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Taking care

JANUARY saw the introduction of the new Early Childhood Care and Education ( ECCE) Scheme that was first announced in last April's Budget. This is the first time that a free pre-school year has been made available on a universal basis to all children in the year prior to starting primary school, and it is a development that has been widely applauded. Irene Gunning, CEO of Irish Preschool Play Association ( IPPA), says it's something her association welcomes.

" This is what IPPA has lobbied for for years. It brings us up into line with other OECD countries. Research tells us that children really benefi t from this extra year of education," she says.

Gunning believes pre-school education is fundamental to a child's development. " Young children really thrive in environments where there's a play-based curriculum. When you talk about curriculum with young children it is literally everything that they do and everything that the childcare worker does, including changing their nappy and sitting them down to eat – they are learning at every single moment.

" When children go to pre-school you have an environment that's designed for them, with objects at their level – you have a whole range of materials, activities and opportunities that are all there for the children. Well-trained pre-school workers will support them at their level; the well-qualifi ed adult will follow their interest and extend them in a way that is suitable to the child, bearing in mind the child's own strengths and interests."

While the ECCE is seen as a very positive step, she sees it as the beginning of a journey rather than the end. " It's a really good scheme, it's one of the best policy decisions that's been made in ages, but it is going to need more money. As soon as Ireland comes out of the recession it's going to have to invest more in it to improve it. We all want it to work. It's a really good step in the right direction," Gunning concludes.

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