Listening as a way of life


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Listening as a way of life

  1. 1. Listening as a way of life -Marie McAuliffeWhy and how we listen to young childrenAlison ClarkWhy do we listen to children? priorities, interests and concerns Who benefits from listening? I of the difference it can make to ourWe listen to children because: understanding of how children feel Listening is important for the childrenI it acknowledges their right to be about themselves who are being listened to but also for the listened to and for their views and I listening is a vital part of adults who are listening, whether at experiences to be taken seriously establishing respectful relationships home or outside the home, in an early about matters that affect them with the children we work with and years setting, a school, at a localI of the difference listening can make is central to the learning process. authority level or in national government. to our understanding of children’s Benefits to young childrenListening to children is an integral part of understanding what they are feelingand what it is they need from their early years experience. ‘Listening’ in this Everyday experiences can changedocument is defined as: If young children’s views and experiences are taken seriously then adults mayI An active process of receiving, interpreting and responding to communication. decide to make changes to children’s It includes all the senses and emotions and is not limited to the spoken word. daily routines. This may include, forI A necessary stage in ensuring the participation of all children. example, enabling children to helpI An ongoing part of tuning in to all children as individuals in their everyday themselves to water through the day, or lives. may result in changes to other routines,I Sometimes part of a specific consultation about a particular entitlement, such as children gaining open access to choice, event or opportunity. the outdoors.Understanding listening in this way is key to providing an environment in which Raising self-esteemall children feel confident, safe and powerful, ensuring they have the time and If young children feel their views arespace to express themselves in whatever form suits them. respected and valued by adults then
  2. 2. 2 Why and how we listen to young children This impact of listening has been recorded by practitioners who were involved in the Effective Early Learning (EEL) programme: ‘One of the most rewarding aspects of our involvement with the EEL project has been the children’s responses to the interview schedules. Their views on the way the school is run, the teachers’ jobs and the parents’ involvement have been expressed very naturally and with great insight. They also come up with some surprises and made us think.’ (School Enquiry and Research Newsletter (2000) quoted in Dupree, Bertram and Pascal 2001, p.19) Listening to children’s and adults’ experiences - a washing line fence featuring memorable clothes resulting from a community arts project at Sure Start Blakenall. Acknowledgement: Karl Lewis, Bostin Arts Reciprocal process this can have a positive effect on their to process and understand what is Working in a more democratic way with self-confidence. This can be of happening. ’It’s not so much a matter young children can relieve practitioners particular benefit to those children of eliciting children’s preformed ideas and parents from the burden of needing who find it hardest to communicate and opinions, it’s much more a to know all the answers. Listening to their perspectives or who have had question of enabling them to explore young children may reveal different limited experience of adults who listen the ways in which they perceive the possibilities for engaging children and to them. world and communicate their ideas in a new interests to explore together. way that is meaningful to them’. Developing skills and understandings (Tolfree and Woodhead 1999, p.2) Child protection Young children may also gain new skills There is the possibility that listening to as their confidence builds. These can Benefits to practitioners and parents young children may lead to some include social skills, such as being able children sharing serious concerns. This to talk to children who they have only Challenges assumptions is more likely to be the case if listening just met, and to adults. Listening Listening to young children can is embedded in everyday practice and if activities may offer children the challenge assumptions and raise listening to children is not limited to opportunity to gain additional practical expectations. Seeing and hearing adult-led agendas. Such circumstances skills, for example, how to operate a children express their interests and may be rare but reflect the camera. Listening to young children priorities can provide unexpected responsibilities that come from taking can create the time and space in which insights into their capabilities. children seriously. they can reflect on their early years Practitioners and parents may see experience and in so doing, help them children in a new light. Case study Benefits of listening to children Cathy was a shy child who had taken a long time to making her maps. These she was happy to show with settle in the nursery. Her keyworker commented on great pride to her parents and keyworker. how Cathy’s confidence had grown during the period she was involved in the listening project. She had taken great pleasure in taking her own photographs and (Case study from Clark and Moss 2001)
  3. 3. Why and how we listen to young children 3Case studyChildren’s day Wistanstow Under Fives meets in a village hall with like to do? They were keen to have such a day and came mock Tudor beams. This is a shared community space, up with the idea of painting the hall pink! used by a variety of groups during the week. Despite the restrictions of the space the emphasis is on listening to, Initially this might have seemed like an impossible and acting upon, the children’s wishes, opinions and suggestion for this shared space. But the playgroup took interests. the children’s idea seriously, worked with it and came up with an imaginative solution. On Children’s Day there One example arose over a child’s enquiry about was a party where the children could make special Children’s Day. glasses and choose the colour of the lenses, so they could make the hall pink…or whatever colour they liked. The play leader had been talking about Mother’s Day with a group of children when one child remarked: ‘We This case study illustrates an early years setting where have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day so why don’t we listening to and involving young children is embedded in have Children’s Day?’ practice (see Miller 1997). The practitioners have found creative ways to place young children and their ideas The play leader explained she didn’t know why in this ‘centre stage’ – despite the restrictions of the premises. country we don’t so she asked the children if they would like to have a Children’s Day and if so what they would (Case study from Clark, McQuail and Moss 2003)Benefits to early years provision How can we listen? Respect Effective listening requires respect forOpportunity to reflect on practice How we listen to young children will whoever we are listening to. We needThe sharing of children’s perspectives can depend on why we are listening. We may to believe that children of all ages,provide the chance for early years be wanting to: backgrounds and abilities are importantpractitioners to reconsider the I tune in to children as part of their and unique and worth listening to. Thisrelationships they have established with everyday lives is connected to our view of children:young children as well as to rethink I listen as part of a specific do we see the child we are workingroutines and activities. This process of consultation about a particular with as a strong child, a skilfulreflection can be ‘contagious’ in a multi- entitlement, choice, event or communicator, a competent learneragency environment, with changes to opportunity and a healthy child? This includesone service’s practice leading to changes I find out about their thoughts and babies, and children who may be seenin neighbouring services. feelings. as having communication or other difficulties.Opportunity to reflect on the Foundations for listeningenvironment Openness and collaborationYoung children can make insightful Whatever methods we use to help us to Listening requires us to be sensitive to acomments about their indoor and listen, there are certain principles which variety of ways of expressing feelings.outdoor spaces. This information can provide the foundations for listening. Children are individuals, with differentbe used to inform changes to existing Being a skilful listener is not easy. It cultural and ethnic backgrounds, andprovision or to contribute to new requires practitioners to show respect, they may use a variety of ways todesigns and buildings. honesty and patience, be sensitive to communicate their perspectives which timing, be imaginative and work require us to be open, receptive and collaboratively. willing to learn. Similarly we need to
  4. 4. 4 Why and how we listen to young children respond to the preferred ways which Imagination Children can respond to formal and children choose to communicate their We must use all our senses, not just our informal opportunities for talking views and experiences. This is hearing. This includes using our eyes, (Cousins 1999). particularly important with disabled sense of touch, and smell, in order to children. listen to how children are Still and moving film can open up new communicating to us. We need ways of young children communicating One way to achieve this may be to work imagination in order to design ways of their perspectives. Projects have used closely with parents or other adults who listening which are enjoyable and varied single use cameras, ‘polaroids’, digital still know the children well. Listening can be and which take into account children’s cameras and video cameras with children a collaborative activity. different strengths and abilities. aged three years and above (Clark and Imagination may often be required in Moss 2001; Lancaster and Broadbent Honesty order to act upon young children’s ideas 2003). This builds on innovative work Honesty is required to make listening and expressed interests. with older children, where photography effective. We need to be clear about has proved to be a valuable medium for why we are listening. If we are listening Ways of listening children to communicate their to children’s views and experiences perspectives about their schools and about a particular issue, we need to We can use a range of ways of listening neighbourhoods (for example, Smith and explain this carefully to children in ways to young children, a selection of which Barker 1999; Morrow 2001). Walker appropriate to their levels of are listed below. Different tools have (1993) has described this as the ‘silent understanding. strengths and limitations. More than one voice of the camera’. Listening to children approach can be used at the same time. takes place through the process of the We need to be honest about how far we Choosing which to use will depend on children choosing and taking the images, may be able to act upon children’s views our skills, those of the children we work as well as in discussing the final product. and to explain how other people’s views with and their ages, and the time, space may need to be taken into account. and resources available. Several tools use Performing arts and play can provide a We need to be honest in feeding back the arts, whether visual arts or natural way for young children to the outcome of a consultation so performing arts, as a means of listening. communicate with adults. Role play children can see how their views have activities can include the use of toys and been taken seriously and where and why Observation is an important starting puppets as ‘intermediaries’ in it hasn’t been possible to act on their point for listening to young children. This consultations. The Daycare Trust (1998), suggestions. builds on a strong tradition within early for example, used a teddy bear as a years practice of using observation as a starting point for young children talking Patience and timing tool for understanding young children’s about their nurseries. Effective listening takes time. Patience is abilities, needs and interests (for example, essential when working with very young Paley 1981 and 1997). Visual arts provide a variety of different children, especially if they have ‘languages’ for young children to communication difficulties. Interviews are among the most popular communicate their perspectives. This method for gathering the views of older links to Malaguzzi’s idea of the ‘hundred Listening requires us to be sensitive to children and adults. This formal talking languages of children’ (Edwards, Gandini timing. The best times for listening will needs to be adapted to be appropriate for and Foreman 1998). Visual tools for vary according to individual children’s young children. Group interviews can be listening can include painting and emotions, feelings and routines. How we used, following a similar approach to drawing (Lancaster 2003; Coates 2003) ourselves are feeling will also effect how ‘circle time’ (Miller 1997). Interviews can and model making and map making well we are able to listen. be conducted ‘on the move’ (for example, (Hart 1997; Clark and Moss 2001). Clark and Moss 2001). Child-to-child Listening to children while they are in Children’s timing may be different from interviews offer a different approach the process of making is often as our own. Children may choose to express where older children can act as important as talking about the final their feelings and wishes at the very consultants to younger children (for product (Coates 2003). Children can moment we are least prepared. example, see Johnson and others 1998). demonstrate their interests and priorities
  5. 5. Why and how we listen to young children 5Case studyListening to children and parents Sure Start Blakenall in Walsall, working with Walsall These arts activities were the basis for talking and listening. Community Arts team, commissioned an artist from Bostin The young children’s and adults’ views and experiences Arts to listen to the views and experiences of young were collected in scrapbooks. children, parents and older members of the community and to use these ideas as a basis for planned artworks Phase two: Listening turned into design within the proposed new Sure Start building. The artist used the comments and ideas from the scrapbooks to identify key themes. These formed the basis Phase one: Talking and making for discussion with the architect and the building steering The artist ran arts activities in different locations across the group. Examples of design features incorporated into the area. The aim was to find out from local residents of all final building include a glass wall containing hand and ages what is was like to grow up in this part of Walsall. This foot prints of babies, older children and adults, and work included visits to centres with pre-school groups and fencing made into a washing line design incorporating also interviewing adults and young children in the street. cutouts of memorable clothes. This Sure Start programme Arts activities included making a height chart with children has demonstrated an imaginative approach to listening to from a local playgroup, including pictures of things they and involving young children. The organisation has taken liked to do. Other sessions involved taking photographs of seriously the need to consult young children and has the children and making mobiles of favourite things. chosen to use the expertise of a community arts team to (Note: It is always important to seek the permission of the help to do so. child’s parent/carer as some families may not want their children to be photographed.) (Case study from Clark, McQuail and Moss (2003)through the visual arts. This may include I Times of transition – Listening in with parents/family members andchildren with linguistic communication imaginative ways can support carers and their children, looking atdifficulties or other disabilities who children as they adjust to change. This different ways children, from birth,might find a formal interview difficult. might be a whole class event such as listen and communicate.Artists and community arts teams may starting in a new class or moving I Outdoor environment – Listening tobe a useful resource for practitioners to classrooms, or on a personal level how young children use existingcall on for consultations, in addition to helping children talk about a new outdoor provision can be anpractitioners’ everyday work on listening. sibling. important starting point for planning I Assessment – Children can play an change.Possibilities and challenges active role in recording their progress I Indoor provision – Listening can and identifying what they have reveal concerns about how childrenWhat possibilities are there for listening enjoyed or found difficult. Involving can or cannot access resources andto young children and what are the children in this way can also open up equipment.challenges? further channels of communication with parents. ChallengesPossibilities I Internal audits – Listening to young children could add to annual reviews Listening to young children places a greatThere are many possibilities for including and help to identify activities, places responsibility on each of the adultsyoung children’s views and experiences. and people of importance from the involved and requires skill, understanding,Here are some suggestions, but there will children’s perspective. time and others according to the context you I Parent’s centre – Listening to young I Taking children seriously – Childrenare working in. children can be the focus of work need to know that their views and
  6. 6. 6 Why and how we listen to young children experiences are valued and not I Time to listen – Listening to young drive to listen to and consult ridiculed or ignored. This involves children cannot be a rushed activity. children becomes another invasion demonstrating that we take them The younger the child the less of their time, thoughts and spaces seriously. When it is not possible to possible and desirable it is to rely on rather than an empowering process. act upon their ideas then we need direct questions. Time to listen There will always be the need for to explain this to children. shouldn’t be seen as another bolt-on discussion and negotiation with I Responding to what children say – activity but as an integral part of children about what material is Listening to young children’s views every day. private knowledge and what can be and not responding could have a I Respecting privacy – Adults cannot shared and with whom. negative impact: ‘Asking children demand or require that children what they think, but taking it no provide them with an opportunity further will send a message that to listen to them. Adults should there is little real interest in their respect children’s privacy and view’ (Mooney and Blackburn silence as well as their expressed 2002). opinions. There is the risk that the Case study The Tree of Feelings To explore the role emotion plays in painting or art- coloured what they saw as peaceful branches with a making, we painted a tree of feelings, a branch potted in particular colour, whilst scary parts were painted with sand and water. A tree of feelings represents a bounded another colour. The collaboration reflected the different space that allows children to keep on adding or taking interpretations of the children. away photos, drawings, pictures and messages about how they are currently feeling. After this we asked children to think about the kinds of feelings they experience. Those who wanted to shared We talked about colour with the children: What colours some of their emotional experiences with the group. do you like or dislike? What is your favourite colour? Why They then drew their own pictures to represent some of do you like or dislike these colours? the feelings they had discussed. They then hung them on Jack said his favourite colours were: Gold and black the tree of feelings. We then talked to the children because I like Sonic and Brother Shadow ... He turns bad ... about their pictures to find out why they felt a Black and red ... bad. Gold because I love money. particular way. Sad faces were about: Someone hitting Jacob said: Gold because it shines. Red for Liverpool you, Shoving ... pushing, When my mum is cross I cry, football. When I leave Gramps. Happy faces were about: Rachel said: Pink because I have a pink dress ... Barbie Snowflakes falling on my happy head, I like growing wears pink. beans, Walking in an airport, and Cuddling. The Johnny said: Silver because it shines. children also drew faces that showed they were feeling Helen said: Pink, its in my bedroom in my new house ... I hungry, cross and sick. Children have spontaneously love my house. continued to use the tree to register their feelings. They then chose the colours they liked or disliked, that made them happy or sad and began painting the tree with (Case study from ‘Exploring Feelings’ by Lancaster and these. Spontaneously some children began choosing Broadbent (2003) in Listening to Young Children. colours that reflected their interpretations of how they felt Reproduced with the kind permission of the Open about parts of the tree. For instance some children University Press.)
  7. 7. Why and how we listen to young children 7Specific information on Cousins, J (1999) Listening to Children Marchant, R and Gordon, R (2001) Two-listening Aged Four: Time is as long as it takes. Way Street: Communicating with National Early Years Network disabled children. NSPCCClark, A and Moss, P (2001) Listening to Describes what the author heard when A practice guide for involving disabledYoung Children – The Mosaic approach. listening to, recording and observing children in assessment, planning andNational Children’s Bureau 130 children aged four in a variety of review processes. Written with help fromOutlines a new framework for listening to early years settings, and their teachers. disabled young people, it is full ofyoung childrens perspectives on their The author also discusses techniques of practical ideas for making initial contactdaily lives called the Mosaic approach observation. Case studies and with children, working directly with them, quotations from the children illuminate observing children respectfully andClark, A, McQuail, S and Moss, P (2003) the text. representing childrens views.Exploring the Field of Listening to andInvolving Young Children. Research Miller, J (1997) Never too Young: How Kirby, P, Lanyon, C, Cronin, K, and Sinclair,Report 445. DfES young children can take responsibility R (2003) Building a Culture ofThis research study was commissioned by and make decisions. National Early Years Participation. National Childrens Bureauthe Sure Start Unit of the DfES. The aim Network/Save the Children Provides an overview of the range ofwas to carry out a state of the art review Shows how children under the age of participation activity currently beinginto listening to and consulting with eight can participate, make decisions and undertaken at local, regional and nationalyoung children under five years old. take responsibility for their actions. levels. References Clark, A and Moss, P (2001) Listening to Edwards, C, Gandini, L and Foreman, G eds Nutbrown, C ed. (1996) Respectful Young Children: The Mosaic approach. (1998, 2nd edn) The Hundred Languages of Educators, Capable Learners: Children’s National Children’s Bureau Children: The Reggio Emilia approach to rights and early education. Paul Chapman early childhood education. New Jersey: Clark, A, McQuail, S and Moss, P (2003) Ablex Publishing Corporation Paley, V (1981) Wally’s Stories. Cambridge, Exploring the Field of Listening to and Massachusetts and London: Harvard Involving Young Children. Research Report Hart, R (1997) Children’s Participation. University Press 445. DfES Earthscan/UNICEF Paley, V (1997) The Girl with the Brown Coates, E (2003) ‘‘‘I forgot the sky!’’ Johnson, V and others eds (1998) Stepping Crayon: How children use stories to shape Children’s stories contained within their Forward. Children and young people’s their lives. Cambridge, Massachusetts and drawings’ in Lewis, V and others The participation in the development process. London: Harvard University Press Reality of Research with Children and Intermediate Technology Young People. Sage Smith, F and Barker, J (1999) ‘From Ninja Lancaster, Y P and Broadbent, V (2003) Turtles to the Spice Girls: children’s Cousins, J (1999) Listening to Children Listening to Young Children. Open participation in the development of out of Aged Four: Time is as long as it takes. University Press school play environments’, Built National Early Years Network Environment, 25, 1, 35-46 Miller, J (1997) Never too Young: How Daycare Trust (1998) Listening to Children. young children can take responsibility and Tolfree, D and Woodhead, M (1999) Young children’s views on childcare: a make decisions. National Early Years ‘Tapping a key resource’, Early Childhood guide for parents. Daycare Trust Network/Save the Children Matters, February, 91, 19-23 Delfos, M (2001) Are You Listening To Me? Mooney, A and Blackburn, T (2002) Walker, R (1993) ‘Finding a silent voice for Communicating with children from four to Children’s Views on Childcare Quality. the researcher: using photographs in twelve years. Amsterdam: SWP Publishing Institute of Education, for DfES evaluation and research’ in Schratz, M ed. Qualitative Voices in Educational Research. Dupree, E, Bertram, T and Pascal, C (2001) Morrow, V (2001) Networks and Falmer Press Listening to Children’s Perspectives of Neighbourhoods: Children and young their Early Childhood Settings. Paper people’s perspectives. Health Development presented at EECERA Conference 2001 Agency. (http://www.hda-
  8. 8. 8 Why and how we listen to young children Useful websites A12 is a childrens rights based organisation NCB promotes the interests and well-being of run by under 18-year-olds, for under 18s in all children and young people across every England. It aims to get young people’s views aspect of their lives. NCB advocates the is a website from the and opinions across to everyone and to be participation of children and young people in Early Childhood Unit (ECU) at the National taken seriously at all times. all matters affecting them. NCB challenges Childrens Bureau in England. This site disadvantage in childhood. contains capsules of information on specific topics within early years care and education including work on consulting young children. Coram Family is a leading childrens charity that aims to develop and promote best Listening as a way of life practice in the care of vulnerable children and their families. This leaflet is one of five leaflets from the Sure Start funded project DfES Guidance NCB Library and Information ‘Listening as a way of life’. The series Service provides a guide to finding more Lancaster, Y P and Broadbent, V information to help practitioners design (2003) in Listening to Young Children. If you would like more detailed creative and individual ways of listening Open University Press information or further references in to children and to each other. this subject area, contact NCBs Library A five-part resource from Coram and Information Service. Others in the series include: I Listening to babies Family, London. The pack is aimed at I Listening to young disabled children practitioners and parents in a range of The library is open to visitors by I Supporting parents and carers to settings and is designed to enable appointment, Monday to Friday, 10am them to offer young children to 5pm. NCB members can visit free of listen – a guide for practitioners I Are equalities an issue? Finding out opportunities to express their views of charge. The rate for non-members is experiences and events in their daily £10 per day. what young children think I Listening to young children’s views lives. Enquiry line: +44 (0)20 7843 6008 on food Listening to Young Children: A E-mail: training framework (Lancaster and Written enquiries: Library & For copies contact Patricia Thomas on others 2004) is closely linked to this Information Service, NCB, 8 Wakley 0207 843 6064 or email resource and is included in the DfES Street, London EC1V 7QE. Sure Start Guidance. Acknowledgements Author: Alison Clark Critical Reader: Penny Lancaster Series Editor: Ann-Marie McAuliffe With thanks to colleagues in and working for the Sure Start Unit for their comments and support. Published by the National Children’s Bureau on behalf of Sure Start National Children’s Bureau Membership and general enquiries: 020 7843 6080 8 Wakley Street Conferences and Training: 020 7843 6041 London Young NCB: 020 7843 6099 EC1V 7QE Book sales: 020 7843 6029 tel: + 44 (0)20 7843 6000 Library and Information Service: 020 7843 6008 fax: + 44 (0)20 7278 9512 Visit our website at: Registered Charity 258825. © Crown Copyright 2004