Eilish Balfe, manager of Happy Days Early Years Service in Ratoath, Co. Meath, describes how role-play and dress-up enables children to help others and prepare for life.
Community spirit plays a huge part in our day-to-day activities. We focus on an emerging curriculum, which involves being led by what the children want to learn. This naturally builds connections between ourselves and the wider community. One way we do this is through our relationship with the local nursing home. Pre-COVID, we made weekly trips to Ratoath Manor to spend time getting to know the residents. Genuine friendships were formed between the generations and it was a highlight of the week for everyone. On one occasion, the children brought along their costumes to put on a fashion show. The girls dressed up as princesses, while the boys dressed up as Gardaí and Firefighters to provide security for them! It was great fun for the performers and the audience.
Serving The Community
We’ve brought our costumes out and about in other ways too. After a series of burglaries in the area, we took to the streets to do a survey about Garda presence. We dressed a little boy up as a Garda and everyone was fascinated by the sight of a child wearing a full Garda uniform. He used his clipboard to do some mark-making as passers-by answered his/our? questions. Meanwhile, the educators took detailed notes and we fed all the responses back to the local Gardaí and community. It was a really great way for the children to feel like part of their community and make a real difference in their area.
Preparation For Life
We also use role-play to help children get ready for specific events in their lives. We dress up as appropriate, so if one of the children has to go to the hospital, they can identify with the white coat of the doctor or the scrubs on the nurses. We also teach them how to deal with tricky situations. For example, they learn how to dial 999 and ask for a firefighter to come. The costumes make all the difference. If the children weren’t acting out the scenarios in actual outfits, I don’t think it would resonate with them as much. Because of this, we always incorporate dress-ups. The children just love them, we’ve had to order loads more Garda caps!
COVID-19: Community Heroes
This year, because of COVID, everyone was talking about the bravery and importance of our frontline workers. the children were much more focused on what the dress-up uniform meant. Once we were able to reopen, we invited a variety of visitors to talk to the children about their important roles. Each time, a child dressed up to match. For me, the scientist’s visit was especially poignant. She explained how her colleagues were developing a vaccine to protect the children’s friends in the nursing home. On that note, we were so lucky that Ratoath Manor escaped the worst effects of COVID. We met with the residents again in June 2021 and it was fantastic to see the joy on everyone’s faces.
Looking To The Future
I can’t believe the difference in the ambitions of our children over the last few years. A few years ago, they wanted to be make-up artists and Youtubers when they grew up. Now they want to be community helpers. You never know, perhaps one of them will become the next person to invent a vaccine. Just imagine that!
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