Earlier this month, I took a trip to Northern Ireland to observe some
of the early childhood development techniques that I’ve discussed
previously on my radio show.
My guest this week, Erin Forgay, was also
on this trip, and agreed to discuss it with me last week on my radio
show. Erin is a senior at Wheelock College in Boston, where she studies
performing arts and education.
Erin has extensive professional
experience working with youth ranging from birth to age 18.
She helps run a camp for children with special needs and she supervises youth and teen theater companies at the Springfield Jewish Community Center. She has over 10 years of experience in the theater world, and she is thinking of entering the field of drama therapy, particularly for kids in crisis.
During our time in Northern Ireland, we worked with Early Years, the
largest organization in Northern Ireland working with and for young
children, through their Media Initiative for Children, (MIFC). The goal
of the Media Initiative is to help young children develop positive
attitudes about physical, social, and cultural difference.
Erin and fourteen of her peers were chosen from Wheelock College to go to Ireland to receive training by the Media Initiative and to observe classrooms in which the program is implemented. I was lucky enough to join them!
One shocking fact that the Media Initiative unearthed in their
research is that children as young as three years old have already
developed prejudices: They know the “good guys” from the “bad guys” in
their community, based on information they’ve picked up from their
The Media Initiative created 1 minute videos featuring persona
dolls that demonstrate how people with differences can work together.
The videos feature puppets like Jim, a Protestant; Tom, who is both
Catholic and physically disabled (he has an eye-patch); as well as other
dolls representing different minority groups in the community.
The videos provide concrete scenarios that young children can process. For example, in one video, Jim’s baton gets stuck in a tree. Tom approaches and he is afraid, but then Tom helps him by using his hurley stick to get the baton down.
The Media Initiative has also been quite successful in providing programming for parents, which is of course crucial, since all sorts of prejudices and unprocessed emotions are passed on intergenerationally, particularly in nations that are healing from violent conflict.
Perhaps the most incredible thing that Erin and I witnessed in
Northern Ireland was young children at play. Here in the U.S. we expect
our kindergarteners to be acquiring skills like reading, writing, and
According to the latest research in cognitive development,
this is a major mistake. The brains of children that young are geared to
learn through creative play: this is how you set the foundation for
learning later on. Here in the U.S, children have forgotten how to play:
they are easily bored without instruction and/or technology.
They imitate rather than create. In Northern Ireland, however, we witnessed the beautiful sight of young children collaborating and creating naturally, without any prompting or instruction.
Let’s hope that programs like the Media Initiative find their way to the U.S. We have our own prejudices and traumas to deal with, like bullying, gender issues, and our wars overseas. We need to teach our children tolerance, and we need to let them play.
Image "Kids Color Silhouettes", courtesy of Vlado/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net.