Choice and power for young children

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Five-month-old Lizzie has her first teeth - and her first toothbrush.

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Being offered the toothbrush to chew and explore, she's happy; when her mother attempts to brush the tiny white teeth, Lizzie clamps her mouth shut and nothing can persuade her to open it. Lizzie is
exercising choice.

In the May 2014 elections, voters made choices about which politicians should represent them locally and in Europe. They made choices based on what mattered most to them.

While watching some of the election coverage, I found myself thinking about the ways in which young children begin to understand something about making choices, and how as adults we can support them to understand that they have some power to choose. Most toddlers come to realise this when they say the word they know so well: 'No!'

Learning about choice is important, and learning about personal power is important too. It may seem strange to talk about the most vulnerable members of our society as having power, yet it is important for those who work with young children to understand that young children have their own personal power and it is part of the role of adults to help them understand that they can make choices.

Young children need many opportunities to choose for themselves, in environments where there is plenty to choose from: outdoors or indoors, floor or chair, paint or clay, noisy or quiet, alone or with others, stories or songs. Variety and choice throughout the day are essential for very young children as they spend their time living and learning.

Practitioners must do all they can to try to understand children. They see things differently from adults; they have a different perspective on the world than we can't easily share - but one that we can seek to appreciate.

As Kahlil Gibran wrote of children:

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

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