An evening with the Curiosity Approach in Ireland

An Evening with The Curiosity Approach in Ireland

Sleepy Hollow and our journey with The Curiosity Approach

Diane, Bronagh and Amy have all been very fortunate to attend International Study Conferences in Reggio Emilia.  As such we all share such a passion for this vision which we feel you can almost only have when you have visited the wonderful NIDO’s out in Reggio itself.

Each of us have returned with a vision which is hard to put into words and share with our colleagues.  We have changed the environments, written our own new planning and evaluation documents, held training sessions but still felt we were the key drivers behind our new approaches when we desperately needed our colleagues to be driving these changes.  After all it is our colleagues who work most closely with the children and we need to take our cues and directions from the children themselves in a Reggio Inspired setting … right?

Professional Development days – invaluable training events!

Bronagh and I then began a series of journeys around Professional Development days in the rest of UK to see how they were implementing similar pedagogies in their settings.  We were wowed by them all to be honest – each unique and each beautiful.  We kept going back however to the ideas of the Curiosity Approach which was the first PD day we attended.  We were able to send two of our managers on further training and when we embarked on the accreditation programme this was just what we needed to turn our vision into our staff teams vision.  We used the modules which came out every second month as a work tool.  We mapped where we were – where each group wanted to be – we changed, we evaluated, we reflected … until we all shared an equal understanding.  In fact we have learned through this accreditation that we will always be evolving – as each new child joins us, as each group of new children come into settings and rooms, as each season brings new opportunities, as each training programme we undertake becomes embedded in practice.  The accreditation has given us the toolkit and the know how to do this as a team.

Hosting the evening.

So after several comments left on social media inviting the founders over to NI and offering to host a workshop or ‘evening with’ we were delighted when they reached out to ask for a zoom meeting with us.  We weren’t at all expecting it to take the direction it did – there are a lot of exciting times ahead in our partnership which we are currently forming with Lyndsey and Stephanie (but that’s a post for another time – its all going on behind the scenes as I write).  Needless to say we have very much a shared vision and respect of the work of such inspiring individuals.

So we jumped at the chance and agreed a date to host the founders just three weeks after our initial discussion.  It was our intention to hold it at our Early Childhood Centre – in close proximity to the International Airport for them to fly over and we reckoned we could host between 40-45 easily in one room.  In the final week before the event the ticket sales were more than double what was anticipated so we quickly changed the venue to our wraparound facility at Crumlin IPS which was perfect.  The posters around the school about individuality and change were fitting tributes to the ethos shared by the founders.

The day itself

Bronagh and I were excited on our trip to the airport, and somewhat nervous (well I was – Bronagh is rarely nervous!).   We went for a quick lunch and by the time the hour was over (in blistering heat in the conservatory of the Ballyrobin Lodge) not only were we ‘boiled’ by the winter sunshine we had enjoyed quite a few laughs!

A brief tour of our setting followed where the staff were proud to showcase the work they have been doing and where Dennis the donkey gave a good Irish Welcome!

It was all systems go then getting ready for the evening.  Including our own staff team there were over 100 people mostly from across NI but also a few from border counties.

 An evening with ….

Following a brief introduction and welcome all delegates sat in awe for two hours – the expressions of some of those in the audience were amazing (I wish I had captured some on camera!).  Working in both unseemly and cohesive partnership Lyndsey and Stephanie (the epitome of a double act) walked us through their modern day pedagogy which is based on influences from Reggio, Steiner, Te Whariki and Montessori.  They took us through three key elements

  1. Creating awe and wonder in our settings – being curious, being mindful of how we are speaking with children – I think we could all relate to Stephanie’s hilarious re-enactment of Tidy Up time! So we all came away with the key message about ‘putting things back where they belong’. This is something we have been doing very effectively in our setting since we were over at the PD day – it makes total sense (when you have been told about it!!)
  2. The environment – obviously in Sleepy Hollow we have particularly followed the Reggio Influences of Curiosity Approach. The environment plays a huge part in this approach as it does within Reggio.  Its not all about crates and fairly lights explained the founders – you need to know what you are doing and why you are doing it.  That’s the beautiful part of the accreditation journey is that its individual to your own setting and the influences that inspire you.  So long as your evidence is  mapped you aren’t directed how you need to implement it.  Its flexible and adaptable to all ages and all settings.
  3. Getting your staff team on the bus. This final part of the evening could have been awarded a BAFTA had it been televised.  Again hilarious but the message is so true —- as employers, committees, managers and practitioners – parents are paying us 100% of the fees we ask of them; employees are being paid 100% salary and we have a duty to provide 100% effort when we are in work.  ‘Your vibe attracts your tribe’ and ‘children get your vibe before you speak’ were two of the most powerful quotes of the night.

Lyndsey then was able to share with the participants a one off special work pack specialising on getting your team on the bus with all attendees.  These were only available on the night but if anyone wasn’t able to purchase one – please contact Curiosity Approach giving your name, email etc and once they have verified you attended the evening they will be able to send one over to you.

Surprise – Sleepy Hollow becomes IRELANDS FIRST ACCREDITED SETTING

Having already submitted our portfolio for the accreditation we were waiting to hear if we had been successful.  Lyndsey and Stephanie have a team of assessors so we knew it wouldn’t be them to would be in touch with us when the final parts of the assessment were completed.  In fact Bronagh had only just had a conference call with the assessors as part of the evaluation process just a couple of days earlier and we had been told it would be another while yet.  Anyway .. it was all part of a plan apparently….  as we were announced to be the FIRST Curiosity Approach Accredited setting in Ireland on the night.  We were delighted that our key personnel Karen and Rachel (who had both been over in CA settings and who have formed a close bond with the managers in Lyndsey’s setting – the NEST nurseries Birmingham), as well as Amy and Lisa who were also the key drivers behind the changes were there on the night to accept the award.  We are hoping to get a team over to visit Stephanie’s setting too – look out for their open days and PD days – well worth a trip over!

Curiosity Approach in Ireland going forward

We hope that some of our colleagues in the sector are inspired to sign up to the Curiosity Approach Accreditation yourselves after this inspirational evening.  It’s a journey, a toolkit – you work at your pace and you submit your evidence at the end of YOUR journey (we signed up in September 2017 so we took our time to get ours right – embedded in practice first).

All enquiries should be made directly to the Curiosity Approach.  Bronagh and I are now All Ireland Ambassadors for the Curiosity Approach so we will be hosting our own training evenings, network support groups … and more (Curiosity Approach themselves will be announcing more info over the next couple of months).  We would encourage you not to delay … get signed up and start with the first module – you won’t regret it!  We hope we can form an All Ireland curiosity grouping with all those who sign up – after all we are stronger when we work together with like-minded professionals!

Believe us when we say that these two founders will be amongst the theorists we will be studying about in Early Childhood in years to come – their accreditation is being undertaking across 16 countries.  It’s a modern day pedagogy which will shape our sector and your setting!  Looking forward to having you join us on the bus …

Some photos of the evening and our whistle stop tour around Belfast the day after the evening before ….. ( a little Irish one for you there !!)


Why am I so passionate about listening to and empowering children?

I believe I’ve always had a good work ethic.  I was brought up in a home where both of my parents worked, as well as supporting many charitable and voluntary organisations, so life was certainly busy in our home.   My siblings and I all had part time jobs from a fairly young age and I’m proud of that as it certainly instilled in each one of us a commitment to hard work.  So when I found myself quite unexpectedly owning a childcare business whilst being a mum to a pre schooler and 12 week old baby my life was rather chaotic, but sure I was used to that!  However loosing my mum at a fairly young age the following year and my father in law in quick succession meant my husband and I were seriously just coasting along – barely getting by if I’m being totally honest.  Overwhelmed with grief, a busy business, full time job and a young family – something had to give.  So my husband took a career break and over the next decade we threw our hearts and souls into our young family and our business, growing its capacity from 35 to 750 families. Our own children, two boys, were the centre of our world – they still are!   We wanted the very best for them, like all parents. 

So imagine my shock when in 2012 my eldest son, as fairly young teen, came to tell me he was unhappy at school. He had been in the same school for over ten years having started in primary one and then moving on to the grammar department of the very same school. I immediately wondered was he being bullied – but NO he wasn’t. On the outside – to us his family, and his friends – he had it all!  He was sporty, popular at school and fairly academic – what could possibly be wrong for such a kid who had, in my opinion, an amazing childhood. I put it all down to a phase and at the end of 3rd year thought things would blow over during summer break and be back to normal before he went into 4th form. At that stage my youngest was in P6 and I didn’t necessarily want him going on to the grammar department of his school – he was a different kid altogether- he needed encouragement, didn’t love sport and would have struggled in such a large academic campus environment.  So as a family we went to view a smaller more mixed ability school which we all fell in love with – especially my older son. I dismissed his pleas to move too and I admit got rather frustrated with him. I didn’t tell even my closest friends about any of this as I ‘knew’ it was just a phase until one day I called my older sister and opened up to her. I called her for advice – basically how to deal with a teen! She is a school principal and her kids were a few years ahead of my own so she was always one stage ahead of me as a parent.  She has awesome kids and my own two looked up to their cousins as well as to their Aunt. I felt for sure my son would listen to her and get over this unsettled phase. She came up to Belfast and I’ll never forget that day as long as I live – we went to Avoca for lunch and my son opened his heart. My sister and I cried when he opened up to us and my sisters advice was I had to ‘listen’ to my son. It wasn’t exactly what I’d expected, or necessarily wanted, to hear. The following week I asked to see the principal of his school and was directed to one of the  VP’s in charge of pastoral care. She wasn’t terribly empathetic to his situation but said she would endeavour to get to the bottom of things but the very next day my son was pulled to one side by his sports teacher and told he would be off the rugby team if he didn’t buck up his ideas!  That totally pushed him over the edge – it was the comment that broke him and he never stepped a foot back in the school again.  The one area which he enjoyed at school was now going to be taken from him – so he thought.  I tried again to get a meeting with the principal so he could hear my sons story – no avail as he didn’t deal in pastoral matters unless it involved bullying.  I caved in and called the ‘other school’ and they said they couldn’t fit him in as he was already one month into his GCSEs. The principal of that school told us to come over that afternoon anyway and he would take time to chat with him to see if hearing it from him would settle him – so his own principal of 10 years didn’t take time to speak with him but here was someone reaching out a listening ear. We went as a family to that meeting as I was fully expecting my son to be told he couldn’t join and we wanted to be there to support his disappointment but also help him face the reality he had to stay put ! My mantra was when ‘the going gets tough, the tough get going’ – ‘you’ve started so you’ll finish’ – ‘you can’t bow out at the first hurdle’ … all of those cliches – I saw this potential move as a failure of my parenting and my son failing to ride out the waves!    We went into the meeting and didn’t say a word with the exception of introductions. The principal spoke to my son very candidly and my son opened up – the principal LISTENED to him and to my despair at the time offered him a place to start on Monday, despite our earlier conversation.   This gentleman was not only a born leader but someone who I learned very quickly over the years that followed, knew how to bring out the very best in his pupils. I’ve so much admiration and respect for this man – he will never know my gratitude. Many may not understand however the devastation I felt at that time in my life – for the first time as a parent I couldn’t fix something for my child. I desperately pleaded with my son to stay at his old school put but despite all of my tears he couldn’t – he just couldn’t! I too still couldn’t lift the phone to tell a soul. His school friends parents were some of my closest friends – I just didn’t know what to say as I couldn’t understand the situation myself. As his parent I knew best right? He started his new school on the Monday and by the Friday I could see for myself he was already changed. Inside I was genuinely having a breakdown over it all but I made a conscious decision that I wouldn’t force my son in ANY way. I had to put my family first over friends. I took a back seat role in his new school.  Of course I went along to support him at sporting events and the many prize days that followed but I didn’t get so personally involved in the social side of school again.  I didn’t force him academically and I began to practice what I preached in WORK in my own HOME.  My son began to excel in school. He went on charity trips empowering young children in India, he still played on the 1st XV teams but was able to play football too which he loved. Life no longer centred around high expectations in school, sport or at home.  He became a school mentor and was a school prefect. He found himself – not the version of himself he felt forced into!   He had a very tough four years in some respects after moving school, as did I, but he felt it was all worth it.  People who had been his friends for a decade, turned their back on him. Some of it was beyond nasty to the point the pastoral care teachers phoned me concerned about posts they saw on social media directed at my son. Luckily my son had much thicker skin than me – I just couldn’t believe school children, and even worse their parents, could write or say things like that about a school boy – a lot of it was deplorable. It took me two years to begin to get over this period and if I’m truthfully honest it was only when he left to go into university that I was able to close that chapter. I couldn’t be prouder of both of my boys and their journeys. I NOW listen to them and encourage them but I never steer them down a path. My eldest is in his final year of studying law and has had amazing opportunities through university –  from being publisher of his law society magazine to securing a cover interview with Mary McAleese that any professional magazine would have been proud off.  In fact QUB are using this version of the law society magazine as a recruiting tool worldwide.   He’s passionate about children’s law, human rights and the equality agenda. He has just returned from a six month placement in University of British Columbia, Vancouver where he studied Asian legal systems and advanced corporate law with postgraduate students. He hopes to go La Sorbonne in Paris next year to do a Masters in corporate law. My youngest is in lower 6th and he too had a horrible last year in Primary school as he constantly got grief in the shared campus playground over his big brother ‘jumping ship’ to another school – all to be honest down to sports rivalry. This saddens me as he was very happy at that school and didn’t deserve to be made the target of his brother moving. He too though has excelled in his ‘new’ school. However he doesn’t follow his big brothers footsteps in many ways to be honest. Two different boys BOTH with amazing futures ahead of them.  Their ‘new’ school was able to deal with differentiation and make both boys reach their very best potential in their chosen routes. So yes … I have every reason to be passionate about empowering children. Anyone who works with children has a HUGE responsibility to be a champion for them. I would never sleep in my bed at night if I thought any member of MY staff treated children in Sleepy Hollow the way my son was treated.  We do a lot of training around the rights of the child and we want our children in Sleepy Hollow Group to have a voice from as early as they can talk. As adults we need to learn to work more closely with children to help them articulate their lives, to develop strategies for change and exercise their rights. Of course we all need to follow rules but you see my son wasn’t breaking any rules – he was being pushed down a route that was too overwhelming for him. Thank goodness at 14 he was mature enough to know that – many others would have buckled and struggled with anxiety. He was much much stronger than me. So yes, listen to your children – even when their message is hard to hear. Empower them to know the responsibility of their decisions and you will be wowed at the strong resilient adults they become. I know that my son is stronger for having faced this as an adolescent- he is destined for big big things – I’m convinced of that – but there’s no pressure from me as HE HAS all the skills and resilience to get there all by himself.  He wont crumble in the professional environment you see as he has a voice and he knows his own mind!  Ive made sure that I have spent the last 7 years empowering both of my boys and listening intently to what they have to tell me.  Anyone who works with children – or struggles with a teen – JUST LISTEN!  Give them the skills to make decisions and know the consequences of their decisions.

PS ……if I had to go through the experience again :-

  1.  I’d most definitely camp outside the door of the principals office until such time as the he took a meeting with my son.  However I guess the academic downturn of his schools results speak for its leadership in itself so he doesn’t need me to tell him of its failures.  Shame as I genuinely still hold that school dear to my heart and my sons both had fantastic primary school education there. It’s certainly not the outcome I would have desired for us as a family.  After all we chose this school for our children at aged 3 hoping they would be able to stay there until aged 18.  
  2.  I’d open up to my ‘friends’ and tell them what happened as many of them may read this and not have a clue that I suffered somewhat of a breakdown at that time!  In fact they know very little of the whole story surrounding the move.


#respect #article12UNCRC

#listen #bestpracticeallofthetimeeverytime






Together Old and Young Project (TOY)

Together Old and Young Intergenerational Project with Sleepy Hollow Early Childhood Centre and Lakeview Nursing Home, Crumlin


  • Our first TOY meet up

We were lucky enough to be allowed to go visit with a group of residents from Lakeview nursing home today.   There were seven very excited little boys and girls from one of our pre school groups going to visit.  The staff had discussed with the group where we were going and how nice it was going to be to meet these new ladies and gentlemen.   We even learned new songs to sing to our new friends.  Our new favourite songs are She’ll be coming round the mountain  and Skip to My Lou.  Our new friends knew all the words too and we had a lovely sing along.  We also taught them the baby shark song.  Our new friends wanted to join in a game of ring a ring a rosies, but we were careful not to fall down.


  • First time playing with dough

We played with playdough and made different things from it.  Our new friends in Lakeview were very excited as they hadn’t played with playdough before.  Some said it was like playing with pastry.  Some of the group read stories to each other and others played the musical claves.  Mostly we chatted and built friendships.  One of our new friends, Patricia, used to run TACT wildlife.  She told us all about the animals in TACT and she had a pet Fox called Aurora.

We finished our visit with a lovely treat of orange juice and donuts with sprinkles.


  • Next visit

We are very excited about our next visit to Lakeview.  Next time we will be bringing more toys along with us to play with. We will try to learn some more new songs to share with the residents and maybe even bring our teddies and have a teddy bears picnic.  Some of our new friends are coming to visit us the week before our Christmas show so they can join in with our rehearsals and we can have a Christmas party.

All in all it was a fantastic and positive experience enjoyed by the children, the residents and staff from both settings.


  • TOY programme with The Whins, Crumlin and expanding the project out with Alpha Housing

We will be bringing a larger group of pre school children to the Whins in the coming weeks and likewise will be inviting them back to our Christmas party in Nursery.  In fact the Housing Association which govern the Whins are also creating links for us with some of our after schools groups so we are very excited and looking forward to furthering these in the new year.


  • Certificate of Achievement

Diane has now completed the four week training programme with all of the underpinning knowledge of the project.  We are very excited about the fun that lies ahead for us and the benefits this project with bring to the old and young alike.

Together Old and Young Certificate of Training
Together Old and Young Training


Awards & Recognition