Instant snapshot from the nursery

14th September 2001 at 01:00
TODDLERS could be given disposable, easy-to-use cameras to record their views about what matters in nursery schools, a children's conference heard last week.

On the back of the Scottish Executive decision to outlaw smacking of children under three, children's advocates stressed that nursery teachers must now listen to the views of three and four-year-olds and allow them to shape provision.

But teachers should not necessarily gather opinions in traditional ways, a Children in Scotland conference in Glasgow was told.

Alison Clark, a researcher at London University's Institute of Education, who has completed an 18-month project on pre-five child consultation, said photography could allow very young children to communicate in new ways. "Photographs are evidence of not only what is there but of what individuals see, not just a record but an evaluation of the world," Ms Clark said.

Photographs, often well-taken and posed, tended to focus on staff with young children, parents and visitors in the play room, play equipment and changing and washing areas. The children also focused on personal items such as potties, cots, towels and mattresses. Such evidence could build a broader picture of children's understanding of their environment in a "mosaic approach". Children would be encouraged to conduct tours of the nursery, recorded through video and drawings.

Other approaches included staff observation and "child conferencing", talking directly to them in a more formal way. One girl asked what grown ups should do at nursery replied: "Play with people."

Kirsten Poulsgaard, a consultant to the Ministry of Social Affairs in Copenhagen, said that childcare centres in Denmark are obliged by law to listen to the views of young children and allow them to influence everyday life. "This is not a whim of fashion but an important condition for democracy," she said.

Kay Tisdall, director of policy and research at Children in Scotland, said: "There is a great deal of rhetoric about listening to children but we have no idea how we are doing. There is a lot of enthusiasm but a lack of systematic evaluation."

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