Childcare Options

Information on various types of centre-based childcare options

Play-based Programmes

The Play-based Curriculum for Early Childhood

This is the most common curriculum used in preschools, as most people in Ireland – and this is supported by the Dept. of Education and the National Curriculum Council – believe that children have a right to play. They recognise that play is a child’s way of learning and of coming to terms with the world around them.  We call it the play-based curriculum because it involves a range of activities and learning approaches – but the child’s right to learn through play is at the centre of the curriculum.

Why Play?

Parents are constantly amazed by what their children learn in the first few years of life, how clued in and competent they become, just through interacting and participating in everyday activities with the people around them. Parents can see how their children show off their range of competencies through play. They hear them talk and act like parents, pirates, princesses, professionals etc. and in so doing demonstrate knowledge and skills way beyond their years. We know that when children enter school, they become more focused on particular kinds of learning such as literacy, numeracy and other subjects, but we strongly believe that it is really important to protect the early years as a space for children to follow their interests and learn life skills (including literacy and numeracy) at their own pace, in their own way, while at the same time enjoying the process. Play offers children the opportunity to set up real life scenarios where they can practice, share and learn the skills they will need in later life.  It allows them space to explore and think in creative ways.

How the play-based curriculum is structured

The job of the educator working with a play-based curriculum is to facilitate play, to draw out and extend what children learn through play. Therefore, the environment, the daily routine and the role of the educator is structured to facilitate this.  In a play-based pre-school you will see that the indoor and outdoor environments are structured so that children can play:

  • House, work, shop etc – explore roles, relationships, skills – the skills needed to be a parent, a shopkeeper, a doctor, a carpenter – including language and numeracy skills and thinking and relationship skills
  • Building with lego/blocks etc to develop mathematical, design, collaboration and negotiation skills
  • Sand and water play – to explore science concepts about volume, capacity, consistency, etc.  Unless children have first-hand experience of materials and their properties – they cannot understand them at a mental level
  • Art – the purpose here is to encourage creative expression.  What are the experiences, ideas and feelings that children want to express?  What are the different ways of doing that?  We want to open up the 100 languages of children, rather than limiting them to talking, reading and writing.  Creativity creates alert minds that are able to invent and think outside the box.
  • Stories, songs, rhymes – Children love them and they are a real help in developing language, rhythm, movement and a sense of community
  • Big movement play – where children stretch themselves – learn to manage risk – develop a sense of adventure and well-being as well as important physical and mental skills. The daily routine is structured to ensure that there is time for:
  • Free play, indoors and outdoors – where children choose their activities and explore and experiment with the materials around them, either  on their own or in collaboration with other children
  • Small Group time – when children further explore issues and interests that arise in play.  For example, if a group of children are playing holidays, the educator might pursue this interest by discussing holidays and travel with children to extend their knowledge and skills.
  • Large Group time – this could be a time for stories, songs, rhyme, movement.
  • Tidy up times and meal times are also part of the learning experience for children.

Role of Educator

The educator’s role is to help children to develop:

  • The skills of interacting and playing with others
  • The ability to contribute to the play themes and stories
  • A strong sense of well-being, identity and belonging
  • Skills for thinking and exploring
  • Skills for communicating

For examples of the play-based curriculum in action – have a look at our learning stories.

Steiner Kindergartens

Steiner Kindergartens provide a secure, gentle, home-like environment where the young child can flourish and the wonder of childhood is protected.

Steiner Early Years Care and Education has a consistent philosophy of child development underlying the curriculum which is responsive to childhood developmental phases.

It began with the work of Dr Rudolf Steiner and has been developed to become a part of mainstream provision in most European countries.

Formal academic learning does not feature in the belief that children will learn these skills more effectively if they have had plenty of time and opportunity to develop socially, emotionally and physically first, in a creative, secure and harmonious environment.

What parents look for in a Steiner Childcare Setting:

> Warm, nurturing environment.
> An emphasis on learning through doing, child led creative play, natural materials, celebration of seasonal festivals and activities.
> Healthy daily rhythms, alternating child-led time with teacher-led activity and rest.
> Simple natural playthings to nourish the senses and stimulate imagination.
> Regular activities like handcraft, baking, painting, ‘ring time’ songs, verses, stories.
> Outdoor play.

Benefits for children:

> The Steiner curriculum meets their developmental needs in an artistic, age appropriate way.
> Their imaginations are nurtured and social, emotional and physical skills developed as important prerequisites for formal school learning.
> Careful consideration is given to the impact of everything in their environment upon their senses.

HighScope Curriculum

HighScope values parents as partners in the care and education of their child and works on a partnership to meet the developmental needs of the individual child.

What is HighScope?

HighScope is a quality approach to early childhood care and education which has been shaped and developed by research and practice over a forty year period. It identifies and builds on children’s strengths, interests and abilities.
The HighScope curriculum is used internationally in a variety of settings including day care, crèches, playgroups, nursery and primary schools. The central belief of the HighScope approach is that children construct their own learning by doing and being actively involved in working with materials, people and ideas.

HighScope provides children with:

> A consistent and flexible daily routine which provides for child and adult initiated activities
> Opportunities to choose, plan, carry out and reflect on their activities
> Opportunities for children to engage in the active participatory learning process
> Adults who value and appreciate children and provide a creative and supportive learning climate

Outcomes for Children:

Findings from the HighScope Perry Preschool Study found that using the HighScope curriculum had positive effects from the time the child attended the HighScope setting up until they were 40, including better school achievement and
literacy, more likely to graduate from high school, adult earnings, home ownership and lifetime arrest rates. (Essentials of Active Learning in Preschool, HighScope Educational Research Foundation)

> Children develop self-confidence, initiative, creativity and problem-solving skills
> Children learn about social relationships, the world about them, maths, science and technology, reasoning and language
> Children develop positive attitudes to self, others and to future learning

HighScope promotes family involvement by:

> A partnership approach to the child’s care and education
> On-going exchange of information between the family and the setting
> Curriculum-based workshops to support families to promote children’s development at home

What does a HighScope setting look like?

In a setting using the HighScope curriculum you will see an environment which provides active participatory learning experiences through the use of:

> Clearly defined interest areas such as painting, sand and water, home, books and blocks
> Many natural, real and open-ended materials
> Materials which are accessible to the children
> Clearly labelled interest areas, shelves and storage containers which promotes the Find-Use-Return cycle


What is a Naíonraí?

A Naíonraí is a playgroup run through Irish for children (aged 3-5 years), who attend daily for 2-3 hours in a pleasant, cheerful and safe environment, under the guidance and supervision of a Stiúrthóir (Leader).

The staff structure the environment to ensure that all facets of the child’s holistic development are catered for, while giving the child the opportunity to acquire Irish naturally through the medium of play, which is this particular age group’s chief method of learning.

The Naíonraí Philosophy

The Naíonraí enables children to acquire Irish as distinct from teaching them in the traditional manner.

Children hear Irish being spoken at all times by the Stiúrthóir Naíonraí (Naíonraí Leader). This method is known as Early Immersion Education (Luath-thumoideachas). With early immersion the child learns through a second language (in this case Irish). The Stiúrthóir understands everything the child says in his first language but answers him in the second language while also providing him with the necessary vocabulary in the second language.

The child will begin to use Irish when he is ready to do so, each child at his own pace.

“Immersion education is regarded by many as the most effective means of leaning a second language. Most immersion students can be expected to reach higher levels of second language proficiency than students in other school-based language programmes.” (Met, 1998)

“From the standpoint of academic achievement, over three decades of studies consistently show that immersion students achieve as well as, or better than, non-immersion peers on standardized measures of verbal and mathematics skills administered in English.” (Cloud, Genesee & Hamayan, 2000; Genesee, 1987)

Benefits of Bilingual Education

> A higher competency level is achievable in both languages for students undertaking bilingual education. This enables wider communication throughout regional and cultural groups.
> Broader exposure to and appreciation of the value of various cultures, deeper multi-culturalism, greater tolerance and less racism.
> Biliteracy (the ability to read and write two languages)
> Greater academic success.
> Cognitive benefits
> Raised self-esteem.
> More secure identity.
> Economic advantages (employment).

Montessori Pre-school Education

Montessori education is based on the understanding that education begins at birth and is a natural process which develops spontaneously. Respect for the child is the core principle of the Montessori Method of Education.

The Montessori Setting

> Classrooms are bright spacious multi-age learning communities guided by a trained teacher.
> Children are free to move around and independently choose their own activities. Using real child sized utensils the children learn to care for themselves and their environment.
> The specifically designed Montessori educational materials increase sensory awareness and refinement of the senses and guide the child in their individual growth and development.
> These activities help develop concentration, dexterity and independence while providing indirect preparation for more formal learning such as reading, writing, and number work.
> The child who feels good about himself/herself learns to love his companions, the natural environment and learning.

Benefits of Montessori Approach

> The Montessori class provides comfort, security and a cohesive community.
> The flexibility of the programme makes it adaptable to the needs of the child regardless of the level of ability, learning style or social maturity.
> Small steps, self-correcting materials, individual lessons and self-chosen tasks all lead the child to experience success.
> The focus is on the development of the whole child and the provision of an environment complete with enriching activities that will foster growth in this vital period of development.

Reggio Emilia

Early Childhood Ireland has a long association with the infant toddler centres and preschools of Reggio Emilia in Italy dating back to 2002 when staff members attended an international study visit to Reggio Emilia. This was the beginning of a relationship which was formalised on becoming the Reggio Children International Network partners for Ireland In 2010.

“Today we think of the concept of internationalism not only as crossing geographical frontiers but metaphorical and symbolic frontiers too, in a permanent attempt to go beyond the confines of our mentalities and our feelings”
Carla Rinaldi

Early Childhood Ireland supports and is inspired by the approach to care and education in the infant toddler centres and preschools of Reggio Emilia. This approach is underpinned by a number of principles based on an image of the children as; “Active protagonists of their growth and development processes”. This suggests that adults recognise the capabilities of every child from birth and that children are active in their own learning and development. 

Early Childhood Ireland: Reggio Children International Partner
As the Reggio Children international partner, Early Childhood Ireland aims to support the identity and the work of Reggio Children and the Loris Malaguzzi International Centre:

  • Giving visibility to and sharing learning of the approach to early childhood care and education in the infant toddler centers and preschools of Reggio Emilia on our web site.
  • Distributing Reggio Children publications, with discounts for Early Childhood Ireland members.
  • Promoting “Rechild” the Reggio Children Newsletter to the ECCE sector in Ireland (subscribe directly from the Reggio Emilia website)
  • Coordinating international study visits to Reggio Emilia.
  • Facilitating workshops to reflect on the approach to early childhood care and education in Reggio Emilia.
  • Working in collaboration with ReCreate to offer our members discounts to access open ended materials to enhance creativity in their services. See for further information.

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