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Formalised Curiosity


Tuesday 22 January 2019

I recently came across this quote: ‘Research is formalised curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose’ (Zora Neale Hurston). As we in Early Childhood Ireland plan our fifth annual National Early Childhood Research Conference, it struck me as very apt.

Aistear encourages curiosity. The themes of Identity & Belonging and Exploring & Thinking both identify the disposition of curiosity as one that early learning and care practitioners should support and encourage young children to develop. In Exploring & Thinking, Aistear says that children need to be able to act on their curiosity, to take risks, and to be open to new ideas and uncertainty. How can we do this?

I think one key way is by modelling. Are we curious in our work and practice? For many, the answer to that is yes! Numerous early learning and care practitioners are taking part in further study beyond the minimum Level 5 required. That’s a fairly curious bunch of people. These people will check papers such as the Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) data. They will refer to documents such as the Pobal Early Years Sector Profile. They will go to Google Scholar for the most up-to-date research on their chosen topic and they will go back to the greats, such as Vygotsky, Piaget, Montessori, and Dewey (among others) to find the Holy Grail. That’s curiosity in action, that’s research.

From this reading and checking and studying comes new research. That new research needs to be shared. It needs to be recognised, poked at, and pried; as the quote above says. The Early Childhood Ireland National Early Childhood Research Conference provides students with this opportunity. If you have carried out a research project for your QQI level 7, 8, 9 or 10 studies, spread the word and tell your peers about it. Take the opportunity to be proud of the research you have carried out, knowing that it gives other practitioners the chance to act on their curiosity and to be open to new ideas and uncertainty (just as Aistear says).

Research comes in all guises. It can be very factual and quantitative. The data from this kind of research aids planning, provides evidence for funding and sustainability submissions, and provides context for other research. But research can also be very practical and hands-on. This kind of research happens in settings every day. It may not be documented and it may not be thought of as research, but it is the germ of research nonetheless. When you notice that a child is bursting to tell you something in the morning, you listen to the story and the journey to something wonderful begins. Go a step further and align what has unfolded with your knowledge of child development and something you read for your degree, and you’re well on your way to a gripping action research project.

We see this in the great learning stories and examples of innovative practice submitted for our awards. That is how our sector becomes ever more professional and cutting-edge. You could well inspire a fellow professional to expand on your ideas with a study of their own.

By indulging our own curiosity as practitioners, we in turn foster that disposition in children. We truly understand that it is by poking and prying that all of us learn best. We ask the what about, the what if, the so what questions and together, with children, we find out the answers.

Albert Einstein reputedly said, ‘Curiosity is a delicate little plant that, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom’. Free your curiosity and submit an abstract for the Early Childhood Ireland National Research Conference - come along on April 12!


Máire Corbett is an Early Childhood Specialist at Early Childhood Ireland. She trained in Montessori teaching and has completed an MA in Integrated Provision for Children and Families with the University of Leicester at Pen Green.

"Visiting member settings inspires me as I see the passion and energy educators put into providing great experiences for the children in their settings. I love seeing competent children at play!"

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