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Toddlers get the vote

Nursery heads told to listen to the weans when they decide on staffing and resources

Three and four-year-olds can help nursery heads deploy staff and plan the curriculum, one of the authorities that is leading the way on consulting children says.

Stirling, the first council in Scotland to establish an all-embracing children's service, now insists it is not good enough to listen. Fresh advice to nurseries says staff have to act on their views and be prepared to make changes.

A 27-page guide called Children as Partners says they can be consulted on activities and equipment, timing of routines, curriculum planning, resource buying, new developments, levels of adult involvement and positive behaviour policies.

Ann Strang, children's committee convener, said: "Stirling Council began life three years ago by putting children first and this project is a natural development of that policy. Engaging very young children in dialogue about important issues affecting their own learning environment is challenging both to staff and children. If it is to have real meaning, children themselves must be able to see things change as a result of consultation. This is central to what we are trying to achieve."

The guide was produced by Linda Kinney, head of early childhood, and Terry McCabe, head of Park Drive nursery in Bannockburn. They accept that staff may harbour reservations and warn them not to expect instant results.

Ms Kinney said the initiative was based on best practice in Danish nurseries and followed an 18-month pilot. "In the new climate, there is a move towards understanding and participation and nursery age has to be the starting point of citizenship.

"One thing we have learnt is that young children want to play outdoors. When we are refurbishing nurseries we have got to give equal consideration to outdoors provision. This shows we have to change all the way to he top."

Nursery staff, the guide advises, have a responsibility to involve all children and should observe and record carefully what "those with limited oral expression are telling us through actions, body language and gesture". Teachers and nursery staff should expect to encounter some difficulties.

Once staff and children are comfortable with approaches to consultation, they can jointly take more decisions.

A key area might be the organisation of the nursery, reviewing the activities and apparatus, deciding the kind of snacks and commenting on the timing of routines. They could also comment on the key worker system.

Nursery pupils may also look at buying resources, reviewing and developing areas of interest, and considering plans.

"Children can be involved in helping staff prioritise new areas of development and deciding levels of adult involvement," the authors say.

HOW CHILDREN'S VIEWS HAVE BEEN TAKEN ON BOARD

Staff deployment: some children were shown photos of nursery areas and activities. Others were shown a chart with pictorial symbols. They were given play people to represent staff and asked to put them where they would like a member of staff to be. The children could be very open in their comments about where staff should be and why, often indicating which staff had particular strengths.

As a result, staff were able to reflect more closely on their own practice, seeing it from children's point of view. Children put particular members of staff in the home corner and said why they wanted them there.

* Buying resources: children were shown samples brought in by a company rep. and asked to make choices from a limited range. They asked for more musical instruments so everyone could have one. Faced with a choice of several instruments or one large drum, they chose the drum, realising there would still not be enough for the group.

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