did you use?

            -           Putting three containers in order of capacity by filling them with heaped spoonfuls of sand.  Which of the three holds the least?  Put them in order.

            -           Fill the same containers with small cartons.  Discuss whether the order of the containers changes when a different unit is used for measuring.





            -           Sprinkle dry sand through a sieve and watch how grains fall on your hand.

                        How does the sand look as it falls?

                        How did it feel when it touched your hands?


            -           Separate a few grains of sand and look at them through a magnifying glass.

                        Are the grains all the same size, shape, colour?


            -           Make a line design with glue and sprinkle sand on it, shaking off surplus sand.


            -           Sprinkle dry sand on paper and blow gently through a straw to make patterns.

                        Try with damp sand.

                        How did it move when you blew through the straw?






            -           Buckets, plastic containers of all shapes and sizes, jugs, funnels, sieves, colanders, watering cans, water wheels, sprays ...

            -           Plastic aprons with velcro fastenings.

            -           Children should have easy access to equipment and should be encouraged to tidy it away when finished.

            -           A mop should be made available to wipe up spills.

            -           Water should be changed on a daily basis.


A lot of time needs to be spent in free play to allow young children to explore, investigate and experiment with the properties of water and with the use of the provided equipment.

Discussion can also focus at the appropriate level on the uses of water e.g. how have children/parents used water that day - washing, drinking etc.?

Consider how animals and plants need water.  What happens if a plant is not watered. 

Make a chart on the uses of water - collect pictures. 





            -           Feeling water with running fingers, hands

            -           Lifting water in cupped hands, making waves with hands

            -           Dropping objects into water - predicting what might happen

            -           Filling and emptying containers of different shapes and sizes - vocabulary -  full, half-full, empty.

            -           Using funnels to fill containers.

            -           Discovering how many small containers can be filled from a big container.

            -           Discovering that some containers do not retain water e.g. sieves, funnels, colanders

            -           Using pierced containers e.g. washing-up bottles to discover the sequence of drainage through holes

            -           Discovering which items float or sink

            -           Look at water finding its own level

            -           Compare with that of sand, rice - what do we have to do with sand to make the level flat?

            -           What shape is water if you put it into a round container/a square container?

            -           What will happen to the level of water in a transparent jar if you put stones into it?

            -           What happens when you pour water onto a surface that is not flat?  Will it go uphill/downhill.

            -           Observing the wetting and drying and permeability of different materials e.g.  stones, soil

            -           Observing the action of water on man-made materials e.g. glass, roads, clothes, different materials.

            -           Observing the action of water in natural situations e.g. puddles, streams, rivers, seas etc.

            -           Notice the patterns of ripples forming in water

            -           Blowing on the surface of water through a straw and watching how the ripples form

            -           Running fingers lightly across the surface of water and watching the V-shape of the ripples

            -           Floating a matchstick on water and blowing gently across the surface

                        Shaking drops of water onto a surface observing and describing them - what shape is the drop?  What happens when it hits the surface?        

                        Look at them through a magnifying glass.

            -           Experimenting with a pipette to control droplets of water.

            -           Listening to and observing rain on various surfaces e.g. concrete, plastic, metal.

            -           Investigate drops of water on different surfaces e.g. paper, kitchen roll, plastic, sponge, foil etc.  What happens? 

                        Do the drops stay on the surface or sink in?

            -           Cooling water - what happens when water gets very cold?  Do ice cubes melt faster in a warm/cool place?  Test. 

            -           Coloured ice cubes - what happens when they melt in water?

            -           Heating water - what happens when water boils?  Can you see the water vapour?  Is it moving?  Has the water changed?

            -           Mixing water with other substances e.g. sugar, four, sand, rice - what happens when they are mixed with water? 

                        Where has the sugar gone?  Is it in the water?  How can you tell?





            -           Provide  children with a selection of squeezy bottles and let them go outside.

                        Which ones make good squirters?  Which will squirt the furthest?  -  Measure  distance in paces.

            -           Can you increase the length of the squirt by pressing harder?

            -           Investigate if the squirts make different shaped jets of water?  Squirt water upwards, straight, ahead, downwards etc.

            -           Spray water onto different surfaces e.g. concrete, clay, metal, brick etc. observe and discuss the results.

            -           Make a picture with the squirter.

            -           Discuss fountains and the fact that water can be squirted upwards on a large scale.

            -           Provide a variety of containers e.g. sieves, funnels, watering cans, teapots, pierced squeezy bottles and allow children to pour

                         water into them.  Observe the outward flow of water.  Which one produces a fine spray?

            -           Compare the flow of water from different perforated containers.

            -           Observe the speed and shape that the flow takes

            -           How can you stop a hole from spurting?






            -           Make a collection of various objects - stones, shells, needles, wood, paper, feathers, cork etc.

            -           Sort out sets of objects that float/sink - predict first

            -           Can children add to this collection?

            -           What happens when objects sink?

            -           Did they sink straight away?

            -           What kind of things floated/sank?

            -           Did any heavy things float?  Do you know of any heavy thinks that float?

            -           Collect pictures of objects which are heavy and yet float.

            -           Did all light things float?

            -           Drop a ball of plasticine into water.  What happened? (predict first).  Can you change the shape to make it float?  Discuss.

            -           Make boats with foil cases, plasticine, yoghurt cartons, wood, polystyrene.

            -           Discuss what kind of materials make good boats.

            -           Collect pictures of boats and discuss shape and material used.

            -           What is a good shape to make your boat - shallow/deep?

            -           Add objects e.g. cubes, clips, drawing pins to ‘boats’.  Predict how many objects are needed to make container float.  Test.

            -           Which materials are best for sails.





            -           Pouring water into a number of containers and discuss whether they are full, nearly full, half full, empty etc.

            -           Which containers make good pourers - which one can you use without getting your hands wet?  Which pourer is best to make the waterwheel turn?

            -           Guess how many small containers can be filled from a big container e.g. cups from a teapot.

            -           Guess which container will hold more/less water e.g. similar shape but different capacities.

            -           Containers of different shapes but similar capacity.  Add to number of containers at appropriate level and ask children to put them in order.

            -           Make collection of containers with different shapes but similar capacities e.g. commercial products, juice, milk, lemonade etc.

            -           Fill container with various smaller containers e.g. yoghurt cartons, egg cups - predict, record and discuss results.

            -           Fill two dissimilar containers with cartons to see which holds more.  Repeat with other objects.

            -           Make a collection of different sized containers and discuss how to discover which holds most.

            -           Put containers in order of capacity by filling with eggcups, cartons etc.

            -           Discuss which units are most suitable for particular activities.





            -           Provide a selection of objects that will make drops e.g. paintbrush, straw, plastic dropper.

            -           Allow children to experiment in producing drops of water.  Can they make drops of different sizes?

            -           Investigate drops of water falling on a smooth surface.  What shape is the drop?  What happens when it hits he surface?

            -           Examine it through a magnifying glass.

            -           Investigate drops of water on different surfaces, e.g. paper, kitchen roll, plastic, sponge, fabric, blotting paper, foil, greaseproof paper.  What happens?

                        Do the drops stay on the surface or sink in?  How do they look/feel?

            -           Sorting materials into absorbent and water-repellent materials.  Discuss.

            -           Which materials let the water through?

            -           Discuss why/when we use absorbent/non-absorbent materials e.g. towels, raincoat, wellies.

            -           Predict which of a set of materials would be absorbent and test.

            -           Use a piece of absorbent material to pick up water e.g. tissue, kitchen roll, jeye cloth, facecloth.

            -           Use four different fabrics and observe how quickly they absorb water.

            -           Use a piece of cloth to soak up water and transfer it to an empty bowl by squeezing out water.

            -           Use coloured water.

            -           Observe mopping up spills e.g. milk, water, wet sand, sponge - Discuss changes in colour and  weight.

            -           Observe length of time absorbent materials take to dry out.

            -           Observe over a period of time a brick soaking up water in a tank of water - discuss which part of the brick is wet/dry.

            -           Discuss why we might want to make houses waterproof e.g. paint on wood, sloping roofs etc.

            -           Observing the wetting and drying and permeability of different materials e.g. stones, soils.



The house corner is an area in the classroom where the children can engage in role play whether they are playing at house, shop, cafe or hospital etc.



This type of play is based on the children’s home experiences.  When children play ‘house’ they are invariably playing some form of ‘mothers’, ‘fathers’, or ‘children’.  House play usually revolves around:

            -           preparing/eating meals

            -           father or children coming home for meals

            -           washing up

            -           cleaning up

            -           getting dressed

            -           dressing baby (doll)

            -           looking after baby

            -           going shopping

            -           being ill

            -           telephoning


As with other types of role play the children are continually:

            -           socialising and co-operating with other children (who’s going to be the mammy/daddy/baby etc.).

            -           working out their emotions (imitating parents, brothers/sisters, baby):  moods.

            -           developing manipulative skills, - ‘dressing up’. dressing baby, setting the table  - plastic for food.

            -           developing mathematical skills - one-to-one correspondence - one cup for each person etc., one sock for each foot, button for button hole etc.

            -           language skill -”Are there enough cups for everyone?”  “Doctor you’ll have to come quick.  The baby has a temperature”.


At times children may need more than one room (e.g. bedroom, another house, cafe etc.) to extend and develop their play.


They may need real experiences e.g. washing dishes or baby clothes or making up play doh (with flour and water and colour), to sustain interest by giving a real life dimension to their play, e.g. Cooking pancakes - play doh - Easter nests

               Face biscuits - rice crispies.



Shop play will vary according to the age and ability of the children.  Very young children may be content to offer money in return for goods and expect change as well.  Older children will be expected to keep a check on money spent and change received.  Activities will be based on the learning experiences of the children.





            -           Discussion on type of shop - grocer’s sweet or supermarket

            -           Possible visit to nearby shop.

            -           Discussion on items needed and how to display them.  Real items give more authenticity and children will have the experience of handling true weights.         -           How are goods to be priced?

            -           How are goods to be weighed?

            -           Posters and prices need to be displayed.

            -           Advertisements made for shop.

            -           Opening and closing times

            -           How many items are the children allowed to buy at a time- one/two/three etc.

            -           What type of money is to be used - real/plastic

            -           Amount of money may needed to be limited and varied for each child

            -           Children may be given opportunities to make items to be sold in the shop e.g.  sweets from play doh (flour and water), liquorice from plasticine, bread and glue.




            -           As above

            -           Discussion on prices/price lists

            -           Discussing and designing menus for easy reading

            -           Advertisement posters

            -           Number of tables/waiters/waitresses/cooks

            -           No Smoking sign





            -           Hygiene

            -           Improvise scissors, rollers, hairdryers, mirrors, hot-brushes

            -           Price list

            -           Opening times

            -           Appointment book




            -           Beds

            -           Uniforms - doctors, nurses

            -           Bandages, stethoscope, spoons, medicine bottles

            -           Telephone

            -           Appointment book/times for medicine etc.

            -           Notice of dangers of medicine - ‘Keep out of Reach of Children’

            -           List of patients

            -           Weight and measure patients

            -           Identify parts of the body.





Plenty of space is needed for both large and small construction play.  Even constructions made from small equipment e.g. Lego or Meccano may need a lot of table or floor space to allow the children to give vent to their imaginative play.


A variety of materials is required to ensure the development of manipulative skills for all children.  Materials must be heavy and light, large and small, varied in shape and texture.  These can include:

            Bricks:  wooden, plastic, interlocking

            Lego, Meccano, multilink, reo-click, links

            Small bricks and wood or plastic shapes etc.

            Constructo straws, Sticklebricks, Poleidoblocks etc.

            Train sets, road plan layout, town plan layout, dolls houses, forts etc.

            Miniature cars, boats, animals etc.

            Cardboard boxes, tubes, cylinders, string, glue, fabrics and other junk materials.

            Wood, nails etc.

            Clay, pasticine, jigsaws.





Children need to be given opportunities to work with paint, crayons, chalk, pencils, charcoal, glue, paper, cardboard, clay, plasticine and junk materials.  In this way they discover what the materials feel, smell, look and sound like, what can be done with them and how far they can be controlled.  Children will be given opportunities to work individually, in pairs or groups according to activity being undertaken.




Children will have opportunities during painting activities to

            -           apply paint to paper correctly

            -           work at different levels to enable them to view their work from different perspectives.

            -           use different types and sizes of brushes.

            -           produce a painting without putting one colour on top of another.

            -           produce a painting by means other than a brush e.g. finger painting, sponges, combs, string, straw.

            -           make a finished picture by painting on objects and printing onto paper e.g. boxes of different shapes and sizes etc.

            -           use a combination of paint and other materials to make up a picture, frieze or large model.

            -           paint onto a crayon drawing.


It is important to allow children time to tidy up after painting activities.




In addition to commercially produced plasticine children can use dough which has been produced by the teacher or with their help.


As well as becoming familiar with the properties of these materials activities can include

            -           making a simple 3D model.

            -           writing names

            -           making simple coil pots/thumb pots.

            -           producing a scene and explaining story.





Children will be given opportunities individually, in pairs or groups

            -           to make models from junk materials.

            -           to make models as part of a class topic.





Children will be trained in the correct use and safety of scissors.  They will be encouraged to develop this skill by

            -           cutting out pictures from magazines etc.

            -           cutting out simple shapes.

            -           cutting out paper, card, materials etc. of varying thickness.





Children will be taught the correct method of applying glue to materials.