Dear Prime Minister: Raising the child’s voice in early childhood education and care

When the educators at C&K Salisbury Community Kindergarten set themselves a challenge at the start of 2022 to explore Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) through play, it led to the inspiring culmination of the children writing to the Prime Minister about climate action. 

Article 12 of the UNCRC says ‘Children have the right to say what they think should happen when adults are making decisions that affect them and to have their opinions taken into account’ (UNICEF, 1989). The educators drew on the work of Welty and Lundy (2013) to inform their practice as they delved into the active citizen approach to play. Welty and Lundy devised a model to support educators to empower children’s voices and ensure children feel heard. The model includes four factors to meaningfully raise the child’s voice: space, voice, audience and influence (Welty and Lundy, 2013). As a team, we acknowledge an increasing crisis of global climate change and the impact this will continue to have on the lives of the children we teach. We asked ourselves—how are we helping them to find their voice?   

Space to explore and learn 

Children are exposed to the complexities of the world through media, conversations and their lived experiences. Deb Harcourt (2011) encourages educators to discuss ‘big picture challenges’ with children and suggests fear happens when we don’t discuss these issues openly. However, when children have a chance to explore the ‘big picture challenges’ happening around them, they can find empowerment through considering solutions and sharing their ideas with others (Harcourt, 2011).  

At C&K Salisbury Community Kindergarten, the children shared their thoughts about the 2022 Eastern Australia floods through conversations and play. As educators, we provided a safe space to unpack their experiences and set up an opportunity to explore the underlying cause of the floods. The children became interested in climate change and in finding solutions to help save the planet.  

Finding our children’s voices 

After months of exploring the climate crisis through play, the children moved their focus to climate action. In small groups, we shared a picture book called Greta and the Giants (Tucker, 2019), a story inspired by Greta Thunberg’s stand against climate change. Over the next few days, the children started to voice their thoughts on how to save the planet. One group of children said they needed more people to help them save the planet if they were going to make a change. Together, the children wrote a book called Ideas to Save Our Planet, which included how they can help save the world. The next day, the children took their activism one step further—they designed their own protest signs and marched up to the fence to wave at people passing by. The children decided they needed to do more to grab people’s attention so they yelled out loud the messages on their signs. They found both their voice and the belief in their right to have a say. 

A powerful audience 

Soon after this, our educators provided an opportunity for the children to write a letter to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. The educators explained his role as the ‘boss of Australia’ and gave the children a chance to add their voice to the letter. Some comments from the children included ‘I want the boss of Australia to make our plans true’, and ‘He has the power’. Another child felt that we needed to leave a page blank at the back of their book, Ideas to Save our Planet, for Mr Albanese to write his own climate action plan. The educators sent the letter and the children’s climate action book to the Prime Minister, which gave the children a sense of importance as they had communicated their own climate action ideas to someone in a powerful position.  

Influencing change 

Taking action based on the children’s voice is now in the hands of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. However, in the letter, the educators stressed the importance of listening to the voices of the children, and taking action based on their thinking and advocacy.  

For us, this multi-month project demonstrated that children have the capacity to process ‘big picture challenges’ when we empower them with skills and knowledge. It is up to us to listen to children and find ways to influence change. When children are given opportunities to see that people are genuinely listening, they will begin to believe in their power to generate change. 

Looking to the future 

Children are citizens of our world. Early childhood educators are in a unique and powerful position to help children understand their rights as citizens, find their voice and share it with people who can affect change. At C&K Salisbury Community Kindergarten, utilising the active citizen approach in play was a powerful project. It gave the children the space, voice, audience and influence to use their voices and feel their power as active and engaged citizens of the world. When supported to explore ‘big picture challenges’, it was exhilarating to witness how the children shifted their focus from the issue to finding a solution.  

This group of children feel empowered to have a say. They are aware that more needs to be done and are ready to raise their voices louder.  We are ready to listen and to make sure others are able to hear their voices as well.  

We would encourage all educators to think about the ever-changing world and the impact it has on our children today and in the future when they are leaders. rs. What kind of citizens does our world need in the future? Compliant or active in solving the ‘big picture challenges?’ Educators need to consider their position of influence in the direction of the world in working with children and decide how they can empower children with the ‘big picture challenges’ that they are discussing in play. Listen to children’s voices and raise it with the intent create influence. Empower children to be active citizens in their world. It already is their world.  

ECA Recommends: Early Learning Matters Week 17 — 21 October

Early Learning Matters Week is back for its fifth year. It is a chance to showcase the importance of high quality early childhood education and care. Get involved and register your event.

Lucy Murrell

Lucy Murrell is a teacher at C&K Salisbury Community Kindergarten. She is a passionate advocate for children’s voices and exploring thinking and big ideas through play. Lucy researched children as active citizens in play while completing her Master of Education (Early Years) in 2020. Her Dear Prime Minister project has been transformative in solidifying her belief in children’s power to think and express big ideas.

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