I have been working in the educational field for over ten years, beginning my journey as a parent helper and progressing through various jobs and studies. Last year I graduated with an MA Early Childhood Education degree at Anglia Ruskin University, during which time I was promoted at work to preschool room leader – the job I do now. Over the years, in the different settings I have worked in, I have witnessed varying levels of the child’s voice and in some cases, the underrepresentation of the child’s voice. This has developed a personal interest in the topic for me and was the reason behind my MA research project of #EveryChildEveryVoice.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was created to empower young people of their rights (UNICEF, 1989). When looking through the articles, child’s voice can be seen within many specifically, and generally runs through all of them as a core value behind the rights. The concept of a child’s perspective has evolved over the years but I believe that a lack of understanding and knowledge from those working with children has contributed to why it is still largely underrepresented today.
Child voice is important to society and, when listened to, can result in empowerment and change. Two examples of society listening to child voice are Malala and Greta. Malala Yousafzai, at the age of 15, spoke up about education for girls and fought to ensure all girls received 12 years of free, quality, safe education, making her the youngest person in history to win a Nobel Peace Prize (UNICEF, 2019). Greta Thunberg protested outside the Swedish Parliament when she was 15, striking for climate change. She created an online movement #StrikeforSchools and in 2018 spoke at the United Nations climate change conference (UNICEF, 2019). A single person, using a single voice to speak to millions of people. Lots of people try this but they are not always successful. So why were Malala and Greta successful? Because people did not only listen to them, they heard them. Hearing someone is more than receiving words. It is actively listening, engaging in what they say, respecting their views and enabling them to feel empowered.
When addressing child voice, people often narrow their focus to a child’s actual voice – what they can say. Which is great, and a vital aspect of child voice, but there are so many other ways to hear a child’s thoughts, feelings and worries. There is a distinct need to understand the many voices of the child (Malaguzzi, 1996).
Over half of communication, 55%, is non-verbal; with gesture, facial expression and body language taking precedence over audible voice (Mainstone – Cotton, 2019). Whilst there have been some slight variations in the exact percentage across studies, this number gives you an idea of the kind of balance between verbal and non-verbal communication and why it is so important to think more broadly when planning to enable child voice in your setting.
As a room leader to 3 and 4 year olds I looked into ways to enable child voice within the classroom setting. Here are some of the ideas I came across when researching.
Children are given a camera to photograph things of their choice and later engage in discussion about what they capture.
Children are given the chance at the end of the session to feedback to their teachers about what they have enjoyed/not enjoyed. At our setting we have a child evaluation sheet that the teacher completes at circle time. Children are asked what they enjoyed, anything they did not like and what they would like to do or play with next time they come in.
Giving children the chance to have input in the daily running of the classroom can really help to make them feel important. Small tasks such as setting up a table with two books on and a voting ‘chip’ to place in the basket of the book they want read to them at story time can be great for child led planning.
Some children struggle to express themselves verbally but there are those who love to express through drawing. By providing materials and a quiet space to draw can really help to bring out the voice of those less inclined to talk. I have learned a great deal about some of my children purely through their pictures. Some will talk to you about their drawings afterwards and others will not but will have used drawing as a form of therapy. Both are absolutely fine.
Let the children teach each other! Young children love to learn things from their peers and equally, some really thrive on being a ‘teacher’ and sharing their knowledge. This works especially well when you can collaborate with the parents to find things that the child does outside of the setting of which they can share with their peers. This can also work well when you group together children who have played a game or completed a task that the others have yet to do, leaving the explanations to the first group to share.
*Child Led Displays.
Yes, I know. We all love our displays to look artistic and amazing and really give the WOW factor to the parents when they bring their children in. But actually, our displays should be for our children, not their parents. One display we did last year that really empowered our children was simply a topic display with their work, but with the added captions written by the children. Instead of printing out lovely word banners and captions for photos, the children wrote them. Some were clear – some were not. Letters were not always formed correctly and some children wrote their label and then scribbled over the top. But the pride on their faces when they showed their parents “look, I wrote that!” was incredible. Even children who were not keen on writing related tasks wanted to have a go so they could be on the wall too.
Our planning is usually informed by the children’s’ interests anyway, but sometimes we like to create targeted afternoons or days where we really embrace a particular interest. We will always discuss and source activities that fit with our key children, but sometimes, especially if you have a large number of key children and the dreaded paperwork to make sure you complete for each, it is not always easy to pull out more obscure interests and indulge in them. We do the generic dinosaurs, princesses, three little pigs, goldilocks etc., but we also like to keep up to date with the changing trends and look at Paw Patrol, SuperTato, baby shark and PJ Masks.
*Music and Movement
Expressing feelings through music and movement is a great way for those children who have a lot of energy and need the chance to expel it in a safe and respected way. Feeling angry and being able to bang a drum super hard is great when you’re 3! Similarly, if I am 4 and someone has knocked over my tower and I’m angry, stamping around the room like an elephant holding my teachers hand might help me to channel my rage through my feet and into the ground. Then I can return to my tower and rebuild – maybe my teacher will help me!
Sign language is a great tool – even for those who do not necessarily need it. I am trained in Makaton and I did this training alongside my daughter who, at the time, had a hearing aid. By training together we had a shared interest that fostered a great mutual understanding of each other’s needs. I was then also able to use this training at my setting. If a child struggles to hear, this will affect their speech and may even stop them talking altogether. By being able to sign to you if they need help, or when something makes them happy, it can break down those invisible barriers and make them feel worthy to listen to.
These are just a few easy things that you can do in your classroom to help hear your children a little louder – especially those who are slipping under the radar.
Some children cannot talk. Some do not speak English as their first language. Some have additional needs that mean they struggle to communicate. Some are shy. Some are tongue-tied. Some are anxious…
But ALL these children deserve the chance to be listened to and heard.
- UNICEF, 1989. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. [pdf] (Accessed 1st July 2019)
- UNICEF, 2019. Five Child Activists you need to know. [Online] (Accessed 1st July 2019)
- Malaguzzi, L., 1996. The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education. New Jersey: Ablex Publishing Corporation.
- Mainstone-Cotton, S, 2019., Listening to Young Children in Early Years Settings: A Practical Guide. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers