‘We’d love our partnership to continue long into the future. In a structured, reasoned and formal way’ – Fermanagh preschools Little Bridges and Tiny Tots on their Shared Education journey

Tara Kingston leader of Little Bridges Preschool Florencecourt and Rachel Harron leader of Tiny Tots Mullymesker in West Fermanagh recently met up to share their experiences of working in partnership and how this has benefitted them as practitioners and provided new experiences for their children. They are the leaders of two rural preschools just three miles apart from one another and have partnered together with the Sharing From The Start programme.

Rachel Harron and Tara Kingston

 

Tara outlined “I often said it’s crazy that there are two nurseries very close to each other, facing the same challenges every day, we really should link up. But, we just never got round to it, until Sharing From The Start gave us the opportunity. I’ve been involved in Shared Education for over 20 years because I used to teach in Primary. From our links with Fermanagh Trust doing their Shared Education programme with Primary Schools, we jumped at the opportunity to get involved in Sharing From The Start for our Preschools.”

“There is a long standing history between Florencecourt and Mullymesker working together. That Shared Education culture has evolved over the years here through hard work, through these types of partnerships, and through teachers like us working together. I remember years ago there would have been reservations about cross community programmes like this, now it’s the norm. It is lovely that the children will get to carry on with Shared Education when they transition to primary school.”

Rachel said “There’s a big culture of Shared Education in the area so it feels very natural for us to be taking part. We as leaders have learnt lots ourselves, it has all worked so well and we really enjoy it. After first year when we figured out what we were doing, it came naturally the next year and is now part of our routine. There’s nothing to lose from working in partnership, the benefits are much wider. At the beginning, setting up can be quite daunting but think of the children and how great it is for them. We’d love our partnership to continue long into the future. In a structured, reasoned and formal way. While we always said we had the intention to work together, Sharing From The Start started it.

Pre COVID, Little Bridges and Tiny Tots had a range of sessions together focussing on different areas of the curriculum. Learning in each other’s settings, outdoor learning at Florencecourt House, putting on activities and performances in local halls for parents. Since COVID the focus has turned online, with the children holding virtual nature trails and exchanging Christmas messages. While it has helped to keep connections the leaders say it’s no substitute for face to face Shared Education and they hope as restrictions ease they will be get back to that soon.

Rachel said “It was lovely working in each other’s settings pre-COVID. Children visiting each other’s classrooms, just playing, showing their new friends around. Excitement of children arriving at different nursery, getting to be on a bus, it was a great adventure for them. As a nursery teacher visiting other nurseries is so beneficial. No matter how experienced you are, to go into someone else’s classroom and to look around and go there’s a brilliant idea, I never thought of that. The collaboration is so important and worthwhile. For our classroom assistants it was great and they picked up so much.”

Tara said “In the midst of pandemic is was so nice to just be able to lift the phone to Rachel, hear what she’s doing and get some advice. It was just a really good support, beyond our Sharing From The Start work. We’re all facing the same challenges, why not speak to each other and work together. When we could meet pre pandemic the children were so excited. I remember our children looking with their binoculars out the window, waiting for their friends from Mullymesker to arrive. To get in early, to get those relationships built early and have that excitement, I think that will carry on up to the primary school and beyond. I remember after our initial training 5 years ago; we were so enthusiastic about getting started. Sitting with teachers from all over Northern Ireland and the Southern Border Counties there was a sense this was an important programme, which will make a difference and is worthwhile being part of – that’s exactly what we’ve found it to be.”

Rachel concluded “I’m so glad we had the confidence to sign up and give it a go. The support from our Senior Early Year’s Specialist throughout has been instrumental to our success as well. Now we’re a much more structured and formal partnership. Children are fantastic at this age how they just mix. Less inhibitions, everyone is a new friend. Which is why I think it’s so good Shared Education was offered to preschools. The shared lessons we have in place enhance the children’s learning as well as our development.  Shared Education isn’t an add on, it’s just part of our school day.”