What is Early Start?
Early Start is a one year preschool intervention initiative which was established by the DES in 1994. It is aimed at children from areas of designated urban disadvantage and targets the needs of children, including those with disabilities, who are most at risk of not reaching their potential in the educational system.
There are a total of 46 Early Start centres which are located in Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Galway, Drogheda and Dundalk. A full unit consists of two classrooms each staffed by one trained teacher and one trained childcare worker and caters for a total of 60 children on a sessional basis while a half unit caters for 30 ie. Each teacher and childcare worker caters for 15 children from 9am to 11.30am and a different 15 children from 12 noon to 2.30pm. The children must be between three years, two months and four years, seven months old in September for the year they are enrolled.
The staff of each Early Start unit must have a level of expertise in infant education. The trained teacher must have experience in junior infants and while some childcare workers hold a degree in Early Childhood Education they must all have a minimum level 5 Fetac qualification.
St. Finian’s N.S. Early Start
Our unit, like all early start units is very well resourced. We have a wide variety of high quality educational play equipment for the children. We also have created a rich environment that provides many different play contexts such as sand and water play, block/construction play, socio-dramatic play, creative play, story, art, jigsaws, games, music and movement and much more.
Learning through Play
Learning is delivered through the medium of play, often in small group context or on a one to one basis. The child is at the heart of the learning process and is actively involved in his/her own learning. The learning opportunities afforded to the children are age and developmentally appropriate and much emphasis is placed on the quality of the adult/child interaction.
Planning to Meet Each Child’s Needs
When children first enter our Early Start unit in St. Finians National School in Finglas South, we set about creating an individual profile of each child to assess their strengths and needs in relation to the key areas of learning language, cognition and social and emotional development. We then use these profiles to plan a programme of learning that will meet the identified needs in these areas. Our planning is informed by the Early Start draft curriculum which compliments the revised Primary Curriculum. At the end of the year we complete an end of year profile for each child which assesses the child’s progress in the key areas of learning. It provides a detailed basis for informing the junior infants teacher of the children’s abilities.
Parental involvement is a key element in all early start units and has been a very positive experience for us. Working closely with our Home school community liaison coordinator parents are encouraged to become actively involved in the classroom and are provided with many opportunities to further their own personal and educational development.
Each parent takes a turn to spend one full session each month with his/her own child in the classroom. This is something the children really look forward to and is known as their ‘Special Day’. Although some of the parents are apprehensive at the beginning of the year, we try to make it a pressure free, comfortable and enjoyable experience for them.
Having the parents involved at this very early stage of their child’s school life brings enormous benefits and provides parents with an opportunity to influence and become involved in their child’s education from the outset.
It is very rewarding for us to see both child and parent blossom over the year and to see them come to perceive school as a happy and positive experience. A close relationship develops between us as a team during the course of the year- because that is what we are- a team of teacher, childcare worker and parent working together to give each child the best start we can.