Listening to children by Sonia Mainstone-Cotton

22nd June 2017

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Listening to children and young people is a powerful practice that we can all engage in. For over fifteen years I was employed by a large children’s charity to lead on participation work in my local authority, and I supported the charities children’s centres in how they listened to children. My specialism for years in the participation field was in how we listen to the youngest of children; I know that if we get it right in the early years, then we are providing children with essential life skills.

Recently in the news, there has been a lot of information and surprise about the rise in the numbers of young people who recently voted in the general election. This news filled me with hope and joy. I know from experience that if children and young people feel like their voices won’t be heard, then they won’t speak out, they won’t participate. But there appears to be a change taking place. Finally, young people feel like someone is listening to them, they are recognising they do have a voice, and they have a right to partake and give their opinion. I believe this may link back to listening to children in the early years

Over the years I have seen some inspiring examples of listening to children in the early years. I have worked across many sectors, and I always argued some of the best participation practice was coming from the early years. I would like to believe one of the reasons we are seeing a change in Young Peoples voting today is because those young people were the three and four-year-olds six-teen years ago that were listened to and had a voice in their early years setting. In early years we are making a difference, and we are leading the way in exciting and developing participation practice. For me, the leading people on this were Penny Lancaster (2010) with her ‘Listening to young children’ training and also Alison Clark and Peter Moss ‘Listening to young children, the mosaic approach ‘(2011).

Listening to young children is a joy, we can and should involve them in decision making about a whole range of things. Some examples are:

Staff recruitment
Staff appraisals
Resources we buy
Follow their interests for our planning
The design of our rooms/ outdoor spaces and buildings
They can help us plans menus
They help plan our trips

Involving children in appropriate decision making is an essential life skill, when we can share this skill with them from a young age we are setting them up to become active citizens.

By Sonia Mainstone-Cotton
Author of Promoting young children’s emotional health and wellbeing- Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Lancaster,P (2010) Listening to young children Berkshire. Open University Press

Clark,M. & Moss,P (2011) Listening to young children the mosaic approach

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