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Classroom Chat: Investigation Tables & Play

If you’re anything like me, you’re constantly looking for ways to incorporate more play into your classroom, especially if that play promotes oral language and interaction skills whilst supporting current units of work 🙌🏻


I have loved watching how Marjorie from @fosteringaloveoflearninginprep uses the ‘good old’ Kmart Train Table as the most incredible small world investigation table. We are super lucky to have Marjorie join us today to share more about how she manages to keep learning playful in her classroom through investigation tables.




Hi everyone! I’m so hugely flattered to be asked to write a blog about using play-based activities and sharing my love for play and investigation tables in my classroom.




I’m a teacher with 30 years of experience. In fact, I’ve just celebrated my 30th teaching anniversary at the end of March. I started my career all those years ago as an Early Years teacher, working with a Preschool/Year 1 class in a tiny 4-teacher school in Far North Queensland. Back then, I felt like I was the aide and my aide was the teacher. I learned so much in my first few months, following her lead on what types of activities to set up for the children, making paint out of Edicol dye mixed with Celmix and oh boy, did that colour stain like you wouldn’t believe.


I had my pre-schoolers only in the afternoons, and we predominantly spent our afternoons outside, painting, playing in the sandpit, exploring the gardens, etc. Life seemed so much simpler back then. We followed children’s interests in dinosaurs, creepy crawlies, and other fun things. The preschool kids were very separate from Year 1, where the focus was reading, writing and maths concepts in the mornings before joining the preschoolers when they arrived.  If I had the knowledge I have now, things would’ve been far more activity-based for the year 1s too.


Three years later, I moved back to Central Queensland to a huge school and a very difficult period in my teaching career. I actually started to hate my job, so I left that school and went back to a smaller country school where I fell in love with teaching again. I taught everything from Year 1 to Year 5, but I still felt like my passion was with the littlies. When my own son moved into the middle school classes, I requested to have a go at Prep and I never looked back. That was 11 years ago and I found my niche. Then along came National Curriculum and a very crowded Foundation curriculum and I started looking for easier ways for students to engage with the curriculum rather than “chalk and talk”.


Fast forward to about 5 or 6 years ago when I stumbled upon the Australian Prep Teachers Facebook page and the AAP in Action page. This is where I discovered my passion for activity-based investigations. I’ve been so inspired by so many of the amazing teachers that share in those spaces. Everyone was so generous with their advice, time and resources and it made me want to find a way to give back. I noticed my creativity had been reignited and I started taking inspiration from the web, including some amazing kindergarten and daycare pages that shared amazing ideas. After a while, I felt brave enough to create my own designs and even share them with others. I received very positive feedback and it spurred me on, knowing that I was on the right track.




My favourite piece of equipment in my room is my Kmart train table. I use it all of the time. I try to change up my investigations every 2 weeks, in order to give the children plenty of time to engage with it. I’ve spent too much of my own time and money collecting bits and pieces to create exciting investigations, but I don’t regret it at all. I’m lucky to have a budget at my school each year to purchase resources for the classroom. I’ve also trolled the local Marketplace and classifieds pages to buy items. I’ve found companies such as Nurture Play Australia; Wooden Wonderland; The Curated Parcel; and Garden Sparkle, have amazing items that can be used in this table. I base my set-ups on a combination of curriculum content and children’s interests. For example, if I have a group of boys who are interested in trucks and heavy vehicles, I’ll set up a tray incorporating those interests to encourage co-operative play and vocabulary development. Sometimes I’ll add in curriculum content to that investigation as well, such as a maths-based or phonics-based activity.




Some of the past projects that I’ve created for my classes include interest tables such as Bugs Alive and Australian Animals; Fairy Villages; a light table and hinged mirror to create building investigation tables; special celebration tables, such as Easter, Lunar New Year and Christmas investigations; seasonal tables; and – my personal favourite – Fairy tale retell tables.




I’m excited coming into our next focus on retells as we do this through a Fairy tale unit. The Top Teacher Fairy tale resources will be getting a huge workout, that is for sure. Each new fairy tale we do will have a play table set up for the children to use to act out the story. This way I can actually assess their oral retells by listening to them interacting with each other. They use character voices, and language from the stories and they are uninhibited in their play. It is the best way to get a true indication of their oral abilities.


I hope that this inspires people, as I have been inspired, to try to add a little play into their day. If I can do it after 25 years of teaching and change the way I teach, anyone can.



How do you manage to incorporate more play into your learning? We’d love to hear from you!


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