Over the past months I have read of a number of initiatives concerned with listening to and consulting with children. Although this important aspect of the work of early years practitioners has been given the prominence it deserves, I am concerned that it may be seen as a 'bolt-on' to the daily work with children, rather than embedded in the way adults interact with children. Listening is something that should happen all of the time, not just some of the time.
It requires an approach that gives children opportunities to talk about events that are relevant to them or have meaning to their experience within the setting. The recent refurbishment of a nursery in Bristol was the subject of consultation with the children and staff. The children could see the purpose of the discussion and eventually the result of their ideas and suggestions.
However, posing hypothetical, prepared questions may leave children with a sense that their ideas and thoughts are only given token attention, as they are not put into action.
The strategy adopted by settings implementing the High/Scope approach, which acknowledges children's intentions ('planning'), gives support during work time ('doing'), and asks children to reflect on their progress ('review'), provides a vehicle for genuine dialogue between adult and child. Taking a problem-solving approach to resolving conflicts acknowledges children's feelings and asks the parties in dispute to come up with strategies for a fair and agreed solution.
Listening to children needs to be so embedded in practice that the practitioner would automatically engage with the child at that moment.
Clearing up paint pots can wait; the child can't. Listening to children, following their interests, acknowledging their feelings and providing thoughtful encouragement takes time and requires practitioners to develop skills and reflect on their practice. These skills must be seen as part of providing the high-quality service children deserve throughout all of the time they spend in the setting - not just at 'listening to children time'.