I recently had the pleasure of being part of a Learning Teaching and Training Activity (LTTA) to Belgium as part of an EU funded project. Early Childhood Ireland, along with partners in Belgium and Denmark are involved in a new project focusing on quality family day care. Family day care is a term used for childminders in our partner countries on this project.
We travelled to Brussels for the first of our three scheduled LTTA’s. This involved a full itinerary with lots of discussions, observations of practice, reflections and of course eating some delicious Belgian treats along the way.
This trip was a real reminder of how necessary it is to meet in person for these types of projects. In person meetings enables us to build and secure relationships but also to have valuable discussions and exchange ideas and practices and move agenda items along. This is so much more difficult over a TEAMS call. This has been really missed over the past few years due to Covid restrictions and is most definitely a welcome return.
Our Belgian partners were extremely hospitable and generous with their time and organised a wonderful programme of events. Although the programme included long days and at times was quite exhausting, they kept us engaged with interesting presentations and well looked after with a variety of sweet treats.
The importance of knowledge sharing and reflective practice
This of course is not the first exchange of ideas with our EU partners and Early Childhood Ireland have been involved in a number of interesting and relevant Erasmus-funded projects. However, this trip reminded me of the importance of knowledge sharing and how this can promote positive cultural exchange while also being personally enriching by affording me the opportunity to gain new insights and ideas.
I am an advocate of reflective practice no matter what field you work in, and this trip was another example of how essential reflective practice is for personal and professional growth. Reflective practice allows us to develop self-awareness by examining our own beliefs, values and assumptions. Through reflection we can identify areas of strength and areas that need improvement which leads to a better overall understanding and improved decision making.
Along with reflection these projects are a wonderful example of sharing practice which can lead to better outcomes for children. By learning from one another we can expand our knowledge, skills and expertise. We can share examples of high quality practice in Ireland and we have the opportunity to observe what is working well in other systems while also learning from interventions that did not work as well. Of course, we are not always comparing like with like but that is the key to these projects. We can apply all learning to our own unique context and from time to time it is nice to pat our selves on the back for the good work that we do in our corner of Europe.
Some interesting facts about childminding in Belgium that we learned from our trip
- Children start formal education at 2.5 years where the ratio could be 1 adult with up to 25 children
- The school day for a 2.5-year-old is 8.30 – 3.30pm (no sleep)
- The ratio for childminders was set at 1 adult to 8 children from 3 / 4 months to 2.5 years
- If you have two adults, you can have up to 16 children
- Children rarely go outside due to the poor weather and of course the very high ratios
- Childminders are exempt from paying tax
- Childminders receive a subsidy of €24 per child per day tax free.
As you can imagine these points made for some very interesting discussions at policy level once compared to the systems in Ireland and of course Denmark. The major difference being the age of children starting school and of course the ratio for childminders along with children accessing the wonderful outdoors. The Belgian partners and policy makers in the room took this all on board and quality is high on their policy agenda along with ratio reviews.
We will update our members further as we progress through the project.
Positive points in the Irish system
All that said there is a lot to learn from the Belgian system with regard to funding models and incentives to ensure childminders are registered and visible in the sector. Most importantly, we learned that when it comes to ratios in Ireland, and our positive view on the importance of outdoor play, our Early Years and School Age Care system, we are doing very well. So I am sure you will agree this is just another reason why we can be proud to be Irish in this week when we celebrate all things Irish!