Knowledge and Learning using Aistear and Síolta
Aistear… a new journey
The Early Childhood Curriculum Framework
September is synonymous with thoughts of new beginnings. This is especially so in the case of thousands of junior infants who, full of excitement and adventure, set off on their journey through primary education. October this year represents another ‘beginning’ with the launch of Aistear: the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework.
What is Aistear? Aistear is the new early childhood curriculum framework for children from birth to six years in Ireland. Because early childhood marks the beginning of children’s lifelong learning journeys, this framework is called Aistear, the Irish word for journey.
It provides information to help practitioners, including infant teachers and Early Start teachers, to plan for and provide enjoyable and appropriately challenging learning experiences that will allow all children grow and develop as competent and confident learners. Aistear describes the types of learning experiences that are important for children in early childhood, and offers lots of practical ideas and suggestions. Examples of how this learning might be nurtured are also given.
Who is Aistear for? Aistear is for all children from birth to six years. This means it can be used in a range of settings such as children’s own homes, childminding settings, crèches, nurseries, playgroups, pre-schools, naíonraí, Early Start Units and in infant classes in primary schools.
Taking a look inside …
Aistear has two parts. Part 1 sets out 12 principles. Many of these are similar to the principles in the Primary School Curriculum with some additions, for example a principle on learning through play and one on children as citizens. Part 1 also describes the content of children’s learning. Unlike the Primary School Curriculum, Aistear does this using four themes rather than using subjects and curriculum areas. The themes are
• Well-being • Identity and Belonging • Communicating • Exploring and Thinking.
Each theme connects with most, if not all, of the subjects in the Primary School Curriculum.
Well-being This theme is about children being confident, happy and healthy.
Identity and Belonging This theme is about children developing a positive sense of who they are, and feeling that they are valued and respected as part of a family and community.
Communicating This theme is about children sharing their experiences, thoughts, ideas and feelings with others with growing confidence and competence, in a variety of ways and for a variety of purposes.
Exploring and Thinking This theme is about children making sense of the things, places and people in their world. They do this by interacting with others, playing, investigating, questioning and forming, testing and refining ideas.
Supporting teaching and learning
Through the themes, Aistear focuses on developing children’s dispositions and skills, nurturing attitudes and values, and building knowledge and understanding of their world:
dispositions such as curiosity, independence, perseverance, and playfulness • skills such as walking, climbing, cutting, and mark-making • attitudes and values such as respect for others, care for the environment and positive attitudes to learning and to life • knowledge and understanding such as developing a sense of colour, shape and number, learning how things work and that words have meaning.
Part 2 of Aistear consists of four sets of guidelines. These focus on
• enriching learning through interactions • learning through play • using assessment to support learning • working with parents.
A User Guide gives practical information on how you can use Aistear in your infant classroom or Early Start Unit.
What’s in Aistear for me? Lots! Examples from practice are a defining feature of Aistear’s guidelines. The examples are known as learning experiences and show how key messages in the guidelines might look in action in different settings including pre-schools and infant classrooms. The guidelines also give practical ideas and suggestions for using different types of play to extend children’s learning, strategies to interact with children; methods to assess children’s learning and plan for the next steps, and ways to involve parents in their children’s learning. Thinking about my practice questions are included to help you reflect on what you do and say to support children’s learning and development, and plan for how this can be improved.
How does Aistear link with Síolta, the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education (2006)? This may be another question in your mind especially if you are using w Síolta as a self-reflection tool to review and develop your early years practice. Aistear can help you work towards a number of the standards in Síolta such as curriculum, environments, identity and belonging, partnership with parents, interactions and play.
What is Síolta?
Síolta, the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education, was developed by the Centre for Early Childhood Development and Education on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills. It was published in 2006, following a three-year developmental process, which involved consultation with more than 50 diverse organisations, representing childcare workers, teachers, parents, policy makers, researchers and other interested parties.
Síolta is designed to define, assess and support the improvement of quality across all aspects of practice in early childhood care and education (ECCE) settings where children aged birth to six years are present. These settings include:
- Full and Part-time Daycare
- Sessional services
- Infant classes in primary schools
Since December 2008, the Early Years Education Policy Unit, in the Department of Education and Skills, has been responsible for the implementation of Síolta.
Core Elements of Síolta
Síolta is comprised of three distinct but interrelated elements: Principles, Standards and Components of Quality. The 12 Principles provide the overall vision of the Framework, while the 16 Standards and 75 Components allow for the practical application of this vision across all aspects of ECCE practice. The Components of Quality are further explained by a set of Signposts for Reflection and ‘Think-abouts’ which are intended to support practitioners in early education settings to become aware of and critical of their practice. These core elements of Síolta are set out in detail in each of the Síolta user manuals.