The Aistear Curriculum

What is Aistear?
Aistear is the curriculum framework for children aged 0-6 to learn and develop through play. It was developed by the NCCA, published in 2009, and implemented in classrooms all over Ireland ever since.

Aistear in the Infant Classroom
The new Primary Language Curriculum emphasises playful learning experiences. Play is not a subject; it is an essential tool for learning in the infant classroom and can be used for all curricular subjects.

Within the infant school day, it is incredibly beneficial for the children to allocate an hour a day for child-led play. Although it is child-led play, the teacher’s role is crucial for planning, modelling, supporting, observing and assessing the play. Many teachers like to use a thematic approach for this ‘playtime’, to allow for integrated learning. It is ok for the children to stray from the topic. Teachers are an equal participant and support the children in their play, rather than leading it.

Plan and Review

It is important to allow time for both of these every day. Planning time can be oral or written (or drawn), individually, in pairs, or in groups. Reviewing time can also be oral or written. A ‘circle time’ approach with a speaking object can work well, or have the children feedback to each other in pairs, and then report back to the rest of the class.


One of the teacher’s key roles in child-led play is to provide resources. You do not need to spend a lot of money to do this. Have a look around your school, at home, charity shops, and pound shops. Ask friends and family members if they have anything suitable that they no longer need. Keep an eye on Buy & Sell and Freecycle pages and groups online.

You will probably want to provide different resources according to your topics. It is helpful to rotate your play materials regularly.

Pretend Play - Role Play

This can also be referred to as socio-dramatic play. It is play that can help the children practice for real-life situations such as going shopping or visiting the dentist. Open-ended dress-up items such as white shirts, hats, scarves and hi-vis vests work really well. ‘Real’ items such as food, food packaging, old telephones, coins etc. are also a great addition. You can ask the children or parents to bring in items from home – they are usually very willing!

Try to create a print-rich environment in your role-play area to encourage reading and writing. Writing materials should be readily available. The teacher should model the use of topic vocabulary and appropriate behaviours.

Pretend Play - Small World

‘Small World’ play involves inhabitants and a setting in a miniature format. The children use their imaginations to retell or create stories. The setting can be real world or fantasy, there are no limits!

The inhabitants can be toy figurines, animals, vehicles or even plain wooden peg dolls. The landscape can be created using fabric, a doll’s houses or cardboard boxes pf various shapes and sizes. Again, you can the children to bring in some toys from home to suit your topic.

The teacher should model the use of imagination while playing in the Small World setting, as well as using the correct language in context.

Creative Play - Junk Art

Also referred to as Environmental Art. In this area, the children plan, explore and construct with the freedom to create anything they like.

Your recycling bin is the best place to source materials! Try to find unusual shaped boxes, foiled, shiny or patterned paper, ribbons and bubble wrap. The children can bring in toilet rolls, egg cartons and cereal boxes. Masking tape is a must! You can read my blog post about Junk Art here.

Creative Play - Painting, printing, drawing

Select colours of paper, paint and/or drawing materials for the children to paint and draw freely.

Creative Play - Play Dough

Some teachers like to use individual labelled pots of play dough for each child. Making your own play dough is another option. It lasts very well once stored in an airtight container.

There is no need to buy specific clay or play-dough resources. Common household and art materials and dried foodstuffs can provide hours of fun! Rotate the materials regularly. Play Dough Mats are an optional extra. Draw or print a template (eg. a dinner plate) and laminate it. These can be linked to your topic if you like.

Play-Dough Recipe: 1 cup flour, ¼ cup salt, 1 tbsp vegetable oil, 1 tsp cream of tartar, ½ cup boiling water, food colouring. (Multiply as required)

Optional: cinnamon, cocoa powder, vanilla essence, peppermint essence, paprika, turmeric, dried lavender.

Physical Play – Construction

Here, the children build and construct with available materials such as wooden blocks, Lego Duplo or Sticklebricks. This is an area that it is worth investing some money in. If you buy good quality materials, they will last for many years. However, do not underestimate the power of a good selection of cardboard boxes, plastic cups or toilet rolls! Again, rotate the materials whenever you can.

Physical Play - Sensory / Messy / Sand / Water Play

Traditionally, sand and water tables were often found in preschools and infant classrooms. This has evolved to include many other materials, providing a variety of sensory inputs. Dried foodstuffs such as rice, chickpeas, lentils or cornflakes are cheap and safe to use. You can also explore using other sensory materials, such as cloud dough, kinetic sand, soil and other natural/garden materials.

Use basins, baby baths or underbed storage boxes to hold your materials. Place them on a table, or on a tablecloth laid on the floor. Provide a variety of scoops, spoons, bowls and bottles, so children can play and practice their motor skills.


Try to include at least one of each type of play (Pretend, Creative, Physical) every week. Some teachers like to implement a ‘rota’ of the weekly play areas, whereas some prefer to allow more freedom of choice for the children. Some even use both approaches; for example, a rota for Monday-Thursday, and then ‘Free Choice Friday’. Whatever you choose, every child in the class should get an opportunity to try each type of play.

Check out my Aistear plans and resources in my store here.

You can read more about Aistear here.

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