– By Paula Grogan Ryan, Bansha Preschool
The only job I ever wanted to do was work with young children. I started my education by studying the Montessori Method of education. While doing this, I was lucky enough to find a lovely local Montessori school where I saw Montessori work in practice. This experience showed me the innate ability of the children and how through play they learn and make sense of the world around them. From here I worked in different Early Years settings. I got the opportunity to work in Bucharest with children in an orphanage in the mid 1990’s where I set up a temporary preschool in one of the rooms. Even with limited materials and deprived circumstances, children still want to play and learn.
Watching the development of Early Years in Ireland I returned to education, gaining my degree in Early Childhood Studies from University College Cork (UCC) in 2012. While on work experience for my degree, I was part of the Aistear in Action project, and I was lucky enough to open my own preschool, in Bansha, Co Tipperary, while still part of this project. At present, I am still running my preschool and studying for my Masters.
My research is ‘creativity as a tool for learning in the Early Years’. As part of this Masters in Fine Art, I had to do a residency. I applied through Early Childhood Ireland to be part of a trip to the Loris Malaguzzi International Centre to study the Reggio Emilia method of education. I was delighted to be chosen as one of the 24 participants to go on the trip in April 2023. Our trip included lectures each morning, site visits to preschools in the region, using the Reggio philosophy to work with young children and workshops to show us how this method of education is conducted.
Learning for children takes place through play. Play is intrinsically motivated, integrating children’s life experiences, helping them to make sense of their world. In her book, The Absorbent Mind, Maria Montessori describes the child as having the ability to ‘absorb knowledge’. She sees the child has ‘the power to teach himself’, through play. Paulo Freire (1986, p.46) describes learning as a ‘layering of knowledge invention and reinvention, through the restless impatient, continuing, inquiring’, doing this in the presence of peers. Education should be about giving the learner the chance to explore, to discover by experience, rather than having information thrust on them (Freire, P.66).
In Reggio Emilia it was evident that the children were allowed to direct their own learning, through experience, movement, listening and observing. They did this with their peers and educators being co-constructors of knowledge. It was evident that each member of staff in the preschools was involved in the care and education of the children. Malaguzzi spoke of the 100 languages of children and in the Reggio centres that we visited it was easy to see that through painting, drawing, dancing, and making, the children were able to express some of these 100 languages. One of the first people to speak emphasised the importance of taking time with our work. This resonated with me, and it is something I have been practicing since my return. Time to look at the environment, the third teacher, time to listen to the children and staff and time to understand the intrinsic ability of the children to acquire and layer knowledge that is all around them. The children come to us from their family/community, and we need to value the contribution these connections make to the children’s learning.
The artist, Ane Hjort Guttu (Andel, 2018.p.210), speaking about creativity and play, describes both as ‘an earnest search for understanding and interpreting the world’. For Ane, art and creativity are necessary for her survival, just as play and creativity are essential for the child to make sense of their world. Vea Vecchi (2010 p. xvii), an Atelieristas/artist in the Diana preschool (one of the Reggio Emmila preschools, for 30 years), describes the Reggio philosophy in her book, Art and Creativity in Reggio Emilia, as ‘understanding of problems through experiment, trial, error and testing’, it is ‘a pedagogy of listening where the learner develops theories, shares them with others, redevelops them in a pedagogy that emphasises the importance of relationships’
For me, the privilege of visiting Reggio Emilia has reinforced the ideas already underpinned in our own Early Years curriculum, Aistear. It was a privilege to visit the area and see first-hand the inspiring work taking place through creativity.
Andel.J. ( 2018) Back to the Sandbox; University of Minnesota Press. Minneapolis.
Cotter.L. (2019) Artistic Research; Hatje Cantz Verlag. Berlin.
Freire. P. (1986) Pedagogy of the Oppressed; Penguin books Ltd. England.
Malaguzzi,L. (1996) The Hundred Languages of children; Catalogue of the Exhibition. Reggio Emilia; Reggio Children.
Montessori, M., (1967). The Absorbent Mind. 1st ed.: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. New York.
Paula Grogan Ryan is an Early Years educator and member of Early Childhood Ireland who runs her own preschool in Bansha, Co Tipperary. Paula is currently studying for her Masters in Fine Art.