WORDS by: Helen Connolly, Commissioner for Children and Young People
One of the key learnings I have had as this state’s Commissioner for Children and Young People is just how few opportunities children and young people are given to have their voices heard.
To address this, in 2019 I initiated an annual Student Postcard initiative. Last year I received 16,007 postcards representing participation by 326 SA primary and combined schools of which 67 schools have participated every year since the initiative commenced. This brings the total number of postcards received over the past five years to more than 40,000 providing a rich source of information for researchers, academics, decision makers and professionals about the lives of SA children aged 8 – 12 years.
Due to the success of this initiative, and at the request of many early year’s teachers and educators, I decided to extend ‘Postcards’ to include pre-schoolers. I want to ensure that SA children in this age group also have an opportunity to have a voice. To do this I’ve been asking them one simple question. What is their favourite place and why? With support from their teachers and child-care educators they are invited to answer by drawing a picture and telling me why it’s their favourite place.
So far, I’ve received 70 postcards from pre-school aged children. They’ve drawn pictures of their homes with their parents and siblings there or playing games. Others have chosen to draw something at their preschool or childcare centre, such as the water-pump or the playdough table. Many children’s favourite places were outdoors – the playground (especially the slide), the sandpit, the bike track, the beach, or the park. Others drew pictures of their nanna’s house, or the shops and McDonald’s.
Engaging pre-school and kindergarten aged children in this simple activity exposes them to what it means to have a voice and be heard. It fits with the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) which sets out what’s involved in taking a child-rights approach and promotion of children’s active citizenship. As highlighted in the EYLF introduction, early years educators are guided by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in their daily practice, including recognising the right of children to ‘be active participants in all matters affecting their lives.’
The Early Years Postcards gives South Australian preschool children a unique opportunity to experience what it’s like to share what’s on their minds with me, their Commissioner.
“They can do this through a simple activity that supports their understanding of what it means to have a voice and agency. Being able to speak up and express their opinions is a core right of children as stated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. To exercise this right, children need to know about it, and adults need to not dismiss it.”
Helen Connolly is South Australia’s Commissioner for Children and Young People. To find out more about the work of the Commissioner including access to free resources designed specifically for parents and carers visit ccyp.com.au
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