By Dr. Tricia Lirette, Chair, Department of Human Services and Early Learning, MacEwan University
As early childhood educators, we spend our days with society’s youngest citizens and we view those members of our society in a very particular way. To us, children are strong and capable. They are mighty learners. And we see firsthand what happens when we make children’s learning visible and truly embrace all that they have to offer.
Children, no matter their age, have the capacity to be thoughtful, engaged, contributing members of society. Some quietly within their own families and communities, and others more publicly. Children like Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg, and so many more, are standing up and speaking out.
And that is their right. For 30 years, World Children’s Day (National Child Day in Canada) has been both an opportunity to draw attention to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and a reminder to make sure those rights are being met.
But are they?
When we look at children’s rights at the very highest level they are grouped into three main categories: the right to be protected from abuse and neglect; the right to an education, health care and adequate standard of living; and the right to participate – to have their views listened to and their evolving capacities respected.
While in Canada we have certainly made much progress, there is no denying that more work needs to be done – we know that there are many children in our country who continue to face abuse, who live in poverty and who do not have access to nutritious food, safe homes and clean water. Given that incredible need it’s almost understandable to consider a child’s right to be listened to and respected as secondary. But recognizing a child’s capacity for real, complex thinking is important, and not listening means we run the risk of missing out on the incredible potential they offer us in the here and now.
Our child care centres, our playgrounds and our classrooms are microcosms of our world. On a daily basis, early childhood educators see our youngest citizens figuring out how things work, practicing how to get along with the people around them and negotiating how to share resources.
We know that before children ever speak a single word, they have a voice. They have opinions. When babies cry, they are showing us how they feel about something. When a child picks up a drum, they are telling us, “look what I can make happen.” When thousands of youth join in a march to our legislature grounds, they clearly have something to say. In each of these examples, children are inviting adults in. They are asking to engage with us. To be in a relationship with us.
We need to listen.
When we choose to walk alongside children – when we explore and learn with children, rather than doing things to or for them – we are saying very loudly and very clearly that they matter. That what they do and say has value.
I hope we can all take a moment on November 20, National Child Day, to stop in the midst of our busy lives and think about Canada’s children, to take time to play with a child, to laugh with a child and to listen – really listen – to a child. What they have to say might just surprise you.
Dr. Tricia Lirette is chair of the Department of Human Services and Early Learning at MacEwan University a member of the research team that authored Flight: Alberta’s Early Learning and Care Framework and a co-developer of MacEwan’s newest degree, the Bachelor of Early Childhood Curriculum Studies. She represents MacEwan University on Edmonton’s National Child Day Regional Planning Committee.