In 2019 as International Projects Coordinator I filled in the most ambitious Erasmus Plus application yet for my school, it was for 15 staff to take part in CPD courses across Europe and one staff member to go a job shadow to an outdoor kindergarten in Norway from January 2020 until June 2021.
Sadly as a result of the pandemic, the European Commission could only extend projects by 24 months and so we were fortunate to
have until June 2022 to complete the project but in realty we lost two years and have had to try and fit it all in to five months. In the midst of the pandemic more bad news was delivered when the UK Government decided not to take part in the Erasmus programme anymore, despite having made assurances that this would not become a casualty of Brexit. The UK had been part of this incredible programme since 1987 and our school since 2004.
In February 2022 I travelled to Bologna in Italy to take part in a course ‘The best Practices for Preschool Teachers’ facilitated by The Erasmus Learning Academy. There were 10 people on the course, 6 from different parts of Spain, three from Estonia and me.
The main approaches we were looking at were the following: Reggio Emilia, Montessori, Outdoor and Non-Formal. Any preschool person will tell you that we are all drawn to Reggio Emilia and it is on most of our wish lists of places to visit., so I was delighted that the Loris Malaguzzi Centre was reopened to visitors and we could go for a visit as part of the course. The main take away from the sessions on Reggio was that no one can claim to be a Reggio Emilia setting unless in that actual town, we can only reflect some of the approach in our own practice. The Montessori teacher who was from the only Montessori preschool in the city of Bologna shared some of her excellent practice with us too. It was very interesting to learn that even if a qualified teacher you have to do specific training to be able to teach in a Montessori school. It also became apparent that a true Montessori setting needs a lot of money to be fully equipped with the correct resources.
The main thing that struck me when visiting Reggio Emilia was that we give our children too many answers and information instead of letting them wonder what something Is for or what they can do with it.
Those who know me, will understand that the day we visited the outdoor preschool was a real highlight for me. I could just imagine my class exploring the amazing site but it was very interesting to see it through the eyes of the Spanish who were not yet ready for such outdoor experiences – I had been there myself in 2006 when I went to visit a Norwegian Outdoor kindergarten.
At first none of us were too sure about the idea of the Non-Formal approach but quickly realised it is exactly what we as preschool educators do every day – we make all learning very hands on, interactive and meaningful.
This week spent fully immersed in all things preschools was amazing if a little bittersweet, knowing that future generations of UK school staff don’t have these same opportunities anymore.
Bologna is a beautiful city and felt less frantic than some of the bigger Italian cities e.g. Rome or Florence. It certainly felt good to be travelling again and to be exploring a European city.
*Kierna Corr, is an NEU workplace rep, head of nursery, international projects coordinator and newcome coordinator at Windmill Integrated Primary School, Dungannon, County Tyrone. She has just returned from a study visit to Italy to take part in a course ‘The best Practices for Preschool Teachers’ facilitated by The Erasmus Learning Academy. There were ten people on the course, six from different parts of Spain, three from Estonia and Kierna.