Scéalta – The Early Childhood Ireland Blog

< Back to Blog

Aistear in Úlla Beag


Monday 26 April 2021

My name is Denise Sheridan and I set up Úlla Beag in 2010 as an inclusive green school. Our approach to curriculum is ‘Play based learning delivered through Aistear’.  I wanted to have an outdoor play environment, similar to what I grew up in, for my own children as well as children in the locality and there was no other green school outdoor setting available. 

We received our Síolta validation in June 2018 after a 3-year programme of reflection and development. By adapting a child centred learning approach, we promote a creative learning environment providing equal opportunities for all children. We place high value on nutritional learning, running our own school garden with the children and outdoor play experiences. Aistear for us is ever evolving, allowing us to follow the interests of the child through this emergent curriculum. Children’s interests are paramount, and they influence our long term, short term and day to day planning which they are included in. 

I am sitting outside this morning in the middle of our garden /mud kitchen/ fairy garden/ "coffee dock" - whatever the flavour of the day is for the children and often it is all of those at once. Observing my little group of 11 children this morning I am searching for the words that can truly bring across the importance of including a natural outdoor environment for children's play. Our setting is based around and in nature. We aim to get out for about 2 hours every day and up to 3.5 hours on drier days. Our indoor area is small but has a huge window to allow us look out if we cannot get out so we can watch snow, hail, sleet when we are not outside.

Based on 1 acre of land we have a varied environment - the mud garden, fairy garden, planting area, campfire area, log walk the favourite for the kids are all at the entrance of the school.  We also have a more structured playground area on grass with swings; slides; climbing frames - sometimes the children will just want to swing or slide or kick a ball around or run. To the back of the school, we have a school garden and a willow and apple orchard path that extends around from the back to the front of the school. This year we put up our first polytunnel with the children and a second one will be up by June. Gardening is such a rewarding experience with children. We sow flowers in tyres; fill every pot we can with seeds; scatter; sow spuds in bags, whatever we can do. We also harvest nuts, apples, vegetables, raspberries, strawberries and flowers and their seeds with the children, and extend the learning by sending seeds and potted plants home.

Our focus as a green school is on caring -not only caring for each other, but also caring for our environment, learning about biodiversity, being mindful and present in the gardens outside, watching and taking part in growing for ourselves, recycling, waste management, water conservation, energy management, transport management. This year we are working on our 6th green flag with an Taisce focusing on Global Litter and Waste management. 

So, what does a day in an Aistear run emergent play service look like? 

Well, this morning sitting in the middle of the group, listening to the birds, feeling the air all around us, I am in the middle of an entire community. A group of boys have set up a mud coffee dock - they have lined up old plastic beakers ready to go on top of an outdoor tool bench. A solo drummer is drumming a large plastic drum walking around the little groups and watching what everyone else is doing before he settles on digging with two friends. 

Four girls have decided to become ‘bin men.’ I did ask ‘Are you ‘bin women’ and was told "No, only men do this!" - how interesting and observant of them!! Their rubbish truck is a garden trolley filled with old kettles, toaster, plastic beakers, sticks, stone and pieces of wood block cuttings. 

A few of them show an interest in what I am doing in the middle of them - but only fleetingly. One asked was I drawing a picture ...but did not wait for a response.  Another little gardener is checking the worms in the wormery and which plants need watering. The depth and richness of role play, so important for language and social skills is amazing outdoors -with no restrictions, no boundaries on how they play. They gather at a makeshift campsite for break and "roast" marshmallows. Suddenly the coffee dock has turned into a mini disco and all go to investigate. 

A little Robin chirps along to some of the children who are singing here as they play outside Sometimes the birds are so loud we just sit or stand close our eyes and see what we can recognise- robins, swallows, coal tits, blue tits. 

The pandemic brought challenges for us with the starting and stopping of school, but it also brought some delights. Due to the quietness on the roads around us a red squirrel mum and baby appeared. 2 peregrine falcons are nesting in a neighbouring field and we have on occasion a visit from the ‘dinosaur’ - a local Heron. A duck family moved in behind us to nest and very early some mornings you can see the duck sitting on our roof observing all in front of them. No two days are the same. 

To truly observe children at play they must be given the opportunity for free play outdoors, I believe. You can observe all of a child's schemas through digging, gardening, mud kitchen play, role play, swinging, running. I also firmly believe the only place to remove our internal bias on how children should play is to get outdoors with them. They will completely involve you in their play - you are on their level, in their zone. You are invited into their world and it is an amazing place to spend a few hours with them. By adopting Aistear, which is a framework that encourages an emergent play curriculum, we have been able to fully include the children in our long and short term planning, in the design and continual redesign of our outdoor and indoor environments. Aistear in our outdoor setting has allowed us to participate, learn with and from these children, play and observe children in their element and we can all breathe, create, collaborate and have fun together. 

2 comments Comments

2 Responses

  1. Hazel O\'Connor says:

    What a wonderful preschool. Very lucky children to have a green school in their community and what sound like amazing early years educators facilitating their play

  2. Margaret Coogan says:

    Thank you Denise, for bringing me on that journey. I was right there in your garden with you. I love all that you have described and you are so lucky to have all that rich wildlife and biodiversity right there with you. You have created an environment full of nature and rich in playful learning.

Leave a Reply

Please Log In to comment:

ECEC(4) Communicating(1) environments(2) women in research(1) worldbookday(1) Reopening Childcare(1) Mayo(1) Learning Stories(9) Sustainable(1) Educator Award - Leader in Practice(1) aistear blog(4) Kindness(1) Scéalta Blog(106) United Nations(1) Social Skills(1) Norway(2) ECEC Setting(2) Independence(1) Growing up Outdoors(2) awards 2020(1) Sociodramatic play(1) early years settings(1) Arts(1) First 5 strategy(1) relationships(18) National Childcare Scheme(1) European Early Childhood Education Research Association(2) Magic(1) Covid19 crisis(1) Pretend Play(1) Facebook(1) parents(7) linc(1) Lego(2) Opportunities(1) Early Childhood Care and Education(2) pets(1) Names(1) Return to Work(1) Mindfulness(3) Family wall(1) Maria Montessori(1) role playing(1) Department of Education and Skills(1) Games(2) Xbox(1) Line-ups(1) gender stereotype(1) TOY Programme(1) Belonging(3) Fee Play(1) Anxiety(2) journey(1) Imagination(3) Access and Inclusion Model(2) Recycling(2) multi-generational community(1) Support(1) Learning Story(1) staying connected(1) Queues(1) Relaxation(1) Partnership with Families Innovation Award(2) budget(1) Positivity(1) Ceremony(1) scéalta(59) Educator - Leader in Practice Award(1) communication(4) SAC(1) Trade union(1) Community involvement(1) Shoes(1) SPICE Framework(1) democracy(1) respect(5) Research Conference 2019(1) Equality(1) Maynooth(1) social media policy(1) Children's Rights(3) Twitter(1) Trick or treat(1) Study Trip(1) Early Childhood Education(1) ICBN(1) Irish guidelines(1) Sequins(1) Jillian van Turnhout(1) Sessional service(1) natural environment(2) Early Learning and Care Centres(1) reopening(1) baby room(1) Elders(1) racism(1) Supernanny(1) The Jelly King(1) Research Seminar(1) Environment(2) Children(8) Sustainability(3) Teamwork(1) Nonverbal(1) Exploring(1) Treasure Chest(1) Party(1) EECERA(1) Flowers(1) guardian(1) early childhood ireland research(1) Visitors(1) Learning Journal(2) Kindness Challenge(1) Research and Professional Learning(1) Technology(3) Training(3) Snack Time(1) Spiders(1) Glitter(2) social science(1) Skillnet(1) Workplace Relations(3) Vietnam(1) community(5) National Research Conference 2019(1) LINC Award for Leadership in Inclusion(2) Tuscan Approach(2) listening(1) Mount Everest(1) Our Little Seed(1) AIM(2) Inclusion(3) Scents(1) First 5(1) Rituals(1) Laughter(1) timekeeping skills(1) Builders(1) Mental Health(4) Trade Unions(1) The Play and Learning in the Early Years(1) supportive environments(2) Easter(1) early years research(3) Large Doll Play(1) Intention(1) Confident(1) Event Guide(1) Childcare Barometer 2018(1) PIP(1) Mantra(1) National Pyjama Day(1) Investment(2) risky play(2) curiosity(3) food(1) NAEYC(1) Identity and Belonging(4) Celebrations(4) Inspired Practice Award(6) Online(1) code of ethics(1) Interests(1) Pre-School Services(1) UK Government(1) science week(2) National Annual Awards 2020(1) Mo Scéal(1) Childhood Development Initiative(1) developing motor skills(1) Proceedings Journal(1) Death(2) Minister for Children and Youth Affairs(1) Advocacy(1) doodle den(1) Creative(1) youdoodle(1) Scéalta Book Review(1) National Council for Curriculum and Assessment(1) Iceland(2) learning(19) Sleep(1) Pobal(1) ECIAwards20(1) Hand Hygiene(2) Buddies(1) primary education(1) Vivian Gussin Paley(1) Sport(1) outdoor play(7) Maternity Leave(1) Return to Work Training(1) Well-Being(10) stories(3) Exercise(1) listen(1) homeschool(1) New Appointments(1) Role play(1) outdoor space(3) Siolta blog(8) Digital(1) Reggio Children Network(1) Snacks(1) Music(3) Workplace well-being(1) an post(1) continual professional development(1) Celebrate(1) Awards Night(1) Early Years Education(1) Reading Time(2) E.coli(1) documentation(4) Kilkenny(1) Reflective Practice(1) Home Corner(1) Nutrition(1) Annual Conference 2019(1) Annual Conference 2017(2) art of the relationship(1) partnership(1) Care routines(1) animals(2) Degree(1) Leargas(1) annual awards(1) june29(1) Aldo Fortunati(4) routine(2) Equality & Inclusion Guidelines Training(1) CIT(1) play stories(2) risk(2) early life(1) Sculptures(1) worries(1) Early Childhood Ireland’s National Early Childhood Research Conference 2019(1) transitions(10) Self-regulation(1) grandchild(1) Giraffe(2) Participation(2) outdoors(4) Maths Week(1) overhear(1) GDPR(1) child led(1) Engineers Week(2) Maths(6) lockdown(1) Pen green(1) learners(1) Performing(1) Children's Book Club(1) children development(1) Administrative Burden(1) AsIAm(2) Horizon 2020(1) IGL(1) Síolta QAP(1) life long learning(1) Appreciation(1) Aistear Siolta Practice Guide(1) Exploring and Thinking(1) Inspections(1) Child Care(1) Santa(2) Italy(1) play pod(1) Document Learning(1) Buddy Bench(1) Kerry(1) Blocks(1) creche(1) COVID(3) reopening ireland(1) Covid pandemic(3) Cork(1) Irish Childhood Bereavement Network(1) risk assessment(1) Infection Control(1) Winter(1) Seas Suas(1) Dolly Partons Imagination Library(1) San Miniato(4) Pobal sector profile(1) movement behaviours(1) Settling in(4) collaboration(1) dolly parton library(1) Maths Week Ireland(1) gender bias(1) Biting(1) Obesity(1) Recycle(1) Consent(1) UNICEF report(1) apps for children(1) Masterclass(2) Cork Institute of Technology(1) Playschool(1) Síolta Quality Assurance programme(1) Learning through Storytelling(2) UD(1) childcare services(1) Gardening(1) Decision Making(1) Wesco(1) Photographs(1) Awards(2) Capable(1) keezy(1) Self-Esteem(1) quarantine kids(1) education system(1) UN(1) code of professional responsibility(1) Children and families(2) Arlene Forster(1) Leadership(1) ERASMUS+(3) Workforce(1) preschool(4) Motor neuron disease(1) Communications(1) educarer(1) Rising to the Challenge(2) dining experiences(1) Design(1) dogs(1) learning hub(2) Regulation 23(1) Small World Play(1) play therapy(1) Impact(1) Montessori(3) early year’s classrooms(1) Shapes(2) Kids Own(1) Engagement(1) trust(4) Anthony Semann(1) early years learning(1) educating(1) Loss(1) EM Standing(1) behavioural science(1) keep in touch(1) Trigonometry(1) Time(1) Policy(2) INTO(1) Book Club(2) Bereavement(2) Liz Kerrins(1) Traffic Lights(1) show and tell(1) mushrooms(1) Your place(1) Halloween(2) Craft(1) RIE philosphy(1) doodle families(1) Grief(1) STEM(3) healthy eating policies(1) DCYA(6) Learning journals(1) bloom app(1) Early Years(1) nutritional learning(1) Light table(1) Vertical grouping(1) Dr Mary O'Kane(1) National Bereaved Children's Awareness Week(1) Meal time(1) UNCRC(2) World book day(1) Reggio(1) ears(1) UN Sustainable Development Goals(1) Window(1) International Narratives(1) responsive relationships(1) conversations(1) pablo(1) Awards 2019(1) Pedagogical leaders(1) First 5 transitions for children award(1) Early Years Educators(3) iOS(1) Human Resources(1) Culture(2) conference(1) National Awards 2019(1) presentation skills(1) Autism(4) Penguins(1) Time Out(1) Art(6) Maynooth University(2) Childcare(3) Story(2) Building Resilience(1) play(37) built environments(1) Sweets(1) Early Learning and Care(2) phone apps(1) education(2) DES Inspection(1) Stress(2) Smiles(1) COVID-19 Reopening(2) Montessori & Early Childhood Professionals Ireland(1) refugees(1) Nuturing interactions(1) Through the looking glass(1) Creativity(7) social media(2) democratic citizens(1) Mark Twain(1) preschools(1) EECERA 2016(1) Educators(2) Summer(2) Visual Impairment(1) COVID-19 crisis(1) School Age Childcare(2) Afghanistan(1) Malaguzzi(1) Aistear Siolta in Action(1) structure(1) Arithmetic(1) Dr. Emer Ring(1) Effect of Lockdown(1) Fantasy play(1) Potential(1) mental health problems(1) feisty(1) The Lullaby Book(1) dining(1) Painting(1) Gratitude(1) Whole Group(1) Children's Research Network(2) Identity(5) Self Help Skills(1) Playdough(1) Exit interview(1) Looking Forward(1) Adverse Childhood Experiences(1) College(1) Awards 2018(3) Children's Voice(1) interacting(2) Affordability(1) Favouritism(1) Valentine's Day(3) Covid response(2) value(1) imotion(1) Brain(1) Women(1) QRF(1) UK(1) christmas(9) Treasure(1) Eritrea(1) Breathing(2) Feeding(1) toddlers(3) TRAP(1) Touch(1) HR(1) St. Patrick's Day(1) Engineering Ireland(1) Minister Katherine Zappone(1) Limerick(1) Graduation(1) Reggio Emilia(2) Body Language(1) Exploratory Play(1) Family(1) Ariana Pucci(1) Albert Einstein(1) NCCA(4) Rich Documentation(1) Routines(2) Jenga(1) Engineering(3) Irish Early Years Research & Practice Seminar 2018(1) Qualifications(1) Budget 2019(2) maternity health(1) outdoor environment(1) Educator of the Year Award(3) coronavirus(1) Primary School(3) CPD(1) Challenges(1) Thanks(1) Frosty the Snowman(1) Deirdre Rogers(1) Inter-generational learning(2) under 3's(3) CCTV(1) Special Needs Assistants(1) preschool settings(1) Frustrations(1) Adoption(1) COVID-19 landscape(1) Plants(1) early childhood(1) curriculum(7) Síolta(139) Oireachtas(1) Map(1) Socioemotional development(1) annual conference(1) Exclusion(1) Thank you(1) Youtube Series(1) National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education(1) Margy Whalley(1) Interaction(1) ELC(1) scientific and artistic processes(1) planning(1) Mealtimes(1) European Project(1) Loving Relationships(2) books(5) Unesco(1) Confidence(1) Inspiring Practice(1) Fire Safety(1) Little Buddies(1) Infectious diseases(1) Universal Design Guidelines(1) Drawing(2) Competent(1) Quality(4) memories(1) Budget 2020(1) Mixed age groups(3) MECPI(1) Staff Motivation(1) TUSLA(1) Magda Gerber(1) Graduate(1) MA(1) National Holiday(1) Care-giving routines(1) RTE Investigates(1) child safeguarding(1) Laugh(1) learning bias(1) Christmas Creativity(2) Snakes(1) Inter-generational(2) Iraq(1) Running(1) Inspirational(2) dublin(2) online training(1) Wrapping paper(1) Thinking(1) GoToMeeting app(1) bonds(1) family time(1) friendships(1) Meet the Members(1) Decisions(1) World Health Organisation(1) Pedagogy(2) child-centred approach(1) ReCreate(2) Titles(1) Irish(1) Leprechauns(1) Book Review(1) Growing up in Ireland(3) Health(2) Universal Design(2) Counting(1) Change(1) Childhood(2) Nordic model(1) Early Childhood Ireland National Awards(2) Super Shed Stories(2) STEAM(1) General Data Protection Regulation(1) National Awards 2018(2) emotional environment(2) Patterns(1) Upcycling(1) University(1) Learning Story Awards(2) Europe(1) Online Research Symposium(3) Performance Management(1) Diversity(1) Storytelling(8) development(9) Budget 2018(1) Interactions(3) eating(1) playleader(1) Fabric(1) Digital Devices(1) play pods(2) Department of Children and Youth Affairs(2) Plastic(1) Child mental health(1) Weather(1) quarantine(2) meals(3) Wendy Lee(4) Trauma-Sensitive(1) early childhood educator(2) Academics(1) Early Childhood Ireland(10) Providing Leadership to the First 5(1) reading(6) Wilenski(1) Love(3) Policy and Implementation Panel(1) experience(1) COVID-19(18) Leadership for INClusion in the Early Years(1) purpose(1) Learning Stories Award(3) inspiring interactions(1) ECCE(7) peer group(1) Orla Kenny(1) science(3) Valerie Gaynor(1) man up(1) partnership with families(1) emotions(2) Behaviour(3) Prexit(1) Looking Back(1) Dance(1) Traditions(2) Croatia(1) Yoga(1) Covid-19 lockdown(1) Empathy(1) National Early Childhood Research Conference(2) Emergent Curriculum(1) Toby Bears Camping Trip(1) Professionalisation(5) Seanchaí(1) Mathematicians(1) Cognitive development(1) Employee(1) story time(2) Inspired Practice Awards(1) children’s learning(1) upskilling(1) Leaders in Practice(1) Mud kitchens(1) emotional well-being(1) research submissions(1) Japan(1) Academic Skills(1) research(8) Together Old and Young Programme(1) child-centric(1) Aistear(132) Certificate(1) Syria(1) Funding(1) babies(7) Wonder(1) Magnavacchi(1) blog(58)


Site maintained and developed by Cloud Nine