29 August, 2022 | Posted by Michelle Hogan

How a Background in Montessori and Dealing with Tragedy Led to a Career in Play Therapy

Therapeutic Play Skills QQI Level 6 Portobello Institute Play Therapy

The Therapeutic Play Skills QQI Level 6 course at Portobello Institute allows learners to gain insight into the world of play therapy from our qualified and experienced tutor, Aoife Kelly. 

This introductory course into the world of play therapy delivered over two Saturdays allows learners, generally from early years and SNA backgrounds as well as parents, to complete a missing piece of preschool education by filling in the gap of understanding and working with the child’s emotional development.

Aoife Kelly has been an Early Years tutor at Portobello Institute since 2006 and has significant experience working with children in various capacities since 1991. She began her career as a Montessori teacher, so she understands the sector in depth. From there she went into special education working in both mainstream and special schools. 

She explains her journey into play therapy.

“I had a Montessori school with a friend of mine, and we had one little child who had a tragedy in the school, and we discovered that we couldn’t support him the way he needed to be supported. I was aware that the support I was giving was taking too much from me personally so I looked into it and I found play therapy.

“As it happened, my own son who was five at the time started primary school with a little group he had been with in pre-school, and we knew that one of those children’s mothers was terminally ill and she did subsequently die early on in that first term of school. 

"The kids were a little bit prepared for that by and large but tragically another mother died suddenly a couple of weeks after this mum died. So of course, my son thought ‘is this a pattern?’ and he got very anxious. I had just started my own journey into play therapy, and I was referred to a play therapist for my son because that’s what I thought would help him and it did."

Aoife is a qualified play therapist and clinical supervisor with her own private practice.

She now uses the practice of play therapy to hold a space with children that supports them through difficulties and learning to accept themselves using a non-directive play environment. 

"I have one little client who comes to me and the idea is to support his emotional learning and development. What play therapy also encompasses is an opportunity for him to practice those basic hand-eye coordination skills and practical skills.  

"This was a child who came into me literally, and I don’t mean figuratively, literally bouncing off the walls. Six sessions in now, he has settled, he is calming down a little more. Yesterday he sat there with the water and all he did was pour water back and forth for 50 minutes. This was a child who couldn’t sit still for more than three minutes and would jump and bounce to different things.

"He sat there for the whole 50 minutes and he looked up at one stage and said, ‘this is brilliant’. He went into a whole world of his own, I was not only facilitating his emotional well-being but from a Montessori perspective he’s building his concentration skills, his focus on a task, his hand-eye coordination, and every box is being ticked.

"People say to me ‘you’re just sitting there’ but no you are sitting with them. There's what we call an emotional investment which we can’t quantify it’s completely energetic, you can sense it and feel it but you can't touch it and quantify it in a physical context," Aoife explained.

After gaining her Montessori and Special Needs qualifications from Portobello Institute, Aoife progressed onto NUI Galway to complete a Post-Grad Certificate and Diploma course qualifying as a Play Therapist.  

She then decided to complete the MA programme in Practice Based Play Therapy, transferring to Leeds Beckett University and completing a thesis on ‘Exploring the Effectiveness of Using LEGO in Play Therapy’.  

Her most recent qualification is a Post-Grad Diploma in Advanced Clinical Supervision from Middlesex University. 

Aoife tutors on the QQI Level 5 and 6 Montessori, Special Needs Assisting modules, and Therapeutic Play Skills here at Portobello Institute. 

Students who undertake the upcoming TPS course taught by Aoife benefit from her extensive experience from having her own practice to her background in Early Years, Special Needs Assisting, and lecturing in Portobello and NUIG.  

The course is delivered over two full Saturdays. The first Saturday is theory and information based giving background into the history, development, and main theories of play therapy.

On the second Saturday, learners can expect to delve into some of the practical elements of play therapy which Aoife says is usually an eye-opening experience.

Read More: LEGO® Therapy: Supporting the Child With Autism Spectrum Disorder in Early Education

Find Out More

Click here to book a consultation to speak to our Early Years & Montessori advisor, Jennifer Matteazzi, about where you are on this journey and how we can guide you to achieve your goals. Call her directly on 01 892 0031 or email jennifer.matteazzi@portobelloinstitute.com or visit the Early Years & Montessori department here.

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