If I Had a Magic Wand

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If I Had a Magic Wand Young Children’s Visions and Ideas for Early Care and Education Services

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Dublin July 2011 © Start Strong

Start Strong wishes to thank the organisations that advised on and coordinated the consultation with children on its behalf: Barnardos, the Border Counties Childcare Network (BCCN), the Irish Pre-school Play Association (IPPA) and Lifestart. We want to thank all the settings that carried out the consultation – both the managers and the staff who led the activities, and who in many cases engaged in very creative initiatives. We applaud the settings that participated in the consultation for their strong interest in putting time and energy into listening to the children’s voices, and for their openness to hearing the children’s ideas about how they might enhance their services. Ardara Community Childcare Ardara, Co. Donegal Barnardos Loughlinstown, Co. Dublin Barnardos Tivoli, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin Breda’s Pre-school Glanmire, Co. Cork Bunnies Playgroup Portrane, Co. Dublin Busy Bees Sallins, Co. Kildare Cahir Bears Cahir, Co. Tipperary Corofin Afterschool Corofin, Co. Galway Croi na nÓg Corrandulla, Co. Galway Cuan Samh Kilrush, Co. Clare Cumann Ioseaf Community Centre Tralee, Co. Kerry Deansrath Family Centre Clondalkin, Co. Dublin

We want to thank the parents who gave permission for their children’s involvement in the project and for their words and pictures to be used in this publication. Above all, we want to thank the children themselves, for sharing their ideas and visions with us. Children’s names have been changed throughout the publication. Our special thanks go to the IPPA for allowing us to use some of the material which they had already brought together in the IPPA publication “Giving Children a Voice”, which was based on the IPPA element of this consultation with children, led by Dr Carmel Brennan. We would like to thank the following services for their participation:

Eivers Lane Childcare Centre Mohill, Co. Leitrim Finn Community Childcare Stranorlar, Co. Donegal Hopscotch Bettystown, Co. Meath Kells Pre-school Kells, Co. Kilkenny Kiddicare Rosnallis, Co. Laois Kiddieskool Kilmallock, Co. Limerick Kilkenny Early Years Community Project Kilkenny, Co. Kilkenny Kilnaleck Playgroup Kilnaleck, Co. Cavan Kinvara Community Children’s Centre Kinvara, Co. Galway Little Dreams Ballincollig, Co. Cork Little Duckling’s Playschool Ballycanew, Gorey, Co. Wexford Little Fingers Douglas, Co. Cork Little Rascals Tullyallen, Co. Louth Mother Goose Kinsale, Co. Cork

Newtowncunningham Community Playgroup Co. Donegal Scallywags Dunboyne, Co. Meath Scallywags Lismore, Co. Waterford Spafield Family Resource Centre Cashel, Co. Tipperary Spraoi Community Childcare Centre Ballymote, Co. Sligo St. John’s Lecarrow, Co. Roscommon St. Mary’s Childcare Campus Edgeworthstown, Co. Longford St. Muirin’s Tallaght, Co. Dublin Stepping Stones Cavan, Co. Cavan The ABC Club Dunboyne, Co. Meath The Lodge Montessori School Knocklyon, Co. Dublin Tir na nÓg Athy, Co. Kildare Young World Pre-school Athy, Co. Kildare


Introduction Play Outdoors Indoors Animals Family Who’s The Boss?

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Introduction 1 Start Strong (2010) Children 2020: Planning Now, For the Future. Dublin: Start Strong. www.startstrong.ie/ children-2020

This publication brings together a selection of material from the consultation with young children that formed part of Start Strong’s Children 2020 consultation process in 2010. The consultation with young children was coordinated by three organisations that form part of the Start Strong coalition: Barnardos, the Border Counties Childcare Network (BCCN), and the Irish Pre-school Play Association (IPPA). The publication has a number of aims: •


To bring the voices of young children to the ears of policy-makers interested in improving services for young children in Ireland. To help show those interested in early childhood policy that children should and can be an important voice in the development of policy. To be a resource for services that wish to carry out their own consultations with children, offering both inspiration and some practical approaches. To be a gesture of thanks to those children and services that took part in the project.

Why we did it The aims of the consultation phase of the Children 2020 project were to develop a shared vision for the future of children’s early care and education in Ireland, and to stimulate debate about the direction of Government policies for young children. Start Strong set about consulting a wide range of stakeholders with the aim of developing policy recommendations, both short and long-term. The resulting recommendations are presented in Children 2020: Planning Now, For the Future.1 In designing our consultation process, we wanted to speak to a wide range of stakeholders, including parents of young children, service providers, academic researchers, Government officials, County Childcare Committees, professional bodies, NGOs and others. In all, more than 200 adults took part in the consultation process. We also wanted to speak to young children themselves, to hear children’s own visions of what early care and education should be like in the future. Young children are experts on their own lives. If policy-makers are to develop policies that are in children’s interests, then they must listen carefully to what children themselves have to say.

The inclusion of young children themselves as participants in the Children 2020 consultation process reflects our view of young children as competent individuals, whose views matter, not just as objects of study. A core principle underpinning our Children 2020 project and all of Start Strong’s work is that we need to put children’s interests first in the development of policy and practice for early care and education. And if we are to put children’s interests first, we have to listen to children themselves. All children, including the very youngest children, have rights. Article 12.1 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – which is explicitly referred to as one of the central goals of Ireland’s National Children’s Strategy2 – states that: “States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.” The fact that early childhood care and education relates to young children – aged 0 to 6 – does not preclude their

participation in consultation on policies that affect them. On the contrary, while 3 year olds may not be as “mature” as 13 year olds, they still have views that matter and a right to express those views. When consulting very young children, the challenge for the adults engaging with those children is to find ways to consult that are both appropriate and meaningful. As the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has argued in relation to the participation of young children3

2 Government of Ireland (2000) The National Children’s Strategy: Our Children – Their Lives, p.30.

3 UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2005) General Comment No. 7 – Implementing Child Rights in Early Childhood.

“To achieve the right of participation requires adults to adopt a child-centred attitude, listening to young children and respecting their dignity and their individual points of view. It also requires adults to show patience and creativity by adapting their expectations to a young child’s interests, levels of understanding and preferred ways of communicating.” What we did As part of the Children 2020 project, we wanted to invite young children to give their own visions and ideas for what services for young children should ideally be like. Four organisations – Barnardos, BCCN, IPPA and Lifestart – kindly agreed to advise Start Strong on the children’s consultation.


As the overall Children 2020 project aimed to explore long-term visions, it was agreed that the core of the consultation should involve asking children what the best playschool / nursery / pre-school / naíonra ever would be like, or what they would change in their setting if they had a magic wand. It was agreed at the outset that we would seek the involvement of out-of-home services for young children, and that the consultation would focus particularly on children’s views of what those services should be like. While some participating services did ask children some questions about their homes and family life, we did not attempt to talk to children in their homes or to explore children’s views of what additional supports their families might need. We recognise that this limited the scope of the children’s consultation relative to the overall Children 2020 project, but we felt that a consultation with children in their homes would have been considerably more challenging to design and implement and was beyond the scope of this consultation.


Similarly, the consultation was limited in focusing on children aged approximately

3 to 5, on the grounds that a consultation with younger children would have been significantly more challenging to design. Given the importance, when consulting young children, of a process that is appropriate and meaningful to the children involved, it was agreed that settings would be invited to participate, and would be given scope to carry out the consultation in ways that they thought appropriate with the children in the setting, rather than imposing a particular format of consultation on all settings. In total, 39 settings participated in the consultation, with more than 600 children taking part. In some settings children were asked structured questions, while some settings chose to focus on a single, open-ended topic (e.g. if you had a magic wand...), and in other settings the project was largely concerned with creating a vision using art and craft materials. Among those settings that chose to use structured questions, some asked all the questions directly to the children, while others adopted a mixed strategy, with some direct questions and some more open-ended discussions or creative art-work.

Settings varied in whether the theme was given to each child for his or her individual response, or whether it formed the basis for group-work. In several settings, the theme was used as the basis for a major project, sometimes lasting several weeks. Open-ended themes were typically framed along the following lines:

Who would be there with you?

Who would you play with?

What would the rules be?

The structured questions in the Barnardos and BCCN consultations were based on the consultation framework used in the wider Children 2020 project:

Where would you put the building?

What should the building look like?

1 Putting children at the centre of early care and education: • Do you feel you are listened to? (Do your teachers listen to you? Do your parents listen to you?) • Do you feel you are special here? (If yes, what makes you feel special?) • How do you decide what to do when you’re here? • If you had a magic wand, what would you change?

What would you put on the inside of your building?

2 Supporting the key role of the family in early years care and education:

What would the outdoor space be like?

What could children do in these spaces?

If you had a magic wand, what would you change here? What would the best playschool / nursery ever be like?

The guiding questions in the IPPA consultation, which were adjusted by individual settings in ways they saw as most appropriate, were:

• • •

When would the best time to go there be?

What do you like doing the most? What are the best things that you do at home / with your Mam and Dad? What is your favourite / fun thing to do at home? How do you help out at home?


3 Ensuring access to quality care and education outside the home: • What’s nice here? • What do you like doing the most? • Is there anything you do at home that you do here as well? • Why do you come here? 4 Optimising early care and education’s role in addressing disadvantage and special needs: • Do you learn here? •

What’s it like to come here?

5 Role of different stakeholders – Government, service providers, etc.: • Who is the boss here? / Who decides what happens here? 6 Integrated approach / developing a coherent framework: • What would you like them to do differently?


What we found In developing this publication, we have chosen to let the children’s words and designs speak for themselves, rather than imposing our own interpretation on them. In this section, we have nevertheless

chosen to point to a number of key themes that seemed to arise frequently in the consultations with children. Probably because of the way that questions and themes for discussion were framed, many of the children’s ideas related primarily to aspects of quality in the design of out-of-home services for young children (playschools, nurseries, crèches). There were also some ideas expressed on the themes of putting children first and of linking services (e.g. linking preschools and primary schools), as well as on the central importance of families in the lives of young children. Some of the themes and concerns that arose most frequently in the children’s ideas and images were: •

Children’s enjoyment of being in early care and education services. The value children place on being able to shape their own daily activities. The centrality of play in young children’s lives. The importance of opportunities for children’s creativity and imagination.

Young children’s wish to be outdoors and to engage in physical activity. The pleasure and interest for young children in being with animals. The importance to children of having their families around them.

In what are perhaps the central themes that arose in the consultation – the importance of play and the value to children of having scope to shape and be creative in their daily lives – the children’s ideas supported themes that arose strongly in other parts of the Children 2020 project, including in consultations with other stakeholders. In some areas, the children’s consultation pushed Start Strong to prioritise policy recommendations that were less prominent in our discussions with other stakeholders. In particular, many children expressed a wish to break down boundaries between home/family and out-of-home settings. This finding led Start Strong to reinforce our conclusions on the need to strengthen family involvement in services and to design services that cater for families (embodied in our concept of “early childhood hubs”).

Some of the themes that arose frequently in the children’s consultation – such as the wish to have animals within settings – pose challenges to service providers and to inspectors as they try to balance children’s wishes and learning opportunities with health and safety concerns. On one key regulatory issue – outdoor space – Start Strong believes the Childcare (Pre-School Services) Regulations should be amended. Many children expressed a strong desire to be outdoors for long periods each day. Action is needed to ensure that all early care and education services have daily access to outdoor space. What’s in this publication As far as possible, we have chosen to present children’s words and designs without comment, to let them speak for themselves, and to avoid imposing one interpretation on those who look at the book, whether children or adults. Given the diversity of approaches taken by the settings that participated in the consultation, we have chosen not to organise the material in terms of the questions asked.


We have nevertheless chosen to organise the material under broad themes which recurred most frequently: play, outdoors, indoors, animals, family and decisionmaking (“who’s the boss?�). In identifying these headings, we were in large part inspired by the themes used by Carmel Brennan to organise the material in her report on the IPPA consultation, Giving Children a Voice. There are, however, some differences, which partly reflect the different approaches taken by services involved in the Barnardos and BCCN consultations. In designing this publication, we were keen that it should be a short and accessible publication that would engage the attention of a wide audience. For that reason, we


have only been able to include a small proportion of the many ideas and designs that we received. We have tried to include a wide range of contributions, with diversity of both source and content, but there is much that we were unable to include. We regret that we could not publish the ideas of all the children who took part. We hope, however, that the publication will inspire policy-makers and service providers to engage in other consultation processes with young children, so that in future even more young children have opportunities to get their voice heard and to influence the decisions that affect their daily lives.

Play “What about the Playgroup is made out of ice-cream with sprinkles and strawberry sauce and if we eat it, it just grows more back forever.”

“Would be orange with lots of toys. They would play and have lots of fun. I would like to play all the time. Aidan would be there and Aidan’s Mam and Mammy. They would play with Harry and Adam. There would be no rules, play with everything.”

Cathal, Co. Sligo

“It would look like the inside outside so you play around with toys, dinosaurs, trees, acorns, paper, walls.” Sophie, Co. Meath

“Sometimes I feel special when I dance.” Katie, Co. Louth

“Be able to sing very loudly.” Joseph, Co. Galway

“I would like to play outside all day, riding bikes and tricycles.” Nia, Co. Waterford

“I like playing dress up,” Holly, Co. Dublin

“Do loads of painting.” Joshua, Co. Louth

“I don’t like playdough.” Sean, Co. Dublin

Jack, Co. Meath

“More art.” David, Co. Donegal

“I like the home area.”

“I’d make a frog.”

Gabrysia, Co. Dublin

Ruby, Co. Dublin

“I’d change into a fairy.”

“Have more ball games.”

“I’d like to be able to hit bad people and monsters that might come in.”

Luke, Co. Cavan

Charlie, Co. Galway

“I’d change into a frog and cut off my Mam’s hair!”

“I wish I could play with a dinosaur. We’d play hide and seek.”

“I like playing with the sand.” Maja, Co. Dublin

Ciara, Co. Louth


Oisin, Co. Leitrim

Ella, Co. Louth

“Have more Irish dancing.” Amelia, Co. Cavan

“I love playing with diggers.” John, Co. Leitrim.

“My preschool is in a rocket with lights and buttons. There is loads of food you can eat with aliens.� Joan, Co. Kilkenny

“Would be orange with lots of toys. They would play and have lots of fun. I would like to play all the time. Aidan would be there and Aidan’s Mam and Mammy. They would play with Harry and Adam. There would be no rules, play with everything.” Jack, Co. Meath

“I like the home area.”

“I’d make a frog.”

Gabrysia, Co. Dublin

Ruby, Co. Dublin

“I’d like to be able to hit bad people and monsters that might come in.”

“I’d change into a fairy.”

Charlie, Co. Galway

“I wish I could play with a dinosaur. We’d play hide and seek.” Oisin, Co. Leitrim

Ella, Co. Louth

“Have more Irish dancing.”” Amelia, Co. Cavan



Outdoors “Animals, giraffes, dinosaurs, flowers, red and orange, blue sky. Butterflies, swings, sand. We need Santa Claus.”

“A playground with a see-saw, a horse, and a slide with all different colours.” Jerome, Co. Kilkenny

“Mud to jump in with wellies.”

Ava, Co. Wexford

Lucy, Co. Clare

“A flower bed, grass and a see-saw.”

“A maze, so we could play hide and seek in it.”

Adam, Co. Cork

Kayla, Co. Cork

Nathan, Co. Longford

“I would like a bouncy castle, with stairs to the clouds so we can play there.”

“Stop the rain so we can be outside.”

“Play outside all the time.” Max, Co. Cavan

“There would be a humongous slide and a trampoline.”

Outside area and have bikes and go-carts and a football pitch.” Tadhg, Co. Cavan

“Trees and tree-houses.”

“Outside, would be good, it would be like having apple trees and cars and there would be people running up the apple trees and shaking them to get the apples down.”

Lily, Co. Galway

Daniel, Co. Meath

Liam, Co. Kildare

Thomas, Co. Meath

“We need a beach and a play house.” Jamie, Co. Wexford

“A big garden to play in.” Jayden, Co. Cavan

“We can put up a gate to keep the children in.” “No, we have a gate to get out.” Sophia and Kate, Co. Tipperary

“More picnics.” Nicole, Co. Meath


“Preschool in the sea. Waves are big. Love a little tea-set that floats on the sea. Loads of windows and colours – red, blue, pink.” Isabelle, Co. Kilkenny






Indoors Where to build? “Right here beside my school so I could still see my teachers every day when I go to big school.”

“I want circle windows and triangle windows.” Conor, Co. Tipperary

“I’d make a big house with timber and sand…a bucket on the roof.”

Patrick, Co. Laois

“Make lots and lots of windows.”

“More shopping things.”

Alicia, Co. Laois

Anna, Co. Galway

“I’d have my bed in playschool.”

“Let me stay all night.”

Dylan, Co. Louth

Mark, Co. Louth

“We would move to different rooms during the day.”

“Have a soft bouncy floor inside.”

Emma, Co. Clare

Maria, Co. Galway

Laura, Co. Kildare

“More toys.” Luke, Co. Galway






Animals “I’d like a see-saw and a lion… A see-saw like this for me and my lion…a pet lion, a nest for him. Id’ like a bed for the nest to go in my pet lion. A lioness and a lion.”

“I’d wave my magic wand and we’d have a bouncy castle and a slide and some swings and a big sandpit outside. And we’d get some zoo animals loads of them giraffes and lions and a fishy and a frog and a big massive jellyfish and a massive octopus and something else yeah massive bugs everywhere they are MASSIVE.”

Shane, Co. Clare

“Goats and sheep. Ducks in a pond. Horses, daisies.” Grace, Co. Wexford

“I don’t have a cow at home and I’d like one in school coz I like lotsa milk.” Ryan, Co. Dublin

“A farm with animals and dinosaurs.” Ben, Co. Galway

“I’m putting lots and lots of chickens and horses and cows in my school, like daddy’s chickens at home. I’m going to put in lots and lots of animals.” Aoife, Co. Laois

“We can get lots of giraffes and put them on the grass.” “We can call one of them Minnie.” “We have to have girl and boy giraffes, Mickey is the boy’s name.” “I have one more name - Sparkles.” “And we can have lots of lions.” “But they would eat the giraffes.” “No they won’t coz they all have to be friends and there’s no hitting or eating if they is in Playgroup.” “And no kicking, and no turning round on the stairs, and no picking your nose. And we have to get food for them.” “They can have toast and cake.” Co. Sligo

Cian, Co. Sligo


“I like dogs. I’d like a husky - they are like a wolf.” Kerri, Co. Dublin.




Family Who would you bring to this school? “My chickens and baby and Saoirse and Jack and Julia and Mammy and Daddy.”

“Mammy would be there and me and Daddy and baby Kevin who is gone up to heaven. I’d play with Daddy.” Kathleen, Co. Cork

“I gonna make a swimming pool there, blue water. Here will be a trampoline. It’s gonna have dark brown on the sides and green round a round. Look, I did swings there and a big swimming pool for my Daddy.”

Chloe, Co. Laois

“The best playschool in the world would be at my house. It would look like my friend Caitlin’s school. That looks like really tall, you see she goes to secondary school.” Hannah, Co. Meath

“It can be in my back garden. Wouldn’t that be nice?” Michael, Co. Sligo

“I wish my baby brother could come here too.” Molly, Co. Cavan

“I love it because I can do different things than at home.” Caoimhe, Co. Donegal

“I would like my sister here.” Julia, Co. Galway

“I’d be here Saturday.” Samuel, Co. Meath

“I would build playschool at home.” Fionn, Co. Galway


Piotr, Co. Dublin

“All my family on the swing.” James, Co. Leitrim



Who’s The Boss? “I would change the whole island. I would put the lights on in Ireland so that it would be very nice and not dark.”

“We can make the pre-school from Lego. Can the teachers be robots?” Darragh, Co. Tipperary

“You have to paint and do playdough but there are no other rules.”

Emily, Co. Dublin

“Me.” Leah, Co. Dublin

“When we come in we decide what we are doing.”

Amy, Co. Meath

Callum, Co. Donegal

“No teachers, I want to be the teacher.” Sarah, Co. Galway

“More teachers.” Alex, Co. Galway

“I’d change into Nichola [one of the teachers].” Noah, Co. Louth



design www.nathansomersdesign.ie

If I Had a Magic Wand This book presents children’s own visions and ideas of what their early care and education should be like. Young children are experts on their own lives. If we are to develop policies that are in children’s interests, then we must listen carefully to what children themselves have to say. More than 600 children took part in the consultation process that led to the publication of this book. The process was part of a wider consultation that Start Strong carried out in its Children 2020 project on the future of children’s early care and education in Ireland.

“Great idea! Allows children to express their ideas and have an input. Children have obviously enjoyed it as I have been hearing about it constantly at home.” Parent, Co. Tipperary

“This was an ideal time to do this survey as we have to fully equip a new pre-school room. I feel we have a really good insight now into what we need to buy to equip the room. We may not be able to buy everything this year but we can add to it hopefully each year.” Pre-school leader, Co. Roscommon

Start Strong is a coalition of organisations and individuals committed to advancing high quality early care and education in Ireland. Start Strong is supported by the Katharine Howard Foundation, the Irish Youth Foundation and The Atlantic Philanthropies. Third Floor, Six/Seven Exchange Place IFSC, Dublin 1 tel 01 791 0100 fax 01 611 6600 email info@startstrong.ie website www.startstrong.ie facebook www.facebook.com/StartStrongIreland twitter www.twitter.com/StartStrongIrl