By Sinead Hamill
Parents have all sorts of expectations from preschools. Some believe its main purpose is to socialise, others expect their children to morph into ‘Little Einsteins’ and some have no idea what to expect at all. And who could blame them for this?
Up until quite recently, Ireland had no established Preschool Curriculum. It wasn’t until 1988 that this country had its first ever National Forum on Early Childhood Education, where concerns were expressed over the lack of a curriculum for the under sixes.
Since then those involved in Early Childhood Education, those being parents, practitioners, researchers, educators and relevant government departments, have been striving to develop a curriculum which puts the needs of the child first, enabling him/her to “develop as a competent and confident learner.” (Aistear)
‘Aistear’ meaning ‘Journey’ in Irish, is a curriculum framework, which has been developed by both the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and the Early Childhood Sector in Ireland and Abroad. It is broad based, allowing practitioners to develop and modify their curricula according to the needs and interests expressed by the individual children in their care each year.
Aistear promotes supporting children under four main themes:
Identity and Belonging
Exploring and Thinking
In order to do this, preschool practitioners need to be keen observers, noting children’s likes and dislikes, interests, needs, skills, etc. From these observations, developmental plans should be drawn up for each child.
A good practitioner prepares the environment for learning to occur through play-based activities and hands on experiences. They support the child’s learning and interests, providing extra material, language and information as required.
The environment is prepared in such a way as to allow children the freedom to move about, explore, express, rest and develop at will. Both indoor and outdoor resources should be plentiful, encouraging holistic, active learning.
Children should be offered a wide range of subjects to explore, encouraging them to learn more about themselves, others, relationships, communities, the animal kingdom and the wider world in all its magnificence. Lessons should be presented using a variety of methods to cater for all of the different learning styles. The more involved children are in the lessons, the more engaged they will be.
The following are methods many practitioners use to encourage child participation:
Drama, Books and Story-telling
Music, Singing and Dancing
Play and Physical Education
Art and Construction
Circle-Time Discussions and Projects
Gardening and Exploring Nature
We have indeed come a long way since Ireland’s first National Forum on Early Childhood Education, but we have by no means hung the towel up when it comes to‘Curriculum Development’. As long as children are growing and developing, those involved in Early Childhood Years will continue to grow and develop with them, constantly striving to provide the best learning experiences possible.