On the basis of your readings and reflection upon your own practices with young children or from observations of early childhood educators in action, to what extent are young children actively participating in their day-to-day activities in early years settings?
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Children Participation has been one of the most debated and examined issues since the UN Convention on the Right of Children was adopted in 1989. Young children, like to be consulted on things that affect them, such as activities implemented in their daily routine (Smith & Thomas, 2010).Creating opportunities for them to discuss this issue can be fun for them and this also helps them make decisions and develop independence. So that children can participate in their day to day activities in the Early Years Settings, the school environment has to respect and give value to their views even tough they are young (Clark & Moss 2001).
Participation of young children in the early setting is the rapid involvement of these young people in decision-making process. A school which values children views, will enhance creative ideas. Adults understand children needs better if they listen to children as participation involves a lot of listening (The Integration of Refugee Children, 2006). Children can express what they want to learn and do in the setting regardless of their language level of development.
A particular teacher has a kindergarten class of twenty, four year old children. In the morning she tells them to sit on the carpet and give them toys to play with, after the break she does a simple activity with them such as colouring in or let them play with play dough, then they go out for free play and after the second break they have to stay sitting in front of the computer for about 1 hour. This routine is repeated everyday. Children have to do what they are told and one can observe that some of them get really bored; moving on the chair, playing with each others hair, jumping around the class. Children are not really active participants in their daily activities.
The adult should listen to the children but the information gathered from listening should be given value and should be open to differences and change (Clark, Kjorholt & Moss, 2005). But unfortunately from my experience I can tell that some educators are not ready to adapt according to what children think about their settings, such as where they like to play, and what tools they like in the setting and that’s why children have to do what they are told. A particular teacher told me that she only has four years left working for her pension, so she is not going to change anything and that she is now tired of children. This confirms that some educators are still not open to difference, so how can they provide opportunities for children participation?
Also children are not freely given choice to what activities they would like to participate. They have to participate in what the educator herself plan. If a child does not like painting, the educator has to make her best so that child will participate during painting activities. When others see that the educator has achieved this goal, everyone will be pleased except for the child himself as it could be that he still doesn’t like painting and get bored do painting activities. Some of the things adults do is not to please children, but to please themselves and other adults around them.
Listening also involves observing children and watching them, then what is observed can be discussed with children themselves, parents and work mates. A child who has not developed speech yet can still show what activities he likes and this could be seen through observation. If for example a child who has no speech yet, show a lot of interest in musical instruments, the educator should expand on it and include musical activities (Clark & Moss, 2001). I saw some educators doing observation while children are playing freely but then they ignore what they had observe. They don’t take their observation a step further and don’t reflect on their observations. If an educator watches a role-play where children shows many of their likes and then doesn’t reflect on that observation she cannot take a step further. She cannot plan activities on what was observed so that children participation in everyday activities will increase.
If we need to listen to children so that they participate more in early childhood settings, we need to give them time, value their opinions, and be ready for change. The multi-method approach is good to be implemented, as different children use different means to express themselves such as verbally, drawing, painting, singing and photographs and this will help them participate more in their day-to-day activities.
What are the barriers to children’s participation?
Anderson (2008) mentions several barriers to children participation such as time, lack of confidence and lack of skills in talking with children. From my experience, I really think that time is a barrier to children participation. Young children needs time to express themselves. If the multi-method approach is applied, the routine implemented in class should be more flexible. I’m all the time rushing thing up to do everything in time especially when I was a student as I was afraid about having a tutor coming in my class, and see me doing something different than that wrote on the daily routine. In the kindergarten where I work, we had a student in a kindergarten class. She wrote down that the activity will take about 20 minutes. When she saw the children really engaged in what they are doing, she left them enjoying themselves and the activity took about 35 minutes. The tutor assessing her told her that if she plans a 20 minutes activity, the activity should stop after 20 minutes. I do not agree with this. If for example children are really engaged in painting, should the educator stop the children, take their brushes and start cleaning up?
When I was a student kindergarten assistant, I was told that the main activity I do everyday should not take up more than 1 hour to do it with the whole class. I do not agree with this as I used to look all the time at the watch not to exceed 1 hour time. Also children are all different. For example a simple photograph activity can take 30 minutes to a child, and 1 hour to another child (Clark & Moss, 2001). If we are going to implement the multi-method approach, the educator needs time as it does not relay on one method of communication but on vast methods. We as educators cannot be directed to do the main activity in 1 hour time, as we will be rushing children up not to exceed this 1 hour; therefore time will really be a big barrier.
Educators should build the class environment on the children likes and dislikes, and consult them for opinions on decorating the class. This promotes more children participation but unfortunately in Malta financial difficulties hinders us from doing this. I was a student in a particular school, where the class teacher discussed what they like to have in class. A particular child was saying that her mother told her that she will have sand at school. She continued to explain that she came to school willingly to play with sand like she used to play at the beach with her mum. As they didn’t have sand in class, the teacher told the headmaster to buy some sand. He didn’t want to, and after all the talking the teacher decided to buy the sand herself. This particular child was really engaged in playing with sand together with other children. But if the teacher didn’t buy the sand herself, the sand could have been never bought.
Also lack of confidence can be a barrier for some children to participate in a school environment. Some children may be afraid of saying something wrong or doing something foolish and holds himself back from participation (Anderson, 2008 P.145). The educator should try to break up this barrier and give them opportunities where they can build a positive self image such as hanging up their work while praising them and their final product.
Educators can also have lack of skill in talking with children. Educators should be aware that talking with different is not so different and complicated although the educator should require some skills. If these skills are not acquires, communication could be a barrier to participation. Educators should not feel superior on children while talking to them. They should sit at eye level while talking with children, adapt the tone of voice and respect what is said. Also educators have to be good listeners and give time to the children to give answers (Anderson 2008 P. 145)
How can we move from tokenism to real participation?
To move from tokenism, educators should first reflect on their own practice and be open to make changes. The educators should ask themselves what kind of educators are they and if they allow children to give a voice.
In a particular school a year one children where drawing what they like to have in schools. The teacher then placed these papers neatly in the children files. The educator was letting the children have a voice but then ignoring what they had to say. Unfortunately tokenism in Maltese schools is seen a lot. Schools have to work more on moving from tokenism and give children a voice in early childhood settings. Education should not be built on the educator power and control over children.
Some teachers still think that if they give children a voice, they will be given too much power. This lack of awareness about the importance of children given a voice, will not help to move from tokenism. The adult should be able to listen to “the hundred languages of children” because children can express themselves through different means (Edwards and other, 1998 as stated in Clark & Moss, 2001). Educators should move away from non-participation education and implement more degrees of participation (Hart, 1992).Activities such as conferencing, photographs and mapping like the mosaic approach suggest (multi-method approach) should be implemented, so that the educator can understand better children likes and views. Then the adult should reflect, and what is understood should not be ignored.
Children have to be informed about things they are going to be involved in such as daily activities and concerts. Concerts are said to be done to show children talents but how can these talents be shown, if it will only be planned and organised by the teacher? The majority of the teachers choice what play the children are going to do and the track they are going to dance and sing. To move away from tokenism children have to be consulted and share decisions with them. (Hart, 1992 – Ladder of participation).When consulting young children, adults should plan how to do so. Play with young children is a very good tool for effective communication. Laughing and enjoying this time together, the adults and children may become more trusting and comfortable and the adult can consult the children better (Anderson 2008 P. 173). The educator herself can be impressed with their ideas as “The young child is a builder of theories” (Rinaldi, 2003 as stated in Clark, Kjotholt, & Moss, 2005 P. 111).
Awareness on the Convention of Children’s Rights
I’ve conducted a questionnaire for parents. I gave this questionnaire to twelve parents, whom their children are in my class, of which eight where given back to me. I wished that I could give it to all the kindergarten children’s parents, to have a better understanding of their awareness, but I was not given the permission.
The questionnaire was divided into four sections. The first section was brief information about the parent answering the questionnaire such as gender and age and the second section was about the convention on the rights of the child in general. The third part was about articles twelve and thirteen whiles the fourth part was on articles twenty two and twenty three.
The parents answering this questionnaire are all woman except for one. They are between twenty two to thirty six years old. The ages of their children are between four months to six years old. Three parents have one child, four have two children and one has three children.
Section 2 – The Convention on the Rights of the Child
I started off this section by asking the parents if they have ever heard of the children’s rights. All the parents are aware of some of the children’s rights. They had to state where did they hear about these rights (they could have mention more than one aspect). Thanks to educative programs shown on the television and educational meetings, most of the parents are aware of some children’s rights (refer to Figure 1).
The parents where asked to mention three rights. All of them mentioned the right for education and four of them mentioned the right to express themselves. Unfortunately only one parent mentioned that children have the right to play. Other rights mentioned where the right for a safe and clean environment and protection from harm and abuse. This gave me the impression that these parents are only aware of some rights which are ‘common’.
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But do they think that all the parents are aware of these rights? According to four of them, not all the adults are aware of these rights even tough they are really important. To enhance adults knowledge about these rights parents suggested more educational meetings, educational programs on the television together with competitions to encourage parents participation. As seen in figure 1, many of these parents heard about these rights on television programs, therefore it is a good source to transfer more knowledge to adults about these rights. In fact a parent suggested that there should be “short TV spots showing one item at a time.”
Article 12 states that children have the right to participate in decision-making that effects their life.
Article 13 states that children should have freedom for expression.
Children can express themselves even from a young age through crying, drawing, writing and much more. But their views and values should be respected by adults. All the parents that participated in the questionnaire think that this is very important but it is necessary for adults to create opportunities for children to do so. Every parent said that she/he lets her child express him/her self at home. When I asked them how, they wrote that they do so by discussing things with them and let them say their opinions, giving them free choice during free time, and hear what are their needs. I think that the awareness among these parents regarding children’s expression is quite good. A particular parent wrote that he/she “ask open ended questions and allow freedom of expression, thoughts and opinions are frequently sought.” This is important and as he/she said this makes the child being more “independent”.
Also all of them, except for one agreed that even at school there should be a council made up of children who can discuss their views regarding school. This is a good idea which I some schools already embrace it. Children should have a say about things affecting them and school is one of them. Having this council, children can discuss their opinions about school things they like, they would like to change and thy don’t like. But this should not stop their, the adults discussing with them should reflect on their opinions and take a step further by implementing some of their suggestions.
Parents had to tick which elements help children express their views. The elements where drawing, painting, story telling and discussions and they could have also mentioned other elements. The most one ticked was drawing (figure 2). One also mentioned imaginative play such as role play. Self-expression together with participation and involvement in different creative activities is a lot of fun for children which helps them learn. Parents should let children playing, exploring, being imaginative and creative. But these elements require adults willing to listen and take what they say seriously. But do adults have time to listen to their children? All the parents said no except for two. A particular parent said “they have but it doesn’t mean it is used”.
I was also a little bit impressed that all the parents said that the children should choose hobbies themselves and adults should not get in their way. Parents can help children decide but this does not mean that the adults have to decide for children. As a particular parent said “parents are helpers not owners.”
Articles 22 and 23 – Refugee children and children with disabilities must have same rights as other children.
I choose this two articles to see if parents will encourage their children to play with children with disabilities or refugee children. I was in a particular school where once I heard a lot of complaining regarding these particular children and that these children should not be in the same class with other children. They did know that these children have same rights as any other children.
One particular parent said that refugee children should not be given education together with any other children but at the same time she said that if there is a refugee child in her son/daughter class she will encourage him/her to play with this child (figure 3).
Should children with disabilities be given education together with any other children?
Also children with disabilities should have same rights as any other children. Again one parent said that children with disabilities should not be educated together with any other children. But is the school environment giving children with disabilities a chance to learn with other children? Four parents think that the schools environment needs to be more adequate to include children with disabilities such as ramps and wide doors.
These 8 parents know about children’s rights but are not aware of all the rights. There should be educational meetings and leaflets about other rights. Parents should be more aware that other rights are also important such as children have the right to benefit from social security and the importance of the right to play. This information could also be transmitted trough media especially television programs as mentioned by the parents. There should also be activities for Children in schools about their rights also to get aware that children like them, have the same rights as themselves. Children should be aware that they have should respect other children rights such as refugees and children with disabilities.
In my opinion children should also be given a voice especially at school, as there are still some schools who don’t value children views and expression. They see them as our future citizens and not today’s citizens. Some adults think that young children should only be given knowledge as much as possible to have a better future society, but this is not so. Society will be better if we open up to children’s views and expression, value them, and include every child regardless of his race, gender etc.
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