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Powerful Women – inspiring researchers


Tuesday 06 April 2021


Spring 2019 saw the introduction of Early Childhood Ireland’s ‘Early Pedagogy’ Magazine. It is fitting that our first edition celebrated some of the most inspiring women from Ireland and beyond who have helped to shape and develop our Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare settings with the ‘child-centred’ approach it demonstrates today. This first edition of Early Pedagogy shared experiences of constant growth, reflection, passion, and the sheer determination of great women who researched, fought for, and pushed for change to coincide with the new need for Early Childhood Care and Education in Ireland in recent decades.

 Internationally, Wendy Lee inspired us with heart-led examples of how her practice made her see things differently. She began to see ‘documentation as a tool for deepening relationships and strengthening connections between home and kindergarten’. What a discovery with an abundance of inspiring stories to back this theory up. Frances Fitzgerald, now an MEP and then Minister for Children, speaks of her fight to put Early Childhood Care and Education on the agenda. From a research perspective Noirín Hayes highlights how research in this sector is merely still a very recent focus and how essential it is to help practice flourish. These women, to name but a few, have inspired us. They have encouraged us to keep going. They have led us on our paths through theory, policy, and practice, intertwining them all on the journey. No doubt we have a long road yet to take and as is the nature of good educators, we will probably never think that we have reached our destination and arrived at being a ‘perfect educator’. We are constantly researching, reflecting, watching, and listening, hoping that each child will bring us with them on their journeys.

Mag Coogan shared her story of being ‘Educator of the Year’ in 2019. She too highlights the invaluable importance of relationships – ‘those working and training in this sector must consider relationship-building as paramount for the whole setting’.  Dr. Geraldine French suggests that ‘we know that the learning and development of babies and toddlers is a function of the everyday experiences and the people they encounter. The skills required to work with our youngest children are not intuitive and require a specialised relational pedagogy’. Here Geraldine is still fighting the fight to ensure all children are seen, heard, and recognised in all aspects of our practice. Prof. Emer Ring explains her quest of wanting to ‘discover what lies at the heart of inclusive cultures, practices, and pedagogies in our schools and Early Childhood Settings’. What a quest this is. Cathy Nutbrown combined research and practice with the intentions of ‘learning to watch children and follow their learning’. She spoke of how she has learned the huge importance of marrying research and theory.

We all know that ‘play’ has had a fundamental role in the development of our sector. How play is seen, valued, and respected by families and society as it came to the fore of Early Childhood Education. It has been a large element of the journey to providing quality experiences for children in Early Childhood Settings. Dr. Carmel Brennan explained that ‘children chose play because it best exercises all their innate talents. It’s a space where we give children power and authority’. What a statement this is! We can provide outlets for children in our care to feel powerful and in authority. Without a doubt the conversations of today around quality practice are very different from conversations of merely a few decades ago. The growth of knowledge and understanding in the sector has come at a rapid pace. This is down to research, both research by educators in settings, as action researchers, and more academic quantitative approaches.

 Interestingly, for me as I read all the articles, these empowering women who, along with many others led us all on our quality journey - they constantly reflected. We must look back to look forward. We must appreciate the incredible, heart-warming, work that has helped pave our path and recognise that we truly are standing on the shoulders of giants. We appreciate the work that has been done and we truly look forward to continuing the journey together with the children in our care. Thank you all for the inspiration.

To continue this motivational work, we encourage you to join us on April 23 and 24 at our Online Research Symposium to hear about the current research that will help us reflect and shape our thinking in the future. 



Catherine Mc Hugh has been working as an Early Childhood Specialist for the last six years. She completed her Level 8 degree in Letterkenny IT in 2013 and a Master of Education in NUI Maynooth, specialising in the Early Years in 2018. She has a great passion for outdoor play as she has worked in forest schools in both Ireland and Norway. She also has a grá for documentation with her most recent research focusing closely on tuning in to children’s play for richer documentation.

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