ECMS believes all children have the right to be safe, secure, treated fairly, listened to, have privacy and to reach their full potential. To reflect our commitment to teaching children and families about these fundamental rights, in 2017 we introduced the Children’s Rights Project.
When a group of children at Keon Park Children’s Hub in Melbourne’s north were concerned their bathroom wasn’t private enough, their teacher Rachael encouraged them to brainstorm solutions to the problem.
“The children came up with some great ideas,” says Rachael, the kindergarten’s lead educator. “For example, covering part of the bathroom window with wallpaper and adding dividers between the toilets.”
When the children decided what they really wanted was doors for each toilet, Rachael helped them write a letter to the council voicing their concerns and asking for help.
“They said things like, ‘We need doors for the bathroom because people don't like being seen on the toilet.’ And they talked about how the lack of privacy makes them feel. For example, ‘People looking at me makes me feel shy.’ ”
While the children at Keon Park are still advocating for their new toilet doors, Rachael says the process has been a wonderful way to educate them about the importance of standing up for their rights.
“It's about teaching children to work together and take action on matters that concern them. We’ve done well, and you can see the children are taking this learning on board.”
Rachael’s passion for educating children about their rights inspired her to volunteer Keon Park for ECMS’ Children’s Rights Project in 2017. The kindergarten was one of eight ECMS centres to take part in the project, which looked at strategies for promoting children’s rights within kindergarten and childcare settings.
Shannan Mudie, Senior Advisor of Pedagogy and Practice, says ECMS introduced the project in response to implementation of the Victorian Child Safe Standards in August 2016, particularly Child Safe Standard 7: Strategies to promote the participation and empowerment of children.
“Project participants took part in group professional development to inform their children’s rights thinking, and began an inquiry process or project in their centres to share with the broader sector,” says Shannan.
At Keon Park, the children were introduced to the concept of children’s rights via a video called What are Child Rights? It included footage of children from developing countries getting sick from drinking dirty water. When the children showed concern for these children’s welfare, Rachael decided to buy a bottle of water from the social enterprise Thankyou.
“The profits from Thankyou water go straight to hygiene and sanitisation programs for people in need,” explains Rachael.
“The beauty of Thankyou water is you’re able to track the impact, so you know exactly where the profits are going for every bottle of water. I tracked the impact with the children on the laptop. And that particular bottle of water went to a project in Vanuatu that helped 229 people in need.”
Rachael says this was a great way to remind the children that little acts of kindness can make a difference in other people’s lives.
The next stage of Keon Park’s project, the bathroom privacy issue, happened after some of the children raised concerns during a discussion on their right to privacy.
“The advocacy and perseverance of this group of children has been remarkable," says Shannan. "And the process is continuing in negotiation around safety, supervision and the need for privacy to this day.”
Shannan says children at the other ECMS centres that took part in the project also came up with creative ways to promote their rights.
“One kinder group created a book of illustrations and comments to take home and share with their families because they wanted to ensure adults knew about children’s rights. They went as far as wanting to organise a community meeting to tell everyone what they’d learnt. One early learning and care centre invited the children to draw pictures illustrating the different rights, and then created a song called Everybody has Rights.”
Rachael attributes the Children’s Rights Project’s success to the children having a sense of ownership over it.
“It’s based on children’s interests, their thoughts and ideas,” she says. “It’s an amazing approach because the children have the sense of ownership in their learning, and I think they’re very capable of that.”
Shannan says the project has been an excellent learning opportunity for educators, too. “They’ve learnt how to ensure children have a voice in everything we do. How to engage families in the process and empower children to be activists and advocates for others whose rights are not being upheld.”
This year ECMS will publish the project learnings in a book to be shared with the early childhood sector, and it will present the findings at the national Early Childhood Australia conference in September.