Brightsparks Montessori is a community run preschool in a rural part of Roscommon which has been in operation for 21 years. It is located in Lisacul Community Centre with 22 children attending from the village and surrounding areas. Brightsparks offers ECCE, CCS and CCSP programmes, meaning that all children are receiving support through Government funding.

Much work has been completed with the aid of Capital Funding to ensure the service meets the criteria for all regulations. Recently a sensory garden was developed, new height appropriate classroom equipment was purchased, a carpark was installed with a wheelchair accessible space, and ramps allowing access into the building and out to the garden were installed. All of these changes have enabled Brightsparks to become a more inclusive service.

In September of 2017, Brightsparks applied to Pobal for support through the AIM programme for two children in their ECCE setting. One child had complex needs and was a wheelchair user. As a result of the application they received support under Level 4 of AIM from an Early Years Specialist (AIM). The Early Years Specialist (AIM) visited the ECCE room giving advice and strategies to support the child in the environment.

Brightsparks also applied for funding under Level 5 of AIM and essential equipment such as a mobile support chair, standing frame and changing unit were provided to support this child’s access and inclusion in the Montessori setting. The support under Level 4 enabled Brightsparks to collaborate with the Early Intervention team, who provided necessary physiotherapy and occupational therapy. Level 7 AIM supports provided an additional preschool practitioner in the classroom, this gave Brightsparks three adults to 22 children, thus ensuring all children’s needs were met.

All of the supports provided by AIM have not only had an effect on the child but a positive ripple effect on his family, staff, the Early Intervention team, all children attending the preschool and the wider community. The mentoring supports from the Early Years Specialists (AIM) helped the staff to provide an inclusive environment which met the child’s needs and aided his development. The equipment gave the child an opportunity to attend his local preschool instead of a specialist service. This in turn has had a positive effect on the child’s family as his older siblings have also attended Brightsparks.

Brightsparks have an Inclusion Coordinator in their setting as a result of a staff member taking part in the LINC training. She has cascaded the learning from this programme to the staff team enabling them to become more confident and competent in meeting the needs of all children. The other children attending Brightsparks have adapted well to the inclusive classroom and view everyone as an equal. The wider community have welcomed and applauded the change of the new inclusive preschool. This change has been an influential talking point within the community and offered a new open door to all children with additional needs; a door which may have felt closed before for certain children and parents. Enrolment figures have increased dramatically and the catchment area for Brightsparks has broadened. In September 2018, Brightsparks are planning to open a second ECCE room to accommodate the high demand.

Overall, Brightsparks feel the introduction of AIM Better Start has been a revolutionary leap forward in the Early Years Sector which has; and will continue to provide; positive advancements for the inclusion of children with additional needs into all preschools.