White (2007) places importance on stimulating outdoor provision emphasising the positive effect it has on minds and bodies. She suggests outdoor play is essential for children but needs considerable planning to be fruitful which my research with children will support. The outdoor play space provides a complex learning environment that is more flexible and child led than indoors and provides an area where children can make sense of the world, by play and exploration of the natural world. White 2007) Therefore as the outdoors is such an invaluable and popular part of the provision, it was an area that I felt would be valuable in gaining children’s perspectives. To enable children to have a voice and engage them in participation, I carried out a small research project with the children in my setting, to gain their perspectives on our outdoor play area. Before commencing my research with children, I considered various ethical considerations and ensured I was meeting article 12 of The United Nations Convention on the rights of the Child (United Nations 1989).
The work was of benefit to the children by enabling their voice to be heard. By gaining their perspective their outdoor space will be based on their ideas rather than adults. Article 12 of UNICEF’s rights and responsibilities of a child (UN 1989 article 12) emphasises children’s rights to participation and be consulted when decisions affect them. It places importance on listening to children and engaging them in age and development appropriate consultations which is what I planned to carry out. I carried out research with four children.
Two preschool children and two children from toddlers, as it was their area that was to be developed. To ensure the children were a reflection of the setting two girls and two boys were invited to take part, of which one was bilingual, and one was a different ethnicity to white British. The reason for this is in the setting the majority of children are white British, speaking only one language, but we also have children whom are bilingual and various ethnicities. Prior to commencing my research I gained relevant permission, and explained what I planned to do and why.
I created a leaflet for the children in age appropriate language to explain about my research and why I was carrying it out. I then asked each child individually if they would like to take part and explained if at any point decided they wished to end their part in it, they can stop at any time. I also reassured them the information they gave me would be confidential and anonymous, but I asked if they would allow me to share the results with parents and practitioners, and I explained how I would use the gathered information.
To enable the children’s voices to be heard, I explored various tools to engage the children from the Mosaic approach (Clark & Moss 2001). I disregarded using questionnaires as the children were unable to read and write so this would have been inappropriate. I disregarded role play as I didn’t feel I would get the responses I needed as directly, and I decided not to use tours as not all the children were confident communicators and they may have found this difficult. I wanted to be as inclusive as possible and ensure the technique was age and development appropriate.
Therefore I chose to gather documentation by enabling the children to use cameras to take photos outdoors of what they liked and didn’t like. To ensure confidentiality of the photos taken I kept them in my private locked filing cabinet that only myself and my manager had access to. As my research required the children’s perceptions this technique ensured it was child led as were the later discussion where we came together in a quiet area to talk about why they took their particular images. This discussion enabled me to interpret what they were trying to say to me through the photos.
As we looked at the photos it prompted their memory of why they had taken the picture. It was an interactive way to engage the children, and by the children taking their own photos helped lead the discussion. This approach worked well for the younger children whom were aged 2 and the child whom had an additional language as it gave them a voice without complex questions. However the difficulty with this approach was even after practice prior to the research, the younger children struggled slightly with using the camera.
It was a small digital camera with buttons which were all silver; the difficulty the younger children had was holding the camera and knowing which button to press at the same time. On reflection using a child’s camera with easy to press coloured buttons would have been easier for the children to use. The research went well, the older children seemed to have more understanding but all the children were clear in what they liked and didn’t like in the outdoor space.
What was surprising to find was the results were conclusive the areas that adults created without children’s input are not popular, and I was surprised that the spaces I found uninspiring were the areas the children spoke passionately about, in particular a photo of a plain open space was the beginning of a long conversation between all children about the type of imaginative play they undertake in that area, whereas my assumption on looking at the image, was it was going to be an area they didn’t like.
This is a clear example that adults cannot see clearly through the eyes of a child and that children should be participating in all areas that they use as clearly stated in article 12 of the UN conventions of the rights of the child. (United Nations 1989) The children were very enthusiastic about taking part and spoke passionately about it to their peers. However although this gave the children a voice, it was only a small sample of children voices , it gave me an insight into their perspectives but I want to do this on a larger scale to ensure that all children’s voices are heard in a way that makes they feel safe, secure and valued.
However this needs to be consistent throughout the setting and needs to be continual but also achievable. If children are empowered to have a voice and know they are heard, then this continual two way communication will be more achievable as the children clearly have a thirst for this. This aspect of the Mosaic approach (Clark & Moss 2001) would work well in the future as it allows even the less confident communicator to participate and have their voice heard without speaking.
To help support my research I used part of the Mosaic approach (Clark & Moss 2001) which Clark and Moss (2001) call a ‘framework for listening’. It states that children are confident communicators from birth, and recognises that children communicate in different ways, whilst acknowledging the contribution children can make as ‘experts of their own lives’ (Clark 2005). The Early Years Foundation Stage (Great Britain 2007) echoes this theory, and emphasis children’s rights to have a voice and be listened to.
The mosaic approach (Clark & Moss 2001) is a tool that can be used across settings in many ways to develop practice and support reflective practice. It recognises symbolic communication which relates to my research, as I used cameras to enable the children to communicate their likes and dislikes in the outdoor area. It is suggested by Clark and Moss (2001) that by using cameras it may assist verbal communication therefore make a positive contribution.
This was evident in my research as the images taken were discussed with the children afterwards, and it worked effectively enabling me to understand the children’s perspectives at a greater depth. The Mosaic approach (Clark & Moss 2001) explores adult’s perceptions of children, in my case the setting had perceived ideas of what the children liked and disliked outdoors when creating the outdoor space for the children previously, without their input.
These perceptions are essential as from my research it was proved what the adults thought the children wanted, they in fact did not. After completing the research and after gaining children’s permission, I held a staff meeting to feedback the results of the research and what was learnt during this module. Initially some staff were negative about children’s participation and labelled it time consuming, but after the session I held with them, and on reflection of their own practice they were able to see the benefits of giving children a voice.
The mosaic approach (Clark & Moss 2001)goes on to discuss using practitioner and parent knowledge of the child to inform perceptions and interpret information that is gathered, for example the images that the children took outdoors in my research. The Common core (Great Britain, 2005) aspect of effective communication and engagement with children, young people and families supports this and emphasises the importance of listening and communicating with children and families in various ways, whilst being respectful and understanding individual needs.
It discusses developing trusting relationships to develop communication, and the importance of involving them in decision making, as I did by sharing my research with the parents of the children involved, to support my interpretation of documentation and reflect and actively look and listen to what the children are trying to say. This research has opened the eyes of the setting and practitioners and enabled us to reflect upon how we enable children to make a positive contribution, and not only listen to children’s voices but actively seek their perspectives.
Prior to reflecting on our practice it was evident that the importance of enabling children to have a voice had been overlooked. The research clearly gave children the voice they needed as they were so passionate and engaged throughout. This is an area which as a setting we will use going forward in evaluating all areas of provision. It would have been beneficial to spend more time on my research to make it more valuable by using more pieces of the mosaic approach (Clark & Moss 2001) however this will be a long term action which has already been initiated and will be developed over time.
All children have the right to be heard and treated as equal human beings with respect, and tools such as the Mosaic approach (Clark & Moss 2001) are invaluable in enabling practitioners to reflect on practice and improve outcomes for children, allowing them the time and confidence they need to make a positive contribution to not just their outside play area but to a world which is theirs. References. CLARK, Alison (2005) Ways of seeing: using the mosaic approach to listen to young children’s perspectives in: CLARK, Alison. KJORHOLT, Anne Trine and MOSS, Peter (eds. ) Beyond listening: childrens perspectives on early childhood services.