Where did the summer go! Hard to believe another ‘year’ is starting. She’s off to preschool this September… these are some of the familiar statements we hear at this time of the year when thousands of children all over Ireland return or move on to the next exciting stage in their educational journey. A new set of faces with their own unique stories to tell brings excitement and adventure as well as a little nervousness and uncertainty. This time of year also means new beginnings and fresh starts as you get to know the new children arriving in your setting or your room, and they get to know you. These first few weeks are so important as new relationships are formed between practitioners and children, practitioners and parents, and children and children.
It feels like yesterday (thirteen and eleven years later!) when I was walking, hand in hand, with my two girls as they started our local playgroup. I loved playing dollies with my friend when we moved the chairs to make a house. I loved the sand tray. Remember when we made things when we stuck twigs on the cardboard boxes. These memories of their time in playgroup highlight the centrality of play in young children’s lives. The opening sentence in Aistear’s Guidelines on Play states, ‘Children love to play, and play often mirrors what is important in their lives’ (2009, p.53). In describing the key characteristics, Aistear reminds us that this play is highly communicative, meaningful and therapeutic.
- Children share information and knowledge through their play
- Children play about what they have seen and heard, and what they know
- Play helps children to express and work through emotions and experiences (p.53)
Late August and September is one of the busiest times in the year to listen, to tune in and to notice children as they play. All those years ago, Froebel concluded that, ‘Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul’. Like my two daughters, play permeates some of my most vivid memories of childhood such as constructing a ‘housie’ which served as a shop, school and health clinic, as necessary. I was known, on occasion, to wall-paper that ‘housie’ with pages ripped from storybooks! I regularly baked mud pies delicately decorated with leaf-icing and carefully-chosen pebbles. I came alive in play. So, this September and in addition to the information you’ve received from parents and colleagues, what better way to get to know those little people behind the new faces than through the lens of their play. For example, the open-ended materials, the dress-up items, the real-life objects and the books they choose; the roles they play; their interactions; the conversations they have all give amazing windows into their identities and personalities.
In her model of participation, Prof Laura Lundy (2007) talks about giving children a safe and inclusive ‘space’ to share their thoughts. Play can give this space. Through their play, children show us and tell us what interests them, what they like and dislike, what they can do and understand, what they ponder on, what’s important to them, and how they are feeling in their new room or setting. Collectively, these insights help paint rich and illuminating pictures of each child helping you, as a practitioner, to identify the projects, investigations and experiences that might help them to feel secure, happy, valued and cared for while at the same time, fuelling their curiosity and their imagination.
The online Aistear Síolta Practice Guide’s pillars on Play and on Transitions (www.aistearsiolta.ie) remind us of the importance of play in children’s lives, and of the need for key people to work together to share information to support children in moving to a new room or setting. Parents and other practitioners have important information that can help you get to know the new children. Children too have powerful information.
I wish you well in your work as another new ‘year’ begins. May there be plenty of play adventures ahead but perhaps not too much story-book wall-papering!
Lundy, L. (December 2007). ‘Voice is not enough: Conceptualising Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child’. In: British Educational Research Journal. 33(6), 6, pp.927-942, 16.
National Council for Curriculum and Assessment [NCCA] (2009). Aistear: the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework. Dublin: Government Publications.
National Council for Curriculum and Assessment [NCCA] (2015). Aistear Síolta Practice Guide. Dublin: NCCA. www.aistearsiolta.ie
Arlene Forster, Deputy Chief Executive, NCCA
Arlene is Deputy Chief Executive in the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). The NCCA advises the Minister for Education and Skills on curriculum and assessment in early childhood education, primary and post-primary schools.
Arlene began her career teaching in the early years and primary in Northern Ireland and then in the Republic of Ireland. In her role as a director in NCCA, she led the development of Aistear: the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework and oversaw the development of the online Aistear Síolta Practice Guide. She has also worked in the areas of assessment and reporting, primary curriculum review, language and mathematics. She was appointed Deputy CEO in 2016 and has responsibility for leading the Council’s work in early childhood and primary education.