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Academic invites children into the conversation

The de Lissa Oration Rethinking Children is being held on Wednesday October 17. Image: iStock_000010749402 Early childhood expert Professor Deborah Harcourt will be inviting adults to consider including young children in important conversations during her address at the annual de Lissa Oration at the University of South Australia this Wednesday.

According to Prof Harcourt, Professor of Early Childhood at the Australian Catholic University and Director of Early Learning and Research at Goodstart Early Learning, children are capable and competent commentators on their own lives and able to construct views and opinions about the world around them.

She says by not offering children a voice in matters that concern them contravenes the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child mandates.

“We are all active citizens from birth. My research has shown that children, even young children at three or four years of age, are sophisticated thinkers and communicators who are able to unpack complex matters,” Prof Harcourt says.

“Right now, many children’s views and opinions are being silenced. Children need to be offered an invitation to contribute their views and opinions and have them taken into account when we, as adults, are making decisions that concern them. This is clearly stated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, in which Article 12 states children have the right to express their views on matters that affect them.

“Just because they are young doesn’t mean they don’t understand and think about what is happening around them. By including children as conversation partners we are giving them an opportunity to have a say and position them in critical conversations which they are currently not included in.”

Prof Harcourt says she has explored a number of methods that can engage children in research, which has helped establish a greater understanding of the experience of a child in a variety of topics. During her address Rethinking Children, she will illustrate why children need to play an important role in the research related to childhood and education, and more broadly as active citizens.   

“Many critical conversations on issues such as curriculum framework development, assessment, measuring quality in schools and creating play spaces currently don’t involve young children,” Prof Harcourt says.

“Instead of just observing children and childhood, we can find out what it is like to be a child from a child’s actual experience. We can communicate with children on very complex ideas by using tools they use in their everyday life – whether it is through writing, drawing, conversations, photography or art materials.

“Again and again through this collaborative research process across a range of matters, children have shown me how astute they are if they’re given the space and the time to share their lived experience.”  

Prof Harcourt’s research projects with children, which have been conducted in both Australia and abroad, reveal that children are far more perceptive than they are given credit for.

“I was recently working on a children’s rights project and one of the fundamental questions proposed to children was: In your opinion, what are children’s rights? One child’s response was ‘I’ve got the right to climb a tree using my hands’,” she says.

“When I enquired further about what the child meant, he explained to me that at his kindergarten they had cut down many of the trees and put fences around the big (climbing) trees.

“This child had a clear understanding that his right to climb a tree had been taken away from him. This gives way to the wider issue of obsession with risk in our society and shows us what impact it is potentially having on the childhood experience.”

Part of Children’s Week, the annual de Lissa Oration Rethinking Children will be held on Wednesday October 17 from 6:30 – 8:30pm at the Amy Wheaton Building on UniSA’s Magill Campus.

For more information and to register to attend, go to http://w3.unisa.edu.au/eds/upcoming.asp#de Lissa Oration.  

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Rosanna Galvin office (08) 8302 0578 mobile 0434 603 457 email rosanna.galvin@unisa.edu.au

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