In this essay the four themes of Aistear will be addressed. Aistear meaning journey is the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework in Ireland for babies, toddlers and children from birth to six years of age. The Aistear themes all work towards the children becoming competent and confident learners (NCCA, 2009). Well-being, communicating, identity and belonging and exploring and thinking are these themes. It is vital that children work towards fulfilling these aims during their learning and development. Aistear sets out the guidelines for early childhood practitioners and parents to accommodate joyful and memorable experiences so that their children will learn and develop into skilled and positive learners (NCCA, 2009). ‘Aistear describes the types of learning (dispositions, values and attitudes, skills, knowledge, and understanding) that are important for children in their early years and offers ideas and suggestions as to how this learning might be nurtured’ (NCCA, 2009, p.6). It is essential that children learn and develop under the influence of loving, affectionate and respectful relationships. By using the guidelines, the children will be achieving the Aistear aims and goals. ‘A vital and productive society with a prosperous and sustainable future is built on a foundation of healthy child development’ (Child T. C., 2010, p.1).
The theme well-being works towards the child developing into healthy, content and self- assured individuals. Well- being is broken down into the physical well-being of the child including their fitness and co-ordination and the psychological well-being including reasoning and awareness (NCCA, 2009). A child’s well-being starts at a very young age, even before they are born. The mother’s health lays the foundations for the child’s healthy and fulfilled life (Child T. C., 2010). There are massive overlying factors that influence the well-being of children; these are the interactions, experiences and relationships they are involved in throughout their life (NCCA, 2009). ‘When developing biological systems are strengthened by positive early experiences, children are more likely to thrive and grow up to be healthy adults’ (Child T. C., 2010, p.1.) It is proven that these relationships and experiences that the child has, has an endless effect on the child’s well-being. There can be negative memories from the child’s youth that can create barriers in the child’s psychological well-being, that can stay with them for many years and in fact for life. The child’s well-being also includes nutrition. It is important that a good example is set in healthy eating at a young age to avoid any conditions such as obesity and diabetes (Child T. C., 2010). Reducing the child’s stress is another important component of a child’s well-being. By reducing stress, it supports the child in being less stress response triggered and will prevent harm both physically and mentally. If the child does not have adults to depend on and protect them from stress and their stress response is overloaded, it can strain multiple biological systems (Child C. o., 2017). ‘Constant stress depletes precious energy the brain needs for healthy development in childhood and adulthood’ (Child C. o., 2017, p.7). Children will develop creatively and learn how to express themselves through dance and play. They will begin to be brave, assessing situations and taking risks, want to test themselves at new activities and develop an optimistic approach to life. They will establish social skills when mixing with their peers and learn skills of self- regulation and self- respect (NCCA, 2009).
The theme of identity and belonging is extremely significant in the child’s development as they need to feel a sense of comfort and feel that they are part of a caring and nurturing group. From the minute a child is born they start to develop an identity. This can often be formed by the relationships they have, the community that they live in and the understanding of themselves and the people around them. When children feel a sense of identity and belonging, they can flourish and develop positively. They are self- assured and can understand the different obstacles of everyday life (NCCA, 2009). ‘By realising that their attitudes and values influence children, adults can develop the insights, self-awareness and skills that are needed to help children develop a strong sense of identity and belonging’ (NCCA, 2009, p.25). Disruptions or difficulties in forming a sense of belonging can continue into the adulthood of the child and lead to a constant feeling of not being worthy or accepted. This in turn can have a negative effect on the individual’s mental health (Child T. C., 2010). During the child’s crucial development, the adult needs to provide a secure, supportive and reassuring environment so that the child feels acknowledged for who they are and not battling difficult environmental situations putting their real identity on the backfoot (Child C. o., 2017). A child’s sense of identity and belonging can also be seen in their play. The culture, community, principles and the social system in the play setting in which the child is present in all influence their national identity in play (Canning, 2011). It is the adult’s duty to help children form a sense of belonging. Once children create their sense of belonging they will feel respected, accepted for who they are and content within themselves as confident individuals. Children will not only attain an identity on their own, but they will also be part of group identities, i.e. their family, community, early childhood setting, neighbourhood, peers etc. They will be able to express their individual viewpoints and work co-operatively with others, understanding that others may have different beliefs. When children feel accepted, they will be determined to learn, achieve and always strive to be better. They will feel valued and will obtain many relationships. In partnership with the adult the children will learn the difference between right and wrong. Through praise and encouragement their confidence will grow, and this will help their learning in later years (NCCA, 2009).
The Aistear theme of communication is crucial for the young child to form relationships, friendships and interactions with the people around them. This includes verbal and non-verbal communication. The process of ‘serve and return’ is often used by many early childhood practitioners when trying to help their children to become good communicators, i.e. saying the name of an animal and getting the child to repeat the name back to them. The adult must show interest in the child’s learning and praise them when they succeed. Examples of non-verbal communication includes gestures, facial expressions and body movements. As a young child is learning communication skills they are also becoming more competent and confident individuals. By using non-verbal communication, it is also showing the child’s emotions i.e. smiling (NCCA, 2009). Responsive, consistent and compassionate interactions between the adult and child enhance their learning capabilities and help them develop better communication skills (Child T. C., 2010). Serve and return interactions contribute vastly to the child’s developmental process. When a child is attempting to communicate to their parent or dependant adult i.e. by crying, the adult answers with either eye contact, a gesture or words (Child C. o., 2017). ‘Neutral connections are built and strengthened in the child’s brain. Given the foundational importance of the first few years of life, the need for responsive relationships in a variety of settings, starting in infancy, cannot be overstated’ (Child C. o., 2017, p.3). In early childhood settings children can often be seen bringing an adult a toy as an invitation to communicate and interact with them, they are unable to express this need using words and therefore are trying to engage the adult with gestures, facial expressions and toys (Bruce, 2005). Communication for babies begins on a one-to-one, private level with their parent, this intimate foundation in their communication skills is often undervalued, but research has shown that these interactions really help the child when transitioning into more public ways of communicating (Moyles, 2009). In communicating children will be able to express themselves, show confidence in discovering new skills, develop counting skills and mathematical understanding and widen their understanding of the world, the adult must provide books, games and challenges that interest the children as they will learn much more when they are enjoying the experience (NCCA, 2009).
The theme of exploring and thinking and is about children investigating, discovering and forming opinions. They are making sense of all that is around them; places and people, by interacting, questioning and playing. Playing allows children to identify risks in which they learn and develop from. Each new discovery that the child comes upon is taken on board and their thoughts and theories of the world are adjusted. The environment plays a huge factor in this theme. The child develops both physically and cognitively through their environment, building knowledge and discovering ‘hands-on’ about their surroundings. The adult must plan, provide and adapt activities in the setting to make sure the child has opportunity to explore during the experience (NCCA, 2009). ‘Safe and supportive physical, chemical, and built environments, which provide physical and emotional spaces that are free from toxins and fear, allow active exploration without significant risk of harm'(Child T. C., 2010, p.2). Play is extremely important in development as it builds the child’s confidence when they explore and relate to others (Moylett, 2013). Children will advance into explorers and thinkers through observation, inspection, questioning and problem-solving. They use their imagination to make reason of the world. Through play children learn about how to negotiate play, think and reflect on how they are acting and their emotions and develop self- regulation skills. They will develop habits of curiosity, confidence and risk-taking. In partnership with the adult the child will have a more positive attitude to the world around them (NCCA, 2009).
In conclusion with all that I have mentioned above it is clear to see why the Aistear themes are so important in the child’s development. It provides them with the skills, reasoning and emotional support to deal with the world as they grow, gaining new knowledge and theories all the time. It is evident that these themes must be carried out in practice in all early childhood settings to give the children the best start to life and their learning journey. It is also obvious that these themes are needed by early childhood professionals so that they help the child to develop in confidence and competence in the best possible way.