Children at Little Smarties Playschool in Pettigo are all smiles as they wait patiently to choose whether they want to greet their leader with a high five, a hug or a dance, a new initiative to encourage free choice and to alleviate overwhelming situations.

Having found that transitioning from one space to another was causing frustration amongst the youngest children in their care, the playschool staff introduced the fun alternative to ‘lining up’ and so far it has been a “great success.”

Playschool Manager Elaine Quinn explained that as the children extend their ‘free play’ from the main room to a smaller ‘quiet room,’ the youngest children would sometimes get “frustrated” and “overwhelmed.” She said: “A little bit of pushing was going on and they would say ‘I want to be first.’ There’s the fairest way of having one be first a day but we didn’t really want the kids to have to line up either as that is very school based and the playschool is all about having fun.”

She continued: “Transitioning to and from rooms and to and from activities is a big deal, they are learning how to do that and sometimes it does cause frustrations, so we try to make them as fun and as easy as possible.”

With this in mind, the staff decided to introduce a greeting system which they had seen being used in other playschools via videos online. The children are encouraged to take it in turns to choose their greeting from a pictorial wall chart by the door of the ‘quiet room’ which includes an image representing a high five, a hug and a dance. The child points to an image then greets their leader as with the chosen greeting as they enter the room.

Explaining why they chose a high five, a hug and a dance as the greetings to include on the chart, Elaine said: “We had seen different variations of greetings but we found that everyone loves a high five because it’s cool. The hug I think is great for extending interactions with kids, I had one mammy say to me since it went up on Facebook that it’s great to see that you can give them a hug.”

She continued: “I think that is a big thing that has gone across childcare recently and schools that you are not allowed to hug kids anymore, this is what people think, but it’s not that, it just has to be on the child’s terms.”

Elaine added that they chose to include the dance because there are some children who don’t like physical contact. “You have to respect that. We just made sure that there was something in there for that so we found that the dance was fun and they could do it any way they want,” she said.

When we asked some of the children what their favourite greeting was, we had a variety of answers.

Daithí, who had asked his leader if they could do the greetings every day, said he liked doing a high five the most. When asked why he answered: “Just.” Anna who likes giving a hug the most said: “Because I always give hugs to people.”

Cara added: “I like giving hugs because it makes me happy.” When asked if they always choose the same thing, some of the children answered yes but Alicia said: “I do different.” She said her favourites are high fives and hugs but she didn’t like doing a dance because she feels silly.

Cameron likes doing the dance because “you get dizzy” adding that he likes getting dizzy.

Noting that the initiative has been a “great success,” Elaine commented: “It’s just alleviated so many frustrations, so many overwhelming emotions for them. You’ve turned a wee push or someone crying because they are not first into wanting a hug and getting a hug, so it really has turned it around for us.”

After sharing a video of the children taking part in the initiative on the Little Smarties Facebook page, Elaine mentioned that they had received lots of positive messages from parents. “They couldn’t believe even some of the things that their kids did. One wee boy who started not that long ago who’s usually quiet and timid, he busted out these moves and his mammy was like ‘wow, look at his moves.’ They are surprised even to see them in a different light and that’s a big thing,” said Elaine, adding: “Sometimes they act differently in playschool. They do things, achievements that maybe they haven’t seen at home yet which is a great thing to be able to show them back a few videos.”