Dublin City & Maynooth University
This study proposes a critical, participatory investigation of play environments and play opportunities afforded for young children experiencing stressful situations in Irish ECEC, home and community contexts. Underpinned and informed by an ethos of Froebelian principles, their critical relevance in society in the 21st century, and the right to play as enshrined in the UNCRC, this project addresses the question ‘How is and can play be supported in ECEC settings, at home and in the community for children experiencing disadvantage and stress in their life situations’? The premise for the study is that many children in present-day Ireland are experiencing high levels of disadvantage for multiple reasons, including homelessness, poverty and migration. Currently one in five children in Ireland experience growing up in poverty (Social Justice Ireland, 2019) and numbers of children growing up in emergency homeless accommodation are consistently high (Focus Ireland, 2019; Simon, 2019). In addition to persistent, endemic poverty of significant parts of the population, forced migration into Ireland has added to the stress factors young children experience, often depriving them of social reference points (Turner, 1996) and supportive social (peer, family) networks.
It is well understood that play is a means for children to understand, find their place, manage and make meaning of their worlds. Consequently, play is a valuable resource for children, a potential counter measure to trauma and stress. However, conditions for early childhood educators and families coming together to create supportive play environments in contexts of deprivation are critically under-researched in the Irish context.
This study adopts a highly innovative participatory approach combining principles of participatory action research with the ‘future workshop’ methodology (Jungk) that will empower participants to take concrete steps towards change. The project has the potential to impact policy and practice across the Irish ECEC system from a dedicated Froebelian perspective.