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Our Week in Iceland

By: FIONA KELLEHER

Tuesday 27 August 2019

Early Childhood Ireland is delighted to be part of a European Project called TRAP – Enhancing Transition Practices in Early Childhood Education. The countries involved are Croatia, Iceland, Sweden and Ireland. The project aims to enhance and extend understandings of the practice required for transitions from ECEC contexts to primary schools. This project aims to develop a teacher training module and manual for professional development of ECEC teachers. It will provide an easily accessible document that offers interpretations of transition practices and procedures, and ways to support competences for enhancing transitions amongst the ECEC workforce.

As part of this project, Early Childhood Ireland had the opportunity to participate in a short-term staff training event in Iceland. We selected two members representing settings in urban and rural Ireland, and the private and community sector. So, for our Scéalta blog this week we asked them both to share some of their reflections from their week in Iceland.

Sharon Skehill is an owner/manager of her own service in Galway, while Rachael Duff is a manager of a community service in Dublin.

 

Sharon’s reflections:

My role in this study visit to Iceland was to share my experiences of supporting transitions from preschool to primary school. Having reflected on, and developed our practice throughout the past number of years, I am confident of the processes in place here at our outdoor preschool facility. 

As early childhood teachers, we document the children’s learning on an ongoing basis, sharing with parents throughout the year and inviting their contributions and feedback on their child’s learning. We collaborate with local schools in creating social stories about starting primary schools. We host visits for teachers to come and visit our setting and see how we incorporate early literacy and numeracy in our rooms. We arrange visits from the teachers so they can meet the children here, and are gifted with their learning journals of work and observations. The children visit the school in turn with their parents, bringing the Mo Scéal (NCCA, 2018) templates as well as their name stones from preschool to support them in settling into their new environment. It all works very well here – but what are the factors that make it work?

First and foremost, one has to acknowledge the level of support and guidance that we are afforded in the Irish context with guiding documents such as Síolta (CECDE 2006), Aistear (NCCA 2009) and the Practice Guide (NCCA 2015), as well as the more recent Mo Scéal resources from the NCCA that promote reflection on practice. In comparison to the other participating countries in the study visit, we have a very comprehensive infrastructure in place to promote quality in the early years: mentors; support organisations; inspection processes and continuous professional development opportunities. However, the inconsistent collaboration between preschools and primary schools is something that appeared to be common with all participating members. As an early learning and care centre in a rural community, we have built a strong and reciprocal relationship with the local school where there is recognition of our roles in the transition process, but what happens in a situation when there is little interest or engagement between both settings?

I had the opportunity of visiting a school in Reykjavik, which catered for children from aged two to ten years under the one roof. What struck me most was the child led approach to their primary school classes. The classrooms were set up with various provocations for learning, and children were invited to participate in different subject activities in small group sessions. The teacher of each class went to each group to guide and explain, and then they sat together to have a fruit break while listening to a story. It seemed like such a natural flow from the play based preschool programme, but with learning concepts that challenged the child as they progressed through the curriculum.

Bridging the divide between preschools and primary schools here is about bridging the gap between policy and practice. We have wonderful supporting documentation, we have a qualified and skilled workforce at preschool and primary school levels, but we all need to be collaborating more effectively. We could all work together. We have been working with Aistear since the ECCE scheme rolled out in 2010 – we have lots of ideas that we could share from the early years. Aistear is not about a specific time slot in the day; it is about recognising all the potential for learning opportunities in everyday tasks, and seeing the real value in playful engagement.

The key learning from the study visit for me was essentially about the importance of effective communication between settings to promote successful transitions, as well as a shared approach to learning.

On a personal level, I also learned not to step so close to a hot geyser, that there are Irish bars even in Reykjavik, and to my dismay, I realised that I have been boiling an egg incorrectly for my whole adult life!

 

Rachael’s reflections

What an absolutely amazing week in Iceland examining transitions to primary school.

Iceland was my first study trip, so I really didn’t know what to expect and what was expected of me. 

Our first few days were spent in the University of Iceland, learning how transitions to primary school take place in Iceland, which was very interesting with various speakers describing their experiences.  This really set the tone for the rest of the week. It was our turn on Wednesday to present on how our services support children’s transitions to primary school. As daunting as this was, it was a great opportunity to share our settings with other countries and each other. Three countries presented, and everyone had such motivating contributions.  Everyone took away great tips and examples of new ideas that could be useful and practical to improve practice.  We participated in a focus group which allowed us to discuss transitions in small groups, and then in a wider group. This was a brilliant way to recap on what everyone had been discussing throughout the day, and it also gave us a chance to work with other participants from different countries.

Towards the end of the week we headed out in groups to see various preschools in Reykjavik. We had the opportunity to visit a beautiful service located on the same grounds as the primary school. The children regularly used the school facilities and met teachers, therefore transitions were very natural and almost seamless. Each group had the responsibility of bringing back information to share with other groups in the afternoon. Everyone enjoyed discussing the pros and cons of the various services, and again taking ideas away to use to improve service provision. 

Our last day involved us having the opportunity to explore a little of the Icelandic culture and beautiful landscapes. We headed out into the countryside to take in the beautiful sights of Gullfos waterfall, and some hot springs and geezers. We used the drive to reflect on the week and discuss how we could apply new knowledge to improve transitions at home. I personally found the trip invaluable in terms of personal and professional learning. It provided me with lots of additional information that I can use in my thesis looking at transitions to primary school. 

Thanks to both Sharon and Rachael for capturing their reflections and sharing them with us through this blog. Early Childhood Ireland is delighted to have the opportunity to shine a spotlight on the exemplar research carried out on transitions within the Irish ECEC context through this project, and elevate the good work that has been done at a European level. This project will continue for the next 15 months and we will keep you, as our members, updated to progress made and possible upcoming events. 

If you would like more information, please feel free to visit our website: http://omep.hr/trap/.

 

Bio: 

Fiona Kelleher works with Early Childhood Ireland as an Early Childhood Specialist and Siolta Mentor. She has a BA (Hons) degree in Early Childhood Care and Education and an MA in Leadership and Advocacy in the Early years. Fiona has worked with NCNA/ECI for 13 years. She works with full and part services in delivering the Siolta Quality Assurance programme in the west of Ireland while also delivering training and mentoring across all areas of early years practice. Fiona has recently completed her Marte Meo Colleague training as this is a particular area of interest for her.

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