The Sparking the Imagination Project based in the School of Education at the University of Ulster has secured external funding from the Flax Trust to undertake a project on the development of self-esteem with pupils at Foundation Stage (age range 4-6 years) in Belfast. The project entitled, Sparking the Imagination was launched in 2007 and due to the initial success of the pilot phase, plans are underway to expand the project into North Belfast in September 2009.
Sparking the Imagination is intended to complement the Northern Ireland Curriculumin the Foundation Stage; this includes particular emphasis on the development of personal, social and emotional skills in children through opportunities to engaged in a range of worthwhile, challenging, relevant and enjoyable learning experiences. The role of the school and the learning experiences offered through the curriculum in the early years is commonly recognised as a positive force in the lives of children and their families, particularly for children from socio-economic disadvantaged areas who are more likely to opt out of formal education and experience greater incidences of disaffection and potential social exclusion (DETI, 2000). The project, therefore, has been designed to contribute particularly to the development of self-esteem in young childen. In this instance, self-esteem is defined in the context of the Northern Ireland curriculum to include confidence, awareness of and respect for self and others (CCEA, 2004).
Sparking the Imagination will be implemented with Year 1 pupils in four primary schools in North Belfast as identified by the Flax Trust, with a similar cohort of schools making up a comparative control sample. The impact of the project will be measured through the collection of both quantitative and qualitative data. These will include self-esteem indicators, semi-structured interviews and pupil observations.
Sparking the Imagination comprises a composite programme of interactive, creative activities designed to offer children, teachers and parents/guardians alternative teaching and learning experiences within the framework of the Northern Ireland curriculum. The project is designed so that creative experts can work collaboratively with children, teachers and parents/guardians to enhance educational opportunities whilst contributing to self-esteem. Planned activities for the first year include Music, Art and Creativity and Physical Development and Movement.
It is hoped that introducing a project such as this in the early years of primary school will provide the basis by which children might begin to appreciate their potential and carry this with them through their school year’s and beyond.