Updated: Apr 12, 2022
Consulting with Children
Collaborating with children, hearing their perspectives and respecting their rights to influence matters affecting them are all important aspects of how educators design and develop meaningful programs. It is through listening to children that we are able to design and develop educational programs underpinned by children’s natural curiosities and inquiry. It is an everyday practice to record and prove the child’s ‘voice’. Consulting with children is not about just one moment but many moments and is integrated across all aspects of educator practice, often before it shows up in documentation. It’s something you hear and sense in educator practice, a genuine desire to know what children think and feel.
Being heard is an important contributing factor to the developing self-esteem of a child. Knowing their voice can influence and make a difference to what happens is also significant to a child’s developing confidence and self-worth. When we make this visible it quietly echoes “what you say matters”. Consulting with children is a practice first and a way of working with children which can extend into rich and diverse platforms of documentation.
Every child has the right to express their views on
matters that affect them, and for these views to
be taken into consideration
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
Why we consult
Consulting with children is more than just listening to children’s ideas and views, it is also about turning them into reality. Showing children that investigating their ideas and the process of researching and finding out is an important and valuable part of bringing things to life.
Children understanding the world around them often brings many questions, curiosities and challenges. These offer a rich platform for designing an educational program that recognises children’s motivations are central to them adopting a love of learning. The National Quality Standard Quality Area 1 asks us to consider how we involve children in decision making, actively seeking out their voices and documenting these to reflect on to shape the educational program. What children say matters and how we include and make visible their voices matters.
When to consult
There are many opportunities to consult with children. Here are a few prompts:
· When an issue or idea is real and relevant to children
· When there is bias or social justice opportunity
· When something unexpected happens
· When something excites the curiosity of a child/ren
· When an idea is offered – it may come through a problem or dilemma
· When a community or world issue is evident
· When you want to intentionally engage with a concept or idea.
Ways to consult
Practice tools that harness the consultation process are driven by an educator’s ability to take children’s ideas seriously and to:
· Ask questions
The power of a good question has the potential to ignite conversation and navigate or direct a conversation to places unexpected. It reveals our thinking, values and understanding. Practice using questions that invite deep thinking, hypothesising and imagining. Prepare questions in advance after giving some thought to what you have noticed in children’s play. Be brave with the questions you ask and remember not to underestimate the capable child who responds.
· Build knowledge
Build children’s knowledge of the area being researched so they can fully participate in the consultation. We know as adults we need to be informed in order to be active citizens and participants in democracy, it is no different for children. For children to exercise their agency as deeply as possible, they need to be knowledgeable. It is important to make information accessible in age appropriate ways.
· Revisit ideas
Don’t be in a rush to get to the destination – revisit ideas and explore children’s understanding. Listen for unexpected contributions. Developing a practice of consultation requires time to question, time to build knowledge and time to revisit and reflect. This process enables children to analyse data already documented and gathered. Take the time to engage authentically. Making visible any consultation with children offers a platform for revisiting, developing or changing our perspectives or ideas.
With younger babies and toddlers educators build the foundations for what it means to be consulted. Educators listen and tune into what fascinates, surprises or frustrates children and offer back what they see and hear, acknowledging the child's voice matters. Educators are tuned into the many ways children share their voices through movement, gestures, expressions, noises and other cues. Educators invite and wait for a response, reading children’s voices before deciding what to do next. Educators are sensitive to children’s questions:
Do you know me?
Can I trust you?
Do you let me fly?
Do you hear me?
Is this place fair?
Methods of Consultation – making it visible
Making choices on how to best document and make visible children’s consultation is important to prepare for. This is so you preserve ideas as later prompts to revisit or reflect on. This can be done in numerous ways both formally and informally. A few ideas:
· Group Reflection Story
A weekly group learning story is revisited and reflected upon with children, reading out loud and exploring aspects of the story in a way that makes sense and is of interest to children. This is made visible in the A3 book and reflects the occasion. Drawing, mark making, writing, quotes, photos and other media can be included.
· Children’s Journals or Floor Books
Using a floor book approach within a ritual everyday fosters a spirit of sharing voices. It might be one floor book or many where children are encouraged to represent their thinking, plan their day or create and collaborate on something new.
· Conversation Book
An informal practice tool such as a scrap book might be kept in your group meeting space as a reference tool for any relevant conversation that emerges each day. Recording ideas in a conversation book throughout the day nurtures the practice of making ideas visible.
Ethics and Consent
The Early Childhood Code of Ethics recognises childhood professionals are in a unique position of trust and influence in their relationships with children, families, colleagues and the community, therefore professional accountability is vital. Use the core principles as a foundation to any consultation undertaken with children to ensure it is ethically sound.
Janet Robertson discusses consent and ethics in this short video. Use this as a point of reflection to consider how you gain children’s consent in your program to take a photo, record their words or video their play.
(left image) Describing the theory of sound through words and drawing
(Image above) Collaborating on the design of an airport play space
(Image below) making decisions on what to bake