By Dr Sharon Skehill, NCCA
Aistear, the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework, (NCCA, 2009) is currently being updated with a draft Updated Aistear available for Phase 2 consultation with the Early Years sector. This proposed draft has been developed from the first Consultation report which involved analysis of questionnaires, focus groups and written submissions, and also the Consultation with babies, toddlers and young children study and a Literature Review.
The proposed Updated Aistear continues to reflect all that we have come to know about the early childhood curriculum Framework but has been updated to reflect a changing and diverse contemporary Ireland. One of the key messages from Phase 1 Consultation was the centrality of the professional role of the ‘adult’ working with babies, toddlers and young children. The draft Updated Aistear presents a view of the ‘educator’ as competent, confident, agentic and reflective. An agentic educator is presented as one who can act independently to make professional and informed decisions in response to children’s learning needs. As set out in the Updated Aistear, there is an understanding that anyone who comes to the Framework with the intention of supporting children’s learning and development falls under the umbrella title of ‘educator’. In this way, the flexibility and adaptability of the Framework supports the creativity of the user – whether as an educator in an Early Years’ setting, a childminder or as a parent, and values the different lens and interpretations of those who support early learning and development. There may be different interpretations and understandings based on pedagogical knowledge and experiences, but all serve to support and nurture babies, toddlers and young children.
By modelling positive learning dispositions such as kindness, empathy, inclusion, perseverance, playfulness, curiosity, leadership and enthusiasm, educators can use their pedagogical knowledge and understanding of Aistear’s Principles and Themes to guide, support and facilitate learning and development. There is scope for broad and creative interpretation of the updated aims and learning goals of Aistear to respond to the interests, wants and needs of babies, toddlers and young children in a holistic and meaningful way. While the learning goals have been considerably reduced, they remain broad which means that they work for the different ages, stages and interests of children. There is scope for learning across a broad range of topics such as early language, literacy and numeracy concepts; about nature, engineering, science, technology, as well as important physical and social skills. An understanding of the Principles is interwoven throughout the Themes in acknowledging how babies, toddlers and young children can learn many different things at the same time, and the centrality of the educator in creating those safe, inclusive, aesthetic and challenging spaces, provocations and environments. Similarly, the flexibility of the updated Framework ensures that it supports engagement with different curriculum approaches.
The proposed Updated Aistear continues to promote the key person approach, which ensures each baby, toddler and young child is assigned a named person who is primarily responsible for creating a close relationship with them and their family. Aistear has always had a strong focus on relationships, but the update expands on this by promoting a slow relational pedagogy. This enables educators to come to know each baby, toddler and young child – to slow things down, to be present, to notice their identities and capabilities and to see their potential. It also helps build a trusting relationship so learning can happen in a positive, inclusive, and responsive environment. Relationships and interactions are the centre of early childhood education and care where babies, toddlers and young children thrive in the context of stable, caring and positive relationships with each other and those who care for and educate them.
It is really important that Aistear works for all educators in the various settings where learning and development happen, as it is through your work that the vision and purpose of Aistear can be realised. As we are coming towards the end of Phase 2 Consultation, NCCA are inviting educators to share their views of the draft Framework through the online questionnaires or written submission template available on NCCA website. We want to know what you think about the proposed updated Framework and crucially, what you think is needed to support educators to engage with the Updated Aistear.
Dr Sharon Skehill works as an Education Officer in the NCCA on the Early Childhood Team. She is working on Updating Aistear: the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework. Sharon has extensive experience working as an Early Years’ educator with babies, toddlers and children as well as a lecturer and researcher in early childhood education.