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Playing to strengths


Tuesday 17 January 2017

Over the past while I have been thinking about education a lot. Aldo Fortunati and Ariana Pucci, from San Miniato, inspired the practitioners lucky enough to be able to attend their seminars in Cork, Maynooth and Dublin, last October. They spoke passionately about the Tuscan Approach to Early Childhood Education and Care and showed us videos of beautiful, relaxed settings, where children have time to ‘be’, to relax, to feel included and valued for who they are. Just as many of you provide for children here in Ireland, every day. In my work with Early Childhood Ireland I see lovely examples of good quality practice on visits. We see inspiring practice in the learning stories submitted for awards and we hear about respectful practice at training sessions and events.


But, around that time, conversations with two parents in differing situations, got me thinking about how the experience of education is not always as positive, child-centred and emergent for some children, as we would wish it to be.


One parent is the mother of a young man in his early 20’s. He sounded an extremely bright, articulate man, who is excelling in his chosen field, and is nearly finished his Master’s degree. However, his secondary education was a really bad experience for him. He was curious, he questioned things and challenged his teachers, resulting in him being expelled from school on two occasions. Being questioned certainly can challenge us, it can make us think and it can be frustrating. But an expelling offence! Hardly. But ‘teaching to the test’ can mean that there is little time to facilitate curiosity and to encourage questioning. There is a lot to teach and sometimes not enough time to absorb and reflect. I think we have to acknowledge that this kind of education does not suit a lot of children. This boy stuck it out, found his passion and is now engaged, content and happy. Many others may not be as lucky.


The other parent is also a mother. Her four-year-old is awaiting an assessment, she may have autism. She loves her pre-school but has a few challenges in communicating with other children. This Mammy had tears in her eyes as she told me how she dreads collecting her little girl from pre-school, as all she hears is about the ‘bad things’ that happened all morning. She finds this upsetting and feels it affects her relationship with her daughter. Going home is not a happy time, with chats about the day, who she played with and what she did. As educators, our relationship and information sharing with parents needs to be positive and strengths based. This is especially important if there are concerns about the child’s development… looking at what a child can do and how to support other areas is a win-win. A real partnership approach is fostered and this can only benefit the child.


There is an old saying that if a plant doesn’t grow in our garden we change the environment for the plant, not fix the plant. This is really true. We need to look at how we support children to achieve their potential and thrive. We need to seek out supports that are available; both within the setting from colleagues and maybe externally, where possible.


How do you engage with parents at the end of the day? Have you considered how you share information with parents as they leave with their child?

How do you ensure that parents get positive messages about their child’s development and learning?

Please share your ideas and thoughts on how we make sure that children have a positive experience of early education and care?

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