By Dairíona Ní Mhuirí
I started using real tools in my practice in 2017 while studying for my degree as we had been encouraged to incorporate them into our settings. I was so nervous initially, but I spoke to the providers of the service I managed at the time, rang our insurance, and did a risk assessment. I introduced screwdrivers and hammers.
Due to my nerves, initially, I over supervised children using the tools and did not allow them to enjoy the experience as much as I should have. In the next service I worked on the provider would not allow tool use and the insurance situation had changed. Last year when opening the Naíonra I really wanted the outdoor learning environment to be as important as the indoor one. At first, we needed to share the clós (playground) with the scoil (school) and then in April we got our own garden space. One of the first things I did was put together a tool bench.
Thankfully the insurance situation changed again. The children had shown interest in building and construction before that. So, we had a curriculum theme based around this and I brought in screwdrivers and a hammer and we used them. The tools bench outside was one of the most popular things in the garden. This time I allowed the children to get the full benefits from using tools. We spoke about safety and when they took the tools out, I reminded them about the safety and then let them be, supervising but not interfering.
This summer (2023) I completed the pilot Nature Pedagogy programme with Early Childhood Ireland. It awakened my love of the outdoors again and gave great ideas like changing our risk assessment for a benefit risk assessment and to introduce children to junior hacksaws. I was amazed by the patience and concentration the children had, especially those who like things to happen immediately and are always very busy. It takes a lot of time to cut a stick, but they persist! In term two we are really looking forward to expanding our use of tools to actually building things.
Our service grew this year and as such we got to hire new educators. I asked them how they felt about tool and fires (that’s our next plan). They were a little taken aback at first after coming from a service that is more risk averse, but I assured them I would introduce the children to the tools and supervise until they were comfortable. They very quickly came on board and are fascinated by the benefits of it. We have an outdoor policy which talks about our tools and the elements we use (water and at times fire) and we have a benefit risk assessment done. We have a poster on our parent’s board with pictures of the children engrossed in tool use and explaining why we use them. We have had no concerns or negative feedback from parents. I have always found that if you are confident in the service you are providing and can explain the ‘why’ then parents are happy. Tool use is now part of the high-quality service we provide in Naíonra na Síolta Óga.
Dairíona Ní Mhuirí is the owner/manager of Naíonra na Síolta Óga, in Gorey, Co. Wexford. She opened the service last year following 14 years experience in the sector, working with all age groups. She completed her degree at night from 2012 to 2015 while working in the sector. She is passionate about providing high quality Early Years and School AgeC through the medium of Gaeilge to light the grá of the teanga in those who attend the service. Diversity and inclusion is a core value of the service and we adapt the environment and our approach to meet children where they are at. The outdoor environment is of equal importance as the indoor one and Dairíona is an advocate for the benefits of outdoor play. One of Dairíona’s main aims of Naíonra na Síolta Óga is to ensure all educators who work their feel valued and respected for the professionals they are, for the important and hard work they do and she is working hard to achieve this environment.