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Educating Feisty Children


Tuesday 11 October 2016



Margy Whalley is coming to Dublin. She will present a keynote, along with Aldo Fortunati, at the Early Childhood Ireland conference on Working with Children from birth to 3 years in Marino Institute of Education, Dublin on the 27th October. It’s an occasion not to be missed. Margy has been a long-time friend of the early childhood sector in Ireland. She is now retiring as Director of the world renowned Pen Green Centre for Children and Families and so this is one of the last opportunities to hear her talk about the wonderful work they have done there.

She comes to mind now as I prepare a module on play that I will deliver to the degree students in Maynooth University, starting next month. I want to begin the module by looking at our values about play and learning – and what we think childhood is about – and the image of the child we hold – and our genuine and strongly held beliefs about the rights of children.


That’s where Margy Whalley comes to mind. She has been a life-long campaigner for the rights of children. Indeed, on the occasion of her retirement party, we did a little podcast tribute to her and we said (jokingly) that we had traced her roots and found her to have strong Irish heritage going back to the famous Pirate Queen Grainne Ní Mháille (pronounced Wháile – get the Whalley connection?) and we said that we were glad to see the great Irish warrior gene had survived in her. Like Gráinne Ní Mháille, Margy has been fearless in challenging the power relationships between children and adults. Her image of the child is not the compliant, obedient, disciplined child but the child as feisty and confident – with a strong sense of themselves as contributors to community. That’s why, way back in the 80s in Pen Green, they called their curriculum ‘Learning to be Strong’. It’s a defining trait of the children emerging from the Pen Green centre. Indeed, these strong, assertive children are often said in the local schools to have the Pen Green Syndrome. They are socially and emotionally competent but it does mean that they are not always easy. They expect to have a voice in what happens to them, they expect to be listened to.


Holding these values inevitably presents challenges to us as Educators. They mean that we have to ensure our daily practice with children reflects our values – and that’s not always easy. So many of our ideas about education come from our own experiences in a world where you learned from the teacher, what was in the books, as though it was gospel. Aistear has changed that – it says that the curriculum is emergent and responsive to children’s interests and enquiries. It locates play as a key medium for children’s voice – a context in which they are in control of what happens. We are therefore faced with the challenge of creating play opportunities for children where they can explore and think and voice their opinions and be adventurous, imaginative and feisty. Now, that’s a word that will always remind me of Margy Whalley. I can’t wait to be enthralled, informed, energised and challenged by her again on the 27th October, at Marino College. Do your best to be there. For a sneak peek look here

Click here to book your place now. 

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