Listening Practice and why this is so important within the Early Years
As we are celebrating 30 years of the United convention of the Rights of the Child, I thought I would give one perspective around hearing young children’s voices and within practice listening to children.
Defining the voice of the child
“Children are not just the passive recipients of other peoples concerns for their best interests – they are moral actors in their own right, with a point of view of their own, which should be heard”
There is a continuous narrative of how to listen to views of the child and within this listening to the voice of the child. Brooks and Murray (2016) elicited that there is a lack of consensus concerning the definition or vocabulary for listening to children’s voices. The phrase children’s voice gives a sense of assuming that children share one view (Bakhtin 1963); ideology relating to the concern of the child’s voice also aligns with the identity and agency of the child. Maybin (2013) discusses this further and voices that empowerment supports the discourse of the ‘voice’.
Therefore, individual children may have their own views, elaborating on the word individual will be explored throughout this blog, exploring the roles of each one of us within the art of listening to the unique child.
Children’s Voices put the onus on not only hearing the child but attending to the child’s:
It is important to value the contributions of all the above to support the decision making from the child’s perspective and how their lives are being interpreted through an adult/practitioner’s lens.
As practitioners, if we do not listen and treat each voice of every child as individual and unique, we may convey to the child that we do not value their perspective. The danger of not valuing the child’s perspective could mean that they would see their voice not being important within the wider group. Therefore, disregard for children’s voices diminishes their experiences of autonomy and self-regulation which in turn reduces their motivation to learn (Murray, 2019).
The above sounds quite easy and I bet as you read this, you are saying to yourself I do all of that?
However, It is the art of reflection which is important. If we all feel we can reflect then we can all have a robust approach to the child’s voice within our settings. How many of us use a journal, note down what happened, what was said, new learning, new experiences through the day? Reflect back on each day that you have journaled and explore children’s perspectives. This enables us to make the child visible within the learning journey, If you don’t have a mechanism capturing the child’s voice and truly listening to the child then being able to make the child’s voice visible within our learning environments will become compromised.
Dr Eunice Lumsden explored reflection and positionality at the Early Years at the Heart in September 2019, at University College Birmingham. Eunice discussed that it is important to put children ‘centre stage’ and always ‘remember children and families need people working alongside them whose focus is the child and family’. Further to this, it examines the notion that without listening to children we can’t truly hear what they need.
Why do we need to listen to Children?
We need to listen to children because:
- It acknowledges their right to be listened to, their views and experiences are then able to be taken seriously
- It highlights the difference listening can make to our understanding of children’s priorities, interest and concerns
- Listening is a vital part of establishing respectful relationships with the children we work with; it is also central to the process of learning
- It supports our understanding of how children feel about themselves
Practitioners need to develop the skills for listening and skills for sensitive intervention. They need to know when it is ok to interrupt the child and also pull back and observe for non-verbal ques and observing their play.
How listening to Children Benefits them?
Listening to children allows practitioners to support individual children’s learning needs, because children do not learn in the same way. Being able to do that values the unique child, the concept that we teach from the point of the child, supporting them to grow from the point of their interests and experiences and value the child in a holistic approach of working with the parents to support the voice of the child as co educators.
It also benefits children in the following ways too:
- Raising self-esteem – If young children feel their views are respected and valued by adults then this can have a positive effect on their self-confidence. This can be of particular benefit to those children who find it hardest to communicate their perspectives, have additional rights as a child or come from an environment where their voice is not advocated for them. This would also be seen through self-efficacy which reflects the child’s confidence in their ability to have control over their own behaviour, motivation and ultimately their environment that they learn in
- Developing Skills and Understanding – Children are able to gain new skills as their confidence builds. These can include their social skills, being able to talk to children they have only just met, and to new adults around them. Being able to listen to young children can create a space and time in which the child can reflect on their own experiences, in doing so this can help them understand and process what is happening. ’It’s not so much a matter of eliciting children’s preformed ideas and opinions, it’s much more a question of enabling them to explore the ways in which they perceive the world and communicate their ideas in a way that is meaningful to them’ (Tolfree and Woodhead 1999, p.2).
Empowering the family in a democratic way to listen to the child.
Through the eyes of a parent and carer listening to children comes with many challenges, but assuming and recognising those challenges supports parents and carers with raising their expectations and development of the child. The most important thing is to tune into your child and have fun. Fun is a key element of sustained learning and within this, children will feel secure.
Seeing and hearing children and being able to express their own interests and priorities can provide an insight into their own capabilities. Due to this parents and carers may see their child in a new light. Parents and Carers will continue to become fascinated by their children when they are tuned into them. Being tuned into a child means paying attention, being an actor and not being afraid to push the boundaries of the script of which the child is presenting to you. Therefore, allowing the democratic process to come to the forefront with young children and alleviate the burden of needing to know all the answers. Being able to listen to your child can reveal many possibilities which allows for engagement and exploration.
The Building Blocks. – empowering the family in a democratic way to listen to the child
The benefits to the Early Years provision
The sharing of perspectives is a vehicle which can provide the chance for early years practitioners to review their relationship that they have developed with the children, as well as look at their routines and the activities that are planned. The process of reflection, discussion and documenting children’s learning can be transmissible in multi-agency environments, which leads to changes within each service. This provides an opportunity to reflect on the environment and children can make insightful comments about their indoor and outdoor spaces. This information should be used to inform the changes to the provision, planning and activities within the setting.
How can the Early Years Practitioner listen?
It is important to take children seriously. It is important to the child to know that their views and experiences are valued and not ignored. As a practitioner we must show that we are going to take them seriously. If for any reason what is being asked by the child cannot be acted upon, we must explain this to the child. Listening to children’s views and not giving a response could have a negative impact, asking children what they think, but doing nothing with what they have said demonstrates that you have paid enough interest in their views (Mooney and Blackburn 2002).
You need to listen to children by observing non-verbal cues as well as creating opportunities for them to share their experiences.
To be able to listen to children we need to:
- Tune into their everyday lives – make opportunities to lead and direct their own learning, document their learning journey, make it visual and allow the child to become a part of the process
- Listen to a specific reason, giving the child a choice or an opportunity
- Finding out about the child’s feelings, wishes and thoughts
- It requires practitioners to show an equal respect for children, honesty, patience, become sensitive to the child’s timing, be imaginative and work in a collaborative manner
Ways of listening
We are able to use a range of ways to support how we listen to children, but one that stands out for me is the importance of observation. Observations can be an important starting point for being able to listen to children. It builds upon a strong tradition within early years practice. Observations are able to give a lens to make sense of the child’s world, a tool for understanding young children’s abilities, their needs and interests. Children can be spontaneous, reserved, joyful and sad. These emotions are ways that practitioners can understand the voice of the child. Children are unique and complex and will not always readily engage us in dialogue to explain the reasons for their impulse as they explore the world that surrounds them.
We as practitioners have a responsibility to be involved as to gain and capture the voice of the child by giving children the time and space to express themselves.
Given the enigmatic characteristics of young children, we are able to learn from experience that in order to comprehend children we must begin by observing them as they play. Observations gives us a platform to have a meaningful conversation with a child. Therefore, we need to know what the child thinks, know their procedures, their goals and interest to engage their trust and develop a cohesive platform between practitioner and child. Let’s bring in the Early Years Foundation Stage guidance here, which refers to observation as the practice of looking at and listening to childrento find out how they are developing, what they like doing and what they are learning through their play and the experiences on offer. This also helps to enhance the experiences we offer to support children’s learning and development.
Creating time to listen to children should be an integral part of everyday activity. Giving children the time to be listened to cannot be a rushed activity. If the child is very young, then the less possible it is to rely on direct questioning. Gaining time to listen to the child can be an integral part of the everyday activity. It doesn’t even have to be a separate room or space, it is the space within the setting, the nurturing environment that can allow for this. The most important aspect of the gaining the voice of the child and listening to that voice is respecting the privacy and silence that children express. There is also scope to provoke conversation and curiosity within children. It is not a static scenario but knowing when to intervene, provoke the questions needed Children will then start to put that into real life play and practitioners can use it to extend learning and development. It is also an important aspect of the practitioner to enhance their knowledge of nuance and research to make sense of what is happening.
Therefore, giving clear evidence on how the provision can be tailored to the individual needs of the child, which in turn will optimise each child’s development and learning opportunities. If the child is able to experience a provision that is attuned to their needs, it will ultimately translate to the child that they are valued and will support children’s well-being. This is highlighted with the OECD (2010) where children’s well-being was enhanced when their views are taken into account to inform their provision.
Remember that the voice of the child is a fundamental right of children being heard.
- Bakhtin, M. M. 1963. Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics. Moscow: Khudozhestvennaja literature
- Brooks, E., and J. Murray. 2016. “Ready, Steady, Learn: School Readiness and Children’s Voices in English Early Childhood Settings.” Education 3-13: International Journal of Primary, Elementary and Early Years Education 46 (2): 143–156
- Maybin, J. 2013. “Towards a Sociocultural Understanding of Children’s Voice.” Language and Education 27 (5): 383–397
- Mooney, A and Blackburn, T (2002) Children’s Views on Childcare Quality. London: Institute of Education, for DfES
- Murray, J., and D. Cousens. 2019. “Primary School Children’s Beliefs Associating Extra-curricular Provision with Non-cognitive Skills and Academic Achievement.” Education 3-13: International Journal of Primary, Elementary and Early Years Education
- Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). 1989. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Accessed December 20, 2018
- Tolfree, D and Woodhead, M(1999)‘Tapping a key resource’, Early Childhood Matters, February, 91, 19-23.