Read our latest blogs!

Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion in Early Childhood Education & Care. It Matters by Sinead Matson

Many people question the relevance of early childhood education and care in wider society. In Ireland, it is simply known as ‘childcare’ and it is viewed as a way in which to mind children so that mothers can get back into the workforce in order to contribute to the economy. In the comments section under any newspaper article relating to ‘childcare’, arguments are put forward that any money spent by the Government could be spent on healthcare, primary and secondary schools, and housing. Children, in these comments sections, are seen as the financial responsibility of the parents who choose to have them.


Those who work in the childcare (Early Childhood Education and Care) sector understand that ECEC is about so much more than just minding children while their parents work. They understand that they work in partnership with families and communities to help build a future society that is tolerant, respectful, and while it  embraces differences it also recognises commonalties -our collective humanity.


Aistear, our curriculum framework, builds these foundations into the experiences that young children have between birth and senior infants (6 years of age) in ECEC settings and the infant classes of primary school. With its anti-bias nature and its use of critical reflections on practice, environments, and resources, Aistear works hand in hand with our Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion Charter to cultivate a tolerant and respectful society with individuals capable of critical thinking and an ability to see the 'we' not the 'us' and 'them'. 


In 1996, after a lengthy process, the Government of New Zealand introduced a bi-cultural and bi-lingual curriculum in early childhood education and care designed to bring together indigenous knowledge and practices with an increasingly multi-cultural society. This curriculum is called Te Whariki and it literally means ‘woven mat’.


The respect and aims within this woven mat of indigenous culture values and multi-cultural values can be clearly seen in its Principles and in its Strands, goals, and learning outcomes.

The curriculum is underpinned by four principles:

Empowerment (whakamana),

Holistic development (kotahitanga),

Family and community (whānau tangata),

Relationships (ngā hononga).


The five strands of Te Whāriki are:

Wellbeing (mana atua),

Belonging (mana whenua),

Contribution (mana tangata),

Communication (mana reo),

Exploration (mana aotūroa).


This early childhood curriculum framework is now 23 years old, and its impact on New Zealand's society has never been more evident for all to see than following the terrorist attack that took the lives of fifty people in Christchurch on 15th March 2019. The people of New Zealand immediately denounced the terrorist and declared that this attack on the fabric - the woven mat - of their culture was not done in their name. Of all the shows of grief, and outright rejection of the White supremacist ideology that motivated the terrorist, none was more powerful or moving than the video of Students performing the haka to pay tribute to classmates killed in Christchurch.


Children from different schools, different cultures, different skin colours,and different beliefs all united in their grief and rage at what had happened. They were empowered. They demonstrated the holistic relationships they had developed within their families, their communities, and their country. They were powerful in their demonstration and communication of their collective grief and rage. They belonged together and those they lost belonged to them.


If we can hope for nothing else in the future, we can hope that the children who pass through our doors every day are enabled to grow up with the same sense of community, belonging, and empowerment displayed by the young men and women of Christchurch today. We hope that they can communicate as clearly and powerfully how much the relationships they build in their communities mean to them. And we can only hope that through our curriculum framework, our practice, and our Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion Charter (in partnership with their parents and communities) that we can help them to learn the skills and dispositions that will enable them to do so.


But for now the last words belong to the children and their communities in New Zealand. We see you and your strength. We stand beside you united in grief. Stay Strong.

Kia Kaha

Students perform haka to pay tribute to classmates in Christchurch, New Zealand

Momo isn't the threat - We are! Our unease with children's 'dark play' by Sinead Matson

What is it about children’s explorations of dark, violent, and risky play that makes adults so uneasy? Why do adults feel the need to prevent, interfere, and stop this type of play? We talk about children’s rights in our homes, our communities, and our classrooms but we pay lip service to what we think are children’s rights. Those warm fuzzy rights that allow them to live out our utopian ideal of an innocent laughter filled childhood. Why do adults get to choose what sorts of play are acceptable and what are not? If children have the right to play, doesn’t that play include dark, superhero, war, rough and tumble, and risky play?


In the West, it is generally accepted that play is the medium through which children learn best; it helps regulate their emotions, keeps them fit and healthy, and is a protected right under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 31) ratified by Ireland in 1992. Children build resilience through play, gain a better understanding of how the world works and practice the skills they need to navigate it.


The word ‘play’ is a loaded word with connotations of that utopian childhood we all imagine. It conjures up images of hopscotch, Lego, blocks, sandpits, bikes, scooters, mud, sticks and stones, magic markers, dolls and buggies, teddies, running free, skipping, laughing children squealing in delight and ‘kick the can’ on a summers evening. But play also helps children explore death and life, helps them understand violence and power, and allows them to feel short-lived bouts of fear in a safe environment with playmates who also make them feel safe.


As a society, we often are uncomfortable with war play, army play, gun or weapon play – really any sort of play that triggers our own fears. We don’t want to expose the children in our charge to any violence despite the fact that children are really trying to learn and regulate their own emotions and responses to it. Children are hungry to learn about power, and how to survive when power shifts in the aggressor’s favour. They are also eager to learn how to experience grief and loss but in the safety of make-believe. Through this ‘dark play’ children are learning real tools for navigating life.


“But they are too young. They don’t need to know about all that yet. Let them be children.” These are the types of responses given by well-meaning adults. However, if a child is playing superhero games, war games, role-playing death -  if they are playing catch and release or role-playing “the bad man” catching them (What’s the Time Mr. Wolf anybody?) then they are telling the grown-ups supervising them that they are ready to know and learn about these dark concepts, that they are not too young, that they are being children, and most importantly that they have an enshrined right to do so.


This brings me to the recent media coverage of the Momo challenge that has caused mass hysteria amongst parents, educators, ECEC professionals, and even police without any actual proof of its existence. The Momo challenge is in the main an urban legend like the boogieman, or Slenderman. In my day, the challenge was run around the obelisk three times backwards while saying the hail Mary to make the Devil appear. There are of course predatory people that will play on the myth / urban legend and utilise it for their own purposes, but they are rare.


Children are hearing about the Momo challenge from their peers, from older siblings or friends, and some from their parents and guardians. Of course, these children are trying to process this information in the most natural way they are biologically wired to do – through playing ‘Momo’. They are chasing each other, catching each other, scaring each other, laughing with each other. They are exploring these big emotions and learning how to process and navigate Momo – or the threat she represents – through play. They are building resilience, learning the language to discuss their fears and feelings, feeling powerful and frightened in turns, figuring out what is the best way to navigate the threat of Momo if they ever encounter it in the future. You can’t teach your children resilience – they learn to be resilient by practicing.


Here’s the thing, there have always been violent copycat episodes of Peppa Pig and over recent years cartoons being ‘spliced’ with graphic and disturbing images and messages, however they have nothing to do with the Momo challenge and everything to do with individuals getting their kicks out of scaring children. If this Momo challenge has done anything positive, it has made parents and guardians (that were perhaps a little too complacent or unawares) sit beside their young children, preview any content being viewed online, and have conversations they have never had before. But what the Momo challenge shouldn’t do is make adults scared and uncomfortable of what their children are playing and working through. The most devastating impact of the Momo challenge would be adults shutting down conversations and play and ignoring children’s rights to explore power, resilience, anxiety, and fear through the power of play. Momo is not the real threat to children; the real threat to our children is us – by the silencing of their voices and the disruption of their play.

'Momo Challenge'

What Umar Taught Me by David Cahn (Early Years Practitioner and Author)

 The way we view children and childhood influences absolutely everything about our practice. I am so incredibly different than the early childhood educator and care professional I was 10 years ago.


I wrote and am in the process of self-publishing, Umar, my first children’s book after reflecting about one particular two-year-old boy I had in my nursery in 2018 named, well Umar!


Umar was utterly fascinated by keys, locks and doors. He spent a great deal of energy and determination in getting as long as was possible to figure them out while with me. Any time I had to open a door he wanted to use my card key or other keys. He could spend a great deal of time at our outside gate door, incredibly focused on learning how to use the key himself. How would you feel and respond if you had a child wanting to use your keys at nearly every single opportunity?


How do you balance supporting individual young children’s unique interests while completing all the tasks necessary to keep our rooms humming along each day?


Ten years ago, I simply would not have seen any value in letting Umar do anything with my keys. He doesn’t know how to use them. I have a million other things to do than wait around for him to figure it out. He will learn it easier when he’s older so why bother now?


Though I now see young children as competent and deeply self-motivated learners, I still had to go through my own learning process of how I responded to Umar. With all the other daily tasks on my plate, I didn’t have the presence of mind to notice his interest for what it was at first. As he’d reach up for the keys I was using on our outside gate or toy cupboard I would initially tell him “sorry Umar I am doing it this time.


Speaking with his parents I knew his fascination with keys began at home. I started to set aside time for him to use my keys when I wasn’t focused on one of my tasks. I saw his absolute persistence to develop these skills begin to shine through. Spoiler alert: with enough time, space and support to practice he got quite skilled with my keys and I let him lock and unlock doors for me all of the time.


In the process though he developed things neuroscientists and researchers call executive function and self-regulation [1]. These are simply our brain and body’s capacity to set goals and achieve them both physically and mentally while dealing with stress and distractions along the way. To me they are essential characteristics for healthy and successful lives. We can help young children develop these capacities simply by giving them time, space, and support to plan and follow through on their own goals - even if they seem “childish” to us at first glance. If we become more proficient in our observation abilities we will see that young children’s play is basically practice for just these skills!


This keen interest in keys also lent itself to what early childhood experts call “Sustained Shared Thinking,” [2] which is a powerful tool for all of us in early childhood education and care.


Finally, respecting Umar’s interest in keys let me engage in countless “serve and return” conversations [3] with him.


       “Are you asking for a turn with my key Umar?”

       “You can definitely have a turn, let me go help Alisha with her bike and I will be right back.”

       “Figuring out locks can be tricky Umar, it’s okay to get frustrated. I see you trying very hard to figure it out.”

       “Is there another way you could try to turn the key?”


I could go on and on linking Umar’s loves of keys with any area of an early childhood curriculum and developmental goals. No, I did not let Umar use my keys all of the time but what matters most is that I eventually saw Umar’s interest and behaviour in its proper light and gave it the respect and support it deserved. We early childhood educators have so many tasks to juggle every day, but we need to prioritise reflecting on how we view the children in our care.



David Cahn is an early years practitioner in a busy inner-city Leeds primary school and children’s centre. He is self-publishing Umar [4], a children’s book for two to four-year-olds that proudly showcases the intelligence and deep motivation to learn of a young South Asian boy from Leeds.


[1] [2]

[3] [4]

Are you ready for ‘Professional Love’? Montessori and Early Childhood Professionals Ireland Blogpost Dr Jools Page, Senior Early Years Lecturer, University of Brighton, England

 Are you ready for ‘Professional Love’?


Some years ago I was pleased to work with David King; an inspirational Montessorian colleague in Ireland, so I was even more pleased when he invited me to write this blog. It has been a period of personal and professional change and challenge for me lately, and indeed for the world – or so it seems. More than ever before I have become acutely aware of my own emotional vulnerabilities as well as of my competencies and emotional resilience.


Love, hurt, pain and anger are all emotions [amongst many others] that most of us can relate to feeling at one time or another. As adults we are able to moderate our emotions, yet, babies and young children need our help to understand their ‘big’ feelings. They need us to ‘tune in’ and to listen attentively to them so that we can correctly interpret their needs and wants. Last year my first granddaughter was born. I am besotted with her! She, like all babies - I do mean all babies - is extremely competent. She is able to immediately summon her parents by communicating her needs through her urgent cries for attention. She is vulnerable too because she needs her parents to respond instantly to her distress and to comfort her by responding lovingly to her - and they do. The more frequently and consistently that the adults in her life respond to her bids for attention, the more likely it is, that, over time, she will learn how to regulate her feelings because she knows that her parents will come to her aid. It does not necessarily mean that as she gets older her emotions are any less intense than in the earliest days of her life, rather that she will gradually be able to predict the reliability of her parent’s responsiveness based on her experiences of how consistently they have responded to her distress, thus she will have developed trust in the knowledge that they can be depended upon to acknowledge her anguish and sooth her upset; these ideas about attachment, love and loss are not new and are rooted in theories developed by our pioneering forebears about security of attachment1 .



I worry incessantly about whether or not professional early years caregivers are reliably meeting the emotional needs of infants and toddlers in early years settings. There seems to be a misplaced belief that a young child will somehow ‘get over’ their need to be closely attached to their caregiver and that meeting the child’s demands for attention is somehow ‘spoiling them’ - a view that has always remained a mystery to me.



Research has long informed us of the competencies as well as the vulnerabilities of babies and young children2 – yet, it seems to me that in spite of a great deal of high-quality evidence that sets out the detrimental effects of what happens to infants and toddlers when their emotional needs are not met, adults’ expectations of young children in early years settings are frequently misplaced. The idea of a young child [mis]handling a sharp tool is met with horror and adult intervention. However, the same dread does not seem to fill the minds of early years professionals when a young child seeks urgent attention and close comfort from their familiar adult in nursery because they are feeling overwhelmed by their emotions; all too frequently, children’s emotional needs tend to get dismissed



I have long argued for the most intellectually capable and emotionally resilient early years practitioners to work with the youngest children; precisely because there is strong evidence to suggest babies and young children are at risk of lifelong challenges to their health and wellbeing if their bids for normal and healthy relationships; love and intimacy, are ignored3 . I am well aware of the challenges faced by early years practitioners within an ever-changing landscape of competing priorities. However, neglecting the emotional needs of infants and toddlers, will have a devastating effect on their long-term mental health, of that I am in no doubt.



I firmly believe young children need their special adults at home and also in their early years settings to respond lovingly to them; to rejoice in their success, sooth their distress and to be securely attached to them. If young children do not know that they are loved and also feel that they worthy of being loved at home and in their early years settings, then I am fearful about how our youngest citizens will develop emotional resilience and thus be equipped to cope with their own life choices and challenges. Maria Montessori is purported to have once said: “Of all things love is the most potent”. In concert with Montessori’s view of love, my conceptualisation and model of Professional Love 4 attempts to stir the critical early years debate about love and intimacy in early years settings and asks whether or not you are ready for Professional Love? 



1 Page, J. (2015). The Legacy of John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory In T. David, K. Goouch and S. Powell. (Eds). Routledge International handbook of philosophies and theories of early childhood education and care. London: Routledge. (pp 80-90)

2 Elfer, P. and Page, J. (2015) Pedagogy with babies: perspectives of eight nursery managers Early Child Development and Care, 185 (11-12). pp. 1762-1782

3 Page, J. (2017). Re-framing infant toddler pedagogy through a lens of professional love: exploring narratives of professional practice in early childhood settings in England. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 18, (4),387-399

4 Page, J. (2018). Characterising the principles of Professional Love in early childhood care and education. International Journal of Early Years Education, 26 (2), 125-141

Dr. Jools Page, Senior Lecturer, School of Education, University of Brighton. Children and Young People's Voice and Education Research and Enterprise Group

2019: The Year We Rise! by Sinead Matson

2018 brought with it a lot of change and a lot of lessons to be learned. It was a year of celebration, sharing of practice, and generation of knowledge for us in our community of practice. We celebrated ten years as a community with a series of blogs from all corners of our sector and a research study which we are still working on. Thank you to each and every member who makes this community thrive and those who have been most generous with their knowledge. It was also a year of hardship, exhaustion, and a continued lack of recognition both in our group and as a sector at large. However, there was, and is, hope. Some significant events occurred in 2018, in particular three which I bring your attention in order to move forward and make 2019 the year of the Early Childhood Education and Care Profession (ECEC) in Ireland.


(1) We have a Minister for Children and Youth Affairs who started and finished the year by actively calling for unionisation of the ECEC sector so that she can negotiate in a more meaningful way. The Minister is telling the professionals in this sector that she can only negotiate with unions who hold a mandate from a significant number of ECEC professionals. Presently, a small number of groups negotiate on your behalf with the Minister. Each group is working to progress the sector and professionalise the working conditions which reflect their own priorities or mandates from their own members. Unions represent grassroots professionals, with democratically elected representatives and democratically decided mandates. The right to join a union is protected in our constitution – Bunreacht na hEireann (1937) Article 40. The unions have told us they need a substantial number of the workforce ( to successfully comply with legislation and move forward. They have lowered their membership fees to reflect the low pay in the sector. In order to create meaningful, real change ECEC professionals must listen to what their minister is telling them and join their primary, secondary, third level and Further Education (FE) colleagues in taking up union membership.


The second and third events of interest that occurred in 2018 can be examined together: (2) The national early years strategy First 5 was published, and (3) The National Parents Council formed an early years section. Interestingly, the national strategy changed the term Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) for Early Learning and Care (ELC). Uniquely, the Irish constitution specifically names parents as the primary educators for their children in Article 42. Could this fact have influenced the decision to move away from ECEC towards ELC or is it something more? Perhaps it is to take the concepts of ‘education’ and ‘educators’ away from the private family and community realm and move them into the ownership of the State - the public realm? Does it signal a shift towards what we currently have in the primary sector? A shift in recognition of ECEC professionals? This ‘re-naming’, and possible ‘re-orienting’ - which was not done in consultation with the sector – is signalling something to us, but what?


The formation of an early years section of the National Parents Council ( also signals a changing perception of ECEC amongst parents. If the national schooling system is the primary level of education for children in Ireland, then it follows that ECEC is the foundation. A child cannot build their education on foundations made of sand. Foundations stabilize, secure, and support, which is why they are the most important stage of a child’s education. This conception of ECEC as the foundation stage of a child’s education amongst parents could help ECEC professionals in Ireland gain something we have never had before: allies.


Parents and in turn their community are our greatest allies in the fight for recognition as Education and Care Professionals. If we want better pay and conditions we need to work in greater partnership with parents. Partnerships do not work without honesty and clarity. A lesson we can learn from the Repeal the 8th Referendum campaign this year (no matter which side of the debate you stood on) was that people listen to and are persuaded to act (and vote) based on human stories.


Given all the knowledge we have learned from events in 2018, let 2019 be the year we mobilise the ECEC profession. Join a union, talk to your colleagues, and tell your stories to the parents and community around you. We in MECPI are currently working on a huge dataset of stories and information willingly offered by 6% of the total workforce in ECEC. The emotional labour that professionals undertook in completing the survey and telling the truth of their situations was immense and we want to honour that with a comprehensive report which we will publish later in the year. In order to facilitate the telling of stories to parents and communities from January, MECPI will create a public ‘Tales from the Irish Early Childhood Education & Care Workforce’ FB page. Send us your stories in confidence either by private message on that page or email us at and we will post them anonymously to the page. We would ask that you share them widely and encourage others to share their stories. Please use the hashtag #TalesfromECEC on Facebook and twitter to help others to find the stories.


May 2019 be the year that Irish Early Childhood Education & Care Professionals Rise! Go n-éirí an bóthar libh!

2019: The Year We Rise!

Mo Scéal Pearsanta - My reflections on the past ten years in the early years sector by Caroline Purvis

Everybody has a story and events along the road inevitably steer us in different directions. An afternoon in 2004, was to become such a day for me. A telephone call to work revealed that my 4 years old daughter hadn’t been picked up from Montessori. The events which transpired over the next few hours and days were extremely traumatic and revealed an array of short comings in the care given to my children in crèche. They were six, four and two at the time. I don’t need to reveal the details but to say that there was ‘A breach of trust’ was an understatement. My instant reaction was to protect my children and the following day I resigned from my career in the financial services sector. For the following seven years I became a full time mum and child-minder. I found it difficult to trust anyone beyond family with my children.


At the same time we were also experiencing challenges with one of our children, and could find no support. We struggled independently to access services and to get answers. We tried Cranial Sacral Therapy, kinesiology, private psychologists. After a lengthy journey we eventually received a diagnosis at the age of 15. As you will know, the effects of such a late diagnosis and no intervention take their toll. So why do I tell this story and what relevance has this to the sector and the past ten years? From the moment your child is born you are aware of the incredible gift, you love them unconditionally and are willing to do anything to protect and keep them safe and healthy. This is no easy task and we all need support along the way. Over the past ten years I believe that there have been huge improvements in the sector which will have improved outcomes for many families. As a sector we have supported families to maintain careers secure in the knowledge that their children are well taken care of.


I had wanted to go back to education for years, driven by my desire to support my own and the children in my care. Financially there never seemed to be a right time. Many more opportunities to pursue education as a mature student have opened up and continue to improve. In 2011, I attended an open day in Portobello Institute to study for a Diploma in Montessori 3-6 years. I believe strongly in fate and I was blessed with Tracey the most wonderful tutor whose knowledge, compassion, love and belief in the early years inspired me. I became hooked on life-long learning. I continued to complete the Advanced Supervision in Childcare. In October 2017, I completed my BA (hons) in Early Childhood Care and Education with NUI Galway, which was a wonderful learning experience, enhanced by the tutors and colleagues I met along the way. I can’t tell you how many CPD courses I have attended, they are numerous, the more I learn the more I realise how much more I need to learn and I am humbled daily by the children and families in my care. I entered the sector in 2013, and I frequently wonder if I made the right decision.


What I do know is that the work that we do makes a huge difference. I know that we are a protective factor for so many children and families which we encounter. They may never even know that, but as a parent of six children I am sure of it. Our expertise and ability to respond to children and families will prevent the need for more extensive intervention later on. As a result of my own experiences I am acutely aware of the support that families need. Quality provision includes parents and the child’s ‘Funds of Knowledge’, and my philosophy has been that in order to support the child you must support the family too. You must meet them where they are at. In April this year I heard Professor Mathias Urban speak at The Early Childhood Ireland, Research and Practice Seminar, here he remarked that we need a more bottom up approach to how we look at practice, and this really resonated with me. I have over the course of my practice heard parents described as needy, difficult, even awkward. I look at this differently, in the same way as a child display’s challenging behaviour and we see this as an asking child; I see these parents as asking parents: "I’m lost, I don’t know, can you help me?" I take great care and pride in attempting to respond to this need. If we can advise a parent that a child appears not to hear when we call, the child can get the specialist care they need such as grommets. If parents ask "What do you think?" We can sensitively direct them to the most appropriate services, speech therapy, family support, AIM to name but a few. There is a point to my reflections, so what have I seen improve over the past 10 years.


The introduction of Siolta in 2006, and subsequently Aistear in 2009 carefully linked to the introduction of ECCE scheme placed an onus on practitioners to look at their curriculum and place the child at the centre. I was fortunate enough to have been involved with Start Strong as a member of the parent’s panel and saw first-hand the wonderful work which they did. Practitioners have been taught the art of observation both for and of learning. Each child’s personal journey and development is recorded, allowing for any changes or difficulties to be supported along the way. We have a minimum level 5 qualification for entry into the sector, with many now holding degrees and beyond. The extension to the ECCE scheme and the return to one entry point enable children to have up to two full pre-school years before entry to Primary school. Children can now access support in preschool without a diagnosis under the AIM model introduced in 2016. Staff have also been offered training in Diversity and Inclusion with local County Childcare Committees a course I really enjoyed. LINC has been introduced to allow for an inclusion officer in each service, with an incentive of an additional 2 euro per child where an inclusion officer is employed. Many schools have received an award or are taking part in Smart Start a programme which for the first time places an equal emphasis on the social and emotional development of the child as well as their optimum development in health, nutrition and physical development. Last week we received our inclusive play packs in the setting to the delight of both children and staff.


One of the biggest changes in the past 10 years, as Sinead also referred to, was the development of a professional community of practice. This is in part to do with the development of social media and the generosity of practitioners to share their wonderful quality practice and ideas. As practitioners we have grown in confidence and are more willing to try new things, to adapt, to challenge, to reflect and to grow. It takes courage to put your work out there and open up to critique and yet this is how we continue to develop and enhance our practice.


I recently had an opportunity to present my research at the Early Childhood Research and Practice Seminar. It was a wonderful opportunity to see the commitment and quality of the work which our sector are involved in on a daily basis. It encourages us to want to do better in our own settings. There are now more available opportunities than ever to work and study at the same time. Many practitioners have been able to avail of funding to obtain level 5 and level 6 qualifications.


Quality provision in the early years we know has profound effects on the child’s future. Skills such as resilience developed in early childhood will support the child through many challenges in later life. The curriculum we provide caters to the development of the child’s character, encouraging traits such as persistence, resilience and a growth mind-set. Had there been such measures in place for my child 16 years ago, I believe the outcomes would have been a lot better. We were fortunate to have had a great Montessori to which we sent our six children, here they all received great care and education and we have personally benefitted from all of the improvements which were embraced by the service along the way. I have many moments of regret, what could I have done? How did I not know, what could I have done better? In truth, I did the best I could with the knowledge and resources available to me at the time.


My own experience makes me a better practitioner. I am committed to building partnerships with parents to ensure the best possible outcomes for their child and for them. I am very proud to be a part of this community of practice. I thank all of you for your generosity, for sharing, challenging and working consistently to improve outcomes for our children and families. To all who work tirelessly to improve the sector and have had an input in all the improvements thus far, I congratulate you on behalf of myself and all the children and families whom you have assisted. I am in awe of the energy, expertise and commitment which I continue to encounter in this sector. I hope the next ten years will build on the work already done. It’s unfortunate we continue to loose so many great people who financially cannot afford to stay in the sector. I hope that this will change and we can begin to attract more terrific men and women. I’m excited to see where we will be in the next ten years. I look forward to the National Children’s Strategy and to continued measures to improve the lives of our youngest children and all those who work tirelessly on their behalf.


Go raibh mile maith agaibh go léir.



Caroline is a parent of six children aged between 5 and 19 years and is passionate about early years care and education. Throughout her studies, Caroline developed a life-long love of learning which led her to recently complete a degree in early years education. Caroline believes that to best support children early childhood educators must support parents too. She credits her own journey to improve things for her children and the challenges she faced along the way as her motivation to try to do similar for other children and families. Caroline enjoys sharing what she has learned in the hope of helping other families and is a regular blogger for MECPI.

Caroline Purvis Early Childhood Education & Care Professional and regular blogger for MECPI

Seeds and Journeys by Anna Rose Codd, Lecturer in Early Years Care & Education, Athlone Institute of Technology

I’ve never written a blog! Until two weeks ago, I didn’t know how to access Twitter on my phone. It takes me a while to trust new experiences! Nevertheless, I love knowledge; learning new things, always fascinated with new information. Why does someone approach something this way and not that way … how did one come up with a particular idea? Many years ago, my late father said ‘it is an education to people watch’! How people go about their daily lives, accomplish tasks, persevere, negotiate, become frustrated, overcome frustrations, work alone, alongside others and with others. Everyday is a school day.


I never cease to count my blessings that I’ve had the privilege to work in the field of education since 1995. As a mother of two small children, I wanted them to attend preschool in our local area. There wasn’t any preschool in our local community. So, while on maternity leave after our second daughter was born, I enrolled in a 20-hour practical course with the IPPA. I was ready to open my own preschool! The bliss of naivety! The seeds of adventure were sown. But that’s exactly what I did! After obtaining the birth records (obviously pre-GDPR!), I drove around my local community and asked, mainly mothers, would they be interested in sending their children to preschool in the local hall. The response was positive. One of the mothers asked whether I was looking for someone to help me and if so, she would be interested. So, began our journey for the next 21 years, running Little Breeches. The name, by the way, chosen by my husband, comes from Baloo the bear in the Jungle Book, who called Mogli ‘Little Breeches’. I left my permanent, pensionable job to embark on a new career.


1995 marked the beginning of change too across the early years. The first preschool inspectors were being appointed. Regulations were being introduced. A time of change … not so different to now really. Very quickly I realised that while I was able to manage, or muddle, with my own children, there was so much I didn’t know. I embarked on what was then a Level 2 City & Guilds course, followed by a very nervous leap into 3rd level education, degree and masters, through distance learning, while I ran the preschool. My preschool inspector was encouraging and inspirational, my husband and family inspirational, supportive and significantly, became good cooks, cleaners and supporters over the ensuing (and continuing) fifteen years when I embarked on diverse courses in order to be the best teacher and learner I could possibly be. Over the years, through laughter, tears, frustration, nervousness, satisfaction, dissatisfaction, friendships and fun, I learned so much. The best teachers I met were the children and their families, who taught me the sense of wonder in exploring, enjoyment in splashing in the water, singing silly songs, seeing the amazement of writing for the first time, listening to their voices, spoken and unspoken.


I wish I could say it was always easy. I made mistakes, learning to see them, in retrospect and reflection, as part of my journey. Financially, it was challenging. Administration was often a headache. All of these were part and parcel of the process. As I engaged with Aistear, I considered myself, the children and their families on the same journey and I wanted to explore, I wanted time to think with others or by myself, I wanted to communicate in many different ways, I became more aware of the importance of a sense of positive well-being; important so that the children got the best of me every day. That sense of identity and belonging to a profession which is privileged to share a learning journey with children and their families.


I am mindful that, similar to the children, our identities are fluid, changing with circumstances and people around us. My learning journey has continued, moving from preschool to lecturing on an early years’ degree programme in Athlone Institute of Technology. Opportunities, to travel to Trondheim in Norway to see outdoor play; to Italy to experience the renowned Reggio Emilia approach to ECEC; to Rotterdam to explore the City in the City; to China to meet children, their educators and university lecturers and to Budapest to present at the EECERA conference have made up my amazing journey as an early years’ professional. This week I went to the beach and had a picnic in the beautiful sunny south east to finish off a wonderful summer. I collected shells that I will bring to my students in AIT to explore and discuss. It is wonderful to think that I can still play and learn every day.


Learning was always encouraged by my late parents. I’ve met many teachers along the way: my own children, my husband, the children and their families in playschool over the 21 years (and, wonderfully, the children of the first children to attend!), my work colleagues in AIT, the students, their supervisors on placements, enthusiastic people on various committees, attendees at conferences. As I undertake another step on the learning journey, I cannot help but wonder at the remarkable journey early years’ care and education has afforded me. Long may the journey last!


Congratulations to Sinead for the vision to start the community of practice, for the generous way she shares her knowledge and to the team of MECPI. It is a valuable resource and one I will be sharing with my students.



Anna Rose Codd is a lecturer on the degree programmes in AIT. She ran a preschool, using the family farm as a backdrop for the children’s learning and development, for 21 years. Her passion is the children’s play and learning in the outdoors. Currently, Anna Rose is undertaking a PhD in Education, researching how the outdoors shapes pedagogical interactions and relationships from the perspectives of children, their families and educators with Maynooth University under the supervision of Dr. Catriona O’Toole and Dr. Tríona Stokes.

Anna Rose Codd, Lecturer in Early Years Education & Care, Athlone Institute of Technology; Doctoral Candidate, Maynooth University.

Canavan Byrne Early Educator of the Year Award 2018- David King

On Friday I was invited along to the Boots Infant, Family & Maternity award in the Royal Marine Hotel in Dun Laoghaire.


I had known for a week already that I had been selected as the winner of the Canavan Byrne Early Educator of the Year award for 2018.


It was all hush hush and only a few select friends, family and colleagues knew of my upcoming day in Dun Laoghaire.


The day itself was a great day with awards going to amazing people such as Dad of the Year and Child Hero of the Year as well as brand awards for the best baby and family products in Ireland.


When it came time for my gong, “A Million Dreams” played loud as I walked to the stage. (Much to my daughter’s delight) A few brief words on stage followed about one incident that really pulled at the judge’s heartstrings. This moment was when Cillian, a boy in my class who had a diagnosis of autism activity sought out peer contact for the first time while playing at our light table. I was lucky to be part of this moment. You can read said story here;


For me this moment has been the highlight of my career to date and it will be forever in my heart. I am so happy to also have this moment link so heavily with my award as now I also have a physical representation of it in my living room, meaning I will be reminded of Cillian and this moment in a daily basis. Before I knew it I was back in my seat, Trophy in hand and the awards had moved on to the next deserving winner.


It is a massive honour for me to be named as Early Educator of the Year and the whole experience has been very humbling indeed.


While I was the one who walked off with the trophy I most certainly did not win it by myself. There are many many amazing women who all have their own piece of this award also.


Sinéad Matson (de Faoite) and Bronagh Mooney, the two women who took the chance and ‘hired a guy’ in a female dominated profession. Both of you have been and continue to be a constant support to me.


My current manager Valerie Gaynor who not only keeps my nutty ideas in check but also pushes and supports us to give the best we can possibly give daily.


Nothing I do in work happens in isolation. I am one part of a team that is incredibly professional, passionate and child centred. We work so well together and support each other all the time. While we are one big team my closest colleague and the person I am lucky to share a class with is Sinéad Kelly. As a team we are always on the same page. Sinéad is an amazing early educator and I am so privileged to work with her and so lucky that we both support each other’s crazy ideas.


The community of practice, Montessori & Early Childhood Professionals Ireland and the admin team that I am lucky to be a part of. So many early morning and late night chats with Sinead,Lee, Clair, Val, Aine & Aine That always help to inspire and initiate reflection. The MECPI members too for sharing their wonderful examples of practice and their meaning thoughts and emotions inspire me daily.


Professionally all of these people are behind me and however I have so much support at home also. My wonderful wife Lianne. The person who inspired me to take the leap into early years. The person who puts up with my constant work talk and the late-night laminating and documenting cutting into Home time. She is always supportive and none of what I do would be possible without her.


There is a saying, “behind every man is a great woman” however as you can see in my case it should read “alongside Everyman are many great women”.


*disclaimer* while there are lots of people named in this blog I couldn’t name everyone so if your name does not fetters please know I didn’t leave you out on purpose

My experience of the last twelve years in the Early Years; What will the next ten years look like? by Vanessa Sharpe, Proprietor of Be Smart Montessori

I opened the doors of my Montessori preschool in 2006. Over the past twelve years, the early education sector has undergone a transformation that is virtually unrecognisable from its humble beginnings. This was a time when the 1996 regulations were still in place, inspections were under the umbrella of the Health Service Executive and consisted of an inspection by the Preschool Inspector and possibly the Environmental Health Officer. Tusla, Pobal and the early year’s DES inspections were not even a twinkle in the government’s eye. Qualifications in a discipline related to early education was not needed. Rather, the requirement was that an appropriate amount of ‘competent adults’ were in place to supervise the children in their care. There was a casual happiness among dedicated providers. Children were the centre of their attention. Ticking the inspections boxes was not at the forefront of practice and documenting experiences was not necessary as we were too busy scaffolding experiences.


But how times have changed! Some changes brought about positive results, while others increased the workload and hindered many aspects of how early year’s services run. Many new regulations and policies have moulded where we are today. In many respects the early year’s sector needed to evolve and change to further protect children and ensure that services provided the very best to young children with staff that were not only competent but also qualified in their area of expertise. The introduction of the ECCE scheme was a game changer for the sector. New demands were being made of services to comply with the agreements within the ECCE contracts. Early year’s providers that were participating in this scheme were now being required to hold a minimum qualification of a full Fetac level 5 or QQI equivalent in an area related to early years.


It took several years for the minimum qualifications to be enforced throughout the whole sector. However, this brought about a shift in ideologies and suddenly the qualification of early year’s staff increased in value. Of course we as early years professionals want to be valued and respected. This appeared to be a positive shift to professionalising the sector and providing the very best care to young children. Although the minimum qualifications was a beneficial step, there were serious complications brought about. Suddenly, the sector was faced with a huge deficit of staff as only qualified staff were allowed to engage with the daily education and care of children. Currently, this deficit has not improved and many struggle to find qualified staff that can survive on the low wages that the sector can afford. Wages that do not reflect what others with similar years of college education are able to attain. Degree level staff are in high demand with the promise of a higher capitation grant to ECCE rooms with degree qualifications in relevant disciplines.


So, what is my wish list for the early year’s sector in the future?

• Consultation, consultation, consultation! The government in recent years has on occasion made attempts to appear to consult and ‘listen’ to the sector but time and time again decisions regarding funding, contracts, inspections, etc. are dictated. Often changes are poorly announced as early year’s educators are left scrambling as they hear about new initiatives through the newspapers and the evening news. Social media forums are now highly relied upon to help the sector to understand what changes are occurring and how these changes will effect individual service providers.

• Yes, it is important for the early year’s sector to be an educated sector that is respected and valued as highly important to children’s well-being and educational needs. This means that we as a sector must continue to upskill and improve but this cannot continue without further funding. Early year’s educators must be on par with the primary school sector. Those with degrees that are equivalent to other educational degrees must be paid accordingly. We deserve to be valued equally with government funded wages, pensions and holiday entitlements.

• The newly introduced AIM programme has been very welcome and has helped to address the desperate need in early years to help our most vulnerable children. Currently, it is just not enough. Funding is still too hard to come by. Early Year’s Educators are still begging for funding. When funding is granted, it can take months for the money to come through. Finding and retaining  qualified staff is again an issue here. My wish is that this too will improve.


Although the three points that I have discussed are just a few, I feel that if we can improve on these points in the future, our youngest and most vulnerable citizens in Ireland will benefit. Students who are passionate about working with young children will not be frightened away from the sector because of the fear of low pay. Finally, the early year’s sector will truly have a seat at the governments table, be valued and have a voice about matters that concern those that we are most knowledgeable about. After all, Early Years Educators are the experts about matters that concern the early years. We are passionate, dedicated and love what we do. Ask us first!




Vanessa Sharpe has a MA in Early Childhood Education, a BA (Hons) Degree in Early Childhood Studies, a Montessori Teaching Diploma and a Diploma in Child Care Supervision. Vanessa is currently studying for a Doctorate in Early Childhood Education with the University of Sheffield. Vanessa is the owner of Bee Smart Montessori. She is passionate about the importance of early education. She believes that it is the foundation for successful lifelong learning. This passion is extended through her work as a tutor for level 6, 7 and 8 diploma and degree courses in Early Education.

Vanessa Sharpe, Proprietor of Be Smart Montessori

The True Meaning of the 'Rights of the Child' by Aylish Smyth, Proprietor, Shining Stars Preschool, Leixlip, Co. Kildare

I started my adult life as a nurse, however my life changed direction once I completed my family.  I was always fascinated with the Montessori Method of Education so I decided this was my path.  Emigrating back to Ireland from the United Kingdom I decided that I needed to start studying early years education and in particular, Montessori.  Level six quickly followed and my amazing tutor at the time inspired me to practice a play-based curriculum.  Up until the beginning of my degree in early years I made sure I told everyone that I was a nurse or that I used to be a nurse.  Not anymore, I am an early years educator and very proud of my profession.


My early years journey truly started for me when I became a preschool provider.  I opened up my wonderful preschool in 2010.  I say ‘wonderful’ because this is how I see it every day, and how I see the children and my team on a daily basis.  Everyday, I see wonder, amazement, curiosity, ability, confidence, assertiveness and contentment in the children.  I also see a lot more but the list is endless 🙂.


My motto (if you like) has always been that we must always uphold the rights of each and every child.  For some time, I could never understand why it was not enough to simply state this to early years educators, parents or professionals.  Oh, I was so wrong.  As an early years educator, I need to ask questions of wonder.  How does the child feel? What does the child want? And what does the child want to happen next?  The list of questions of wonder may be endless in my opinion.  May I just add, we do not have to always question; we can comment on what the child is engaged in too.  Be open and honest with children, be yourself, and you will be rewarded with answers and stories that will amaze you.  These are children’s words: their voices, their thoughts and to us, as educators. it is  a privilege to listen to and witness them. 


Upholding the rights of the child needs patience and time. Oh my goodness time.  Please give the children in your care time to talk, to complete tasks, to be themselves and to be productive.  Tidying up can wait and transitions can be kept to a minimum.  When you tell a child to "Be kind" or "Be nice" make sure you too are kind and nice.  I hold the belief that we should uphold the rights of the child, every minute of every day, and throughout childhood.


Community of Practice?  I honestly never knew what this meant until I studied for my degree.  Now to me, it is the ‘be all and end all’ of practice.  To me, it means that we are one in our profession.  It means that we will all help and support each other and make it happen.  I was in a community of practice during my time in Maynooth University and it was amazing.  At this present time my community of practice is MECPI.  MECPI has made me feel that we are a community, a community where we as early years educators can share our knowledge and thoughts in a safe and professional environment.




Aylish Smyth. is  the owner and manager of Shining Stars Preschool in Leixlip, Co. Kildare.   She studied in Maynooth University and holds a BA (Honours) in Early Years Teaching and Learning.  Aylish works directly with children and their families and is a true believer in the rights of the child. 



Aylish Smyth, Proprietor, Shining Stars Preschool, Leixlip, Co. Kildare.

Well? Considering the opportunities and challenges to promoting well-being… By Dr Jennifer Pope,lecturer in Early Childhood Care & Education in the Department of Reflective Pedagogy & Early Childhood Studies, MIC


Over the last ten years, the term ‘well-being’ has been used more and more and is one of the four key themes in Aistear (NCCA, 2009). Although promoting well-being within the early childhood setting is not a recent phenomenon, we are focused on how, in partnership with children, we can use every opportunity to promote their well-being, extending far beyond just thinking of physical health.

I recently did some research with early childhood educators to get their insights into promoting children’s health and well-being and what they see as vital components of their curriculum. 12 of the 16 participants had been working within the sector for over ten years, with a wealth of knowledge and experience. When asked about what role the early childhood setting played in making children healthy, here are just some of their comments:


Hopefully it provides a home from home where the child feels welcome secure and valued.  This helps build trust so that the child feels a sense of ownership of the setting and ultimately this is very empowering for them and adds to their feeling of belonging.  We help the child to build the foundations of future health e.g being resilient, confident, adventurous, curious, active, healthy eaters etc. 


Huge role in promting self regulation and laying foundations for positive learning dispositions such as curiosity and concentration. 


The children are in the setting 5 days a week nearlly 38 weeks in a year and it is a big stage of their lives and they develop a routine that becomes consistant from this time and promotes good habits.  I feel every early childhood setting plays a role.  


Important Role- Montessori classrooms that are authentic give respect to each child.  It's never crowd control, but genuine conversations with the children and adapting to meet the childs needs.  





Children’s well-being is strongly influenced by the well-being of those around them. The adults that are working with them are so fundamentally important- both in body and mind. We should be considering how, in partnership with children, colleagues, parents, families and through our communities we address our own well-being.


I see the MECPI as playing a key role in promoting the well-being of members, which in turn should have a very positive effect on young children. The community of practice, how we learn, trust, communicate and the opportunity to share with others is hugely significant to our sense of well-being, to feel a part of something bigger, not working in isolation. To promote positive outlooks on learning and life and to be strong psychologically and socially as Aistear suggests, we need to feel strong ourselves. Reading Sinead Matson’s blogs were inspiring to us all as in the face of adversity, recovering from brain surgery, she generously shared her learning with us.


However, here comes the caveat. There is only so much that one network can achieve if members may be facing hardship, stress, feelings of a lack status within their local community, inferior pay and working conditions compared to educators in primary, secondary and third level, concerns over job security and financial difficulty when it comes securing mortgages etc. We know that these factors can affect our health and well-being. In my research, only 3 out of the 16 participants related their own health as ‘very healthy’.

When asked if there were any challenges to promoting children's health and well-being, here is a snapshot of some comments made:


           Stress trying to keep service open can affect my capacity to give 100%

S       Supportive parents, paid CPD for EY professionals, high cost of insurance and provision and inadequate capitation for ECC


           Our main focus is on meeting the needs of the children in our group, but this is a constant battle given the external regulations and requirements imposed on us. We try to balance being present with the children while also documenting their engagement with our curriculum. We also struggle to balance the child's need to experience and manage risk with the risk averse culture that we are becoming.


Working with parents was also reported as a significant challenge.


If we want to promote children’s well-being in our society, then we need to also focus on those around them and consider how we support families but also the professionals working with young children on a daily basis, addressing the issues raised above. We need supportive parents, colleagues, local communities and government agencies.


I wish the MECPI the very best for the next ten years, continue to share, to discuss the opportunities and challenges and to support each other to promote well-being.



Dr Jennifer Pope has been a lecturer in Early Childhood Care & Education in the Department of Reflective Pedagogy & Early Childhood Studies, MIC since 2004, working on the BA ECP level 7 & BA ECCE level 8 Degree programmes. With a background in early childhood and a PhD in Pediatric Epidemiology, she has a particular interest in promoting child well-being, learning in the earliest years and the professional development of ECCE students.


History of Education - not always a bed of Roses! By Dr. Judith Butler, ECE lecturer, Cork Institute of Technology, & President, OMEP Ireland

In 1998, the first National Forum on Early Education was held in Dublin Castle and I was a 1st year student enrolled on the BA Degree in Early Childhood Studies at University College Cork. Earlier in 1995, two inspirational academics, Professor Francis Douglas & Dr Mary Horgan, had established the first BA degree in Early Childhood Studies in Ireland and I knew immediately that this multidisciplinary programme was exactly what I wanted to study. It is, undoubtedly, the best decision I ever made and I look back with very fond memories of my time enrolled on that wonderful programme, being inspired on a daily basis by the most dedicated, motivating and kind lecturers.

From critiquing best practice in relation to how children grow, develop and learn, I quickly realised that the way I was taught as a child in infant education in primary school (preschool education was not available to me!) was not at all in line with best practice or, indeed, in line with the laws of nature. In the 1980s it was standard practice for children to sit in rows/columns facing their teacher. These rows were more often about ability rather than friendship clusters.  For us, as children, we understood (without ever being overtly told so) that the row nearest the door was the ‘good row’, the one in the centre of the room was ‘the average row’ and the last row nearest the window was the ‘bad row’. It was in this ‘bad row’ that children who were considered the ‘weakest’ at the 3R’s (reading, writing & arithmetic) were seated.  These children were often required to leave their seats and their classroom to attend ‘remedial’ tuition and both class teacher and the other children shamefully referred to the children receiving this additional tuition as ‘slow’.  Interestingly, rows were labelled differently by successive teachers. One teacher labelled the rows using the names of flowers and one could be led to believe that this was a more compassionate way of referring to ‘ability groups’.  However, labelling rows as ‘the roses, the daisies and the dandelions’ did nothing to hide the fact that children who were believed to be the weakest at the ‘3R’s’ were seated in the ‘dandelion row’. We all know what the dandelion is considered to be!

It quickly became apparent to us 4 and 5 year olds that the teacher’s educational philosophy was reflected in the layout of her classroom.  Sitting in traditional rows with seats facing the teacher lends itself to a ‘sit and listen’, didactic and rote learning’ style of teaching, and this was exactly how we were educated, despite much earlier in 1971, the new curriculum, Curaclam na Bunscoile was officially introduced in Irish Primary Schools.  This new curriculum intended to be child centred in all its aspects and it set out to cater for our full and harmonious development by recognising our individual differences. Rhetoric V’s Reality? Without a doubt! It appeared that there was one only educational diet and this was to be digested at the fastest pace possible and if we couldn’t regurgitate the facts and figures when requested, it was off to the ‘dandelion row’ or ‘the corner’ for the  amadán’ [Irish for fool] as one teacher liked to put it.

The  word curriculum comes from the Latin ‘currere which means ‘to run’ and the term itself is associated with Roman times with the running of chariots under dangerous and often life threatening conditions. When reflecting upon my education in primary school I can see that for many children, the experience could be considered equally as daunting and intimidating which undoubtedly impacted on our holistic development. Thankfully, for us working with and on behalf of children in ECEC today, our practice is supported by our wonderful National Frameworks (Siolta & Aistear), and it is evident that quality ECEC provision advocates for the non- traditional 3R’s which include: Relationships, Respect and Reflection. For me these 3R’s are inseparable and essential for any educator, no matter how old or young our students are.

Certainly, changes in attitudes to educating and caring for children reflect changes in attitudes to childhood itself. Moss (2003:16) explains how ECEC policy has changed over time and how ‘best practice’ in the past seems ‘grotesquely inappropriate today’ , and while  we can attempt to rationalise why some of the teachers of the past used strategies that were not favourable, the OECD (2006) remind us that training is one of the determining factors for quality ECEC. Indeed, much research suggests that the quality of any sector of our education system is largely determined by the quality of the person delivering it and this in turn is largely determined  his/her training and includes both preservice and CPD. Of course loving what we do is also essential and John Ruskin’s idea that ‘when love & skill work together- expect a masterpiece’- succinctly affirms the importance of professional love (Page, 2018) combined with appropriate training.

As someone who is currently involved in the training of ECEC professionals on the BA Degree in Early Education in Cork Institute of Technology, I am (often) questioned by students about the rationale for ‘reflections’. My answer is simple- the more reflective we are, the more effective we are’. In fact as John Dewey (1933:78) put it; ‘we do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience’.

And finally RELATIONSHIPS lie at the heart of our National Frameworks and indeed in early education pedagogy.  For respectful relationships to be fostered and secured (between children, with children, with each other and with families) they must be interpreted with the 3 A’s – Affection, Acceptance and Approval (Dowling, 2014) so that all children (with whom we have the pleasure of working with and on behalf of) are welcomed, accepted and valued and each step of the learning and developmental process is cherished and celebrated.


Congratulations to Sinead on making MECPI a most successful community of practice. Indeed the most valuable resource we have as educators is access to each other. Congratulations and well done also to the wonderful, dedicated Early Education Professionals in Ireland who despite obvious struggles and challenges over the last 20 years, continue to provide, enhance and develop our sector and the essential care and education for our youngest citizens and their families.

We have come a very long way but at the same time as a profession we are only getting started.


Dr. Judith Butler 2018




Dewey, J. (1933). How We Think: A Restatement of the Relation of Reflective Thinking to the Educative Process. Boston, MA: D.C. Heath & Co Publishers

Dowling, M (2014). Young Children's Personal, Social and Emotional Development (4th Edition). London: Sage Publications

Moss (2003) Getting beyond childcare: reflections on recent policy and future possibilities’ in J. Brannen, & P. Moss (Eds), Rethinking Children’s Care: Buckingham: Open University Press

OECD (2006), Starting Strong II: Early Childhood Education and Care, Paris: OECD

Page, J. (2018) Characterising the principles of Professional Love in early childhood care and education, International Journal of Early Years Education, 26:2, 125-141, DOI: 10.1080/09669760.2018.1459508



Dr Judith Butler is a lecturer and PhD/ MA research supervisor in Early Education at Cork Institute of Technology. She completed her PhD in Education in UCC in 2003 under the supervision of Prof Francis Douglas and her passion and research interests include social competence, relationships in education & ACE’s. Judith has vast experience working in early, primary, FE and HE. In addition Judith acted as the Subject Matter Expert during the review of the QQI ECCE awards back in 2011.  Since 2016, Judith is the co-editor of An Leanbh Óg: The OMEP Ireland Journal of Early Childhood Studies which is a peer reviewed journal, published annually.

In 2017, Judith was elected President of OMEP Ireland. OMEP is an international, non-governmental and non-profit organisation concerned with all aspects of Early Childhood Education and Care. OMEP Ireland is a registered charity dedicated to promoting the well-being of all children and their right to high quality early childhood education and care. For more information on OMEP, to become a member or to submit an article for publication to An Leanbh Óg visit

Judith can be contacted at


Dr. Judith Butler, Early Childhood & Education Lecturer, Cork Institute of Technology and President, OMEP Ireland

Early Childhood Education and Care: A Sector in Transition. MECPI 10th Anniversary Blog by Dr Mary O’Kane, Lecturer in Psychology and Education

As September approaches, it seems fitting to focus on the area of transition in this blog. This month so many of our children are making the transition from home to preschool, the transition from preschool to primary school, or making the transition back from the freedom of summer break into the education system once again. As a sector ECEC is also experiencing a period of transition, with vast progress having been made over the past decade, but many more challenges ahead to overcome.

Many of the previous blogs in this series have outlined the changes which have taken place over the past 10 years and the impact they have had on the sector. There have been very positive aspects such as the development of Síolta and Aistear. The Better Start Mentoring service is driving quality improvement, and the Access and Inclusion Model is supporting children with disabilities. Other positive aspects include the ECCE scheme, Early Years Education-Focused Inspections and a rise in the level of qualifications within the sector with a growing recognition that ECEC practitioners are skilful professionals. These, and many more, positive changes have developed in tandem with an increasing awareness of the important role played by quality early years learning experiences to long term outcomes for children.


However, it has also been argued that this is still ‘a fragmented sector with a multitude of actors following diverse practices and policy agendas.’ (Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs, 2017, p7). Change is a slow process and there are more challenges to face. As noted in many of the earlier MECPI blogs recent developments have resulted in significant increases in workload and expectations on the workforce without commensurate increases in pay, conditions or professional recognition. Clearly, to recognise the important contribution that quality ECEC practitioners make to the lives of our children, these areas need to be considered in tandem with structural changes. Many ECEC settings are struggling financially, many individual staff members are earning minimum wage, and precarious employment conditions have resulted in some well qualified staff leaving the sector. This takes place while Irish parents pay among the highest ECEC costs in the 36 OECD countries.


Although we do not know what the coming years will bring for this sector, we know we are in the process of reform. We believe that the long awaited National Early Years Strategy for babies, young children and their families should bring greater coherence and a vision for the next decade. Hopefully it will also recognise the vital role played by the expertise of a well-qualified workforce. The research tells us that major transitions are times of change in both identity and status. This is true not only for children making these transitions, but for the ECEC sector and the professionals working within it. Professional identity within the sector is slowly emerging but further progress needs to be made.


To support children at times of transition the research highlights important areas to consider such as social and emotional wellbeing; confidence and self-esteem (O’Kane, 2007). We need to remember to focus on these areas when considering self-care for practitioners also. Although it is important to push ourselves to achieve our best professionally, we must also remember to support our wellbeing in terms of both rest and play. In the ECEC sector our personal and professional selves are closely intertwined, and the passion that is so highly valued when working with young children can make it less likely that we put our own needs first in the balance between those two selves. An important part of self-care is in supporting each other. We know the sector is fragmented, and there is a danger that in striving for recognition in terms of professionalism that we forget to support each other. We must remember we are stronger as a cohesive whole.


The role of the MECPI is invaluable in providing a community of practice where members can support each other in respectful professional dialogue. This is also a collegial network providing emotional support, and during times of transition that is invaluable. We view our children through an ecological lens, it is important to view ourselves in the same way. Tapping into resources such as this group can help us to connect with peers for both practical and emotional support, resulting in a greater sense of agency, optimism and positive self-regard. The importance of colleagues who offer a safe space in which to critically reflect on and share knowledge, ideas and expertise; debate issues and express opinions; and become a driving force for change, cannot be underestimated. Congratulations to the MECPI for providing a sense of community and connectedness to members. It has been a privilege to be a part of this community, and I have no doubt it will continue to thrive as the sector continues through this transitional stage of growth and transformation.


Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs (2017) Report on the Working Conditions of the Early Years Education and Care Sector. Available at:

O'Kane M (2007) Building Bridges: The Transition from Preschool to Primary School for Children in Ireland.  Dublin Institute of Technology: Unpublished PhD Thesis. Available at:



Dr Mary O'Kane originally studied Psychology in the UK, then specialised in the area of Early Childhood while undertaking her Masters and Doctorate at Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) in Ireland. Mary is currently a part-time Lecturer in Psychology and Early Childhood Education. Mary works as the parenting and childcare expert on Ireland AM, running a monthly parenting series. She is also a regular contributor on Today FM and Newstalk on both parenting and early childhood education issues.


The State of Childcare - Dr. John McGarrigle asks questions on the State of Childcare

***Note from MECPI admin: The drawings that accompany this piece are not supported by our website and as such are provided in a slideshow and a video below. The evolution of the drawing sits alongside the evolution of the written piece. Viewing the drawings and the video of their creation is highly recommended to fully understand the written piece***



See Drawing One

What has happened in 10 years?

As Course Director of the BA (Hons) degree in Early Childhood Education and Care I have seen a number of students learn, develop and become graduates able to apply a child centred practice to their work with children. I am justifiably proud of their achievements and admire the work of early childhood professionals as they make relationships with children and attempt to meet the increasing demands of a changing and diverse society.

See Drawing Two

I began working for IT Carlow in the Wexford Campus as part of the team that delivered the degree programme which aligned itself with the professional requirements of the Model Framework (2002). The Model Framework arose out of years of consultation with the various stakeholders and envisaged the professionalization of the sector where a recognised qualification combining theory and practice would contribute to the quality of childcare. Reflection is a necessary part of that practitioner knowledge and I like Schon’s notion of ‘reflection in action’ and ‘reflection on action’. The former is where we find ourselves in the midst of action as we respond on a day to day basis and the latter involves a stepping back at the end of a period of time to sift out the essential pieces of learning.

See Drawing Three

So at the moment we find ourselves ‘reflecting in action’ as the field of childcare responds to contemporary issues such as the increase in technology, a widening of cultural values and different family contexts for children. Not only are early years professionals required to see to the health and welfare of children – a rather limited traditional vision of child-minding if you like – they also must support the education of the child to adjust emotionally and socially to a changing world. In many ways the early interventions that are needed to address social inequality begin in preschool and we expect our graduates to make a difference in children’s lives.

See Drawing Four

There is also a global context that influences the political climate and filters down to the things we do with children - the micropolitics of everyday life. The things we do with children are monitored from afar through such things as Childcare Regulations, preschool curriculum frameworks, quality frameworks etc; in order to protect children and to ensure they get the best from their carers. As I write the word ‘regulations’ I note how the neoliberal era of the free market likes to de-regulate in order to inspire competition. However, the ‘bottom line’ will always compromise human services as it places economic criteria above human concerns. The economic needs of early years have never been prioritised in government spending – if so there would have been a radical change in state funding.

From my tone you will guess that I am totally opposed to de-regulating early childhood. Indeed I see the value of regulating an industry to ensure children receive the best of attention to their needs but I question regulation in the current climate which manipulates public sentiment to preserve the inequities that arise from a neoliberal policy context. Aisling Gallagher (Gallagher 2012)(2012) drew attention to the notion of ‘governmentality’ in the Irish context and noted how policy has removed responsibility from the State and placed it on childcare providers.  Thus, it is the childcare provider’s responsibility to meet the needs of Aistear, Siolta and is monitored externally to ensure it compliance. Funding then becomes centred on monitoring processes rather than the child.

The neoliberal state seeks to justify policies through a popular appeal to personal freedom where an individual citizen can enact a right to choose what he/she wishes to purchase in childcare. Such freedoms also come at a cost where there is unequal access to resources. As a citizen I would make more demands of the State when it comes to resourcing childcare. I view increased funding with scepticism when presented in a discourse of reducing the cost of childcare. They provide a convenient excuse to ignore the major elephant in the room – the lack of a professional payscale for early years educators.

See Drawing Five

Recently, Minister Zappone has articulated that the State is not the employer when asked about establishing a professional payscale for the early years commensurate with other educators  Her suggestion as part of a government that has undermined trade unions is to suggest that the sector engages in such activity to get their needs met. An alternative would be for the State to propose a professional payscale in line with qualifications and experience in much the same way as there already exists for teachers and special needs assistants.

So as a grandparent I present these images as a thank you to the professionals who have provided care and education to my grandchildren and hope that in ten years time there will be adequate pay and conditions in place for the sector.

See Drawing Six


Short Biography:
The author is Course Director of the Early Childhood Education and Care honours degree at the Wexford Campus of the Institute of Technology Carlow where his research interests have focused on teaching and learning since joining in 2005.

Having graduated in 1979 with a primary degree in Psychology he has worked in youth work, mental health rehabilitation, disability, and education as well as pursuing interests in the creative arts especially art, film, drama and music. As Rehabilitation Psychologist working for the National Learning Network the author carried out research into mental health outcomes and narrative research focused on the preferred stories of men with a learning difficulty. Later research has explored Community Based learning in a Third Level art course and self and peer assessment within a social constructivist paradigm. His PhD studies in Education at Maynooth University have moved to a comfortable home in arts based narrative inquiry.


Gallagher, Aisling. 2012. "Neoliberal governmentality and the respatialisation of childcare in Ireland."  Geoforum 43 (3):464-471. doi: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2011.10.004.

McGarrigle, J.G.P. 2017. "An Arts Based Narrative Inquiry into Learning in an Early Education and Care Degree." PhD, Education, Maynooth University.

McGarrigle, John. "Getting in Tune through Arts Based Narrative Inquiry."  Irish Educational Studies. doi: 10.1080/03323315.2018.1465837.




Can I Play by Dr. John McGarrigle, IT Carlow (Wexford Campus)

This video accompanies the blog piece above (The State of Childcare) written by Dr. John McGarrigle. The evolution of the drawing reflects the evolution of the written piece and should be seen as one and the same piece.

Drawing Two

Drawing Three

Drawing Four

Drawing Five

Drawing Six

Changing Times- Cait McCabe Owner of Merryvale Montessori

Having thirty-three years’ experience working in the early education sector, I can say with some degree of knowledge that the last ten years have posed the greatest amount of changes for us. Perhaps this is the reason that the timing of the setting up of the wonderful supportive organisation that is Montessori and Early Childhood Practitioners Ireland is so pertinent.

While many of us resisted some of the changes, I think we must all agree that things have improved dramatically. I am of the firm belief that change must always be for the better; some of us are still not convinced that all the changes that have occurred are actually for the better. Our workload has increased significantly and it can be very frustrating dealing with so many agencies involved with the sector.



The main change was, of course, the introduction of the ECCE scheme in January 2010. This was the start of the wave of adjustments that we now have become accustomed to with the endless form-filling, additional inspections, new regulations, emphasis on qualifications, just to mention some of the challenges. At this stage, I have to agree that the introduction of ECCE was a very positive, progressive move on behalf of the government then in place. I, personally, don’t think it would have happened without pressure from Europe, forcing our government to bring into line some of the early education supports already in place in other European countries. It is refreshing to see the interest on further training and education within the sector and this can only lead to better quality.

Is there a risk, however, that we may have “too many chiefs and not enough Indians” as recently experienced by the manager of a crèche following the advertisement of a childcare job? Every applicant had a minimum of Level 7, and during the interview process each applicant was quite resolute that nappy changing or cleaning would not be one of their tasks. They all had their eye on the manager’s job!



The Early Childhood Curriculum Framework, Aistear, was introduced in 2009. This was introduced to improve the quality of services overall, by creating a broad framework for us all to work within, to observe and document children’s progress and formalise a lot of what we were already doing. I remember going to a workshop, in the very early days, on Aistear. I, together with two other Montessori teachers, knew we were already doing the work in our settings. I felt that if this is what Aistear is all about, I can handle it. Is this not what is happening in all settings?

 I hadn’t anticipated the workload of the Aistear framework such as the completion of individual journals, a class journal and the linking of everything we did to Aistear. I still feel that we are doing some documenting merely to tick boxes for the DES inspector (and indeed other inspections too). We have to prove what we have done and why we did it. We sometimes feel undermined in our profession by the amount of box-ticking that we have to do on a daily basis.




We now have a minimum of three inspections as opposed to the one HSE inspection that was introduced following the regulations by the Childcare Pre-school Services in 2006. These are Tusla, Pobal and DES. One major improvement here is that the Tusla inspectors are much more qualified to do their job and the majority of them appear to be more amenable during inspections. The negative side is the lack of consistency in all three inspections.


I am really pleased to say that there is an amazing amount of resources readily available today in comparison with when I opened my school in 1985. While I will never relinquish the Montessori materials in our school, there is a vast amount of really good, open ended material available from many sources. Some of the best pieces of material that we find invaluable are included as photos to accompany this blog.  

Some of these materials are very cheap. They are available regularly from Tiger and Lidl and we snap them up when we spot them.

Lisheen Toys are an invaluable supplier and recently Pat took my idea on board to make a table-top clothesline (as illustrated) as it was so popular every time we posted it on our Facebook page. I have suggested that he make a similar floor based one and he’s already working on it!


Of course I have to mention Ikea. Like our homes, I think very few of our schools are without several of their products.


This is an example of what we have for the children to pour, “cook”, mix and prepare dinner using pasta, seeds etc. in our kitchen area. This Ikea square table is about 18 inches by 18.



I love the child-sized kitchen utensils and delph that are so readily available……Maria Montessori would certainly approve!



As I have mentioned before, many of our nicest materials were bought for very little in charity shops. My teachers are always eagle-eyed when out shopping and we welcome their purchases when they arrive in Merryvale!


We have changed our materials to incorporate much more environmentally friendly and organic material, choosing to use natural objects wherever possible.


We are very lucky to have a choice of Montessori outlets available that were  not there when I was setting up Merryvale.  It is accepted that Montessori materials are quite expensive so it’s great to have a little competition in the market!

  The one constant in my thirty three years is the value I place on the Montessori Method of Education. I truly value the materials. A testament to their lasting power is they are as relevant today as when Maria Montessori had such amazing foresight when she designed them all those years ago We never cease to be amazed in Merryvale at the versatility, learning outcomes, the stimulation and enjoyment that is derived on a daily basis using the Montessori Method of Education.

The biggest change in my school is that I am thirty three years older; I have my grandchildren in my school, having set it up to benefit my three children……

After all these years I still love my job, and I’m just as passionate about it as ever!




 Cáit McCabe is a regular blogger for MECPI.  She is the owner of Merryvale Montessori School and she has a particular interest in all things Practical Life.






The Early Years Sector - then and now by Karen Higgins, Academic Director, The College of Progressive Education.

A bit of background.  I fell into Montessori, literally fell into it.  I had been wondering what to do with my life when I fell over a stack of magazines that had been set aside in the living room.  As I brushed myself off, I noticed an advertisement for a Montessori Teacher training course being delivered by St. Nicholas Montessori College in Dunlaoghaire.  I did a little research and decided to sign up.  That was it, I was hooked from my very first lecture.  Three years later and armed with my three diplomas (this was way back before degrees) I set up my own little sessional Montessori school. 

When I set up, there was no such thing as pre-school regulations, Aistear or Siolta.  Children were sent to the local preschool to get them out of their mother’s hair for a couple of hours or to ‘mix’ with other children.  Garda vetting hadn’t even been thought of and nobody considered the importance of understanding child development or the value of play for learning opportunities.  Some pre-schools even had ‘tv time’ every day where the children were placed in front of the tv to give the playschool teacher a chance to catch her breath.  I am happy to say that as a sector we have come a long way from that.

Fast forward to today and I now work on the training side of things. I initially stepped into this field as a Montessori tutor as I wanted to give something back to the sector that I was so passionate about.   I quickly realized that the quality of a service was directly linked to the training of the staff in that service.  Providing this for our students became my mission in life.  I wanted them to leave our classrooms fully equipped with the knowledge and skills that they would need for a career in the Early Years sector.

We have travelled quite a distance from where pre-school was perceived as ‘babysitting’.   The training provided by colleges through out the country, now have the child as the starting point and not the end result.  From the early days of FETAC (now QQI) training to degrees and master’s degrees in early childhood, we can be confident that those undertaking this training view themselves as professionals, and that Early Years will no longer be seen as ‘simply’ babysitting, but as a profession in its own right.  As a profession we are growing stronger and with the government working towards a graduate led sector professional training is something that is not just practical but essential.  Yes we have a long way to go, but I believe in all the years that I have been involved in this wonderful sector, on both sides of the coin, that we are finally on the right path.  We who work so passionately with the younger and more importantly future productive members of society need to believe in ourselves and advocate for more investment in our training, entry level and upskilling.  While we look to other countries for examples of excellence I believe that Ireland has an opportunity to be that country.  We can learn from the mistakes of others and build on best practice that we see.  

I became involved with MECPI nearly from it’s inception almost ten years ago and have seen it grow and develop into a welcome space where practitioners from all walks of life, community and private sectors, sessional and full day care; can come together and discuss, debate and share information.  This in itself will inform best practice in our training and by default on into the Early years sector.  So happy birthday MECPI, I look forward to sharing the next ten years, who knows where we will be then.



Karen Higgins holds the position of Academic Director in The College of Progressive Education. She has over twenty years’ experience, spanning: Psychology of child development, management of early years settings (from start-up to operational), Childcare/Montessori Teaching, Lecturing\Teacher Training, Curriculum development in-line with industry standards and is currently the Academic Director for Progressive College, the leading training organisation for Early Childhood for over 30 years. She has completed eight years of study including Montessori Pedagogy and Psychology, leading to an Honours degree in Psychology, majoring in children’s learning and development. Karen also holds a Master’s degree in Education with a primary focus on Early Childhood.

 In addition to the above, Karen is Chairperson of the Early Childhood Research group, a sub group of the Children’s Research Network for Ireland and Northern Ireland. She is a member of the Sub-Training Group of the Dublin City Childcare Committee (DCCCP). The DCCC SubTraining Group’s remit is to monitor sector progress in relation to Childcare/Early Years quality training. Karen was also the Chairperson of The Association of Childhood Professionals (ACP) Dublin Branch (2013 – 2014).


Karen Higgins, Academic Director, The Progressive College of Education

Back to the future: Reflections on a previous period of innovation in early childhood education by Dr. Thomas Walsh, Maynooth University

The invite to contribute a blog to Montessori and Early Childhood Professionals Ireland (MECPI) as part of its 10th birthday celebrations provides me with the time and space to look not only at recent developments but to reflect on the historical roots and philosophical origins of early childhood education (ECE) in Ireland.


Many of the wonderful earlier blogs have charted and analysed recent developments in the ECE sector and evidence the great strides that have been made in recent times. But ECE is not a new phenomenon in Ireland and young children have been educated in many different ways since the beginning of time. Each revision of the formal education system embodies elements of the past and many of our current challenges have their origins in historical decisions and indecision. Indeed many of the current challenges have been faced, in different guises, in the past. This blog charts the attempts at developing ECE provision in the infant classes of primary schools in the early 1900s.


As a part of the wider British Empire in the 1800s, Irish education policy and practice was greatly influenced by international developments. Ireland enjoyed the first national system of education in the English-speaking world and children as young as two years of age attended the infant classes of these schools from the 1830s.


Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the influence of philosophers such as Rousseau and Pestalozzi, and later Montessori, permeated Irish educational thinking through the Commission on Manual and Practical Instruction which reported in 1898. It called for a radical transformation of the way in which young children were taught in Ireland, urging a move away from didactic teaching and rote learning to a more child-centred philosophy and discovery-oriented approach.[1]


In the Revised Programme of Instruction introduced into primary schools in 1900, kindergarten was introduced as a subject for the infant classes and was to be used as an approach throughout the school. This curriculum prioritised the education of children in the infant classes, which had previously been neglected, and asserted that schools should be interesting and humane places for children. It advocated that a focus should be placed on the agency of the child, on differentiated experiences, on enjoyment in learning, on providing variation in the pupil’s school day through a broad range of subjects, on subject integration, on using the child’s senses and physical faculties, and on developing the child’s understanding and reasoning skills. The heuristic method, “…by which children are enabled to find out things for themselves, by being placed, so to speak, in the position of discoverers instead of being merely told about things …” was to permeate their schooling.[2]


This curriculum marked a radical change in orientation for the education of young children and encapsulated a fundamental shift in the conceptualisation of the child from the preceding system of Payment by Results. It presented an image of the child as inherently innocent and unique and sought to enable the individual child to reveal him or herself through experience and engagement. It was this radical shift in content, ideology and philosophy that led to many challenges in the translation of such a progressive policy into the reality of practice in Irish schools. This conceptualisation of the child did not resonate strongly with Irish teachers, parents or society, which generally had a view that was more predicated on religious and societal values than on the rights of children.


While there were some developments and improvements in infant education following 1900, practice did not fully reflect the curriculum policy. With the achievement of Independence in 1922, the primary school curriculum was revised and many of the progressive ideas of 1900 were removed. The infant classes became central to the quest to revive the Irish language and culture through the education system and more didactic, direct methods were advocated to transmit knowledge.


The influence of Rev. Timothy Corcoran, Professor of Education in UCD and external advisor to the curriculum development committees in the 1920s, cannot be underestimated in promoting this change in policy. He advocated the need for strict authoritarian teaching and corporal punishment to combat the potentially corrupt nature of the child, based predominantly on the Doctrine of Original Sin.[3] He scorned and castigated the progressive educationalists “…with their absurd pretences, false philosophy and dangerous tendencies…”[4], particularly Montessori,[5] and warned against creativity and child initiative in education. He questioned the value of the senses over direct memorisation of knowledge, asserting the need for “…fact-knowledge and plenty of it…”[6]


While there were some efforts to introduce a more child-centred and play-based approach in the infant classes in 1948 and in 1971, the conceptualisation of the young child inherent in the curricula from the 1920s weighed heavy in the minds of educators for much of the twentieth century.


Despite progress in recent years, the long historical legacy of how children are conceptualised in Ireland as well as the broader educational, political and social context, has resulted in slow progress in transforming pedagogical practices in infant classes. And so the philosophy, themes and provisions of Aistear (2009), largely reflective of what was advocated over 100 years earlier, still struggle to be integral to practice in all infant classrooms. Tensions still exist between the conceptualisation of young children as agentic and innocent, inherent in the 1900 curriculum, and the need to ensure discipline and knowledge transmission, evident in the curricula from the 1920s.


Reassuringly, the education policy landscape in 2018 is broadly supportive of a move towards more progressive practices in infant classes and there is a greater parental and societal understanding of the best ways in which young children learn. Organisations such as MECPI are central to this renewed momentum and I am confident that the outcome for young children in this century will be more propitious than the previous efforts of the early 1900s.


For more information on the infant curriculum in 1900 or the 1920s, see:

Walsh, T. (2012). Primary Education in Ireland 1897-1990: Curriculum and Context. Bern: Peter Lang Publishers.



Dr. Thomas Walsh is a lecturer in the Maynooth University Department of Education. He teaches on a number of courses within the Department of Education and is also the School Partnership Co-ordinator with specific responsibility to build relationships with partner schools. Prior to joining Maynooth University, he worked as a primary school teacher, an early years researcher and an inspector with the Department of Education and Skills. His research interests include early childhood education, curriculum policy and history of education.




[1] Commission on Manual and Practical Instruction (1898). Final Report of the Commissioners. Dublin: Alexander Thom and Co. (Limited).

[2] Commissioners of National Education (1902). 68th Report of the Commissioners of National Education for 1901. Dublin: Alexander Thom. and Co. [Cd.997], Appendix D, p. 21.

[3] Rev. Timothy Corcoran, “The Language Campaigns in Alsace-Lorraine,” Studies, XIII, no. 50 (1924): 201-213; Rev. Timothy Corcoran, “The Catholic Philosophy of Education,” Studies XIX, (June 1930): 199-210.

[4] Corcoran, T. (1923). Current Educational Topics, Irish Monthly, Volume LI, October 1923, p. 490.

[5] Corcoran, T. (1924). Is the Montessori Method to be Introduced into our Schools?, I, - The Montessori Principles. Irish Monthly, April 1924, Volume 52, pp. 118-124; Corcoran, T. (1924). Is the Montessori Method to be Introduced into our Schools?, III, - Origins and General Processes of the Method. Irish Monthly, May 1924, Volume 52, pp. 236-243; Corcoran, T. (1924). Is the Montessori Method to be introduced into our Schools?, IV, - Sensory Processes; the Language Age. Irish Monthly, June 1924, Volume 52, pp. 290-297; Corcoran, T. (1924). Is the Montessori Method to be introduced into our Schools?, V, - Policy Regarding Religious Instruction. Irish Monthly, July 1924, Volume 52, pp. 342-349.

[6] Rev. Timothy Corcoran, “The Irish Language in the Schools,” Studies XIV, (September 1925): 377-388, 384.


Dr. Thomas Walsh, Education Department, Maynooth University. (Photo Credit: Maynooth University:

You say you want a revolution. Well, you know, we all want to change the world... by Dr Mathias Urban, Desmond Chair of Early Childhood Education, and Director of the International Centre for Early Childhood Research at Dublin City University, Ireland (DCU).

You say you want a revolution. Well, you know, we all want to change the world…

John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s ‘Revolution’ was released in 1968, half a century before the 10th anniversary of Montessori and Early Childhood Professionals Ireland provides us with an opportunity to take stock and reflect on a decade of change in the Irish early childhood sector. Yet it is as an apt soundtrack to the developments past, present – and even more so for the future. As other contributors to this collection of blogs have pointed out, there has been a fair amount of change. In fact, going back to the late John Coolahan’s 1998 Report on the National Forum for Early Childhood Education, the Early Childhood sector in Ireland has been subject to constant and substantial policy changes for not one but (at least) two decades. Like in other countries, early childhood policy developments in Ireland have responded to, and reflect, wider societal and socio-economic processes both in the national and international (e.g. European Union) context. Welcome progress has been made, e.g. in relation to orientation and guiding principles, access, governance and professional qualifications. Yet, as external (e.g. OECD, EU) and internal (e.g. contributors to this blog) observers continue to point out, serious challenges remain: fragmentation (of services and governance), disunity and contradictory vested interests of a multitude of actors, absence of a shared vision and identity across all levels of the early childhood system, and, most critically, the unsustainable structure for the funding and provision of services for all children and their families. Change, as Toby Wolfe, Bernie O’Donoghue and Nóirín Hayes remind us in their paper Rapid change without transformation, published in 2013 in the International Journal of Early Childhood, does not necessarily equal progress.

As someone who has only recently crossed the Irish Sea to take up a role in the Irish early childhood sector (after many years as a sympathetic external observer and collaborator), I don’t want to dwell too much on the analysis of the past. As important as it is to understand how we got to where we are, we need to act in the present and look ahead. What are the challenges and what can be done? Here is my short suggestion what should be on the agenda for the next 10 years, starting now:

  1. We cannot continue as we are. We could start with a reality check and acknowledge that the way early childhood services are structured, funded and provided is simply unsustainable. Yes, we certainly need a substantial increase in public funding to bring Ireland in line (at least) with other countries. Ireland occupies the place at the very bottom of 35 OECD countries (in terms of public spending as percentage of GDP). Spending would have to increase fourfold to bring us in line with Colombia (still near the bottom), eightfold to meet the OECD average, and nearly twentyfold to match the early childhood spending of Norway. Despite welcome increases in the early childhood budget in recent years, the bucket (to use a simplistic image inspired by the water crisis at the time of writing) is still nearly empty. However, understandable as simple calls for more public spending are, they are also misguided considering the state of the bucket. We need more water, for sure – but we also need a bucket without holes.
  2. Public good and public responsibility. We should engage in a broad public and democratic debate about the purpose and underlying values of early childhood services in Ireland. One of my favourite nursery schools from my previous professional life, in Tottenham, North London, asks new parents about their dreams and hopes for their child while they are attending the service. All the collected dreams are on display in the hall for all to see. I think this is an exercise we need as a country: what are our dreams, hopes and aspirations for young children? Who, and what, do we think, as a society, early childhood services are for? Who benefits from the status quo (and therefore resists change)? What do we want early childhood services to be and to achieve in our society? In this debate we are required, individually and collectively, to clarify our position and take a stand. To start with, we should recognise that early childhood services are a common good that benefit all children and families, and the entire society. As a society, we have a shared public responsibility for the lives of all children from birth, and for the cohesion of the present and future society we want to live in. There is no such thing as ‘other peoples’ children’.
  3. Deprivatise. Dare I say the ‘D’ word? If we can agree that the current structure of the Irish early childhood sector is not fit for purpose, the question arises what are the alternatives? There is plenty of international evidence that a sector that relies on a business model cannot, in the long term, deliver the common good. Quality (as experienced by children and families) tends to be low (variable at best), access and outcomes unequal, costs high, working conditions for staff unsustainable, governance and regulation overly onerous. Now is the time to fundamentally re-think the way services are provided in Ireland. What would a deprivatised, genuinely public sector look like? Soviet-style kinderkombinat institutions in each county? Certainly not. An Irish solution would build on the strengths of the system: on the profound connectedness of services and early childhood professionals to the local community and on their knowledge of the rights, hopes, aspirations, capabilities and needs of the community that is often their own. Services would be decentralised and diverse (as they currently are) but publicly resourced and coordinated.
  4. Integrated services. While necessarily grounded in the local community, services will also have to be highly integrated in order to cater for the rights of all children, families and communities. What do I mean by highly integrated? In Ireland (indeed in most English speaking countries) we are still struggling to overcome the deep conceptual and institutional divide between childcare and early childhood education. Some good progress has been made; it is now widely accepted that learning starts at birth and care does not stop at the primary school door. Now we need to make sure this holistic, rights-based approach to caring for and educating all young children is reflected at all levels of the system, including governance. However, if we take seriously our public responsibility for all children, we will have to think integration of services on a much broader scale: health, nutrition, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being should be brought into the picture – they can and should be an integral part of the services available to all young children and their families.
  5. A strategy for the strategy, but first a vision. At the time of writing, we are awaiting the publication of the Early Years Strategy. It will, we expect, provide much-needed and welcome orientation for the next decade. The time frame is important because it opens the possibility to escape the short-termism of electoral cycles and the temptations of quick fixes and election giveaways. Welcome to a strategy not for the government (governments change) but for the country! A strategy can give long-term direction to our actions – but before actions lie questions of purpose and values: what is our vision for the relationship we, as a society, want to realise with all children and families? The (preliminary?) title of the early years strategy gives a hint: It will be a Strategy for Babies, Young Children, and their Families. What are the implications of such an orientation? I want to be radically positive and say that such a broad orientation can become the road map for the system change I genuinely believe we need: from a fragmented, marketised (but dysfunctional) system to a fully integrated, public service for all children and families. In case you should have wondered about my persistent and italic use of all children: it is because all means all regardless of their legal status, ethnicity, colour of skin, perceived ability, size of their parents’ wallets or any other artificial distinction. Exclusion is not an option. How about this for a collective aspiration: five years from now (in 2023) there will be a fully integrated early childhood development, education and care hub in each county. The hubs will offer some services ‘in house’, and will proactively network and coordinate the following services in the region (which may be provided in a diverse range of settings): pre- and postnatal care, parental support and advice, infant health care, sessional and drop-in childcare and early childhood education. They will proactively reach out to all families in the area and work closely with other services and professionals providing child and family support.
    Without doubt the implications of such an aspiration are huge: to start with, we need to overcome silo mentality and competition. We will need a highly qualified (and sufficiently paid) professional workforce, capable of collaboration across professional and disciplinary boundaries. We will have to recognise that coordination and communication across differences are essential systemic competences and will have to create new support structures and professional roles to reflect the task. But Ireland is not alone in facing these challenges. We can learn from and with similar aspirational policies in other countries.

At Dublin City University, we are in the process of setting up an international centre for early childhood research. Our mission is to be a globally connected, locally grounded, interdisciplinary hub for critical thinking in early childhood practice, policy and research. This can’t and won’t happen behind closed doors – so here is an invitation to join the debate and realise the aspiration.

Paulo Freire once wrote: ‘the future isn’t something hidden in a corner. The future is something we build in the present’. Or, as John Lennon put it: ‘imagine …’



Dr Mathias Urban is Desmond Chair of Early Childhood Education, and Director of the International Centre for Early Childhood Research at Dublin City University, Ireland (DCU). He works on questions of diversity and equality, social justice, evaluation and professionalism in working with young children, families and communities in diverse socio-cultural contexts. Before joining DCU Mathias held the position of Froebel Professor of Early Childhood Studies and Director of the Early Childhood Research Centre at the University of Roehampton, London, United Kingdom. From 2010 to 2011 he coordinated the European CoRe project (Competence Requirements in Early Childhood Education and Care). His current and recent projects include collaborative studies on early childhood professionalism in Colombia (Sistemas Competentes para la Atención Integral a la Primera Infancia), studies on Privatisation and on the impact of Assessment Regimes, and an 11-country project on Governance and Leadership for Competent Systems in Early Childhood. Mathias is an International Research Fellow with the Critical Childhood Public Policy Research Collaborative, a member of the PILIS research group (Primera Infancia, Lenguaje e Inclusión Social), Chair of the DECET network (Diversity in Early Childhood Education and Training), a member of the AERA special interest group critical perspectives on early childhood education. Mathias is the President of the International Froebel Society (IFS).

Selected publications:

Urban, M. (2017). We need meaningful, systematic evaluation, not a preschool PISA. Global Education Review, 4 (2). 14-31

Moss, P., & Urban, M. (2017). The OECD’s International Early Learning Study: what happened next. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 18(2).

Urban, M. & Swadener, B. (2017). Democratic accountability and contextualised systemic evaluation. A comment on the OECD initiative to launch an International Early Learning Study (IELS). International Critical Childhood Policy Studies, 5(1), 6-18

Urban, M. (2016) At Sea: what direction for critical early childhood research? Journal of Pedagogy 7(1) 107-121

Urban, M. (2016, ed.) Resisting ‘normal science’ in educational research. Journal of Pedagogy. Guest-edited special edition

Urban, M. (2016) Sufficiently well informed and seriously concerned? European Union policy responses to marginalisation, structural racism and institutionalised exclusion in early childhood. Alberta Journal of Educational Research (61) 4 399-416

Vandenbroeck, M., Urban, M. & Peeters, J. (2016, eds.) Pathways to Professionalism in Early Childhood Education and Care. London: Routledge Jones, L., Urban, M., Osgood, J. & Holmes, R. (2016, eds.) Reimagining Quality in Early Childhood. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood. Guest-edited special edition (17) 1

Urban, M. (2015) Compromiso y Responsibilidad de Todos. Europe and Latin America learning with and from each other for competent early childhood systems. Recí 28 December 2015.

Urban, M. (2015) A pedagogy based on critical consciousness and democratic values. In A. Fortunati (Ed.), TALE. Tuscan Approach Learning for Early Childhood Education and Care. Activities, results and perspectives. Florence: Istituto degli Innocenti.

Urban, M. (2016) Starting Wrong? The trouble with a debate that just won’t go away. In Cannella, G., Perez, M. & Lee, I. Critical Examinations of Quality. Regulation, Disqualification and Erasure. New York: Peter Lang

Urban, M. (2015) From ‘closing the gap’ to an ethics of affirmation. Reconceptualising the role of early childhood services in times of uncertainty. European Journal of Education (50)3 293-306

Urban, M. & Rubiano, C. (2015) Privatisation in Early Childhood Education. An explorative study on impacts and implications. Brussels: Education International

Urban, M. (2015) Starting wrong? A critical perspective on the latest permutation of the debate on the quality of early childhood provision. In: Heys, Matthes & Sullivan Improving the Quality of Childhood in European Union - Volume 5. Brussels: Alliance for Childhood

Urban, M. (2015) A Competent System? Nursery World. 16 April 2015.

Urban, M. (2014) Not solving problems, managing messes: competent systems in early childhood education and care. Management in Education (28) 4. 125-129

Jones, L., Osgood, J., Urban, M., Holmes, M. & MacLure, M. (2014) Eu(rope): (Re)assembling, (Re)casting, and (Re)aligning Lines of De- and Re-territorialisation of Early Childhood. International Review of Qualitative Research, Vol. 7, No. 1. 58–79

Urban, M. (2014) Learning from the Margins: Early Childhood Imaginaries, ‘Normal Science’, and the Case for a Radical Reconceptualisation of Research and Practice. In: Marianne N. Bloch, Beth Blue Swadener, and Gaile S. Cannella (eds.) Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Care and Education: Critical Questions, Diverse Imaginaries and Social Activism. New York: Peter Lang Publishers

Urban, M. (2013) Sistemas competentes en la educación de la primera infancia. In: Romero, R. F. & Torrado, M. Ch. (eds.) Primera infancia, lenguajes e inclusión social: una mirada desde la investigación. Bogotá, Universidad Santo Tomás

Urban, M. (2013) Professionalität und Kompetenz in der frühkindlichen Bildung, Betreuung und Erziehung: systemisch, politisch und dialogorientiert. In: Schronen, D. : VALIflex – les expériences. Personal mit niedriger Qualifizierung im non-formalen Bildungssystem. Luxembourg: Caritas

Urban, M. (2012) Researching early childhood policy and practice: a critical ecology. European Journal of Education (47)2012) 494-507

Urban, M., Vandenbroeck, M., Van Laere, K., Lazzari, A. & Peeters, J. (2012) Towards competent systems in early childhood education and care. Implications for policy and practice. European Journal of Education (47)2012 508-526

Murrray, C. & Urban, M. (2012) Diversity and Equality in Early Childhood. Dublin: Gill& Macmillan

Miller, L., Dalli, C. & Urban, M. (2011) Early Childhood grows up. Towards a critical ecology of the profession. Dordrecht and London: Springer






Dr Mathias Urban is Desmond Chair of Early Childhood Education, and Director of the International Centre for Early Childhood Research at Dublin City University, Ireland (DCU).

Spotlight on Curriculum; A Montessori & Early Childhood Professionals Ireland 10th Anniversary Blog by Arlene Forster, Deputy Chief Executive in the National Council for Curriculum & Assessment (NCCA)

Ten years ago, Aistear didn’t exist, well at least not as we know it today! Much has changed in those intervening years which other contributors to this 10th anniversary blog have looked back on. I am delighted to write for the blog marking a special milestone for MECPI. Having had the privilege of being involved throughout the development of Aistear, I want to spotlight curriculum and, in particular, the curriculum journey we’ve taken in the last decade and ponder on what might lie ahead as we journey on.


To begin, I’m going back an extra decade to 1998. That year saw the first national forum in Ireland on early childhood education. In closing the forum, the late and great advocate for early childhood education, Professor John Coolahan acknowledged both the challenges that lay ahead for the sector while, at the same time, saw exciting possibilities and potential for growing and supporting a sector for the ultimate benefit of young children. The Forum’s discussions and debates created a blueprint for the way ahead including the development of Aistear and Síolta.

Published in 2009, Aistear was underpinned by two powerful images—children as active, capable and competent learners from birth, and practitioners as skilful and expert professionals. These images provided common ground, helping bring together groups who had different views on the purpose of a curriculum, the role of the adult, play, assessment and other issues. There was much discussion too about the challenges we faced such as support for practitioners and primary teachers in using Aistear to provide high quality experiences for all children.

Fast-forward ten years to 2018 and much has changed in curriculum terms. While implementation of Aistear progressed at a slower pace than we might have liked and particularly in the initial years after publication, the Framework nonetheless has and continues to shape rich, engaging and fun experiences for children. We see particular evidence of this in reports by the Early Years Education Inspectorate. The online Aistear Síolta Practice Guide used by organisations across the sector, has provided practical support to practitioners in developing an inquiry-based curriculum that is inspiring and engaging, and fuels children’s curiosity in, and about their world. Much has also changed in infant classrooms in primary schools. An experienced primary principal once described this as a ‘quiet revolution under the radar’. Play and play-based teaching are used by a growing number of teachers to support children’s learning across the primary curriculum, again documented in reports by the DES Inspectorate. In some cases, this use of play pedagogies is extending upwards through the middle and senior primary classes. A challenge ahead is to ensure, as best we can, that these experiences are available to all children in the range of early childhood settings across the country. 

Fast-forward another ten years to MECPI’s 20th anniversary blog. What might we be reading about then? I think there are already signals about how curriculum will evolve. The primary school curriculum is currently being reviewed and redeveloped. As part of this, the NCCA held a consultation about the curriculum’s structure and how time is used within it. That consultation showed broad support for exploring further the idea of a curriculum stage that would enable stronger links to be made between children’s experiences during their preschool years and their experiences in early primary. There was also strong agreement for a more integrated curriculum for infant classes and for play and playful learning to be front and centre in a redeveloped curriculum. This response reflects the positive up-wash effect of Aistear in recent years.

I think another area of focus needs to be on the learning experiences of children from birth to three years. While Aistear and Síolta support the whole of early childhood, the upper end has tended to be prioritised. In this light, a practical next step for NCCA is to review and extend the Aistear Síolta Practice Guide to share examples of using Aistear with babies and toddlers.  

And what of Aistear itself? Next year sees its own tenth birthday and a decade brings with it new research, new learning about children’s lives here in Ireland, and a changing policy landscape. As with all curricula, it will be important to check in with Aistear and to ask what we might need to revise to ensure we continue to have a cutting-edge curriculum framework. 


In closing, some questions come to mind… Is the curriculum journey ever really over? Can we at any point say that we’ve reached our destination? The early childhood sector has shown time and time again that, collectively, it strives to learn new things, to adopt new practices and to share experiences in order to enrich the work of its professionals and ultimately to ensure better experiences for children. And so, the curriculum journey continues…




Arlene Forster, National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (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. She joined the NCCA in 2001 to contribute to the Council’s work on early childhood education. As a director in NCCA, she led the development of Aistear: the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework and also worked in the areas of assessment and reporting, curriculum review, language and maths. She was appointed to her current post in 2016 and has responsibility for leading the Council’s work in early childhood and primary education.   


Arlene Forster is Deputy Chief Executive in the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).

A Lot Done. More To Do. By Dr Geraldine French. Programme Chair of the Bachelor of Early Childhood Education degree at the Institute of Education, DCU, St Patrick’s Campus

Being asked for my views on how early childhood education has changed over the last 10 years has made me appreciate the vast number of policy and practice developments pertaining to very young children. Aistear was developed; the universal Free Preschool Year scheme introduced with a recent extension to a second year; minimum qualification requirements were implemented, and the Aistear Síolta Practice Guide was made available. For an overview of the progress that has been made in relation to issues of affordability, professionalisation, inspection and regulation and equality and inclusion, in 2017 alone, see Walsh (2018). I believe these changes firmly establish the field of early childhood education and care (ECEC) in Ireland.


Other, important changes are the growing number of further education and degree programmes available for the sector; with work being undertaken to provide national oversight that these programmes are aligned and that they will contain the required values, knowledge(s) and practices to work with young children.


We have jobs in the ECEC sector that did not exist 10 years ago. For example, the Better Start Quality Development Service employs Early Years Specialists and the Department of Education and Skills employ Early Years (education focussed) Inspectors.


There are a growing number of educated, insightful and passionate advocates for young children as evidenced by DCU’s engagement with early childhood settings and the Early Childhood Ireland awards for ECEC practice.


With political will, we can look forward to the implementation of the long-awaited National Early Years Strategy, to be launched in autumn 2018. The Strategy’s three goals, while not explicitly naming children’s rights, have placed babies, children and families at the centre and include: strong and supported families; good physical and mental health; and positive early learning experiences.


All of these developments appear positive and imply recognition of the importance and value of providing quality experiences for young children and the need for parents, who work outside the home, to access high quality ECEC with highly knowledgeable and skilled early childhood professionals. However, I believe there is no place for complacency. There are many issues that must be addressed over the next 10 years: reducing fragmentation of the sector, delivering truly universal high quality ECEC, with tailored supports to those at risk of poverty, educational inequality, and/or exclusion; prenatal and natal supports to parents and their new-borns; prevention and early intervention, for example, speech and language supports. The list is endless. Just two are highlighted here which are close to my heart – the rights of the students that I have the privilege and pleasure of working with, and the rights of babies in ECEC settings.


Firstly, three years ago, I was appointed to my current role to lead the development of the Bachelor of Early Childhood Education degree at DCU. Every year I have heard myself saying to the first year students, that “by the time you graduate, you will be coming out into a sector where ECEC is valued and the issue of low pay will be resolved”. I now have a sense of frustration. We will have our first graduates in 2019; time is running out. For those working in the sector, the increasing expectations that rest on their shoulders are not matched by commensurate designated yearly salaries scales, conditions of employment or the status that they richly deserve. There is limited support for early childhood professionals to advance their qualifications. The sector is lacking a national registration system and body, to set professional standards and to promote the work of professionals in ECEC, enjoyed by those working in primary education (the Teaching Council) or social care (CORU Health & Social Care Professionals Council). Our identity is emerging - we are not yet sure what to call ourselves. Some of our titles include: Childcare Worker, Early Childhood or Early Years Educators/Professionals/Practitioners/Teachers. The term ‘early childhood professional’ is used here, as that is the terminology of the organisation hosting this blog. We must educate parents on the importance of the learning and development that unfolds in early childhood. We must as a society value early childhood professional’s work and address the issue of their rights, pay, conditions, status, standards, identity and qualifications. Doing so will positively impact on these professionals’ capacity to remain in the sector, deliver high quality education and care and develop professionally. Given that a growing number of early childhood professionals now have Masters Degrees in Ireland it will become difficult for the Labour Court to argue that they should be paid less than other equally qualified professions.


Secondly, there are unintended consequences of policy decisions which militate against babies’ rights in ECEC settings. By increasing the capitation grant for graduates of degree programmes as part of the Free Preschool Year scheme, those with the least education are working with babies. In recent years our understanding of the minds of babies, has flourished. Babies are born knowing a lot; they learn more, feel more, create more, think more, care more, and experience more than we could ever have anticipated, and achieve 80-90% of their brain development by age three. We know that quality is linked to the qualifications of the staff and that poor quality settings can do long term harm to babies. Babies need skilled educators who will know how to respond to their cues, and engage in reciprocal relationships through responsive practice; these skills are not intuitive. If I am a baby of six months, surely I have a right to be nurtured and educated by a person with the same or equal qualification as if I am four, five, six or seven years of age? I believe that babies are equally entitled to be with graduates of ECEC.


In conclusion, I believe there are many reasons to celebrate, not least the 10th Anniversary of the Montessori & Early Childhood Professionals Ireland! A lot has been achieved; there is no going back… However, there is much to do. If we really do care about the future of our youngest citizens, and commit to babies’ rights; we must also consider the rights of those who work with them in ECEC settings.



Dr Geraldine French is the Programme Chair of the Bachelor of Early Childhood Education degree at the Institute of Education, DCU, St Patrick’s Campus, and a specialist in early childhood education. Her doctoral thesis is in the area of pedagogical interactions in early childhood education with a particular focus on educational inequality. She has worked for a variety of governmental and voluntary organisations, national and international, in conducting continued professional development, research, needs analysis, evaluations and consultancy for strategic planning. She has published in the area of quality professional practice on a range of topics in early childhood settings.

Dr Geraldine French is the Programme Chair of the Bachelor of Early Childhood Education degree at the Institute of Education, DCU, St Patrick’s Campus

A National Early Years Strategy for Children by Ciairín de Buis, former CEO of Start Strong & current CEO of Women for Election

“We gather at an exciting time. A time when together we are about to launch a 10-year plan to ensure every Irish child has the best possible start in life.”

Minister Zappone’s opening words at a recent Open Policy Debate on the Early Years Strategy.

I wasn’t at the recent Open Policy Debate on the National Early Years Strategy; had I been, I would probably have rolled my eyes. A baby born in early 2012, a newborn when the plan for Ireland’s first National Early Years Strategy was first announced is probably starting their school holidays around now, having left their ‘early years’ behind. We have been talking, and talking, about a National Early Years Strategy – and its imminent arrival – and children have ‘grown up’ through the early years and left them behind.

And yet, despite there being no Early Years Strategy, an awful lot has happened. In a flurry of policy activity, we’ve seen the introduction of paid paternity leave, the extension of the free pre-school scheme, the establishment of Better Start, the introduction of education focused inspections, the introduction of AIMS, the new affordable childcare scheme…and that is just naming a few (and, of course, many of the names are deeply misleading). And the government has talked, and talked, about a National Early Years Strategy. It has established an Expert Advisory Group, has consulted, and has said over and over again that the strategy will be published by the end of the year.

In the meantime, babies have been born, have developed, have grown through the toddler years and are now at school and have left their early years behind.

And yet, and yet…the public perception of early years has changed. We, those of us not embedded in early years education, have started to understand the importance and impact of early years. We are beginning to realise we all carry our childhood with us. Of course early childhood professionals have understood this for decades, the rest of us have been catching up. And the political system is beginning to catch up. This time round we might actually have a National Early Years Strategy in the autumn. We might even have a National Early Years Strategy that has children’s rights at its core. Wouldn’t that be something? A National Early Years Strategy that supported a baby to be at home, cared for by a parent, until their 1st birthday. A National Early Years Strategy that ensured any child could access high-quality early education, and their parents could afford it. A National Early Years Strategy that meant early childhood professionals were treated as professionals – with the recognition, pay and responsibilities that go with being a professional. A National Early Years Strategy that ensured young kids have the chance to learn in the way they know best, through play. A National Early Years Strategy that did all that, might even have been worth waiting for.



Ciairín de Buis was the CEO of Start Strong – she led the organisation from 2009 through to its planned closure in 2016 and the establishment of an Early Years Manager role in the Children’s Rights Alliance. She is now the CEO of Women for Election. Women for Election is a not-for-profit, non-partisan organisation whose mission is to inspire, support and equip women to succeed in politics. Women for Election wants to see an equal balance of women and men in our political system – we run training and support women interested in running for election. You can find out more at



For more information have a look at and

A National Early Years Strategy for Children by Ciairín de Buis, former CEO of Start Strong & current CEO of Women for Election

MECPI Blog for 10th Anniversary: Revitalise and Enjoy! by Imelda Graham, Chair of National Childhood Network.

It is such a joy to be part of this wonderful, burgeoning sector, a sector that is coming into its own as professional recognition is growing. It is an especial honour to be helping to mark MECPI’s 10th Anniversary. In this blog I consider how we can maintain our freshness and enthusiasm, often in difficult circumstances when it feels like we are fighting unfairness as professional educators.

Ten years is a good point to mark progress, and I think back to when I first became involved: visiting an Open Day held by IPPA in the mid-1970’s, and having my mind opened to the enormous opportunities for working with children, the potential for rich fulfilling work which placed children at its heart: who doesn’t smile to blow bubbles with children, to know that under the fun it is helping their speech development for example!  At each point it has been wonderful to be reminded of that early sense of wonder, and recently to experience it all over again in new circumstances, in a different country, with children experiencing massive challenges as refugees. 

This opportunity for renewal has been valuable. It has affirmed the quality of the work that has been done in Ireland, through Síolta, through Aistear, through using these frameworks in a totally new environment and demonstrating the effectiveness of them, showing that their core principles transfer well into other cultures. These children have revitalised me, fostering renewed enthusiasm. The challenges that presented such as many new languages and cultures, physical ones with extreme temperatures, practical ones such as establishing and equipping the environment for the children, were only surmountable because of the support, learning and skills that I have experienced over the years.   

How therefore can we all renew and revitalise regularly, how can we see beyond the daily paperwork, red tape and obligations? Often, the children themselves will help us as they grow and develop with our guidance. However, some suggestions that I have found useful may help in refreshing that bigger picture for us as individuals.  

First, open your thinking. I heard this idea many years ago at an induction session and have tried to follow it since:  read opposing views, such as a newspaper or article that differs widely from your own views. Argue with it, see what the core argument is and question its validity, make a counter argument.  This helps to check our own attitudes, our biases, our understanding and keep open minds.

Next, depending on circumstances, try to have new experiences. We regularly present these to the children, yet the benefits to us are just as valid. If you like trad music, go to a hip hop session. If you like to hill walk, try a trip on a boat, just rowing around. If you never stargazed, go to a free stargazing session.

We know the value of risk-taking for children and how it reduces phobias, so why not for us? Stretch ourselves, perhaps take the risk of doing public speaking, of speaking at a seminar, of going on a bat walk, even volunteer to work in new situations. Take physical risks, begin a new sport, begin running.  Opportunities to stretch our own boundaries can help us to realise our own strengths, perhaps buried deep down from habit.

Have models and mentors, either for a particular skill that you wish to improve or someone who will guide you in a broader way. For example, if you wish to give a speech, seek out some online or live examples, and analyse what they do that is of use to you, then ask someone to mentor you as you practise.

Above all else, play! Learning is always enhanced by play, by enjoyment, by fun, with others or alone.  Blow those bubbles, dance, go to parties or out for supper with friends and laugh and joke. Watch comedy shows, movies, build Jenga towers, do jigsaws, whatever makes you feel happy and joyful and revitalised.

These ideas are personally fulfilling and will help in your career. They will support us in our own development, which in turn enhances our capacity as highly sensitive professional educators attuned to the individual needs of the children with whom we work.  


May the next ten years be fulfilling and exciting, filled with new discoveries and lots of satisfaction and joy in our work. 





Imelda Graham has worked and played with children and adults since the mid-1970’s. Imelda is an author, lecturer, researcher, activist for play and fun to support lifelong learning for all as a core part of positive, fair, joyful communities and societies.

From May 2016 to recently Imelda has worked in a volunteer capacity with the children of refugees in Lesvos in Greece. This work involved developing a kindergarten in an independent refugee camp, Lesvos Solidarity camp at Pikpa. This has evolved into a forest school, Mikros Dounias, where refugee and Greek children play and work together. The camp also still has the original kindergarten, catering mainly for the over sixes.


Imelda currently has the honour of being chairman of the National Childhood Network. 

MECPI Blog for 10th Anniversary: Revitalise and Enjoy! by Imelda Graham, author, researcher, and current Chairperson of National Childhood Network

What are we talking about when we talk about the ECEC profession? by Nóirín Hayes, Visiting Professor, School of Education, Trinity College Dublin

Early Childhood Education and Care [ECEC] [1] is a new strand in educational scholarship and is only recently moving in ‘from the margins’ with early education professionals being accorded recognition for their status and contribution to educational discourse although in many contexts this recognition continues to be somewhat ambiguous (Woodrow and Newman, 2015).  Sites for reflective discussion on professional practice, such as this important blog, provide a valuable context for considering the ECEC profession and what constitutes professional ECEC practice.  To focus and strengthen the discussions it is important that there is clarity about what is understood by ECEC.  Our shared understanding of what exactly it means will have a profound impact on policy focus, support and investment and, ultimately the quality of early learning experiences for young children attending the different early learning environments across the ages from birth to 6 years [2].

Naming and framing the ECEC space has proven very challenging in the Irish context.  For many reasons there are multiple meanings across different terms within the Irish policy context; this is perpetuated by ECEC settings responding to the different names as necessary to avail of funding in a very under-resourced arena.  The following gives a flavour of the confusion:


Childcare  [DCYA] 6 months – 15 years [Affordable Childcare Scheme]                                                        


Early Childhood Care & Education  [DCYA] :  3 – 5 year old children  [ECCE/Free Pre-School Years Scheme]



Early Education [DES]: 3-5 yrs. [in pre-school], 4-6 yrs. [in infant classes]



Early Years [DCYA] : children birth - 6 years



Early Childhood Education and Care [DES] : for children 6 months -6 years



While this confusion may reflect the relatively recent focus of policy attention on ECEC such varied terminology makes it impossible to develop a clear coordinated vision and strategy for ECEC. This in turn makes it difficult to identify and support a strong, coherent profession.  Without a confident professional identity for those working with young children external bodies will continue to define and redefine the professional parameters of the ECEC system.  Such a situation is problematic for those in the profession for a number of reasons.  On the one hand it can lead to situations where demands are made on the profession, which may compromise professionals in meeting their professional obligations in respect of the needs and rights of young children.  In addition those who are not expert in ECEC practice may fail to recognise the unique nature of quality ECEC practice and the skills and time required to create and sustain enriching early learning environments.


Research tells us that the quality of a child’s early years experiences is crucial for their overall learning and development with a profound impact on their immediate wellbeing and on subsequest life success. It confirms and highlights the crucial role interactions and relationships have on positive development and emphasises the importance of the nature and quality of the interactive processes (Hayes et al., 2017).  


The valuable role and unique contribution to education made by those who work directly with children in early childhood settings is well established and understood internationally. Reflective and informed ECEC professionals in Ireland are strengthening their professional identity, which in turn strengthens the profession. It is timely to consider moving the discussions and reflections beyond ECEC professionals to a wider audience so that future developments in the ECEC system are informed and guided by the professional experts in ECEC practice.  This would benefit the nascent ECEC profession in Ireland, young children in early learning environments across Ireland and Irish society as a whole.  There is an exciting decade ahead!



Nóirín Hayes is Visiting Professor at the School of Education and Professor Emerita, Centre for Social and Educational Research, Dublin Institute of Technology.  Working within a bio-ecological framework of development and through a child rights lens she researches in early childhood education and care [ECEC] with a particular focus on early learning, curriculum and pedagogy and ECEC policy. She is convenor of the Researching Early Childhood Education Collaborative [RECEC] at Trinity College and co-editor of Research and Evaluation in Community, Health and Social Care Settings: Experiences from Practice (Routledge, 2018) and In Search of Social Justice: John Bennett’s Lifetime Contribution to Early Childhood Policy and Practice (Routledge, forthcoming). Nóirín can be contacted at:







Hayes N., O’Toole, L and Halpenny A.M. (2017) Introducing Bronfenbrenner: A Guide for Practitioners and Students in Early Years Education London: Routledge


Woodrow, C and Newman, L (2015) Recognising, Valuing and Celebrating Practitioner Research in L. Newman and C. Woodrow (Eds.) Practitioner Research in Early Childhood: International Issues and Perspectives. London: Sage Publication





[1] While internationally the terms ECCE and ECEC may be used interchangeably the term ECEC is used here to avoid the confusion that has been caused by using ECCE to refer to the preschool funding scheme.

[2] In keeping with the definitions in the OECD and the EU Quality Framework this paper uses the term ECEC to refer to childminding, community and private setting based services [full and part-time] and junior primary classes for children from birth to 6 years – that is, the various out-of-home settings where the early care and education of young children takes place.

What are we talking about when we talk about the ECEC profession? Nóirín Hayes, Visiting Professor, School of Education, Trinity College Dublin.

Visibility of second language children in the early years: 20 years a-growing by Máire Mhic Mhathúna, Dublin Institute of Technology


Congratulations to Montessori and Early Childhood Professionals Ireland on your 10th birthday this year but it is also interesting to go back another 10 years to the time of the National Forum on Early Childhood Education held in Dublin Castle in 1998 and to review the growth and visibility of second language children over the 20 years.  It’s also interesting to see the many changes of ministers, departments and early childhood advocates during that period, with early childhood education moving from one department to the next depending on the overall political impetus of the time. When the focus was on facilitating women to go out to work, we were under the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; when the emphasis was on prevention and intervention, we were under the Department of Children and now that children’s care and education is in the spotlight, the remit is shared by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Department of Education and Skills.

Back in 1999-2000 ADM carried out a scoping exercise to ascertain the number of early childhood services and needless to say, there has been a great increase since then in the number of children attending ECCE services and of second language children within these numbers. There are two groups of children who can be broadly categorised as second language children:

·    * Children of parents who speak a language other than English or Irish (EAL children): many of these children may have been born in Ireland but speak their parents’ language and/or English at home to various degrees

·    * Irish-speaking and Irish-learning children, in the Gaeltacht and outside Gaeltacht areas, whose competency in Irish varies according to the languages used in their homes


Back in 1999, there were 2,600 ECCE services and 59,500 children attending (ADM 2003). Today the number of services has risen to 4,500 with 147,000 children attending according to the most recent Pobal Survey (2017). We don’t know how many children learning English as a second language were attending EECE services in 1999 because the question wasn’t asked, but there were 160 naíonraí or 7% of the total number of services. The most recent Pobal survey found that 67% of services had at least one “English as an Additional Language” (EAL) child attending, with a total of 20,870 children or 13% of all children (Pobal 2017). This is a huge increase in numbers and visibility, but we don’t really know how practitioners are working with them as little national information is available. However one 2016 national survey (Ring et al. 2016) found that relatively few settings (45%) had specific strategies in place to support children from diverse backgrounds and that ECCE practitioners tended to undervalue children’s home languages.

Polish was the most widely spoken foreign language at home. 65% of EAL children could speak English well or very well and 35% of EAL children could not speak English or speak it well. This means that we need to treat each child as an individual and not make assumptions about their ability to speak English before we get to know them.

There is a total of 280 Irish-medium services (naíonraí) now, catering for 7,500 children across the Republic, with an additional 43 services in Northern Ireland. This is about the same percentage of services as 1999. Due to reorganisation in the Irish language sector there is only limited training in second language pedagogy available to naíonraí practitioners at in-service levels and a similar situation exists at degree level. Some of the 22 courses providing degree level training in ECCE may integrate training in second language acquisition for EAL children or immersion education for naíonraí in other modules but few specifically list second language acquisition as a separate module and only 10 programmes mention “diversity” in the module title.

It would be a suitable response to the increased numbers and visibility of second language children in our settings, if more modules or CPD short courses on second language pedagogy for EAL and those learning Irish could be introduced on Level 6 and degree level training programmes. This would ensure that practitioners understood the theory of second language acquisition knew about suitable strategies for working with second language children and their families and had sufficient confidence in their ability to put theory into practice. We could move from 20 years a-growing to 20 years a-flourishing!




Dr Máire Mhic Mhathúna is a researcher who has worked in the early childhood sector for many years. She has been a lecturer in early childhood education in the Dublin Institute of Technology and more recently Assistant Head of School of Languages, Law and Social Sciences. Before that she was a primary teacher and then moved to the early years sector where she ran her own naíonra for 10 years. Her research interests include second language acquisition, transitions, school readiness, the Irish language in early years education and cultural and linguistic diversity. She can be contacted at





Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform/ADM  (2003) NATIONAL CHILDCARE CENSUS REPORT BASELINE DATA 1999 – 2000. Available at

Pobal (2017) Early Years Sector Profile 2016-17. Available at


Ring, E., Mhic Mhathúna, M., Moloney, M., Hayes, N., Breathnach, D., Stafford, P., Carswell, D., Keegan, S., Kelleher, C., McCafferty, D., O’Keeffe, A., Leavy, A., Madden, R. and Ozonyia, M. (2016) An examination of concepts of school readiness among parents and educators in Ireland. Dublin: Department of Children and Youth Affairs. Available at

Visibility of second language children in the early years: 20 years a-growing by Máire Mhic Mhathúna, Dublin Institute of Technology

A Decade of Reflection in Early Years by Therese Tutty, Coordinator, Sonas Group Busy Kids


Throughout the last decade high quality standards of care have become the predominant factor towards change in our profession.  Personally, I experienced significant change in my professional career since 2008. Back then I was a manager of a large service catering for 100+ children and managing 20+ practitioners. I was a proud member of a highly successful team and part of a chain of centres who consistently achieved the NCNA Centre of Excellence award.  Síolta had recently been introduced, followed by Aistear in 2009. These national policies began to shape the change in standards of care, practice and the work of professional practitioners within the sector.

I had always considered myself as a professional within the sector, however became increasingly aware that Degree level training was crucial to my continued success. My decision to pursue the Degree came at a time when there was unrest and uncertainty within the ECCE sector across Ireland.  

In 2013 an investigative journalism exposé aired on nationwide television. What followed was a national scandal that brought scrutiny and condemnation to the ECCE sector. It resulted in an emotional and difficult time, not only for parents, but also for the early year’s practitioners working with young children.  Many felt judged, branded and victims of a low level status value placed on those working in the sector as unprofessional, unethical and unsuitable to provide the most basic of care for young children.

While the investigation highlighted inadequacies relating to a small number of ECCE services, it raised awareness of the flaws within the sector and acted as a means for change, forcing ECCE onto the Irish government agenda. This in turn resulted in one of the most significant changes to the sector, the introduction of TUSLA in 2014; a precursor to what would be considered, the most restrictive regulations to be put to the sector yet.

It was at that time; I enrolled in Maynooth University and began my journey as a mature student, in pursuit of my BA Degree. I remember my first night, as I looked around the room I remember feeling envious of the younger girls. Why didn’t I do this year’s ago? In truth, it took me years to experience the highs and lows of working in early years to understand the important role we play. At that time I felt that I owed it to myself, my team, the children and families to continue with my own professional development. I also owed it to my own two children, to show them life has many possibilities with many opportunities and ways in which to reach them. I was a full time mum with a full time career, and there I was about to get my degree.

Participating in the degree I felt privileged to be surrounded by an enthusiastic group of professionals on the same journey, all of us together striving for improved standards and improved practice. Not just within our own learning but more importantly to enhance practice within our service sharing newly acquired skills, knowledge and understanding with peers and colleagues. It was an exciting time. It was a time when we all “Wore Red” as a stance together to value our profession. We rallied together in force, for government investment to provide for increased funding for improved salaries for practitioners. Where there were demands for a professional workforce, our sector rallied for professional salaries. And, after two years of campaigning, Minister Zappone recently announced that the government has agreed to the need for improved salaries within the sector.

On the 8th of September 2017, after 3 years of working full time and studying part time I graduated from Maynooth with a BA Degree. Graduation didn’t feel like the end of a chapter, instead it felt like a new beginning. Achieving my degree paved the way forward, in a sector that I was proud of, and one where I will remain and progress and continue to work towards improved standards.  My current role of Co-Ordinator continues to give me the opportunity to strive for change to the early year’s sector.  I am very proud of the career path that I have chosen and will continue my journey to make a difference.

The early years sector continues to evolve, and has become increasingly versatile. The use of social media and the community of practice offered by engaging with practitioners online have offered new ways to connect with other professionals in our field. The MECPI community has identified the one thing we all have in common; passion, commitment, dedication, and a determination to overcome the challenges that can sometimes feel overwhelming in a tightly regulated sector. 



Therese Tutty graduated with a BA from Maynooth University in 2017. She is currently the Coordinator with Sonas Group Busy Kids; a company which operates Sonas Nursing Homes and Busy Kids Childcare across Ireland.


As the Coordinator Therese supports the management and leadership of Busy Kids services in Dublin, Athlone and Limerick.  Prior to that Therese worked with Bright Horizons for 17 years and was the Regional Manager until the company merged with another provider in 2017.

A Decade of Reflection in Early Years by Therese Tutty, Coordinator, Sonas Group Busy Kids

Envisioning a reformed Early Childhood Education and Care Sector by Dr. Mary Moloney, Mary Immaculate College, Limerick


The pace of change in the early childhood education and care sector has been phenomenal. It is hard to imagine that Aistear had not been published in 2008. Ten years later, it is firmly embedded in practice. It is incomprehensible that in 2008, there was no mandated qualification requirement for working with children in ECEC. When it came to qualifications, the hair or care stereotype prevailed, meaning that if somebody was not considered ‘academic’ s/he was encouraged to pursue a career in hairdressing or ‘childcare’ as if working with young children did not require qualified staff. As Prof. Kathy Nutbrown once noted colleges require more qualifications from those training to look after animals than they do for ECEC courses. Thankfully this situation has finally been addressed. Other welcome developments include the shift from notification to registration of services, strengthening of vetting requirements for staff, and the focus upon governance within the Early Years Services Regulations, 2016, the introduction of Early Years Education Inspections, and the Access and Inclusion Model. It would be easy to continue naming the many initiatives introduced throughout the past decade. My preference however, is to look to the future, to the 20th anniversary of the MECPI and, to a reformed ECEC sector.

Where to begin? Ireland is embarking upon one of the most potentially exciting periods in the history of ECEC. For evidence of this, let us look to the NCCA proposals relating to structure in a redeveloped primary curriculum. While the finer detail is yet to be finalised, these proposals will result in curriculum alignment between education at pre-primary and primary school. Potential benefits include:

Ø  Emphasis upon the incremental nature of children’s learning and development;

Ø  Recognition of the funds of learning that children bring to primary school;

Ø  Acknowledgement of the contribution of and, the connectedness of pre-school and primary school

Ø  Aligning the redeveloped primary school curriculum with the principles and methodologies of Aistear;

Ø  Standardising implementation of Aistear within pre-school and primary school

Although such alignment will no doubt benefit young children in terms of curricular continuity and, the transition from one educational environment to another, younger children (birth to three years) are not considered part of the proposals. Is this oversight indicative of a deeply entrenched ‘care - education’ divide?


An incredible amount of development occurs between birth and three years, i.e., physical, social and emotional, language, literacy and numeracy; and so on. Yet, current policy directions may denigrate work in this area to that of care provision only with significant implications for the future of ECEC. Those working with children aged three to eight years will be aligned with the education sector, enjoy an elevated status within the education system, and within society generally. Meanwhile those working with younger children will be aligned with care for which there appears to be little regard within the education system. In this configuration, children aged from birth to three years will continue to be disadvantaged in terms of investment, qualified staff, and a holistic approach to their early care and education?


Primary school teachers have expressed concern about a diminution of their professional identity in light of implementing a play-based curriculum. These concerns speak volumes about the current value of play and early childhood education. Clearly much work is required to elevate the status of, and recognition for both play and early childhood education within Irish society in general, and the education system in particular.

Moving beyond curricular alignment, an Early Years Council may be established in the next ten years. Presently, no such autonomous agency with responsibility for accreditation of education and training providers, developing key standards for education and training programmes, workforce registration and fitness to practice exists in Ireland. Such an agency is essential to promote the standing of the early childhood professional, establish and maintain criteria for early childhood professional registration, and establish and maintain a national register of early childhood professionals. Both the structure of a redeveloped primary school curriculum and the establishment of an Early Years Council provide an opportunity for Ireland to lead the way in establishing a comprehensive ECEC sector. Both require vision, commitment and daring. 

Is it possible that in looking to the 20th anniversary of the MECPI that Ireland will have a reformed ECEC sector? Is it possible that early childhood and primary school teachers will be undertaking joint training and be eligible for teaching posts across the entire spectrum of early childhood, i.e., birth to six years? .Is it possible that teachers can move beyond the ‘Aistear Hour’ to a truly play-based, thematic and integrated approach to learning? Imagine a sector where pay parity exists for early childhood and primary school teachers where qualification equivalency exists. Decisions and actions taken over the next ten years will determine how ECEC is valued, funded and supported. Ultimately they will elevate the status of young children and their teachers in Ireland.





Dr. Mary Moloney is a researcher, author and lecturer in Early Childhood Education and Care at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick. She worked as the coordinator of the Limerick City Childcare Committee from 2002 to 2006, and she owned, managed and worked directly with children in her own early years setting for many years. She is passionate about young children's early education and care, as well as the professional identity, and well-being of early childhood educators. Mary is also interested in international perspectives on early childhood education and her work has been influenced by visits to a broad range of countries including Slovenia, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, New Zealand and Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy, and more recently by her work as a volunteer with refugee children and their families in Greece. Her latest book ‘Intentional Leadership for Effective Inclusion in Early Childhood Education and Care’ which she coauthored with Eucharia McCarthy motivates educators to work towards the common goal of creating a truly inclusive culture in which all children, with or without disabilities, are supported and enabled to fully participate in every aspect of daily life and learning.

Dr. Mary Moloney, researcher, author and lecturer in Early Childhood Education and Care at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick.

The Past Ten Years in a Small Crèche in Dublin by Joan O’ Sullivan, Proprietor of Little Footsteps in Swords, Co. Dublin

We are a small neighbourhood service catering for children from our immediate neighbourhood. Ten years ago, we adhered to the Montessori method in our preschool room and had occasional networking opportunities at first aid or child protection courses. FETAC level 5 was being rolled out within the sector, and many practitioners were upskilling to FETAC in their spare time. Our main interactions with the outside world of childcare was the occasional inspection visit from the HSE, carried out by public health nurses who often focussed on cobwebs behind radiators: the biggest change that we had seen was the transition from the 1996 to the 2006 Pre-school Regulations.

In 2009, change happened – the launch of Aistear, the framework that every childcare service would use; and the announcement of the ECCE free preschool year. While, neither immediately seemed like a huge change to a full day service, the reverberations were enormous. Aistear training marked the beginning of true continuous professional development - a framework that gave us basis to reflect, to support, and to monitor children’s development. ECCE introduced us to Pobal, who would interact between ourselves and the Department, inspecting for evidence that we complied with the conditions of funding, and that registered children and staff were present in our services. 

Perhaps the biggest impact of ECCE, not realised at the time, was the introduction of the higher capitation grant, introducing a financial motivation to upskill. In the eight years since ECCE was introduced, hundreds of early years practitioners have participated in BA programmes, motivated by the recognition for qualifications that the higher capitation supported. At the same time, social media really began to take off and practitioners began to exchange notes online, comparing practice. MECPI was at the core of the social media revolution in Irish childcare.

Unfortunately, 2013 brought a seismic downshift, with the broadcast of Prime Time’s ‘Breach of Trust’ episode. It was the blackest period in memory for those working in the sector, with the shockwaves still being felt today. The programme rocked each of us to the core, and overnight severely damaged the faith that parents had in those caring for their children, and the trust the State agencies had in the childcare sector, immediately evidenced in Pobal switching from announced to unannounced inspections.

Since 2013, insurance premiums have soared, we are overwhelmed by a tsunami of compliance requirements, and confidence of practitioners in their profession has plummeted. Coupled with the end of the recession, where many practitioners existing on the minimum wage, it marked the beginning of an exodus of practitioners from the sector. 

On a personal basis, it was those dark days that prompted me to become involved with the Association of Childhood Professionals, feeling that the sector needed advocates from within the workforce, to voice the issues being experienced on the ground, to sit at the decision-making tables and to make the case for those working with children, who needed to be motivated, and recognised, professionally and financially, for the efforts that they make to improve outcomes for children.

Over the past two years, green shoots of hope have finally begun to emerge. The Dept Education and Skills, announcing educational inspections for ECCE classes, took a leap of faith in the sector by giving advance notice of their inspections. The appreciation of the sector is evidenced in the positive response to these inspections. Better Start was established to support early years services who wish to improve practice; the Aistear/Siolta toolkit was developed to provide an accessible resource for practice tips and points for reflection, and the AIM model was introduced to support equal opportunity for every child to access the ECCE scheme.

In 2017, the Dept Children and Youth Affairs made the first payments for non-contact time, to alleviate some of the enormous burden placed on services to administer the State schemes. Their latest announcement of a pilot scheme for funded continuous professional development, will further support practitioners. Now, those who upskill to improve their practice, may hope for adequate financial reward for their efforts.

Coming to the end of this decade, there is a very real hope that the sector is entering into a period of meaningful consultation and partnership with the State agencies, and that this is leading towards a process of recognition and recompense for early years practitioners, for their skills and dedication, which we anticipate will lead to better motivated staff working towards optimal outcomes for children.

Joan O’Sullivan is the owner of Little Footsteps creche in Swords, which has won a number of awards over the past few years, including one of this year's Inspiring Practice awards from ECI. She describes herself as first and foremost, a parent of three wonderful young people, and a very proud grandmother to the next generation. Delighted that my own daughter followed me into Early Years. 


Joan spent years in the IT sector, working within the Public service, and after the introduction of Y2K and Euro, followed her heart in 2002 to enter the childcare sector. She went back to undertake a Level 8 in Early Years and based her thesis on the factors that go into providing a quality early years service. Concerns about the sector over the past decade led her to join fellow advocates in Association of Childhood Professionals (ACP) and has been a member of the National Executive since 2015.

Respecting the Natural World in ECEC Settings by Dr. Shiela Long, Institute of Technology, Carlow

'Tadpole' Picture Credit: Mikey (5 years old)

I started teaching early childhood students in 2008 and so when Sinead kindly invited me to write a blog on some of the changes that have taken place the past ten years and what I feel the next ten years might have in store, the sensible thing would have been to keep the focus within that neat timeframe and indeed within Ireland.  My blog however, starts off in Rome in the 1800s.  

Respecting the natural world in ECEC settings     

Maria Montessori’s great uncle Antonio Stoppani was a geologist and one of the first scientists to start the conversation about the Anthropocene in the 19th century. If ‘imitation is the first instinct of the awakening mind’, perhaps he was one of her role models, who knows? She did become a scientist too, after all.

Though a hotly debated concept nowadays, the Anthropocene has come to be generally accepted as the period of time where humans began to have a permanent, irreversible and profound impact on the planet.  An anthropocentric perspective is one which sees humans as the central focus, with the non-human world or nature existing primarily as a resource to be exploited or tamed for our use.  In the face of global warming and climate change, we need to let go of this limiting world view, as large scale collective action becomes more and more urgent.

ECEC Settings around the country have been taking action for decades, as strong sites of environmental education for young children. Together with young children they are rewilding their patch of world with bug hotels, wormeries, bat boxes and bird houses. They are growing wild flowers, grass, native flowers and trees.  They are protecting and nurturing their affordances, whether they are hedges, drystone walls, or mossy banks.  Grow your own, Green Flags, Recreate, Earth Day, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Walking buses, and Zero waste - ECEC educators are involved in lots of great initiatives that are enriching their play-based, emergent curriculum for young children, being great role models, while also doing their bit for the environment.

However we need to start asking much harder questions - to critically reflect on ourselves, and our patterns of consumption in our settings.   We need to think about the broader political priorities and decisions that are being made in and about our local area that impact on young children and the environment.  Do they have market values or democratic values at heart?

I have chosen three stories of environment degradation and species loss to prompt us to think about how inspection, teaching and funding agendas could make us complicit to varying degrees to this anthropocentric world view.

v  I once heard a story of an ECEC setting that was asked to cut down a tree as its roots posed a trip or some other perceived hazard. For what it afforded the children in the setting, that was akin to closing down a science laboratory, a gym, and a university all in one day.     

v  I once heard a story of an ECEC setting that, with the best of pedagogical intentions, had brought frog spawn in to the setting for the children to observe as they hatched and grew, only for all the tadpoles to die as the bucket which housed them was accidentally discarded by a staff member one evening.

v  I once heard a story of a beautiful wild flower meadow, a thriving eco-system, play-rich with hills, mounds, and other risky play opportunities, being levelled and covered in artificial green grass in response to a funding opportunity for playground surfaces.

Under article 29 1 (e) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, young children have a right to learn to respect the natural world, but what if there is no ‘natural’ left in their world? In these uncertain times, we need to ensure we don’t throw the baby [tadpoles] out with the bathwater.   We need to hold tight to the principles of Montessori and her views on the natural world, we need to hold tight to the natural affordances in our outdoor settings, and most of all hold tight to our professional values and ethics and agency.

The next ten years will certainly be an uncertain adventure into the future, but one where we can position our children as inseparable from nature. To do this, we will need to move towards a more radical conceptualisation of the young child and their interconnection with the non-human world as a means of realising their rights under article 29 1 (e) of the UNCRC. I am excited by the opportunities we have in Ireland to leverage on Aistear and Siolta and our Government’s commitment to ensuring that young children will have a voice in all decisions that affect them in early education, and taking action for what they will tell about our interdependence with the natural world.



Dr Sheila Long is a Lecturer in Early Childhood Education and Care and Applied Social Studies, and a committed children’s rights educator at Institute of Technology Carlow.  Much of Sheila’s interest for the next number of years will be focused on advancing her understanding of article 29 1 (e) as it relates to children’s rights education in early years, with a particular focus on environmental education. She can be contacted at

The Path Towards Professionalisation by Teresa Heeney, CEO of Early Childhood Ireland

I’m delighted to contribute to the MECPI blog on the occasion of its 10th anniversary and find it hard to believe that 2008 was ten years ago!

The landscape of early childhood education and care (ECEC) has changed immensely during that time. Important advances have taken place in a range of areas, including practice, policy and research (both national and international), inclusion, and public awareness. The sector has come a long way and this is testament to the dedication and hard work of the people within it. However, there remain a great many challenges ahead – hopefully, we will be able to address some of these in the next ten years.

Awareness of the sector

Perhaps the most significant development in our sector during the last ten years was the introduction of the ECCE scheme, or ‘free’ preschool year. This scheme, rolled out in January 2010, was set up to provide each child with access to a ‘free’ year of preschool in the year before they were due to start school.

The uptake in ECCE has been tremendous. In 2016/17, an estimated 120,601 children participated in the scheme. It has been instrumental in expanding awareness of and interest in early years provision in Ireland. The widespread uptake of ECCE, for instance, has helped to bring wider attention to and understanding of early years and the importance of this period for children’s wellbeing and development. It has also enabled families to see first-hand the tremendous dedication of early years professionals to their practice, and their focus on seeing the competent child. The ECCE programme has become a rite of passage for the vast majority of children. The results, therefore, of Early Childhood Ireland’s  first annual Childcare Barometer published in January of this year are not surprising. More and more people in Ireland strongly value the early years sector and 75% of respondents feel that the education of children under 5 is as important as the education of children over 5.


The last ten years have seen hugely positive developments in everyday practice. There has been an upturn in the number of settings integrating play more closely into practice. More and more settings have come to embrace outdoor play and enable children to explore and learn from the beautiful outdoor environments around them.

These developments reflect Aistear and Síolta’s strong focus on play as the root of an emergent, enquiry-based curriculum. However, it also reflects the commitment of professionals in our sector to enhancing and enriching children’s experiences. We know the benefits of play for children’s sense of independence, learning, and discovery. In Early Childhood Ireland, we see this every month in the wonderful Learning Story and Inspired Practice submissions submitted by our members. These experiences are tremendously meaningful for families, and through them we can see the important role early years services have come to play in their local communities.

The past decade has also entailed huge progress in the area of inclusion. The Leadership for INClusion (LINC) initiative trains practitioners to become leaders in inclusion in their settings, with 847 practitioners having graduated to date. The Access and Inclusion Model (AIM), launched in June 2016, has supported more than 5,000 preschool children and benefited 3,500 services so far. These initiatives have been widely welcomed within the sector and have done much to enhance accessibility for children with additional needs. There is more that still needs to be done, but these represent significant steps towards inclusion for all children in early years settings.

A Lot Done, More to Do

The first Irish National Early Years Strategy is due for publication in the coming months and Minister Zappone recently announced the development of a CPD infrastructure for our sector. Despite these promising developments, there is a lot that still needs to be done. The wide uptake of ECCE cannot disguise the fact that the sector has not been adequately supported to date.  Investment levels remain chronically low, representing only around 0.1 - 0.2% of GDP. This compares with an EU average of 0.8% GDP. This issue is at the core of the many other challenges in the sector, including poor capitation rates, low pay, and recruitment. The difficulties faced by many in recruiting and retaining staff is particularly concerning, as staff are the key determinant of quality in services.

The continuing professionalisation of the sector is therefore essential and the work of MECPI will be important on this journey, providing as it does a supportive but critical community for its members. MECPI is reflective practice in action. Values are clarified, approach is explored, inspection and regulation are teased out. This activity has strengthened the ECEC profession in Ireland and I hope that it will continue to do so over the next 10 years. Congratulations to all in the leadership of MECPI, past and present, and continued success for the next 10 years!



Teresa Heeney graduated with a Masters of Business Science from Maynooth University in 2013. She led the merger of the Irish Preschool Play Association and the National Children’s Nurseries Association in 2011 and since March 2014, has been in the role of Chief Executive Officer with Early Childhood Ireland.   Prior to that Teresa worked as the Manager of Cherish and as Training and Research Manager in ISPCC, following roles in youth and community work. Teresa received her undergraduate degree in Social Science from UCC.

How Social Media & Online Learning Helped Connect Me To ECE in Ireland by Louise Furlong

Louise Furlong, Owner of Guardian Angel Montessori, Ballina, Co. Mayo.

In a way Montessori found me and I would most definitely not be where I am today if I hadn’t discovered the joy it brings, not just to children but to myself as it gives such job satisfaction. I own and work in Guardian Angel Montessori in Ballina, Mayo since 2002.

Working as a small Montessori provider in the west of Ireland, it can be a very daunting if not lonely when I don’t get to collaborate with many other staff members or attend conferences. I’ve always studied online as it was easier geographically for me, but I always felt I was missing out on the comradery of the classroom. When I came across Montessori & Early Childhood Ireland facebook page it was the missing link, a place I could ask questions only other professionals would know without having to talk to the inspectorate or county childcare committees. With the ever-changing policies and processes of the childcare sector, I can honestly say I would be very lost without the support and advice I receive off the ladies and men on the page. 

Social media has really changed and helped sectors like the Early Years where ideas and approaches are easily shared, when I first started teaching in my Montessori class there was minimum help online and no sharing amongst other providers. It nearly felt like after your initial training you were left to yourself and good luck!  When Aistear was introduced, I embraced the change as I felt I needed to update methods and approaches of certain areas in the classroom taking inspiration and advice from people on the FB page and the Aistear Siolta practice guidelines. It took a reworking of my wires to understand how to incorporate play and Montessori as I would have been strictly Montessori but now I think I have a happy medium between the two that works in great harmony together. I still have the odd question whether I am on the right track and am I being true to my ethos, leading to a lot of reflection and questioning but only for the better of it. 

I decided to go back to do my Level 8 in Childcare studies with Chevron Training and with great joy I just recently handed in my dissertation. I had hesitation about spending so much money and time in studying but having a special needs son I needed to know the choices I made wouldn’t affect my family too much. The deciding factor for me was after I asked for advice on the FB page about continuing to study and someone told me if I didn’t do it now, I’d still be questioning myself in 2 years’ time or do it now and have the degree at the end of the two years. Those words still ring in my ears and I’m so proud of how far I’ve come and seeing the progress in myself, my little Montessori class and the happiness of the children that I am lucky enough to be part of their lives. 

I love that how after 15 years in the same job, it never seems stagnant and I am learning myself all the time, either through continual professional training, online seminars or the little bodies that give me great insight into the workings of life. As a creative person, I can incorporate it into the setting either through the environment which evolves with the children who are in it or bringing my love of painting to a new generation and creating inspiration from each other. Capturing daily moments in photos is something I’ve done as a project for the last 9 years, compiling the kids scrapbooks I genuinely get emotional looking back on their first day where I would have taken a photo saying, “First day in Guardian Angels”, baby faced and sometimes teary eyed, compared to the end of year where they are filled with confidence and showing me exciting and new things they’ve learned.  It’s rarely a job where you have a quiet moment and there have been days at end of term when I’m feeling physically and emotionally burned out thinking how I would love an office job but the truth is I love what I do and it truly is a job where you need to be fully committed and enjoy what you do. 


You can find Guardian Angels on Facebook where we share our learning and experiences:


MECPI 2008-2018- A special word of thanks by David King

Helping each other via our community of pratice.

As professionals we reflect daily. We reflect on what went right, what went wrong, what we could do better etc. Some times we are so busy reflecting that we need to refocus ourselves back into the present moment.  We can be so Busy thinking about what has happened that we forgot to focus on what is actually happening in the here and now.


So we stop and refocus. We turn our attention to the present. We are totally focused on the current moment. Then, something strange happens. We reliese that it’s actually the present moment that is making us reflect on the past! Well that’s the situation I find myself in right now as I write this.


Right now MECPI has turned 10. That is the present moment I find myself in. So I automatically started thinking about the past.


MECPI was established by Sinead Matson in 2008. My first thought was 2008, seriously, that couldn’t be 10 years ago! My second thought turned to Sinead and how lucky we are that she took the leap of faith and set up a Facebook group with a vision.


Sinead wanted to establish a safe space. A space were early childhood professionals could chat, inspire, encourage and support each other. A community that would grow to a massive membership of now just over 4,700 yet still remains loyal to its community of practice principles.


The work that goes on behind the curtain at MECPI is something that never stops and I speak for my fellow admins when I say no one works harder than the founding member.


I think that it is safe to say that I speak for all the members of MECPI when I say thank you. Thank you for putting yourself out there and for working tirelessly for 10 years to make Montessori and Early Childhood Professionals into the thriving, supportive, positive and  collaborative space that it is today.


I know my life would have been totally different if I had not met you, let alone my practice and I am sure that the ideas and support we all get from MECPI has influenced all our practice for the better.


So Sinead, from all of us, a massive heartfelt thank you and hears to another 10 years of sharing and supporting quality early years practice in Ireland.



Aine, Aine, Clair, David, Lee & Valerie 

MECPI 2008 - 2018 Ten Years of Collaboration, Collegiality, and Practice.

Almost ten years ago, in August 2008, I started a job managing a full day Montessori School in inner city Dublin. I had returned home from Australia a year earlier and worked as a childminder from my own home. The new 2006 regulations (and the paperwork that went with them) had shocked me. I felt alone, overwhelmed, and lonely. Whenever I tried to reach out it seemed that Montessorians were arguing with each other based on what college they had trained in, play was a dirty word, and most settings were private businesses in competition with each other. Having spent time in Australia working in crèches and preschools I realised there was a different, more collegial way. With this in mind, I asked for a Childcare Professionals board on a popular parenting website and soon after I set up the Facebook page ‘Montessori Teachers Ireland’ with the explicit aim of inspiring conversations and sharing of practice - no matter what college members had trained in. The first few administrators were recruited from the parenting forum.
At first the page didn’t gain any traction; members were suspicious of each other and in a predominantly private sector who would want to share their practice with their business rivals? Still we plodded away, hoping that members would open up. The arrival of the ECCE scheme marked a huge turning point in our community of practice. Former rivals began to voice concerns and empathise with each other’s fast changing situations. Tentative steps were taken towards collaboration.
Soon many professionals from the Early Childhood Education & Care sector began to join the page and conversations began to diversify. More administrators were sought and we now had our full team of Lee, Clair, Valerie, Aine, Annemaire, and David. We asked our members if we should change our name to represent the entire group that were actively sharing and collaborating in a professional manner on the page. All were in agreement and ‘Montessori & Early Childhood Professionals Ireland’ (or MECPI as we fondly refer to it) was born. 
Since then the community of practice has grown with many voices representing diverse areas of the sector from private businesses to colleges and training centres - all have been generous with their time and their knowledge. MECPI has been a safe haven on a bad day; oftentimes it’s been a platform for debate filled with respectful dialogue. At the end of the day, MECPI has always been a place full of laughter, respect, and passion for the sector. This is owed entirely to our generous and giving members. They make MECPI what it is today. 
I look forward to the future; the sector is changing - and in many ways it is changing for the better. Robust debates now take place in a respectful, professional manner, victories and successful inspections are celebrated, and professional status and professionalisation are sought. Children are benefiting and the ECE agenda is often on the national media’s radar and always on the Government’s radar. I am hopeful and excited to see what the next ten years hold and how our little community of practice can shape how we professionalise.
To celebrate our ten years as a community of practice, from this month until September many influential people who have contributed to the professionalisation of the sector have agreed to contribute a blog post to our website; including (but not limited to) Professor Nóirín Hayes, Dr. Geraldine French, Professor Mathias Urban, Dr. Mary Moloney, Early Childhood Ireland, Imelda Graham, Karen Higgins, Angela Canavan, Dr. Mary O'Kane, Dr. Shiela Long, Dr. John McGarrigle, Arlene Forster, Ciairín de Buis, Máire Mhic Mhathuna, Dr. Jennifer Pope, Dr. Thomas Walsh, and Dr. Jools Page. We hope you will join them and voice your experiences of how the community has shaped your practice, what you experienced in the last ten years, and what you hope for in the next ten. Please email us your thoughts at:
Sinead Matson 
Founder and Administrator
Montessori & Early Childhood Professionals Ireland (MECPI)

Establishing a Culture of Respect by David King

Very recently, the whole island, north and south followed a trial with great interest.  Even more so since its verdict, both print and social media exploded with discourses of permission and respect. Twitter exploded with the hash tags #IBelieveHer and #IBelieveHim and It seemed like every single person had an opinion, maybe even more than one opinion on the events that unfolded at Belfast Crown Court. 

While this trial got the whole country talking about its verdict I would just like to focus on the concept that was, in my view, at the very core of the whole incident and that is the notion of consent. 

So what is consent? It’s more than a term that we throw around in social media and in conversation over a coffee about a trial. Consent is, at its most basic, what defines us. It is something that is at the core of humanity and civilisation. A quick scan in the dictionary will tell us that consent is “giving permission for something to happen or agreement to do something” (  Nothing sexual in its definition, So perhaps there may be a misconception that consent is always laced with a sexual connotation? It isn’t.  So if it is not just about relations of a sexual nature, when should we be hearing about it for the first time? 


Being a dad to three amazing children (2 boys and 1 girl) I hear what I feel are issues of consent on a daily basis. “He’s breathing on me and I told him I didn’t want him to” or “she keeps touching her foot off my leg and I don’t like it”. I could go on for eons talking about the sibling squabbles that happen regularly in my house. 

These issues between my 6 year old and her two brothers (4,1.5) are part of growing up.  But when you scratch the surface a little these arguments are all matters of consent. 

So it’s here that I really get to my point. I feel that issues of consent should be discussed at preschool level. As early years educators we have a unique opportunity to get this conversation going with our youngest children, many many years  before any talk of a sexual nature is required. 

As with all behaviours, the earlier that children are exposed to them, the more normal these behaviours become.  As you all know the early years (0-6) are the most important time in our development, and an area that is often overlooked is our social development.  Look at the language development that occurs in these short six years.  From newborn babies who use cries as a natural instinct to survive, to six year olds who can hold conversations at an almost adult level, more often than not, using correct grammar and syntax without ever having a formal lesson in either.  This happens from children absorbing and copying what is happening around them.  Maria Montessori called this the “absorbent mind”. 

 Children don’t just develop language this way; they also develop socially in the same fashion.  From a child development standpoint Vygotsky and Piaget proposed how children learn the social norms of the society in which they grow up in by observing and modelling the behaviour and attitudes of the “more knowledgeable other” or in lay terms, the adults that they engage with on a regular basis. 

Like all social norms that we adhere to, we model them to young childen.  “say please” “stop at the red light” “shake hands to greet” “say sorry” etc etc.  The early years is the time that we introduce these concepts so that by the time the children reach 10-14 these concepts just form a part of who they are.  The notion of consent should be no different.  Young children need to learn about healthy consent and boundaries. There’s a misconception that information about consent and body autonomy should be lumped in with sexual education, but that is, in fact, far too late. Healthy physical boundaries are relevant to so much more than just sex or partnerships, and we should begin teaching our children as early as possible.

Of course, these discussions need to be age-appropriate, and parents might find difficulty with figuring out how to communicate a topic like consent to someone so young and that is way I see it as our role, as early educators to introduce it and to also assist parents in these areas.  

We have the chance to help our children develop the tools. The tools to offer and deny consent in different situations and also and perhaps even more importantly the tools to fully respect the decision of the other person. 

Imagine the scenario if I walked into your workplace and ruffled your hair while saying hello to you, then I went over and kissed one of your colleagues on the cheek and tickled them, while all the time ignoring all requests to stop.  Is that socially acceptable? No it isn’t but that exact scenario happens to children all of the time. 

Carol Horton, a well known psychotherapist who has worked with children who are the survivors of abuse has written “...Another important way to empower your child is to teach them that their body belongs to them,”.  This is a concept that can be introduced many years before anything sexual is uttered.  Children should get to decide if they want to share hugs and kisses with someone, be that other person a peer or an adult. If a child wants someone to stop tickling them, then it should stop right away. Parents shouldn’t dictate, for example, that they kiss their ......  goodnight.  What sort of a message does it send when we are saying, “Do something intimate that you clearly don’t want to do”?

Why not let the children decide. There are many ways to say goodnight/hello/goodbye etc.  Yes they could kiss them, but they could also hug, blow a kiss, give a high five, or whatever they feel most comfortable with. It’s crucial to teach our youngest children that everyone has a right to decide about their own bodies.

So what does this look like on the ground?

I see it as lots of discussions with the children about their feelings.  How they did they feel when their friend kept touching their arm and wouldn’t stop? Did you hear him saying no? What do you think he meant when he said no? How do you think he felt when you didn’t listen to him?

We need to normalise the conversation about consent and label it as such. Give the children the language of consent as well as the tools to deny or grant it.  Let them know that they have a choice in what happens to them.  That they have a right to say no and that it’s perfectly ok to say no.  Show them from this age that respect should be granted to others and that no does in fact mean no and we must respect that person’s decision.  

Basically it boils down to trying to change attitudes, and trying to change attitudes in the mid/late teen years is too late.  It has to start in preschool.  This issue is equally important for boys as it is for girls and I don’t think that any of this discourse should be gender specific.  It’s about mutual respect as much as it is about mutual empowerment.  This means developing a sympathetic understanding of respect, respect for one’s self and for others and their decisions. 

Montessori once wrote 

“Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war” 

Peace is at its essence about respect for others and consent is the same. If the 3/4 year olds of today can start to get a handle on this and then continue to work on it throughout the primary curriculum by the time they get to their teenage years this issue will not be new and it will be part of an internal culture of respect. 



Standing on the Shoulders of Giants; the contribution of women to Ireland's Early Childhood Education & Care Sector by Sinead Matson

March 2018

On International Women’s Day, we think about the women whose shoulders we stand upon when we are working and learning in Early Childhood Education and Care in Ireland. Of course, there are many great men who have contributed and still contribute to the field and day to day practice of educating Ireland’s youngest, but today we choose to concentrate on women.

Ireland has a relatively young ECEC sector that started out in the homes and churches or community halls around the country. The people who were largely responsible for that were Irish women. Of course, there is much still to do and much inequality such as professional recognition, professional pay and conditions, and funding to be fought for but on this day that marks International Women’s Day, I feel it is right that we sit and reflect about how far we have come and ask ourselves who are the generations of women on whose shoulders we stand?

The answer to that question ranges from grandmothers, mothers, aunts, cousins, sisters, neighbours and friends to researchers, innovators, campaigners, and lastly to early childhood professionals on the frontlines, currently working in their homes, community or church halls, private or community pre-schools, and creches. In addition to facing inequality, low pay, and little respect for the work that they have completed these women have fought on. They fought for an ideal that we all hold dear; a professional sector where every child in Ireland has access to quality, affordable care and education facilitated by professional, respected educators. The fight is long and hard but there’s a sense that we are almost there if we can keep together, united – the power of women supporting women.

Today we celebrate the women who moved this sector forward to where it is and while we cannot name every woman who contributed, we can name and celebrate a few: Bernadette Burns (formally of St. Nicholas Montessori College Ireland), Noirin Hayes (currently visiting Professor of Education in Trinity College Dublin), Irene Gunning (formally of Irish Preschool and Play Association and Early Childhood Ireland), Teresa Heeney (currently CEO of Early Childhood Ireland and formally of National Children’s Nursery Association), Denise McCormilla (CEO of National Childhood Network), Katherine Zappone (current Minister for Children and Youth Affairs), Frances Fitzgerald (former Minister for Children and Youth Affairs), Imelda Graham (Chairperson of National Childhood Network), Geraldine French (Programme Chair of the Bachelor of Early Childhood Education, Dublin City University), Patricia Murray (former CEO of Childminding Ireland), Ciairin de Buis (former CEO of Start Strong), Tanya Ward (Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance), Carmel Brennan (former Head of Training and Practice, Early Childhood Ireland), Dr. Mary Moloney (Chairperson of Ple and lecturer in the department of Early Childhood Care and Education, Mary Immaculate College, Limerick) Jillian Van Turnhout (former Senator and current Independent Chair of Early Childhood Ireland), Marion Quinn (Chairperson of Association of Childhood Professionals), and Dr. Mary O’Kane (Independent Researcher and Lecturer).

These women have been fundamental in advocating for and pushing the Early Childhood Education and Care agenda to the forefront of Irish society, both at a mainstream and a political level; while simultaneously making sure the balance between professionalising the sector and the provision of quality care and education for children under six years is maintained. Children’s rights have underpinned all of their collective contributions culminating in an explosion of children’s rights and child protection legislation at an unprecedented level in recent Irish history.


This list is by no means exhaustive and their work has been made that much easier by thousands of women working daily at the grassroots of Irish early childhood education and care contributing their voices, their practices, and their passion. Today we celebrate all of these women; we celebrate all their voices and we look onwards in awe at their continued passion.

What I learned About Child Development While Recovering from Brain Surgery Part 4 of 4 by Sinead Matson

(4) Practical Tips to Help a Developing Child with Language and Movement

Two things come to mind when I think of my recovery and what it taught me about child development: Relationships and Muscle memory / Kinaesthetic Learning. When I first woke up from surgery I was alarmed at how little I could move or talk but I was empowered by the medical staff around me. They immediately reassured me that I would talk and move about again, and that I could do it. They believed that I was competent and capable, and because they believed it I believed it too. The most pertinent moment that stands out for me was when the physiotherapist told me to focus on muscle memory and my immediate connection with my practice as a Montessori educator.

The value of good, empowering relationships cannot be undervalued in the development of a child. Without the relationships and the empowerment and self-belief they brought me, my physical recovery would not have been what it was. Without an adult to believe in a child, to see them as competent and capable, and to be loving and nurturing to them, a child cannot possibly develop to their full potential. Children need adults who know when pick them up when they fall and when to allow them to pick themselves up. They need adults who love them unconditionally and understand that what lies beneath anger and problematic behaviour is frustration and communication. They also need adults who are near enough to make them feel safe but far away enough to let them do it themselves. It’s a delicate balance that early childhood educators are trained to get right. Although we must acknowledge that human nature can cause us to react in the moment, it is our training in observation and pausing before we react or rush in which stands to us in making the difference in a child’s development.

So, what can we do to help a child who is developing their gross and fine motor skills, their balance and coordination, and control over their own body? I would advise a combination of some Montessori exercises and unstructured, unquantified play (that is play without measurable learning outcomes). We look to Dr. Maria Montessori for aiding the development of skills, and control of both gross and fine motor skills in the body in relation to every day life or ‘practical life skills’ as she called them. These practical life exercises can be found in every home corner and kitchen play space in ECE around the world. However, Dr. Montessori advocated for something different which aids development more quickly – that of real life materials. That is to say that if you are a child of two-and-a-half-years of age mastering how to use a fork and put food into your mouth, plastic forks with plastic food and imaginative play will only go so far in developing the skills needed. However, strawberries with a real fork which a child can get into their mouth to eat, will exercise and refine ALL of the skills necessary for mastering that everyday activity. Outdoor play, risky play, and rough and tumble play are also necessary for a child learning to coordinate their muscles and command mastery of their own bodies. They need to take risks, climb high, balance on precarious materials i.e.; they need to know how far they can go before they find their limits. I’m afraid falling is a necessary part of learning how to balance.


We can also give children every day opportunities to develop their skills in a meaningful way. Why not allow them to mark themselves in or out (with a photo of them beside their name) in the daily sign in or out sheet? Could we facilitate marking that indicates what they would like to eat, or that when they have eaten their food? Is it possible for them to mark to say which book they would like read or which art activity they would like to do that day? Why not look to High-Scope and allow children to create a plan of where they want to play for the day and why? There is much that we can do to practically facilitate the development of children in our settings in a meaningful way that sees them as competent and capable learners who can contribute to and take ownership of their ECE settings. 

What I Learned About Child Development While Recovering from Brain Suregery Part 3 of 4 by Sinead Matson


(3) Motor Skills Gross and Fine

I never really understood how important our core muscles and strength are in keeping us upright and agile. I knew it was important but until I lost all use of my core muscles and couldn’t sit up without being propped up, I really didn’t understand it! If you can imagine for a moment the weight of a one-year-old baby if you attempt to take them out of a cot with the weight of a three-year-old who leaps up into your arms from the floor. What makes the difference? Surely the older child weighs more so why is it the younger child feels heavier? The difference is because the three-year-old has gained some control of their core muscles, balance, and their gross motor skills. They can now contract their muscles to help them sit and balance on your hip. A one year old goes limp and their body doesn’t engage their core or their muscles to sit on your hip. A limp body is a heavy body!


Children need plenty of chances to engage and strengthen their core muscles and work on their balance. Unfortunately, the places where these muscles and senses are engaged the most are the very places in which we see play declining i.e.; Risky play, Rough and Tumble play, and Outdoor play. Children need to balance on logs and walls; jump off small ladders or slides; climb trees; balance on one leg, balance on their arms or hands. Sure, physical exercise (P.E.) such as yoga, dancing, or general P.E. activities can help but an hour a week is not going to provide the same benefits as numerous opportunities to play outside and engage is risky play or rough and tumble play.


When it comes to fine motor skills there is nothing more frustrating than knowing your fingers should hold a fork, pierce the food, and be able to put that forkful of food into your mouth. It could be seen as three steps as I described at the outset but it’s not. I will break that simple, every day task down into lots of tiny, fine motor skills and coordination of muscle groups that we as adults are now unconscious of: Firstly, (whilst all the time working your core muscles to keep you seated upright) you have to find the correct position in your hand for the fork; then the correct and optimal position for your fingers to hold the fork in order to make maximum use of the little strength and precision you do have to hold the fork securely while manipulating it. You then twist your wrist in the opposite direction of the food (to place the fork in the direction of the food) while still maintaining your grip on the fork. When you have completed that, you engage eye-hand coordination and gently apply downwards pressure with the tips of your fingers and wrist to pierce the food for it to stay on the fork. You then must release the downward pressure from the tips of your fingers (but not so much that you drop the fork or loose the optimum position within your hand). After you have accomplished that you gently reposition your wrist to turn the fork towards you. Engaging your eye-hand coordination, you then slowly move the food towards your face whilst trying to maintain the wrist position, the right amount of finger pressure to support the weight of the fork, and the right amount of hand pressure to support the rest of the fork. The next step is to open your mouth and jaw, and using a combination of eye-hand coordination and full arm control you manoeuvre the food to the front of your face towards your mouth. Lastly, you engage the wrist to navigate the teeth and tongue to get the food into the mouth without dropping it. Once it’s off the fork and in the mouth, you use a combination of eye-hand coordination, fine motor skills in the hand to support the fork, and gross motor control of the arm to return the fork to the plate. This entire deliberate process must be repeated until all the food is gone! At this stage you will be asleep!!


What we as adults break down into simple steps may often be more complicated and require the combination of controlling and coordination muscle groups, strength of touch, and limbs for younger children. It is important that we allow room for perfecting these little rituals not only in meal times but in play. Often, we don’t understand why a child takes so long to eat or why a child won’t tidy up their play when you ask them. The answers often lie in the sheer number of task the child is undertaking that we have forgotten or that they are perfecting through play the act of coordinating these muscles and mastering this task. As facilitators of play and advocates for children as competent and capable learners we must make sure that our daily practice facilitates enough room and time for the mastering of these everyday activities which at first may seem uncomplicated to us. 

What I Learned About Child Development While Recovering from Brain Surgery Part 2 of 4 by Sinead Matson

January 2018

(2) Language – Learning to Communicate through Mark Making

The use of smart technology for mark making was not something I had ever considered. In fact, I’d say I had it neatly boxed in ‘I.T. skills’, stored miles away from mark making! However, the first thing my physio tasked me with just after I woke up, was to use my smart phone to try to send a text message. She said that the phone was sensitive enough to register a light touch (which is all I could muster) and sensitive enough to show me immediately when I was making a mistake and had hit the wrong icon. It had an inbuilt control of error; no wonder children can figure out phones and iPad so easily! They operate on Montessori’s philosophy of giving instantaneous and self-correcting feedback to the user. I had limited gross motor movement from my shoulder. I could raise my arm and direct a limp hand towards things. I held the phone with my left hand and attempted to text with my right. It was quite a frustrating few hours. Looking back, it would have been better to use a larger screen. I didn’t have the fine motor skills or wrist control to use such small icons. I also should have started with scrolling and ‘liking’ things. Technology and touch screens can be an effective addition to marking making materials. Used on a paint setting, a touch screens can be used to mark make when the child is learning to maintain control over their gross motor movements from the shoulder, they can also learn how to control and refine the gross and fine motor skills through simple apps such as an ice-cream making app. 


The daily hospital menu was my Everest. It was an A4 page folded in three with many tiny little boxes. There were so many little boxes to tick to decide what to eat for the day it would overwhelm me. All I could see were many little challenges that I knew I couldn’t do correctly. At first, I tried to use my left hand to tick what I wanted. However, the urge to use my dominant hand was too strong so I started trying to hold a pen. I had no muscle strength in my hand to hold a pen. I can only describe it as picking up a large wooden spoon between your forearms and trying to mix a cake mixture. The pen felt unnatural and my hand felt like I had twenty-five fingers under my little finger. My little finger kept getting in the way all the time and I didn’t know what to do with it. My wrist was so limp I had no idea how to control it. This was a revelation to me. I always thought I had had an idea of what poor muscle control, no fine motor skills and poor wrist strength would feel like for a developing child. As most of my previous staff (and some of my students) can testify to, I used to use this trick to demonstrate how incredibly difficult and frustrating using ‘join the dots’ letter and number sheets were for a pre-school aged child. It would involve putting an oven mitt on your non-dominant hand and using a pencil to try and complete the worksheet. It was mostly effective. It soon became apparent to the person attempting to complete the worksheet how frustrating and next to impossible it is to join the dots without making mistakes. It wasn’t an empowering experience at all. I now realise that this (while effective) didn’t reveal the reality of what it is like to attempt to use a pen / pencil / marker etc. when your hand is still developing the skills needed. 


I now know how important it is to not only allow opportunities for mark making in many different formats, but also how important it is to create opportunities for meaningful mark making. I wasn’t too bothered about how quickly I learned to write again until it became a form of communication for me. Suddenly, knowing that others would decide what I ate for every meal in my day I gained the motivation to start ticking those boxes! We need to provide opportunities for meaningful mark making in a child’s day. If we allow children, the opportunity to use mark making as a means of communication as well as an artistic expression or pre-writing exercise in play it will allow them to contribute to their day as competent and capable agents. It will facilitate independence, motivation, and an understanding that mark making is a means of contributing their voice in a meaningful way to the preschools and creches which they attend. This can be facilitated through allowing them to mark themselves in; mark when they’ve finished their meals; mark how they are feeling in the morning or at various times in the day; or mark what activities they would like to do or vote for a story they would like to hear etc. There are many ways to facilitate meaningful mark making in children’s daily lives and I will discuss this further in part 4 of the blog: ‘Practical Tips to Help a Developing Child with Language and Movement’.


What I Learned About Child Development while Recovering from Brain Surgery Part 1 of 4 by Sinead Matson

January 2018

On the 22nd of October 2014 I had a large benign meningioma (brain tumour) removed. As a result of the craniotomy and resection of the tumour I initially lost the use of the right-hand side of my body and a lot of my language skills.  Although I was initially frightened when I woke up and couldn’t move or speak properly; I was soon soothed by the physiotherapist’s reassurance that although my brain had forgotten how to speak to my body, my muscles remembered, and they just needed to talk to the brain and tell it what to do. As I have written before, as a Montessori teacher that made sense to me; muscle memory – I know that!

The road to recovery was frustrating and fraught with tears and minor victories. It also gave me the best possible insight into a developing child’s challenges and frustrations. We forget. I mean, we think we remember and we think we know how a child is developing and what they may be feeling but we really don’t; at least not on a level that’s meaningful. I could write a book on all that I’ve learned and the insight I have been given as an early childhood educator from my recovery, but allow me to separate what I learned into four parts for the sake of this blog: (1) Language – Finding Words and Communicating (2) Language – Learning to Communicate through Mark Making (3) Motor Skills – Gross and Fine, and (4) Practical Tips to Help a Developing Child with Language and Movement. 

So, what I learned: 

Language: Finding Words and Communicating

Day one of my speech and language therapy session, my therapist asked me what I would like to achieve. My answer: “to be able to fight with my husband again!” I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to experience emotions (especially heightened emotions like anger, sorrow, and happiness) but not have the words to express what you are feeling. You know (you physically know) in your body what you want to say but you don’t have the words to explain what it is to others. The words just aren’t there. There is silence in your mind and you scramble for words (looking around the room trying to somehow conjure them up) but the words that come to mind – the ones that you can actually remember, don’t convey what you are trying to say. That makes you frustrated and angry which further blocks any words from coming to your mind. This results in screams of anger, throwing things and crying uncontrollably. It’s a vicious cycle: the more you try to express your emotions, the more you lose words; the more you lose words, the angrier and more frustrated you get. 

I see it now in my three-year-old when she gets a fright or gets into trouble for challenging behaviour. She looks around the room searching. Then she starts to talk about the teddy or cup she sees or a memory she has (like having chicken nuggets for lunch) until she just stops and depending on how this information is received she will cry, or get frustrated and angry. I’ll admit in my professional practice before my recovery, this used to frustrate me. Especially the looking around the room. I would often interrupt a child and ask them to look at my eyes when talking to me. *Tip: NEVER interrupt a child that is searching for the language to express what they are feeling. It is hard enough trying to find words but when someone interrupts the pathway back to your word bank, you must start all over again, which is infuriating! The loss of eye contact isn’t disrespect or an avoidance technique, it’s a literal searching for prompts. The movement of their eyes as they start to look upwards or sideways is an actual internal searching for them. They are walking the path back to their word bank and searching to see if the word or a word that’s similar is there. Their body is showing you that their minds are looking for the words. Even prompting of words which you think may be helpful for the child interrupts this process and can hinder the development of language. Wait in silence until the child looks at you when they have finished searching. Sometimes they will say “nothing” or “don’t know” sometimes they will tell you about the teddy or lunch and sometimes they will cry or get frustrated. Only then, when they have exhausted their ways of finding they want to tell you should you help them by giving them one or two words and acknowledging how difficult it is to find the words you want. Oh, and it is; exhausting that is! I’m never more tired (even three years later) than when I’m trying to find words to express myself.

I understand now the internal battle of emotions and the mental activity of travelling to your word bank in your mind and wading through words in search of the right word to express how you are feeling (especially in a moment of high emotion) is like a marathon for the body and the brain. Worse still, if you are interrupted on that journey its torturous because you have to start all over again and that is physically, emotionally, and mentally challenging. However, unlike the children we encounter in our working lives, I had the advantage of only taking months not years to obtain the ability to express myself because I was re-learning how to travel the mental pathways. A young child doesn’t share that advantage. They pave their pathways and build their word banks one block at a time from scratch and I honestly can not begin to understand how tiring that must be considering all the other learning opportunities open to them in our services all day every day.


Christmas at Merryvale!  By Cáit McCabe

Practical Life for Christmas iMerryvale


Our shelves are ready to be transformed once again to link our work to the season of Christmas.


I have carefully prepared a range of activities to incorporate as many learning goals as possible. These include pouring clear crystals to represent ice, scooping baubles, sorting coloured baubles, sorting Christmas socks, learning how to put gloves on, cutting themed paper, flower arranging, polishing, coloured droplets, dressing a Christmas tree, jig-saws and books.


A tray with glue, scissors, coloured paper and a small tray is prepared also for the children to collect their cutting paper. They will have the opportunity to make a picture, card, or whatever takes their fancy, with their cut Christmas paper.


We also prepared a tray of prepared items for the children to build their own snowman. Initially, the children could not figure out the items on the tray but once they got started, there was no stopping them. There’s a queue in the morning for the tray and everyone makes their own interesting creation!



Universal Children's Day Blog - Sinead Matson


Fostering Identity and Belonging in a new Country – Lucy’s Blog

Today I started kindergarten. It’s different from my old playschool at home. Mammy said I had to wear a uniform like everybody else. When Mammy brought me in to kindergarten everyone was talking funny again. I felt sad. Nobody talked funny in my old playschool. It’s a long way away. We went by two planes and it was so boring and the food tasted funny. I didn’t like it. It’s too spicy. Mammy says I will get used to it but I’m not too sure. I miss my friends. I miss Zoey and Jack and even Harry who used to take my toys. When I think about them my cry gets stuck in my swallow. Daddy said not to cry because big girls don’t cry, and we are on a great adventure.  So, I tried my bestest not to cry. 

At kindergarten the nice ladies talked to me, but I didn’t know what they were saying. Mammy says they are my new teachers. They didn’t look or smell like Mary and I looked around the classroom and there was nobody like Paul. I felt sad. They showed me a shelf to put my bag and coat and shoes. Mammy said it had my name on it, so it was especially for me. It didn’t look like my name. It looked like funny drawings to me.  I didn’t want to take my shoes off. We don’t take our shoes off in playschool. The ladies gave me slippers. Mammy said in this school we have to take our shoes off and wear the slippers. I don’t want to take my shoes off. My cry burst out my mouth and my eyes. I tried not to cry but I was too sad. My feet were cold, and my uniform was itching me around my neck. Mammy face went red, and her eyes were watery. “I know this is hard baby girl, but this is where we go to school now. It will get better, I promise.” Was Mammy mad at me? I swallowed my cry into my tummy, but it hurt. Then Mammy said good bye, kissed me, and left. I had to be a big girl on my own. 

I looked around the classroom. I couldn’t see the block corner or the home corner. I saw a library. I like books, so I went there. All the other boys and girls were wearing the same scratchy uniform and slippers as me. They looked different. They didn’t look like my friends. They looked at me. I don’t have brown hair like them. I got a book, but it had no letters just the strange squiggles. I looked and looked but there was no Going on a Bear Hunt, or Brown Bear, or Gruffalo or even Rumble in the Jungle! I couldn’t find any books that had Bob the Builder, Sofia the First or Doc McStuffins.  I took every book out and all the pictures of boys and girls in the books looked like the girls and boys in my new classroom. There was nobody who looked like me. Books always have letters and the pictures look like me. Why do these books have no letters? Why does nobody look like me? Maybe I don’t belong here? I searched and searched in every book but there were no books like my playschool at home. 

A boy pointed at me and shouted. All the boys and girls came over. They were cross. They put all the books I had taken off the shelves and put them back. One of the ladies bent down and took my hands and talked to me. I didn’t know what she was saying. She pointed to the books and the shelves and handed me one book. I didn’t know what she wanted me to do. My cry started to come up again. All the boys and girls were looking at me. A boy said something to the lady and she answered. He took the book out of my hand and put it on the shelf. He spoke to me, but I didn’t understand. My cry burst out. I missed Zoey and Jack…and even Harry. 

The lady brought me to the table and sat me down. They had colouring sheets and markers. I did some colouring for Mammy. At lunch time I went to my bag, but Mammy forgot to put my lunch in. My cry came back. The lady brought me to the sink to wash my hands then sat me back at the table. Then a man came in with a table on wheels and gave everyone a bowl with rice and gravy. I looked for the spoon or fork. There wasn’t any there. All the boys and girls were using sticks. The lady gave me sticks and showed me how to pick up my food. I couldn’t do it, so I used my fingers. All the boys and girls started to laugh so I stopped eating. We put on our shoes and went outside into the garden. Everybody laughed and played. My tummy was rumbling. I was cold, and my neck was itchy from my uniform. I missed my friends. The lady tried to play with me, but I just wanted to watch. My cry was coming back. There was no mud kitchen or logs to play on. I tried to climb the tree like in my old playschool, but the lady got very cross with me. We went inside. 

Soon, my Mammy came back. The two ladies talked to Mammy and they kept looking at me. Mammy got cross and asked me why I had thrown the books everywhere and eaten with my fingers. She said I know better that I wouldn’t do that at Mary’s playschool. I tried to tell her that the books were different and had no pictures of people like us, but my cry escaped my eyes and mouth and she took me home. 

That night at dinner Daddy asked me how Kindergarten was. I told him I needed to go to the toilet really bad, but I didn’t know where it was. I told him I went into the room with the sink but there was only a shower with no curtain and no toilet. Daddy told me that it wasn’t a shower, it was a toilet. I told him it wasn’t because there was no toilet roll. Daddy said I had to use the hose or the bucket and wash myself because they don’t use toilet paper in Kindergarten here. I don’t know. I might get into trouble if I go to the toilet in the shower in kindergarten. Daddy looked mad when Mammy told him about the books. I just ate my dinner. Mammy told Daddy that the ladies said to make me feel a part of the school in a week or two Mammy could come in and show the class some Irish things, play some traditional music and bring in a typical Irish dish. “I must ask Aisling if she would mind posting us a cheap Irish dancing costume or an Aran jumper. She’ll pick up something cheap in one of those tourist shops,” said Mammy.  “And you could make coddle” Daddy said. I asked Daddy what coddle was and he said it’s something he used to eat when he was a kid, back home. “Are we going home?” I ask hopefully. “No Lucy, this is your home now,” Daddy said. I look around our new apartment, “oh.” I’m a big girl though, so I swallow my cry down into my tummy where it hurts. 


Miss Liu’s Daily Reflections (translated)

Today Lucy Murphy joined us. She has just moved from Ireland, which is in the UK. Mrs. Murphy came in and stayed for a while to help with the transition. We had Lucy’s name-tag ready on her cubby hole so that she would feel welcome. We wanted her to feel as though she already has a space in the classroom. It’s unfortunate that she is starting mid-year because she certainly disrupted and unsettled the other children today despite Mrs. Murphy assuring us that she had already completed a year of kindergarten in Ireland. Lucy was fussing about changing into her slippers. Mrs Murphy asked us if she could not keep them on just for today, but of course, we said no - that in China we don’t believe in bringing the germs from outdoors into our classroom because it is unhygienic and disrespectful. It also would be unfair to all the other children. 

When Mrs. Murphy left, Lucy wandered aimlessly. We observed as she went to the library. Mrs. Murphy had told us that Lucy loved books, so we didn’t bring her to a table. Lucy didn’t seem to notice that all the other children were sat at the table colouring during table top time. We both went to help the children when we heard Deshi shouting. When we looked at the library Lucy had pulled all the books off the shelves and had them strewn all around her in a great big mess. The children all ran to fix their library. I spoke to Lucy and told her it was not nice to throw the books around so disrespectfully and she would have to put at least one back. She caused a fuss so Deshi showed her what to do. We then brought her to the table to colour the Irish harp and shamrock pictures which we had put out to make her feel welcome. 

Afterwards I brought her to the washroom and told her she could go there when she needed to use the bathroom. I used the words I had google translated: ‘lavatory’ and ‘leithris’ so she would know in both languages what the toilet was.  We washed up and sat down for dinner. I soon realised Lucy’s parents had not shown her how to use chopsticks, so I demonstrated. She seemed to have understood, so I left to attend to paperwork. I heard laughter and when I looked at Lucy she was eating with her hands. The other children found this really amusing and began to copy her. Miss Zhou helped gather the children and change them for going outside. 

When we were in the yard myself and Miss Zhou tried to engage Lucy in play. We showed her the hurling sticks we had bought to remind her of her old kindergarten, so she would feel welcome. She didn’t want to play with them. Then we caught her climbing the kindergarten’s tree planted in memory of the owner’s son who had passed away. We took her inside immediately before the other children copied her. 

When Mrs. Murphy came to collect her, we sat down to talk about how we could successfully transition Lucy. I told her about Lucy’s attention seeking behaviour despite our best efforts to help her adapt and see a place for herself in the classroom. I explained our use of Irish and English words (her mum said she doesn’t speak Irish yet!) and our use of Irish toys. Miss Zhou recommended that we give her a week or two to settle in and then her mum could come in with some traditional Irish clothes, music or food and we would have a showcase of Lucy’s culture for the other children. We all agreed it was an excellent way to help Lucy fit in and be confident in her identity in the classroom. I am quite confident that this will work. Lucy will need to adapt to our ways of being and operating in the classroom and we can continue our progress on accommodating her culture. I felt it was a successful meeting; we have a plan for moving forward that works for all. 


An “authentic” Montessori School and the place of play by Sinead Matson


“Thus I saw my teachers act in the first days of my practice school in the “Children’s Houses.” They almost involuntarily recalled the children to immobility without observing and distinguishing the nature of the movements they repressed. There was, for example, a little girl who gathered her companions about her and then, in the midst of them, began to talk and gesticulate. The teacher at once ran to her, took hold of her arms, and told her to be still; but I, observing the child, saw that she was playing at being teacher or mother to the others, and teaching them the morning prayer, the invocation to the saints, and the sign of the cross: she already showed herself as a director.”

Dr. Maria Montessori

(Taken from The Montessori Method, 1912 pp.115)

A question was posed on the forum this week that often pops up from time to time over the last eight years. In fact, it is a topic as old as the Montessori Method itself. What is an authentic Montessori school ? and is it a place with an absence of play? Moreover, if I facilitate play in my Montessori preschool am I not a “real” Montessori?

Arguably, the only person who can truly answer the question without being accused of interpretation or bias is Dr. Montessori. In her absence, the only option left to us is to look at what she said in her writings throughout her lifetime and interpret for ourselves.

What is a Montessori School?

The Montessori schools that Dr. Montessori set up and actively supervised (the five Casa dei Bambini’s) in Rome and Milan were full day settings. They opened from 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday. The introduction of a three hour class was made in the adaption of the Montessori Method from Italy to America to suit a system that was used to the three hour model of the Froebelian Kindergartens.

“Ours was a house for children, rather than a real school. We had prepared a place for children where a diffused culture could be assimilated from the environment, without any need for direct instruction.”

(Taken from The Absorbent Mind, 1949 pp.7)

“It is imperative that a school allow a child’s activities to freely develop. For this is the essential change to be made if a scientific form of education is to come into being.”

(Taken from The Discovery of the Child, 1990 pp11)

It is important to note that The Discovery of the Child was a reworking of the original book: The Montessori Method, published by Montessori in 1912. She revisited it and updated it at the end of her career whilst living in India.


Is there play in the Montessori Method?

Montessori documents a lot of playful engagement with the materials and speaks about play at different points in her career. She particularly valued gymnastics and outside play.

“The strength of even the smallest children is more than we imagine, but it must have a free play in order to reveal itself.”

(Taken from The Discovery of the Child, 1990 pp71)


“Let the children be free; encourage them; let them run outside when it is raining; let them remove their shoes when they find a puddle of water; and, when the grass of the meadows is damp with dew, let them run on it and trample it with their bare feet; let them rest peacefully when a tree invites them to sleep beneath its shade; let them shout and laugh when the sun wakes them in the morning as it wakes every living creature that divides its day between waking and sleeping.”

(Taken from The Discovery of the Child, 1990 pp71)

Can the practical life exercises be used in a Home Corner?

The simple answer is yes. The shelves full of activities on trays that we are used to did not exist in their current state in the Casa Dei Bambini’s which were organised as a house. For a more authentic Montessori experience there could be real cutlery and crockery; food to prepare for snacks or a place to set up a pretty table to set out their pre-prepared lunches; real shoes to shine; real clothes to be placed on dolls with buttons and zips; an orange juicer, jug and glasses etc.; Practical life exercises can also be linked to a dress up corner or outdoor activities.

“The objects that are used for practical life have no scientific purpose. They are objects used where a child lives and which he sees employed in his own home, but they are especially made to a size that he can use. The number of these objects is not determined by our method, but depends upon the resources of a school, and especially upon the length of time that a child spends in school each day…If the daily schedule is very long, dinner will also form part of them. Of all the exercises of practical life this is the most difficult, exacting, and interesting. It includes such things as setting the table with great care, serving the meals, eating properly, washing the cups and plates, and putting away pots and pans.”

(Taken from The Discovery of the Child, 1990 pp84)


“There is no timetable for the morning or the afternoon. A child is constantly inspecting his surroundings, his “house.””

(Taken from The Discovery of the Child, 1990 pp85)


But Montessori said no toys!

Dr. Montessori never said there should be no toys in the Children’s house; she said she provided the children with toys and they were more interested in her materials and the social activity of the Children’s House. She removed what didn’t interest them. It would be standard practice in any early childhood education service to observe the children with resources, toys or materials and to remove or rotate what the children are not using. It is also important to note that when Dr. Montessori writes about toys she is speaking of toys available in Italy in 1906 (for instance a doll's tea set cup was a ½ inch deep – about the size of the top of your little finger and doll's tea set tea pot was only 2 inches deep – about the size of your little finger). Knowing the size of these toys in 1906 makes it easier to understand the children’s frustration because they weren’t functional. Most contemporary toys are in fact, developed or based on the materials and principles  of Montessori and Froebel. They are child sized and they are mostly open ended enough in nature to allow the child to experiment with them.

“Though the school contained some really wonderful toys, the children never chose them. This surprised me so much that I intervened, to show them how to use such toys, teaching them how to handle the doll’s crockery, lighting the fire in the tiny doll’s kitchen, setting a pretty doll beside it. The children showed interest for a time, but then went away, and they never chose such toys the objects of their spontaneous choice.”

(Taken from The Secret of Childhood, 1996 pp128)


But the children must use the materials correctly!

This is a frequent comment and it has been argued that the children shouldn’t “disrespect” the materials. I think it is important to remind ourselves of Dr. Montessori’s caution to make sure we do not let the Montessori materials become the be all and end all of the method. In fact, she actively encouraged the children to experiment with the materials and encouraged teachers to go beyond her method – she stated that it is only for starting out. She cautions against creating a stifling environment for children because of our beliefs of what we believe education in early childhood should look like.

“A teacher who wishes to prepare herself for this special kind of education must therefore keep clearly in mind the following principle: It is not a question of giving a child a knowledge about the qualities of things, such as size, shape, and colour, by means of various objects. Nor is it her aim to train a child to use the materials correctly. This would put our material in competition with that of others, for example, that of Froebel; and it would demand the continual active operation of the teachers in providing information …”

(Taken from The Discovery of the Child, 1990 pp150)

“A child who shows a desire to work and to learn should be left free to do so even if the work is outside the regular programme, which is here given simply for a teacher who is beginning a class.”

(Taken from The Discovery of the Child, 1990 pp329)


“We simply ask our children to adapt themselves to their prison without causing us any trouble.”

(Taken from The Discovery of the Child, 1990 pp71)


Should the Montessori Method evolve?

Dr. Montessori certainly believed so. Her contemporaries, her writings and interviews show that she believed it was vital to the survival of the method. AMI International continue to meet yearly to discuss and agree new evolutions to the method based on her advice.

“Actually, what I am presenting is only an introduction to a new system of education. It is one I have used with children between the ages of three and six, but I believe that the surprising results that have been obtained with them will be an incentive for further work along this line.”

(Taken from The Discovery of the Child, 1990 pp22)


Did the Montessori Method evolve from other educational theories and practices?

Yes, Montessori (as a scientist) used her background in science to find out what was happening in education internationally and subsequently found the works of Seguin and Itard. She continued the scientific tradition of ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ by crediting the beginning of her method and materials to Seguin and Itard who influenced her greatly.

“I followed the suggestions in Seguin’s book and also discovered that Itard’s admirable experiments were a veritable treasure. In addition to this, following the lead of these authors, I had a rich stock of teaching materials made for my use.”

(Taken from The Discovery of the Child, 1990 pp28)


“I devoted myself to the study of his [Seguin] books and those of Itard. I felt the need of meditating upon them.”

(Taken from The Discovery of the Child, 1990 pp33)


Why is this important to know?

Dr. Montessori was, at her heart, a scientist. She called her method a scientific pedagogy and likened her directresses to scientists who observed, documented and modified the environment based on the needs of the child. She expanded on the work of Seguin and Itard and fully expected others to come after her and, in the tradition of science, expand on her method.


Bringing it all together:


The quotations from Dr. Montessori are placed in this blog in such a way as to try to ease the doubts, and reassure, the Irish practitioner who may feel that by using Aistear and facilitating play in their service, they are somehow no longer an “authentic” Montessori service. There is a history to the introduction of Montessori to Ireland’s Education system that explains why the method became so rigid, stale and ‘schoolified’ over the years that has nothing to do with the method itself – but that is a blog for another day!


Montessori, M. Dr. (1912) The Montessori Method. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc. Oxford.

Montessori, M. Dr. (1988) The Absorbent Mind. Clio Press. England

Montessori, M. Dr. (1997) The Discovery of the Child. Clio Press. England.

Montessori, M. Dr. (1997) The Secret of Childhood. Sangam Books. Mumbai, India.


#Montessori #montessorimethod #play #method #aistear  #ireland   #montessori   #preschool   #earlychildhoodeducation   #ece   #earlyyears    #education   #authentic


Tolerance by Valerie Gaynor

Valerie Gaynor, admin of MECPI and Manager of Creative Kids & Co. Walkinstown.

“The ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviours that one dislikes or disagrees with”.

I was thinking and reflecting about the word ‘tolerance’. This is the first definition I found when I googled the word.

I think it fits in very well with what I have been reflecting about.

When we work with young children we are subject to all kinds of influences. What influences us we ourselves bring to our practice, our own uniqueness, our back ground, our culture, and our experiences all define the type of educator that we are. We are influenced by our fellow colleagues and their beliefs and uniqueness that they bring to their practice. The families influence us we work with and their expectations of us. We are influenced by our policies and procedures the culture in our setting, by the beliefs that our owners may have and those that may be different to our own.

With all of this in mind we must ask ourselves what is our culture of tolerance?  Are we tolerant? And do we practise the art of tolerance each day?

Do we agree with each other that a child who misbehaves constantly is simply " spoiled" or "bold" or " let away with it at home" or that there is " something wrong" with the child? Do we challenge our colleagues when assumptions are made about certain behaviours?

Do we stand up or do we go with the flow?

Do we enable a culture of labelling?

I often hear, read and experience that the issue of dealing with children’s unwanted behaviour is a difficult one, but I wonder if the difficulty is in how we deal with that behaviour, or how we see the behaviour, and our assumptions about what is causing the undesired behaviour?  After all we are grown up and supposed to be emotionally stable.

Rather than look at ‘managing challenging behaviour’ could we look at tolerance instead? If we are to be more tolerant, would we be much less judgemental? Could we look at the child at face value, at their level, or where they are at? 

We can look at why the child is displaying unwanted behaviours; we can try to get underneath and behind the behaviour and help ourselves to understand the child more. My experience tells me not to have any huge expectations of model behaviour in young children. My experience tells me that children will model good behaviour when they are happy, they feel they have a voice, and when they are supported by their educators. Yes, managing difficult behaviour is hard, but how we react to that behaviour is what can determine how often it is repeated.

So instead of jumping to conclusions about unwanted behaviours and the reasons for it, why don't we instead develop a culture of tolerance in our settings? We have the ability individually to change the atmosphere in our service - to challenge the prejudices that exist towards challenging behaviour. I really believe in doing that, we can then overcome the most difficult challenges that we face each day. If we stop, think, reflect, and wonder, we can gain real understanding and come up with meaningful solutions for all the children in our care.


Valerie leads an award-winning service Walkinstown Dublin 12, as the manager of Creative kids and Co. She has a back ground in Business Management and a huge commitment to quality provision in the early years and afterschool services; and is always looking for ways to improve quality provision.  Valerie is also an admin for MECPI.




#tolerance #practice #reflections #professional #earlychildhood #education #earlyyears #ece #childhood #reflect #Siolta #Aistear #behaviours #problematicbehaviours #challengingbehaviours  #challenging #problematic #assumptions #preschool 

My Department of Education Inspection by Nicola O'Reilly (part 2 of 2)

Rainbow Montessori Kilkenny City

An Lá Cigireachta! / Inspection Day!

The Inspector arrived half an hour before the children and she was lovely, warm, friendly, and chatty. She put her chair in a quiet corner and took out her paperwork. I had my bundle of documentation ready for her. I handed her my iPad with my social media updates going back three and a half years, as well as examples of how my recording processes have changed over time, so she could see my growth too.


As the children arrived