Froebel’s emphasis on play-based learning, Montessori’s concepts of the child as an independent and competent explorer and Dewey’s ideas regarding hands on experiences has shaped both the current view of the child and they have altered the role of the practitioner.
Further progression came through Ireland’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992.
The child is now seen as an individual rights holder, who has a say in decisions that affect them. With this in mind, we need to be mindful of power dynamics in early years provision.
The role of the practitioner is now diverse. In fact, we adopt many different roles on a daily basis.
We observe the children in order to plan a curriculum that nurtures the children’s interests and needs.
We are positive role models, as we know children learn through the imitation of others. We scaffold children’s learning in order to support them in mastering things for themselves.
Arguably one of the most important roles is that of an advocate.
In practice, in order to be an advocate for children’s rights, we need to: - Encourage the children to use their voices and follow their lead. - Observe and facilitate, but not intrude unless necessary. - Find a balance between the welfare and the rights-based approach. For example, allowing risk taking and rough and tumble play and identifying when you need to step in. This can be tricky, and the balance of when and how to step in differs across the board. - Find a balance between adult led and child led experiences. Where are you needed and where are you not? - Advocate for the children who require support and intervention. This can be seen in AIM applications for instance and child protection protocols. Of course, rules and boundaries are part of daily life and children cannot do absolutely everything they want to do all the time but similarly, it shouldn’t be the case that the adult leads everything either.
A lovely idea that I often used was asking the children to come up with their own rules for the classroom. Ask them their opinions, sometimes they have ideas that we haven’t even thought of!
Here in Ireland, we have a fantastic framework for Early Childhood Education, Aistear. However, I am reluctant to say that any setting follows one approach under this framework.
Just as pioneers of pedagogy have influenced the view of the child and the role of the practitioner, perspectives from around the world have influenced early years provision in Ireland today and subsequently, Aistear.
A common debate that I have often heard is that a setting is either Montessori or Play-based.
This idea that there is no middle ground is not exactly accurate. The typical early years setting in Ireland is actually influenced by a number of approaches from all around the world.
Montessori – Maria Montessori developed revolutionary concepts around supporting children’s independence. The practitioner doesn’t interrupt or intrude on children’s play, instead they are effective observers and scaffold children’s learning. The Montessori classroom involved children of mixed age groups, an emphasis on sensory experiences and focused on the promotion of children’s self- help skills. Highscope – The Highscope approach involves somewhat flexible daily routines that support children through transitions. Interest areas are present in the Highscope classroom such as the home corner and the construction corner which promotes a play based approach to children’s learning. Small and large group times are a big focus of the Highscope approach, reflecting Vygotksy and Bruner’s concepts around the importance of social interactions and the co-constructing of knowledge between the child and others.
Te Whariki – A big focus of the Te Whariki curriculum is nurturing culture and diversity. This can be achieved through positive partnership with parents, nurturing the children’s home language and celebrating traditions to name a few. There is also an emphasis placed on fostering meaningful interactions and play and the use of learning stories for observation and assessment.
Reggio Emilia – This rights- based approach also involves effective parental involvement, an emphasis on the importance of the environment, observations done through the use of photographs and videos, and children’s capabilities and agency is acknowledged and nurtured.
Early Years Foundation Stage – This model used in England and Wales focuses on the child’s development, the use of the key person approach, which supports the children’s ability to develop attachments and helps with separation anxiety and the importance of play in learning.
I think it is clear to see from above, that these international perspectives are rooted in early years curriculum and practice here in Ireland.
This blog touches on what we explore in the Approaches to Pedagogy and Curriculum module. This module introduces students to influential pioneers of pedagogy and learning theorists that have helped shape both the view of the child and our role as early years professionals. Students critically evaluate their role as professionals and explore different strategies to implement a broad and balanced child centred curriculum. Different frameworks and approaches to early years education such as the Early Years Foundation Stage, Te Whariki and the Reggio Emilia approach are introduced and students are encouraged to apply theory to practice.
About the Author
Rachel Dunne is an Early Years Lecturer at Portobello Institute. She holds a BA (Hons) Early Childhood Education and Care from IT Carlow and an MA Developmental and Therapeutic Play from Swansea University. Rachel brings her years of knowledge and practical experience to our Challenging Inequalities, Pedagogy and Curriculum and Children's Rights modules. Read her full profile here.