What? Involve children in managing the preschool? Yeah… why not? We know children have a right to participate in making decisions that affect them. Participatory rights are an important part of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child.
But how? And should children be burdened with this type of participation? I would argue that indeed they should. Allowing children a chance to have a voice has been shown to give children a sense of control, and build their self-esteem. Children also build confidence and problem solving skills. This is in contrast to the long held misconception that children have nothing of importance to say, and if allowed to have a voice and influence change, will somehow feel burdened with too much responsibility.
Early opportunities for democratic participation nourish a sense of collective ownership and responsibility as well as skills to solve problems in collaborative ways. Perhaps most importantly, children develop a belief in themselves as actors who have the power to impact the adverse conditions that shape their lives. They develop confidence and learn attitudes and practical lessons about how they can improve the quality of their lives (Rizzini & Thaplyial, 2005, p. 18).
Here are ten easy ways to listen to children’s voices and use them to affect change in your preschool:
1. Children’s management meetings
Try running part of your preschool management meeting during the morning when children can attend. You might spare two educators and invite as many children as possible. Children can raise issues they have noticed and develop solutions to those problems. They may make signs to put up to explain to other children what they need to do. Children can also write down what resources they need and talk about changes needed in the program. Children can develop their own policies for using a space, or expected behaviour. Children can take control of a major change happening in the program. Perhaps all the children used to eat morning tea at the same time, but you want to change to a rolling morning tea to allow children more agency. Children might come up with 8 steps to using the new morning tea area, write or draw the policy and put it up in the area to teach the other children what to do.
- Staff recruitment
Children can participate when recruiting a new staff member. You may ask candidates to do a small group time as part of the selection process so that children can comment on initial impressions of a new educator.
- Consulting about program changes
You could try running a group at the beginning or end of the day when children have a chance to reflect on program elements that engage them, and areas that could be removed or added to. After children have developed skills in this area, they are very insightful about what is needed in the program.
- Order lists
Put a sheet of lined paper up in the creativity area and the literacy area for children to write or draw any resources that are needed for the program. The may notice the yellow paint has run out, or that the felt-tip pens don’t work anymore. This is a great way to keep the resources in the room fresh and in working order.
5. Children’s self-reflection and art display
Help children take control of what work is displayed on the walls of your service. Do you really need to display every painting the children do? Children can develop self-reflection skills, if given the opportunity to look at their collection of pictures, drawings and photos and decide which work is their best. Once they have decided, frame the work and put it up in its own space. This will illustrate to children that they and their work is respected. It also empowers children and gives back control.
- Involving children in major projects:
Children can lead projects in the service, especially when a redevelopment needs to be done. Are you getting a new outdoor space? Children can apply for funding, research and draw designs, consult with architects, landscape gardeners and builders and revise their plans based on feedback. Try setting up an area where children can research about the project, draw plans, cut out magazine ideas etc.