25 SES 11 A, Children's right to participation - Early Childhood Education
Aspiring to the principles of the United Nations of the Rights of Child (UNCR 1989, Articles 3.3, 12, 13 and 36), emphasis is placed on participatory rights and how the agentic agency of children in an adult oriented world can be expressed at all levels of their lives. These examinations focus on how children are invited to be participants on their own terms, creating a situation where children will be enabled of “individual agency within a social context” (Percy-Smith and Thomas 2010, p. 357), engage in a dialogical and democratic relationship where all (children and adults) are active participants, share power and have control in decision making in all matters involving them.
Enacting participatory rights has led to an exploration of innovative methods and practices that support this aim as well as models that aim to reflect and evaluate participatory practices. For example, Hart’s (1992) ladder of participation, Shier’s (2001) pathways to participation and Lundy’s (2007) model to elicit children’s voices are offered as ways to enact, reflect and evaluate children’s participation.
In previous work I have argued (e.g. Palaiologou 2014, 2019, 2020) that while these models and attempts are useful in evaluating children’s participation in research and practice, such approaches are based on notions that a child is verbal, social, cooperative, has cognisant abilities to understand the idea of participation and is able to express themselves. These approaches use questions to reflect the degree to which children have been involved in giving their opinion, the level of choice in the activities and the degree of engagement in the decision making that requires linguistic articulation younger children might yet not have acquired. Moreover, such approaches might be different from the child’s value system and community codes. Similarly, others (Kirby and Laws, 2010, Alderson 2010, Horgan et al 2016, Clark and Richards 2017) urge us to reconceptualise participation and seek either for broader definitions when younger children are considered or acknowledge the centrality of the participatory language with terms such as dialogue, power, shared experiences, mutuality and collective action(s). Other related literature also examines young children’s participation, voice(s) and agency which recognises the limitations, paradoxes and tensions of children’s participation and empowerment (e.g. Hammersley 2015, Philo 2011).
These tensions become more obvious when participatory rights are examined with children under the age of three. As Lee and Motzkau (2011, p.11) reflect on this:
The multiplicity of ‘voice’ centrally concerns the ethico-political matter of children’s representation and participation […]. But it also concerns maturation as a passage from voice but speechless infancy […] and the complex interplay this has with many circumstances in which children can and cannot find voice, along with the range of institutional and technological conditions in which their voices are interpreted, mediated and amplified.
An examination of the current literature shows that when it comes to very young children the focus has been on participatory methods and practices (how to do participation) rather than a (re)conceptualisation of what participation means.
Implementing participatory rights in practice and research with children under three years of age poses critical questions as to what the degree of influence and control of children is, how children as partners are positioned in relation to themselves and to the adults and how the issue of power is recognised and framed. Consequently, the key questions that this research project focused on was an examination of the implementation of the participatory rights in relation to children under three. This examination focused on two levels: practice and research.
The project was developed in two stages: a systematic literature review and an empirical research that employed qualitative methodology. Firstly, it enabled a systematic literature review of the enactment of the participatory rights with young children (focusing on children under the age of three years) to arrive at three research questions: • What does participation mean for children under the age of three? • How can researchers and educators achieve participation of young children under three? • What methods are active researchers and educators using to implement participatory rights with children under three? This stage of the research and its findings has been reported in previous work (e.g. Palaiologou, 2019 a and b, Palaiologou 2020). Secondly, which is the focus of this presentation, the second stage of the research was based on qualitative methodology. This stage was based on the findings of the first one and aimed to investigate how participation can be conceptualised in practice and research with children under the age of three examining: • how researchers and educators can achieve participation of young children under three; • what methods active researchers and educators are using to implement participatory rights with children under three. As mentioned above, qualitative methodology was employed, collecting data from 14 academics in the UK who publish widely in the field of children’s participatory rights and actively engage in research with children under the age of three years. The participants were selected purposefully as their publications in peer reviewed journals focused on the participatory rights and problematised what is meant by participation of young children. The interviews were conducted either via phone or online platforms such as Skype or Zoom and lasted between 30-45 minutes. All interviews were subscribed, and participants approved the transcripts. For ethical reasons once the transcripts were approved, all recordings were deleted, and the transcripts were coded prior to thematic analysis. The research was conducted from February 2020 to June 2020. The semi-structured interviews questions were guided by the the themes that derived from the systematic review of relevant literature and the reflection, and the following lines of enquiry were explored: • What in their view is meant by participatory rights and participation of children; • What methods/techniques can be used that can be considered/recognised as participatory; • How participation of children is conceptualised in practice and research.
Emerging findings from the initial phase of the second stage are showing that firstly, there is a need to (re) define and (re)conceptualise participatory rights in practice and research with children under the age of three years. Instead of seeking how to do participation, it is suggested instead to focus on the embodied ways that children under three are enabled to interact with others and express themselves. Secondly, a key element of participation - equality - should not be equated with sameness (e.g. adults and children are constructors of meaning, choice, co-ownership of power and responsibility), but an acknowledgement is required that recognises that as adults we do need to make ethical decisions. Thirdly, differences in age of cognisant abilities means we should not seek for a modelised approach to participation, but look instead for enabling approaches that meet the needs of the child as an individual rather than an age-defined categorisation of children. Fourthly, there is a need to distinguish between academic research and daily life when seeking to enact participatory rights.
Alderson, P. (2010) Younger children’s individual participation in all matters affecting the child. In N. Thomas and B. Perry Smith (eds), A Handbook of Children’s Rights and Young People’s Participation: Perspectives from Theory to Practice. London: Routledge, 88–89. Clark, J., and Richards, S. (2017) The Cherished Conceits of Research with Children: Does Seeking the Agentic Voice of the Child Through Participatory Methods Deliver What it Promises? In I. E. Castro, M. Swauger B, and B. Harger, (Eds) Researching Children and Youth: Methodological Issues, Strategies, and Innovations, Bingley: Emerald, 127-148. Hammersley, M., (2015) Research Ethics and the Concept of Children’s Rights, in Children and Society, (29), 569-582. Hart, R. (1992) Children’s Participation: From Tokenism to Citizenship. Florence: UNICEF International Child Development Centre. Horgan, D., Forde, C., Marin, S. and Parker, A. (2016) Children’s Participation: Moving from the Performative to the Social, in Children’s Geographies 15 (3), 274–288. Kirby, P., Lanyon, C., Cronin, K. and Sinclair, R. (2003) Building a Culture of Participation: Involving Children and Young People in Policy, Service Planning, Delivery and Evaluation. London: Department for Education and Skills. Lee, N. and Motzkau, J. (2011) Navigating the biopolitics of childhood, in Childhood, (18), 7–19. Lundy, L. (2007) “Voice” is not enough: Conceptualising Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, in British Educational Research Journal, 3 (6), 927-942. Palaiologou, I. (2014) “Do we hear what children want to say?” Ethical Praxis when choosing research tools with children under five, in Early Child Development and Care, 184 (5), 689-705. Palaiologou, I. (2019) Going beyond participatory ideology when doing research with young children: The case of ethical permeability and relatability, in Z., Brown and H., Perkins (Eds) Using Innovative Methods in Early Years Research, London: Routledge, 31-46. Palaiologou, I. (2020) “Otherness” in research with infants: Marginality or Potentiality? in J. Murray, Swandener, B. and K., Smith (Eds) (2019), Routledge Handbook on the Rights of the Child, London: Routledge, 472-483. Percy-Smith, B. and Thomas, N. (2010) Conclusions: Emerging themes and new directions. In N. Thomas and B. Percy-Smith (eds), A Handbook of Children’s Rights and Young People’s Participation: Perspectives from Theory to Practice. London: Routledge, 356–366. Philo, C. (2011) Foucault, sexuality and when not to listen to children, in Children's Geographies, (9), 123-127. Shier, H. (2001) Pathways to participation: openings, opportunities and obligations, in Children and Society, 15 (2), 107-117.
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