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Friday, 27 February 2015

Choosing Playschool over Montessori

Parents with higher levels of education are more likely to use Montessori and less likely to use a play-school settings for the Free Preschool Year. (Growing up in Ireland Study, Nov 2013) Is this due to un-researched decisions, public perception, personal choice, best-fit for child or is it just snobbery? 

Yes we choose to send Baby Bear to a playschool, not a Montessori! 

I am not for one minute dissing the Montessori method, in fact I have studied and since very much admire the ideas of Maria Montessori. I am just outlining the reasons for our choice to send baby Bear to a playschool. 

In Ireland we have what’s known as the 'Free Preschool Year' or the proper name is 'The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme'. When the Government were pressured to do something in relation to the importance of early education, instead of looking at alternatives, other countries etc., they did what they do best, a quick fix solution: Throw money at the problem! So the ECCE scheme started in 2010. All children aged between 3 years 3 months and 4 years 6 months on 1st September are entitled to free preschool care for 3 hours a day, 5 days a week, over 38 weeks. This is a free benefit available to all children. While I have reservations about this being the correct approach to engaging in early education, while it's still available I’m not complaining! 

As Baby Bear will meet the age requirements for his ECCE year this coming September, (you can calculate for your child here) we wanted to start him one day a week in the same place from January last. The place we chose was a playschool. Having teachers as parents we were both very interested in researching the most suitable setting for Baby Bear. We are fortunate where we live to have an excellent Montessori school just up the road, a pre- school within walking distance, a NaĆ­onra a short spin away, and two play schools near by. We are spoiled for choice. Which is why so much thought and research went into it! 

We chose to send Baby Bear to a play-school and here’s why:

(1) All preschool services are regulated the same under the preschool regulations regarding HSE inspections, room size, staff , child ratios etc. They must also follow a documented curriculum to be in the ECCE scheme. This set our mind at rest that a play-school might not be 'up to scratch' regulation wise, as people would lead you to believe. 

(2) Baby Bear is an only child. Social interaction, learning to share, taking turns, making friends and having fun, was our main objectivities for him. We are less concerned about pre reading, phonics, writing etc, this will be done at home but not overloaded, this is the junior infants curriculum. There is so much time to learn this in school. 

(3) The importance of play

This really is the MAIN reason. 
(excuse me here, I do go on a bit of a rant, but I’m just so passionate about it's importance!!) 

Play is considered so important to a child’s development that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) has established it as every child’s right
Play is a child’s way of making sense of the world – a learning tool that engages, motivates, challenges and pleases.
Play gives them an opportunity to demonstrate all that they have observed and learned about the real world and at the same time the opportunity to experiment with how they can make that learning useful in their own world.
Children are born with an innate drive to learn – they want to be seen as smart, intelligent and capable people who can do things, who know things and who are well connected with family and friends.
Play is not about completing one task at a time but about dealing with multiple tasks such as relationships, activities, problem solving, other peoples’ ideas and creating companionship and enjoyment, all at the same time.

We chose a play-school because play is what happens from the minute the children walk in the door. It is not all free play, but play is key. There is not just a 'play space' but the whole environment, both inside and out are created for play. Toys of all shapes, sizes and all the 'gender specific' toys are free for all to use. There is a shop area, a kitchen area, a garage, a hairdressers and so much more, there are boxes of jigsaws, blocks, bead threading, dolls, buggies, trucks, tractors, and that’s just what Baby Bear could recall to help me write this! Play is the emphasis in every corner of the room. 

(4) The ethos, the athmosphere, the staff, and the facilities are warm, welcoming and inviting for children and parents. While this can be true for any type of pre school choice, the particular play-school we chose is a home away from home. All the children run in the door and have smiles on their faces when being collected. This is important to us. 

(5) Outdoor play area. I don't mean a herb garden or poly tunnel, I mean tyre swings, slides with a muddy puddle at the end (peppa would love it), sand pits with diggers, play houses for tea parties/shops etc.  The outdoors is one of the best learning environments for young children, providing an opportunity to explore, experience and make meaning of the natural world. Children learn through play, movement, communication, and sensory experience which the outdoors provides for on a much greater scale than indoors. Play-schools let children make a cabby under the bushes and use the slide as a rocket ship, yes the children are told the names of these bushes, but it is when they encounter them, not sitting inside looking at a picture of a bush. 

(6) The particular playschool we chose is near the primary school we hope Baby Bear will go too, so hopefully he will make friends that will be in his class right through primary school. 

This post is not intended as a comparison. I just wanted to share my passion for the importance of play, and hence our decision to choose a play-school for Baby Bear. Each child is unique and individual, a play-school is what we think will suit Baby Bear, whenever another bear should come along we will choose a pre-school setting that best suits their needs. The Free year could be gone by then so cost could be playing a massive factor! So while it's lasting Id advise every parent to grab it with open arms. You have the luxury of choosing to send your son or daughter to whichever pre school setting you choose, so do your research, make an informed choice, choose a pre-school setting that best suits the need of your son or daughter. God knows the next child might have to learn their ABC's from this child should the government remove the scheme! 

I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments on this topic. 

Now we're off to play!

Untill Next time,

Mommy Bear xx (with help from Baby Bear, and input from Daddy Bear!) 

References: Growing up in Ireland Study, Infant Cohort, Nov 2013, 
                   Cork County Childcare, 
                   Early Childhood Ireland.

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1 comment:

  1. I've sent my two to playschool too, like you I wanted it for socialisation and didn't feel the need for them to start formal education at 3. Our playschool does the Aistear programme and my older son's school does too. I've had the 2 boys through the same playschool and their little sister will go there next year