Valuing and enacting young children's citizenship

Year: 2013

Author: Harris, Pauline

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Drawing on a Freirean perspective, this paper explores key issues that have emerged from the author’s research on engaging with young children as citizens. The purpose of the paper is to generate dialogue about shaping research with young children's voices and identities as citizens. This dialogue is framed by Freirean principles of humanisation, empowerment, agency and participation, dialogic encounter, problem-posing, generative themes and children's words.
The paper inserts the voices of educators and young children into this dialogue. Children’s voices capture their perspectives of their local community lives and aspirations, based on a study that involved 350 children in sustained dialogic encounters over time through multi-modal means of engagement. Voices of early childhood educators who facilitated these encounters in the study reflect their perspectives of what it means to engage authentically with children and document faithfully their voices and points of view.

The significance of this paper rests with the question, If children are viewed as active democratic citizens, how do they learn to be so? As Freire (2002) has written, no one is born fully formed – it is through experience in the world that we become who we are. It follows, then, that what children experience as citizens shape who they become as citizens. Therein lie significant implications for how we engage and interact with children in our early childhood settings. As has been argued elsewhere, citizenship is learned and practised through social relationships and participation in children’s everyday contexts, and it is in those settings that opportunities need to be provided for empowering children’s participation (Taylor, Smith & Gollop, 2008; Percy-Smith, 2010).
Hence this study of engaging children and educators in this citizenship space in their everyday early childhood settings. Children engaged in consultations, facilitated by their EC educators, about the kinds of local communities they live in and what kinds of communities they wish for in their future lives – matters at the heart of their day-to-day lives and done in children’s everyday settings. The purpose of this engagement was to actively contribute to a state government’s deliberations on its strategic priorities. This paper is an account of children’s views children and educators’ reflections about the processes involved in engaging with children’s voices to more deeply understand, as Delpit (2003) has put it, children’s intellectual, social, cultural and political legacies.