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Play – No Overload!

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Tuesday 28 November 2017

A few weeks ago, I wrote the first of two blog posts called ‘Admin Overload?’, which documented my learning from a day shadowing Valerie Gaynor, member of ECI’s Policy and Implementation Panel and Manager of Creative Kids in Dublin. Since I have no personal experience in operating, managing or working in an early years service, these opportunities are incredibly important and help ensure that my policy work reflects the reality for services on the ground. As the title of my first post suggests, I was overwhelmed on Valerie’s behalf by the volume and complexity of the administration she was attempting to complete whilst, at the same time, trying to manage the human relationships with parents, children and staff that are essential to quality early years provision. The second day I spent in Creative Kids was like the antidote to the first, it was all about children’s experiences, early years practice and seeing the incredible job the Early Years Educators here, and throughout the country, are doing to nurture, support and teach our youngest citizens.

There was no sense of the ‘admin overload’ in the Green Room, home from home to 20 young children, the majority of whom participate in a morning ECCE session and stay on in part-time care until 2pm each day. In the Green Room, the focus is entirely on creating and facilitating meaningful learning experiences for the children that are responsive to their interests. Or, as those of you with backgrounds in Early Childhood Care and Education will know it, a child led emergent curriculum.

 

Before joining the room, Valerie had explained a bit about this philosophy of teaching and described her role and that of the educators as the ‘scaffolding to children’s learning’. I asked her for an example of what this might look like in practice and she offered one that knocked my socks off. It started simply with one child’s idea to make a movie of his friends and culminated in all the parents being invited to the red-carpeted movie premiere of the children’s film projected onto the big screen (a sheet!) in the service. You can read all about this exciting journey in Creative Kids’ Learning Story Lights, Camera, Action! Our School Movie

I experienced the wonderful interactions between the Early Years Educators, Ciara and Vickie with breaks covered by Carol and Hayley, and the children in the Green Room and how they facilitate child led play. Having enjoyed some time with the children getting to know me, this new person in their room, with lots of exploratory questions like ‘what’s that?’, ‘my wrist bone’, ‘what’s this?’ ‘a hole in my t-shirt (and thanks for noticing!)’, ‘what’s that for?’ ‘this is my notebook for writing down all the things I learn today so I can remember them later’, Hayley suggested that one of the children might like to show me the beauty box. What ensued was a full-blown make-over with hair drying, brushing and lots of pretend make-up application. The children dipped in and out of the play with me to join other games happening in the room like the doctor’s surgery or to take some quiet time in the comfy area.

I don’t have a huge amount of practical experience with children in this age range and the thing that surprised me most was how sophisticated their play is and how adaptable they are to the play evolving and unfolding into something different through the lead of another child or the facilitation of the Educator.

It was also really interesting going through the learning journals with Carol and seeing how the different activities connect to Aistear and Síolta. For me, and no doubt for parents, this breathed life into play being fundamental to children’s learning and development. The learning journals were incredibly detailed. They were all hand written with observations, individual children’s quotes and beautifully decorated with photographs, stickers, cut-outs and glitz. It was clear than a lot of time had gone into them. The Educators confirmed, as I had suspected, that much of the work on the journals happens outside of contact hours. Often at home at the end of a day’s work and family time. Having seen the intensity of their day with the children and the energy they give to their roles, I wondered if this additional unpaid time dedicated to learning journals was worth it? Without hesitation, they said yes-first and foremost, the children love to see their work and it is an important tool to collaborate and communicate with parents. That, put simply, is worth the additional unpaid time.

This, I thought, is the commitment to quality that currently goes unrecognised in the funding of Government sponsored early years programmes. This is the passion to delivering the best early learning experiences to children in collaboration with their parents that continues to be exploited by the State in its underinvestment in the sector, which means poor pay and conditions for Early Years Educators.

I left my second day of shadowing in Creative Kids more determined than ever to advocate for increased investment for the sector and better pay and conditions for the incredible staff that work with the best interests of our children in their hearts and minds.

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