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A school that built a community

Over the past 20 years, the Burren Sonas Kindergarten in Kilfenora has provided an invaluable childcare service for the people of North Clare. At the same time however, the facility has been at the centre of building a new community in the village, bringing locals and ‘blow-ins’ together, creating friendships, amongst the adults as well as the children.
On Saturday, June 15, the kindergarten will celebrate 20 years in operation with a special event at the Kilfenora Hall.
The event will mark the rich history of the Burren Sonas Kindergarten, and hopes are high that a large number of former pupils and their families will attend on the day.
Over the past two decades, no one has been more synonymous with the facility than Deirdre Riffle. While she was not one of the original group of parents who first conceived of the kindergarten, she was an early and enthusiastic volunteer.
She has been involved in the kindergarten in various capacities over the past two decades, and just stepped back from having an active role in the facility last December.
“I remember when my son was one, going in and helping to make furniture for the kindergarten with the people who started it,” she told The Clare Champion.
“I was on the board for three years and after that I went back and retrained, I volunteered at the Kindergarten and then ended up teaching there for almost 10 years.
“Some of our best friends have come out of the Kindergarten, both my son’s friends and our own best friends.
“It was such a community experience for all of us, everyone did a lot, from building furniture to cleaning and helping out with the children.
“When it started, it was a very unusual project for Ireland. Pre-school wasn’t a big thing in rural Ireland at that time, a lot of people were lucky enough to stay home with their kids.
“When it the school started, so many people got involved and a lot of them stayed involved for a long time.
“That showed that it was a very special place. I think that was great for the children, they could see their parents getting involved and wanting to make this place nicer for them.
“That is one of the reasons why I never wanted to step away from it.
“It was called ‘the hippy school’ for a long time but I think that is a bit of a misnomer, we’ve had as many local people as ‘blow-ins’ going to the school over the years. There has always been a very good mix and I think that has been one of the great successes of the school over the years.
“Also, a lot of the things that Steiner education was about has become more part of mainstream education now. Things like free play, outside play, risky play, looking at the whole child and letting the child make decisions, that is all core to the Steiner system.”
One of the most important aspects of the school is that children and their families are actively encourage to be part of the kindergarten and help decide what direction it might take in the future.
“The kids got to have a say, their parents had a say. I think that was so important for the school, the fact that a group of parents got together and said that they needed this. There have been so many different groups of parents who have taken on that mantle over the years. It really has been lovely. Without a big huge fanfare, that has just happened,” said Deirdre.
“The school really hasn’t changed a lot over the years. There are a lot of traditions there. There have been changes as different parents and families have gotten involved but the basic structure has remained very similar to the original idea.
“We are hoping that as many of the parents who were involved in the past and their children will come back and take part in the event as possible. I am hoping to see a lot of the kids who were in the kindergarten in the past, it would be lovely to see them.”
The 20 year anniversary of the Burren Sonas Kindergarten will take place on Saturday, June 15, from 3pm to 6pm at the Kilfenora Hall. It will include a performance from the Peace and Choir, as well as a number of talks, food and entertainment.

About Andrew Hamilton

Andrew Hamilton is a journalist, writer and podcaster based in the west of Ireland.

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