'My self-image and your interactions': The influence of the preschool educator's image of the child as a learner on children's wellbeing and involvement
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The introduction in 2011 of a universal free preschool year for all children in Ireland prior to attending primary school was heralded as a significant commitment to children and families. As a result of this policy initiative there are increasing numbers of young children accessing preschool provision. However, despite increased access and increased investment in ECEC provision, little is known about the quality of preschool children’s experiences, or the impact of the pedagogical approach on children’s levels of wellbeing and involvement in their learning. Equally there has been no evaluation of the quality or the effectiveness of the preschool provision in supporting children’s development of 21st century skills. This thesis explores how the preschool educator’s image of the child as a learner influences her/his pedagogical approach and how the educator’s pedagogical approach subsequently impacts on children’s levels of wellbeing and involvement in their meaning making processes. The study, an ethnographic comparative study, was conducted across three preschool setting types, Montessori, Play-based and Reggio inspired in the west of Ireland and Boston. The findings identify that children’s levels of wellbeing and involvement are high when their basic needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness are met in an autonomy supportive, child-centred learning environment. In comparison, when the learning environment is controlling and the approach to teaching and learning is didactic and adult-led, children’s levels of wellbeing and involvement are low. These findings have significant implications for policy and practice and provide a compelling argument for the evaluation of the quality of preschool provision in Ireland.
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