The Child’s Voice First

How do we know we are educating children and young people for the real world? Well that is a big question. Can recruiters advise on the quality of the graduates that join them? Certainly. Can we measure teenagers articulation and drive? No doubt. Are these the sum of the kinds of questions that we should be asking for our next generation of young people however? Exams and academia are important but is that the sum of a healthy citizen? Social pedagogy invites us to consider a larger picture. Education, social pedagogy argues, is far more than teacher to pupil, real education is broader and more complex than what any particular curriculum dictates. Social pedagogy argues that actually kids are naturally inquisitive and full of questions and it is therein that we have something to learn. It suggests that young people are already asking the questions that develop their natural skills and they are already working out who they are in the world. They just need to be able to express themselves and learn with us. The question for us is how do we listen to these voices effectively?

A prime example of a real drive to get this right this would be from the area of Reggio Emilia in northern Italy. This many times proven approach holds fast to simple ideas which produce profound affects with children both academically and socially:

Time, and how children and adults use it, is central to the Reggio philosophy. The rhythm and pace of the child is always given overriding importance . . . This means really having time for children’s thoughts and ideas, and giving value to their work, their conversations and their feelings by slowing down to listen to them.[1]

It does not have to start big but relies on a belief that each child is a real researcher by themselves. [2] It can be a group of teachers who spend time in some critical personal or group reflection.  It could  be how they are doing their work in relation to the needs of the children they teach and aim to make sure their voices are heard through speech and behaviour in every single session. It could be volunteers in a club who go back to the kids when the kids don’t engage even though the activities seem to be exciting to the adult. Listening from adults and children requires investment in relationship and as Fillipini outlines, the central role of (the effective)  teacher is to listen. [3] Empathic listening [4] leads not only to better relationships but stronger futures as well.  Such questions might include: ‘what do you value in your relationship with me?’ and ‘when you view this situation what do you see?’.  In addition, how can we encourage environments for working together in collaboration rather than trying to get them to prove themselves as individuals? People who are heard and understood are happier people.

What is so dangerous about this idea of listening? As the pedagogic approach of Reggio Emilia invites, it requires us to slow down, to deeply involve children in the crafting of their here and now and to allow their identity to blossom through their investigations in the future. To be an educator, to be a parent, to be a young persons volunteer requires love, a term which has been hijacked in some cases but if we understand love to mean that it requires a sacrifice we can contemplate the following: How seriously can we take the opinion of a child in this country before it causes problems for ourselves in our professional assessments and how much will you fight for that child’s voice and needs to be front and centre in your work?

If I had my child to raise over again,

I’d finger paint more, and point the finger less.

I’d do less correcting, and more connecting.

I’d take my eyes off my watch, and watch with my eyes.

I would care to know less, and know to care more.

I’d take more hikes and fly more kites.

I’d stop playing serious, and seriously play.

I’d run through more fields, and gaze at more stars.

I’d do more hugging, and less tugging.

I would be firm less often, and affirm much more.

I’d build self-esteem first, and the house later.

I’d teach less about the love of power,

And more about the power of love.

It matters not whether my child is big or small,

From this day forth, I’ll cherish it all.

Diana Loomans[5]


[2] Rinaldi,

[3] edited by Carolyn P. Edwards, Lella Gandini, George E. Forman, The hundred languages of children, P181

[4] Perkins & Fogarty, Active listening: A communication tool

[5] 100 Ways to Build Self-Esteem & Teach Values by Diana Loomans (c) 2004 New World Library