Home sweet home
It's that familiar sight - the pile of plastic cups and saucers, miniature aluminium pans, high heels which were all the rage 10 years ago, dented papier-mache fruit, glitzy little numbers that erstwhile owners can no longer cram themselves into - all gathering dust in the darkest recess of your classroom, flimsily laying claim to the title of home corner. It needn't be this way.
With the minimum of time and effort your home corner can be transformed into a multitude of interesting, inspiring environments for the class, based around the current term's topic (and I don't just mean "Oh, yes, we're doing money, let's make a shop" - it can be more inspiring).
A topic centring around "ourselves" really takes off if the home corner is converted into a hospital. It's very easy to do - half-nelson any medical parents or friends into donating bandages, X-rays and tongue depressors, move out the kitchen utensils, put up a couple of signs, and you're away. The whole thing just gathers momentum as you go along.
A history-based topic such as "castles" comes to life with the conversion of the home corner into the Great Hall of a castle. This is very easy. Utilise the children's creative spirit; sponge-print a stone-effect onto plain paper and hang it on the walls; paint a couple of coats-of-arms; throw a cloth over a table, and there you have it. Basic surroundings, but the children's imaginations do the rest.
For a toys topic, the corner can become a toy cupboard, the conversion to a spaceship uplifts work on space, and a mini beasts focus can be reflected in a natural history museum. Just get creative.
The key is to keep it simple - complex plans have a habit of falling by the wayside and before you know it the topic's over and the opportunity lost. If you're lucky you'll be able to draft in extra help in the form of willing parents or perhaps older children in the school.
Once it's done and you step back to admire your new domain, you may feel uneasy about letting the children in to spoil your collective efforts. At this stage you'd be well-advised to spend a quick session running them through the new format - where bits are kept, how items should be treated, how to use any writing materials, and any other info.
Investment of a little time at this stage reaps huge benefits later; the children are comfortable in their knowledge of what is expected, and opportunities for home corner-induced teacher stress are reduced.
Pep up the vocab
One compelling reason to sort out that dusty home corner is that any role-play is hugely beneficial for language development; coupled with a theme that is topic-based it allows reinforcement of topic-related vocabulary. I witnessed a golden moment in my Year 1 home corner-cum-hospital in which one of the girl doctors diagnosed a ham actor patient as having "a pain in his small intestine".
Start sign writing
The set-up of the home corner in its new role requires some written signs around the walls to convey its new identity to users and observers. To use the hospital example again, we had ward names, directions to the X-ray unit, lists of patients' names, and directions for using materials and resources.
Children can be involved in deciding which signs are needed, and the signs themselves may be a shared writing experience or an individual effort. Harness the children's enthusiasm by providing opportunities for writing during play. Again our hospital yielded some fantastic attempts through the inclusion of a patients' book in which children wrote details about ailments. Our castle used a castle diary in which to describe battles and feasts. This can inspire even reluctant writers.
On the reading front, there are many signs and instructions which children will be motivated to read in order to enhance their play. You can feed the children's interest by providing some non-fiction books about the topic.
Begin with gusto
Every teacher is aware that some topics run with more enthusiasm and gusto than others. The home corner conversion can be fielded to children at the outset, inviting comments and suggestions. This provides a very real context, and launches the whole topic in a motivating fashion.
Sharpen the focus
The possibilities are endless. The opportunities for art and design technology are obvious; creating a wall-mounted back-drop, painting and making decorations, designing new items (such as control panels with moving levers for a spaceship), evaluating the usefulness of existing items and any possibilities for modifications (a plastic cooker can become an X-ray unit). Some topics lend themselves to a specific focus. A home corner conversion to a restaurant to reflect a geographical topic provides an excellent opportunity for work on money. Science issues can be explored through a natural history museum set up to enhance a mini beasts topic.
Bring in the parents
Some parents will be willing to come in and help. They can be a real asset, and welcome the opportunity to help out on an ad hoc basis, rather than being committed to a regular slot each week. They love it, and it's good for PR. Pleas for assistance with props may be welcomed by those who are unable to come, providing a tangible link between home and school.
Boot out stereotypes
Rarely will you find such an abundance of opportunities for the comprehensive promotion of positive role models. In the spaceship we had female captains; our hospital employed many female doctors and male nurses; and our natural history museum boasted female scientists.
u Remember to keep your plans modest and realistic at the outset.
Rosalind Walford is a teacher at Belmont Primary School in Chiswick, west London