Hi, I’m Shaniya. I’m 5. I don’t get to choose what time I go to bed. I don’t get to choose what I wear to school. I don’t get to choose where I live and what I eat. So, I like it when my teacher asks me what I think…
Last Friday saw thousands of children and young people walk out of the classroom to protest climate change. Hailed by some, denounced by others – it raised the issue of what voice and form of agency young people and children really have in their ever-changing world. Firstly, do children have something to say about the growing global environmental crisis? And generally, what can we as teachers do to initiate more pupil agency and encourage ‘voice’ even amongst the youngest of learners? Why is it so important to learning?
Child A: “What if the rubbish was in the sea?”
Child B: “The animals in the sea might eat it and die.”
Child C: “If there’s lots of rubbish all over the world they might eat it and die.”
Child A: “I throw away everything. If you recycle you make it into everything nice.”
Child D: “I’m planning to recycle some of my train set.”
It is quite clear that children do have something to say about the world around them, and we need to provide opportunities for those thoughts to be heard. By asking young children what they think, we provide them with opportunities for reflection, to create connections between what they’ve been taught and what they’ve observed. Knowledge and Understanding of the World – ticked. Questions to which we as teachers don’t have the answers, develop higher thinking skills, enable vocabulary development and require problem-solving. Communication & Language and Mathematics – ticked. We might ask children to write down their thoughts with us as scribes. Literacy – ticked. But most of all – being heard, being consulted, having views and ideas that are respected by adults is crucial if we really are to build self-esteem and a love for learning. Social, emotional development – ticked.
We don’t have to always ask deep and heavy philosophical questions. We might ask children to help design their playground.
We might ask children what interests them and develop the curriculum around that. We might ask them what materials they need to create something and then alongside them work out how to source them. In the recycled classroom, our ongoing mantra has been “What can we do with these?” Resources should not be prescriptive, they must be enabling and children should be making choices.
The Telegraph argued that children would have been better off learning about climate change in the classroom, rather than striking. In many respects that is true. But it would need to be a classroom in which child voice and agency is promoted and respected. Otherwise ultimately what choice do children have but to have their say on the streets?