Policy Brief: EECERA Conference: Children’s Curiosity, Agency and Participation

Policy Brief: EECERA Conference: Children’s Curiosity, Agency and Participation
Léargas and Early Childhood Ireland Erasmus+ ECEC Exchange

From 30 August until 2 September, a group from Early Childhood Ireland attended the European Early Childhood Education Research Association (EECERA) conference in Estoril, Portugal. The 31st iteration of the conference, it focussed on ‘Children’s Curiosity, Agency and Participation’ and the challenges for professional action and development. EECERA takes place annually and this year the event attracted over 1,000 delegates, mostly from Europe but with some notable international representation. The range and depth of research was impressive, with particular highlights being the subject of this Policy Brief.

Themes of the Conference

The themes of the conference posed three key questions:

  1. What might research reveal about the centrality of curiosity and agency in children’s and adult’s learning and wellbeing?
  2. How might curiosity and agency be encouraged in children’s play and learning or in adult’s professional activity?
  3. What are the challenges and benefits for the Early Years sector in prioritising the development of curiosity and agency in both practitioners and children?

These were further broken down into strands which focussed on topics such as culture, community and society, play and learning, national curriculums, child-centred practice, quality practice, children’s policy, play and learning plus others. Keynote speeches touched on children’s wonder, their curiosity and their belonging, delivered expertly by Catherine L’Ecuyer, Professor Johanna Einarsdottir and Ferre Lavaers.

Luis Alberto Ribeiro, President of the Association of Early Childhood Professionals (APEI), Portugal, also delivered a particularly relevant address on professional development and the formation and workings of an association of professionals in the country.

Early Childhood Ireland and Irish representation

Early Childhood Ireland was well represented, with a number of Early Childhood Ireland delegates presenting research. Chloe Keegan, Aoife Horgan and Linda Kelly presented their work (which was also co-authored by colleague Liz Kerrins) on outdoor play spaces in Irish Early Years settings. Our colleague Fiona Kelleher also presented further on the research methodology used for consulting with babies and young children. Both of these research topics drew on the topics of children’s curiosity, agency and, perhaps most key, participation.

Beside Early Childhood Ireland staff, there was a good representation from other Irish delegates at the conference. Of particular note was presentations from representatives from Tusla, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY), the Department of Education, Leadership for Inclusion (LINC), Early Childhood Ireland members, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), various Irish universities and institutes, the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) and the Childhood Development Initiative.

Research of note

With hundreds of symposia presentations taking place, there were ample but difficult choices to make. Particularly interesting discussions were those on outdoors, risky play, on children’s agency, citizenship and their democratic participation. It was notable that the Aistear curriculum framework featured in these discussions.

In keeping with the theme that Early Childhood Ireland colleagues presented on, the feature of sustainability and ecological awareness offered key questions about integrating these  into Early Years practice at a time of climate change and ecological collapse. Moreover, the role of the state in the sector and privatisation was topical, and the impacts that this has on quality for children, workforce development, terms and conditions and sector capacity. These were all interesting to consider alongside the DCEDIY’s presentation on the Equal Participation model as part of Partnership for the Public Good.

It was also thought-provoking to attend discussions and research symposia on the experiences of home-based Early Years, or childminding, considering the recently implementation of the Irish National Action Plan on Childminding in the last number of years. It was difficult to narrow all the research down to highlights, however what is certain is that previously-held ideas and preconceptions were changed and new ones formed over the course of the four days.

Conclusion

Overall, EECERA was an invigorating experience. It was a real inspiration to see the commitment and dedication to children’s learning and development and how, as conference attendees, our own thinking on the conference themes evolved. The full programme can be reviewed on the EECERA website, along with the conference proceedings. From a policy perspective, what is clear is that by creating suitable, sustainable and well-resourced frameworks or environment, we in the Early Years sectors can constantly adapt and evolve when it comes to providing high quality provision for children. Early Childhood Ireland will continue monitoring research and linking this with our advocacy for high quality experiences for children.

You can find out more about our work by visiting out Advocacy page or contacting us at policy@earlychildhoodireland.ie.

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