Múinteoirí a Spreagann Éire 2022
TI Podcast Ep3

2022 Podcasts

Entry 3175Episode 3, Dr. Sinead McNally

Louise:
Hello, and welcome to the teachers inspire podcast for 2022 organized and run by Dublin City University. Teachers Inspire is an Ireland wide initiative that seeks to celebrate teachers and to recognise the transformative role they play in our lives, and in our communities.

My name is Louise O'Neill and I am delighted that I have been asked once again to curate and share with you the many uplifting stories about teachers who have made a difference in your life.

Check out these stories and more on the website, teachersinspire.ie.

In this episode, we're going to talk a little bit about early childhood education. Now, it might sound very formal, or off putting when you hear the phrase ‘early childhood education’ or you might also be thinking Louise O'Neill doesn't have any children so what does she know about early childhood education?!

Not much, which is why my guest is here with me. But apparently, that playing with your baby, or young child, is not just a great way to spend quality time with them, but it's an important part of the early childhood curriculum framework.

So we will talk about that shortly but first, as you may know, I love to read. And I'm often asked by parents, how can they encourage their child to read and I always say that when I was a child, my parents always read in the house and I think that as a child, you, you mimic what your parents do.

And reading is one of the easiest and most enjoyable things that a parent, guardian or caregiver can do with a child. So Teachers Inspire called into one house where reading has been encouraged. Our producer, Elaine, spoke with six year old Neasa O'Sullivan and her brother Finnbar and their parents, Kieran and Sarah.

Audio of family:

Neasa:
So I have this one. It's called Amelia Fang and I used to like her but it's still got one chapter left.

Elaine:
So you have to finish that still?

Neasa:
Em hmm

Elaine:
What's that?

Neasa:
This one is called ‘What the Ladybird Heard’ and I used to like this one a lot as well.

Elaine:
What do you like about that because when you open that up, I can see lots of pictures and colours, what did you like?

Neasa:
I liked about them making different sounds at night.

And I like to read a lot because it helps me get to sleep in the night.

Elaine:
Can you read a little bit of that for me cos I'm not familiar with that book at all?

Neasa:
I am not able to read this one.

Finnbar:
I’ll read it.

Elaine:
Okay, you’ll read it?

Finnbar:
Once upon our farm, lived, fat red hen, a duck in a pond, and a goose in a pen…my name is Finnbar and I'm eight and I'm in second class.

Elaine:
You've got a stack of books. They're telling me about them.

Finnbar:
This is ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ by Roald Dahl and I used to read this at night. This is a ‘Beast Quest’ book and a Treehouse Book, it's very funny book.

And this is that Roddy Doyle ‘Rover’s Adventures’ and another Roddy Doyle book ‘The Giggler’s Treatment’. ‘Diary of Wimpy Kid’ is also quite funny and then these are Dirty Birty books which are also very funny.

Neasa:
And me and Finbarr like it a lot.

Elaine:
Your children told me beautifully there you know what they like and the books and you've, you've clearly encouraged and nurtured that love of reading with them since they were very small. Would you tell me about that and why it was important to you?

Sarah:
I suppose I was read to an awful lot as a child so books were very important in my childhood. And my parents would have read to me, especially my mom.

I'm a teacher as well so we would put obviously a huge emphasis on reading in school and the one mantra that we have all the time is to encourage parents to read to their children. It doesn't really matter what you read, it's the whole act of reading, the mechanics of reading, the pleasure of reading and really encouraging to read for pleasure.

Because I suppose if you think of it as a gift, that gift stays with you for the rest of your life and then you know that you're never really alone, or you're never going to be bored as long as you have a book to entertain you, so I kind of took that value and I really wanted to pass it on to my children.

Elaine:
How old would they have been when you started to read with them?

Kieran:
We would have read from, read to them right from the start anyway, like, you know, and having it that books are around them all the time, like books by the bed, bookshelves everywhere, us reading in front of them, us reading books at bedtime, just that behaviour showing that, because, like, we know from everything, that the more you read, the better things will be, the easier certain things will be in life, but also just that love of reading, and being able to just sit down seeing a book and being excited about what happens tomorrow night, when you get back to it, that kind of thing.

Elaine:
Do you think also it helps parents to have a bit of special one on one quality time with their children?

Kieran:
Yeah, it gives you a big bond with them when you're younger, when they're younger. And we're just with Finn now we're moving to the stage where he's reading more on his own.

So he's still at the stage where he loves the thing, where we'll read a story to the two of them but then he goes into his bed, and he'll read, and Neasa will read a little bit but she's, you know, she's kind of getting into it more and more.

But for him that thing of he's, you know, he mentioned, he just finished reading, ‘Dogman’ and he's looking forward to getting the next one. He's proud of himself that he got, you know, he got to the end of it, and that little sort of a buzz that he gets from it.

And then sometimes you go back and you look at one of the books that maybe we read to him, and he gets another little kick out of it that way anyway, so it's great for him.

Elaine:
Do you ever have an instance where you're reading to your daughter or son, a book that you liked when you were a child?

Kieran:
Oh, yeah, yeah, we all have our biases that way, you know, like you heard the mention of the Roald Dahl stuff. And there will definitely be books and books, you know, Sarah mentioned about her mother.

And like, she has this little book called ‘Smoke and Fluff’, I've never seen it anywhere else. It's an old little like hardback Ladybird book, and it must be like, 50 years old, the kids love it.

And then we are like, you know, that book the Treehouse I mentioned to you earlier on, like, we enjoy reading that to them too because it's hilarious, like, you know, so there are new books for us as well, like, you know, and it's great. It develops their sense of humour, it's kind of very family orientated as well. So it's something that we all do together. That's a big thing I think, you know, the fact that we, we probably get as much out of as them to be honest.

Louise:
Thank you to Neasa and Finnbar and their parents, Sarah and Kieran for chatting to Elaine.

And now in studio with me, I have Dr. Sinead McNally. So welcome to the podcast Sinead:

Sinead:
Thanks Louise.

Louise:
You’re an assistant professor in psychology at the DCU Institute of Education. And you teach developmental psychology and research methods in early childhood, that's about kind of from child birth to six years?

Sinead:
Yes. And up to Eight.

Louise:
And it was funny when we were listening to that recording there like we were nodding along and you know, and

Both say: smiling.

Louise:
and sort of really in agreement with everything, I suppose, particularly that that Kieran was saying.

And I was struck by, you know, what he when he was asked when they started reading to the kids, and he said, pretty much from, from when they were born, and I'd love to sort of hear you speak about I suppose the importance of that?

Sinead:
Yeah, no, it's just such a wonderful clip to listen to and as you say, nod and smile alone, too.

And the books that were named are favorites of my six and nine year old as well, so gorgeous to hear.

But yes, we found in a recent study that reading to children as early as nine months, so when they're, before they can talk essentially, is linked to childrens’ language abilities at age three, when they start preschool.

So it's kind of counterintuitive before children are producing their first words, what we actually do with books can make a big difference to their vocabulary skills, which as we know in education, then predicts how well children do when they start school, for example, and in later life.

So, just even from a cognitive educational perspective, the reading early on can make a big difference.

Louise:
Yeah, and I suppose do you think that it's easy for us to forget like how much both children and adults can get from reading you know, that it's not just the kids that the parents can you know, I suppose derive pleasure from it as well?

Sinead:
Yes, it's huge and, and Kieran was referring to the whole family experience and what they were getting from it as well; but the confidence the kids had when they were talking about their books is fabulous. It's this interaction with books.

So they referred a lot the mum and dad to the fact that they had books in the house, just access to books, and we would talk about the library is really important. So that whole ecology of books, supports children.

So it's, it's not just about what we do cognitively and in terms of language skills, but there's a huge literature around the responsivity, the fact that we're sharing a space, a very special space with children when we read, and it's one of those things that is as much fun for us as adults as it is for young children.

So it is, there's something pretty unique about it - also about play, which is very related to books, but reading is one of those things that when we take that time with our kids to do it, or we can find that time to do it, everybody really seems to enjoy it. And the kids pick up on that as well.

Louise:
Yeah,

Sinead:
they're, they're in that space with you. Your mind isn't anywhere else. We're not on our smart devices.

Louise:
Yeah,

Sinead:
We're not caught up in work which is really tough or the jobs around the house. So yeah, there's an awful lot going on beyond the actual books, and the read (ing) and the words that we we're using there, which is the bit that I'm interested in as a psychologist.

Louise:
Yeah, of course,

Sinead:
It's the social piece as well, the warmth that we share,

Louise:
and you're so right, because when I remember, like, when I was a child, you know, my dad would have worked and my mother was at home, but when he came home every night, he would have been the one to read us stories, you know, so that was that sort of bonding time that we would have had with him at the end of the day.

Sinead:
Me too, really the exact same, it was very special, because he was taking the time to read with us.

Louise:
Yeah and then on a on a Saturday, my mother would bring us to the library. Yeah. Wow. Okay, so we just have very similar!!

Sinead:
But even going to the library, you know, without an agenda, just what do we find, you know, what do we, what do we do and see?

Louise:
And it is such a gift, I mean, Kieran said that as well. It's such an incredible gift to give a child, because he's right, you know, you're never bored if you're a reader, because there's always a new book, always a new world to, to disappear into. And I do think that is an incredible gift to give a child.

Now, you mentioned play. And I'm very interested in this because I feel like this is a new sort of direction in education, like this idea of play and I suppose, how important is play in education, do you think?

Sinead:
Well, it's increasingly recognised as central and I think if you talk to anyone in early childhood education, in particular, you're, you're preaching to the converted.

So, we have a play-based curriculum. But it is it is strange, I've been on, on radio talking to broadcasters about play, and there is this surprise around just how central it is to children's development, but also the role that we play as the adult with children.

So I think with books is quite tangible, we share that space, here's the book.

A lot of the time, we think of play as something that children do freely and play is only what children do on their own, you know, when they're given time in the yard or time to play in class, for example, without the teachers involvement.

But increasingly, we understand that actually play is part of how we teach children and it's part of how children learn. And even more fundamentally, I suppose, is that it's respecting children's rights as young children, because it's such an intrinsic part of childhood, it's a natural motivator for children, they are naturally disposed to play.

So we can get involved with them and play in their space without necessarily, I suppose that that idea of didactic teaching, or more traditional teaching, so increasingly, now, you see in primary schools, in the infant classrooms, for example, that teaching is through play, not it's not an add on, it's not time for children, although my children will always tell me about their play time in school. But you can also hear the way in which they're learning through play in class and that's, that's really, really important.

But it is actually It sounds quite revolutionary to us as a society but it's become, I suppose, with all of the research evidence that we have now, for how it supports learning, but, it has become very deeply embedded in early childhood education.

Louise:
Yeah. And I realized it was it is very topical at the moment and I think it has become increasingly valued by teachers in the sector. And do you think that's because of the evidence that's coming out? Or why is that?

Sinead:
It's a mixed Yes. So I'd be an advocate for ‘let's look at the research.’ So when I teach early childhood educators..

Louise:
Such an academic!

Sinead:
Such a nerd! But you will always go back to well, what is the evidence and what's strange about play is that for centuries, it's been talked about - from very big thinkers like Piaget Vygotsky have said, play is so central, it's so important to children's wellbeing, their development.

And yet, we actually don't have a huge body of rigorous research on it, which is why I'm so fascinated by it and working in this field.

So, we have this sense that it's important and anybody who works with young children, who parents , or an auntie or uncle will see that play is that again, it's that space where children feel respected, heard or listened to in their/on their terms.

So play doesn't have an agenda, real play, that's how we define it. You know, it's intrinsically motivating. It's fun. So, nobody else is setting that for children so they're exploring, they're learning, they're happy. And when we're happy, we learn.

So I think that's one of the reasons why it's become it, people believe in it now, you know, and we are putting children more central than we ever have, which is wonderful to see and I think we're actually doing a super job in Ireland's now in putting children first.

So play is often couched in a rights based perspective and when we actually put children first we have to look at what is meaningful for them, what is good for them.

And obviously, children are educated and taught and that's really important to do all of those things once they enter school, but children enter school quite young, so there's this transition from the early childhood education, which is outside of formal schooling, which is entirely play based curriculum, and then that being brought into the primary schools increasingly. So it's a little bit complex. I'm not sure if we want to get into that in the podcast…

Louise:
I'm actually when you were talking there, I suppose about that Ireland’s doing really well, I was, I was curious to sort of know, like, where we would be in, you know when you said there about starting school early, is it Germany that they don't start till they're six?

Sinead:
I think so.

Louise:
Yeah,

Sinead:
Certainly, it's Scandinavian countries, I guess it's much… I was in Norway recently and certainly, they take the approach of leaving the more formal schooling ‘til later, children are educated, there's early childhood education, but it's not in the same way of starting the primary school and it's entirely play based as well.

But children are learning that, that's the key to this. It's just being very responsive and lead by children.

We bring our knowledge and what we can around the environment, and we create the environment that will support children.

But really, we have to recognise where they are, I suppose developmentally, and also what, what is, what is valuable and this idea of putting children into very formal environments very early on, it hasn't been shown to, to, to benefit them in the long run.

But that's, that's, I think, for another day... But what we have found in Ireland is, during the pandemic, I mean, we had quite a long lockdown and then the summer breaks, so children were out of school for six months, which, obviously, some circumstances are different for children, depending on whether parents could be with them at home, and parents may have lost their jobs, it very, very challenging time,

Louise:
Yes, very stressful for a lot of people.

Sinead:
And one of the, during difficult times or major disasters, one of the things that we know, psychologically, in the literature that helps children is play.

So, all the major researcher, researchers and advocates for children were saying, can we just make sure children are not hidden during the pandemic, that they're getting to play?

So, we wanted to do a study on how teachers were feeling about this in early childhood classrooms in Ireland, you know, during the lockdown, do they plan on using play when the schools reopened? Were they advising parents to play at home as opposed to you know, catching up on all this lost learning?

And what we found was overwhelmingly, the teachers in our study, and it was quite a quite a large sample, we're saying that they really valued play, almost everybody, and that they would be using play when schools re-opened and they told us why.

So they were talking about children's social experiences, but their emotional wellbeing, they're building, building them up, I suppose to to come back in, to meet other children and to also, we don't know what they, what they experienced, you know, we were so focused on many things, quite rightly, during the pandemic, but children, children relied on us, whoever was caring, caring for them at home, you know, they weren't as visible playgrounds, shut, all of these things.

So, we have been focusing a lot on what play has been like in education since the pandemic, and we did a follow up study, then when schools reopened and asked teachers, well, how did it go? What happened in junior infants, senior infants with these young kids? And absolutely, it was as teachers had said they would, they were practicing an awful lot of play in class and not concerned that the children were missing out, which was really fabulous to hear.

Louise:
Because I think, you know, during the pandemic, you know, all of the teachers that I knew were just so concerned about their students

and you know, worrying that about what environments they were, you know, in at home and, and how challenging that was and just really trying to support parents and the children as, as best they could, and I suppose that's why I'm just so glad that we have the Teachers Inspire awards, just to really recognise, you know, that that work.

Sinead:
Oh incredible, yeah, absolutely incredible. And I say that as a parent as much as a researcher. I mean, you always feel so grateful for the people who take great care of your your children.

And I was talking to a colleague yesterday about care and education, and certainly in early childhood education those two are not divorced, you know, they're really, really intricately linked.

But I would imagine throughout education, this continues, you know, this is where we don't stop thinking about the children in front of us holistically. Yeah, so wonderful awards.

Louise:
Yeah, honestly, this is so interesting, I could listen to you talk about play for, for hours, which I really don't think you know, should be just limited to children. I think all of us could use more play, you know, for creativity and for just for stress relief, and you know, just for enjoyment in general. So maybe when you're finished studying early children you can start doing adult play! Sinead, thank you so much for coming in and speaking to me today.

Sinead:
Thanks so much Louise it was a pleasure.

Louise:
I'm Louise O'Neill. And thank you for joining me for this episode of the teachers inspire Ireland podcast for 2022.

You can hear all of the episodes wherever you get your podcasts and you can find out more and maybe tell us about a teacher that made a difference in your life at teachersinspire.ie

Until the next time…

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