Years ago, Children’s Week used to look a particular way in all of our Early Childhood Centres. We’d bring in a jumping castle, do face painting, have a dress-up day and maybe even a pyjama day to wrap it all up. We did this because we wanted to celebrate children and childhood, and we thought that just “having fun” was the best way to do it.
But a couple of years ago, we decided to do some research into where Children’s Week came from and why we celebrate it in Australia. We knew that each year had a theme from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), but we hadn’t realised that one of the major goals of Children’s Week was to actually raise awareness of the UNCRC and promote children’s rights.
Once we realised this, we began to critically reflect on whether our usual plans for Children’s Week were appropriate. When we asked each other why we did those events every year (the bouncy castle, the face-painting), we realised that it was because “that’s what we’ve always done”. Looking at the Early Years Learning Framework, we reflected on this section:
“The diversity in family life means that children experience belonging, being and becoming in many different ways. They bring their diverse experiences, perspectives, expectations, knowledge and skills to their learning. Children’s learning is dynamic, complex and holistic. Physical, social, emotional, personal, spiritual, creative, cognitive and linguistic aspects of learning are all intricately interwoven and interrelated.” – The Early Years Learning Framework, p. 9
We asked ourselves whether bouncy castles, pyjama days and “just having fun” really acknowledged children’s learning as dynamic, complex and holistic? Were these events exploring all those different aspects of learning?
We also wondered how they raised awareness and explored the powerful UNCRC document. As early childhood educators and leaders, we see ourselves as upholders of children’s rights. Was our usual approach to Children’s Week really part of upholding and showcasing children and their rights?
As we discussed these questions, we quickly realised we would have to do things differently. Particularly as the theme this year was Article 29, which referred to ensuring that children’s education was focused on their holistic development. The first thing we decided on was that we wanted to find a way to really acknowledge and celebrate how deeply children engage with their own learning, and find respectful and ethical ways to share their work with the community. Team Leaders across our Centres spoke directly with children about their rights, and about how they felt about their experiences in their classrooms.
After lots of these conversations, it was decided that we would hold an exhibition of children’s work. There would be no inflatable castles, no face-paint and no pyjamas – but there would be a place where the community could come and see how smart, creative, inquisitive, curious and competent children are. How they are worthy of the rights that theirs from birth, and how they have so much to offer their world. They are not just being prepared to contribute to the community, but are already doing so.
We spoke with our families about how Children’s Week would look different this year. That the usual “fun” activities would not be available. There were some questions and some concerns, but we enjoyed the opportunity to explore this with families. We talked about how important it was for us to acknowledge children in this way.
As we reach the end of Children’s Week for 2017, we are so pleased and proud with how the exhibition has been received. Children’s work and thinking was viewed by lots of different people, and it was respectfully and ethically displayed and discussed. But what we were most taken aback by was when we each brought groups of children from our Centres to the exhibition. It was humbling to watch as children explored and engaged with the work of their peers from other centres – asking questions, looking closely and developing connections with children they had never met.
That’s a much better feeling at the end of the week than just having fun.
This article was jointly written by Wendy Mackay (Centre Director, Harrison Early Childhood Centre), Lauren Hibberson (Centre Director, Majura Early Childhood Centre), Jami Symons (Centre Director, Treehouse in the Park Early Learning Centre), Juliana Teaurima (Centre Director, Civic Early Childhood Centre).
It was originally written as a reflection on National Children’s Week 2017.