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San Miniato: Quality Early Years Education – A Tuscan Perspective

By: SUSAN QUIRKE-CROWLEY

Tuesday 10 July 2018

On Sunday June 10th 2018, I had the privilege of travelling to San Miniato, Italy, with a group of 15 like-minded individuals on the Early Childhood Ireland Erasmus+ Léargas Study Trip in pursuit of international perspectives on quality within the Early Years Education Sector.

Our host, Barbara, at La Bogetta Di Gepetto afforded us the opportunity to visit three unique Early Years settings for children birth to 3 years old. The image of the child as a protagonist (initiating and leading their own learning) of learning and a competent being is at the heart of the San Miniato approach. Vertical grouping (mixed ages) of children from babies to 3 years old is the norm. Children are active agents in their learning and the oldest children support the development of the youngest children in an almost ‘familial’ way. Early Years Educators in Italy must have a minimum qualification of a 3-year Degree to work with children aged 0-3 years. In contrast Educators of the 3-6 years olds Pre-school children are required to have a 5-year degree, this enables the educators to teach children up to age 11 within the Primary School System.

Similar to Irish culture, the family is at the heart of our traditions and theirs. The Early Years Education system in San Miniato not only values families, it also embraces and includes families in the activities in the centre. The parents attend workshops and create artefacts for display in the setting, they provide natural materials and resources for use within the setting and are the actors in the end of year dramatization of popular stories within the centres. Children are supported to engage in meaningful indoor and outdoor activities, predominantly child led. The use of natural materials within the settings afforded the opportunity of rich, open-ended activities, in which the child led the way, both individually and cooperatively. Their unique journey within the service is recorded in individual diaries from the moment of entry to the service until the child transitions to pre-school at the age of 3. Interestingly, when children enter pre-school at the age 3, classes are segregated by age. This is different to the vertical grouping within our pre-schools and to our Aistear Curriculum, and perhaps in this regard our way is better.

The San Miniato approach to the provision of Early Years Education for birth to 3-year olds offers food for thought around quality delivery for younger children in Ireland. Similar to the Montessori Approach, it lends itself to the belief that one should never do anything for a child that they can do for themselves. Perhaps as educators we inadvertently may do too much for children. Meal times within the schools that we had the privilege to visit were social times, with neatly laid tables of real delph and cutlery, glass jugs of water for the children to pour, serving dishes with serving spoons for children to use for each of the courses on offer. A true celebration of food, family and culture. It was an eye-opening experience to see the children navigate the activity with ease, while also supported by educators eating the same meal with the children. From an Irish Perspective, many aspects of our provision are excellent, particularly as we embrace the Aistear Curriculum Framework (NCCA, 2009) and Síolta, National Quality Framework (CECDE, 2006). However, the vision of the child from birth to 3 years as a protagonist of their learning, an independent capable child from the youngest and earliest moments gives food for reflection and thought, and warranted a visit to Ikea to purchase new resources such as real glasses and delph for our nursery, to reflect home from home at meal times! It was truly a worthwhile CPD experience and will influence future quality provision for the youngest children in our nurseries. Through the reciprocal opportunity to present and share the Irish Perspective of both Curriculum & Quality Frameworks to our hosts during our visit, hopefully we too can influence the quality of the early years provision (3-6 years) of our Italian neighbours.

 

Bio:

Susan Quirke-Crowley is a teacher with the Kerry College of Further Education where she currently delivers QQI Level 5 & 6 Modules on the Early Childhood Care and Education Programmes. She has completed the Masters of Science in Business and Management with the Institute of Public Administration in Dublin, a college of UCD. She qualified with a Postgraduate Diploma in Family Support from The UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre, NUI Galway and a BA in Early Childhood Care and Education, a Diploma in Early Childhood Studies and Practice and a Diploma in Adult Education & Training. Susan was formerly the LINC Tutor for Kerry with Mary Immaculate College and has an avid interest in Inclusive Practice within the Montessori Early Years Education Sector and was formerly National Coordinator of the Junior Entrepreneur Programme for Primary Schools developed by Nurture Entrepreneur, in partnership with the Curriculum Development Unit at Mary Immaculate College.

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