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The Participation Principle - are we doing enough to support this UNCRC right in ECEC?

Updated: Apr 6

The child's right to participate

I have read numerous articles recently which have piqued my interest in the principle of participation outlined in Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) (UN, 1989). The Irish Government ratified the UNCRC in 1992 and at that time there was a significant bridge to gap regarding participation and we have undoubtedly come a long way since, however, the more I read the more I get the feeling that we still have a long way to go. (Which politician once said “A lot done…more to do?). My thoughts this week have pondered on this and whether we are doing enough to uphold the child’s right to participation in ECEC or is there room for improvement?


A bit of both

This post is partly a continuation from last week’s blog offering when I was discussing the concept of childhood and how, for the most part, childhood is constructed by adults who create children’s games, books, clothes and ultimately dictate “emerging interests” of children relative to shifts in popular culture, celebrity, gaming etc. Although in ECEC we claim to represent the voice of the child and plan future learning experiences based on their emergent interests, I can’t help but wonder how authentically we actually do this in practice versus on paper? Are we consistently and effectively putting theory into practice when it comes to active participation and children’s views or are we just doing enough? I have a suspicion that, reflective of the nature versus nurture debate, we are probably doing a bit of both.


What exactly is it?

So, what exactly is the principle of participation and how does it relate to ECEC practice? The UNCRC outlines 4 general principles which are considered requirements for minimum implementation of the convention. One of these principles states that “the child’s view must be considered and taken into account in all matters affecting him or her” and this directly correlates to Article 12 – The Child’s Opinion. Under Article 12 the obligations of the State include the child’s right to freely express their opinion once they are “capable of forming” their own views and these views should be given due weight according to the child’s age and maturity level.


In ECEC practice this is also underpinned by Síolta Standard 1: Rights of the Child which describes quality professional practice as “ensuring that each child’s rights are met” and that we enable children to “exercise choice and use initiative as an active participant and partner in his/her own learning” (DES, 2017). I have no doubt that most ECEC providers in Ireland strive to provide quality ECEC which is representative of both Aistear and Síolta, but I wonder if we could do more to enable children to have a say in the running of our ECEC practice?


The benefit of hindsight

When I think back to my own experiences as a practitioner and manager in ECEC, although our setting was child-led and emergent, there are still instances that I can think of that we could have improved upon in this regard (hindsight is a wonderful thing). For example, capturing the child’s voice during free play by writing down what we heard them say more frequently as an insight into their thoughts and feelings and an authentic representation of their voice. Or that time when we were getting the interior walls of the setting painted, could we have engaged the children in the process of deciding the new colour, and who knows what other interesting learning experiences and possibilities could that have led to? We always loved to capture children’s interests through photography and we captioned them with phrases to highlight particular areas of the Aistear curriculum their play related to, but wouldn’t it have been great if we had gone through those images with the children and supported them to self-reflect on their experiences and let them tell us what they were thinking, feeling, learning etc and put that information on the captions instead of what we assumed they were learning?


Could we do a bit more?

We may describe our curriculum as child-led or emergent and inquiry based, and we may well be doing our best to implement that, but I wonder if we had the time and space to really look at our practice in relation to the principle of participation, could we do a bit more? The importance of supporting children’s right to participation is described in polices which influence the sector including Better Outcomes Brighter Futures 2014-2020 and the First 5 whole-of government-strategy for babies, young children and their families 2019-2028 so this is a topic we are likely to hear much more about in professional practice.


Sharing is caring!

If you would like more information on this area, I suggest you read up on the Lundy Model (2007) (see image below) which is a framework developed by Professor Laura Lundy to support children’s involvement in the decision making process and includes a checklist to help in the development of practices reflective of the principle of participation and the UNCRC Article 12 (UN, 1989). If you have suggestions from your professional practice of ways in which you and your colleagues support the principle of participation, why not share by leaving a comment below this blog post…..that way you can be an active participant in the knowledge sharing process!


About the Author: Paula Walshe is an ECEC trainer and placement assessor in the further education and training sector and a freelance writer. She currently holds a BA (Hons) in Early Childhood Education and will complete her studies for a Master’s Degree in Leadership for ECEC in 2022. Paula has extensive ECEC experience in both pedagogical practice and ECEC management. You can learn more about Paula’s work at her website (www.thedigitalearlychildhoodeducator.ie), where she writes a weekly blog on current topics in Early Childhood Education and Care in Ireland and provides useful professional and academic resources for students and professionals in this sector. Paula is also one of the creators of an ECE community of practice based on Twitter: ECE Quality Ireland (@ECEQualityIRL) / Twitter Contact Paula: LinkedIn: Paula Walshe / Twitter: @digitalearlyed / Instagram: @digitalearlychildhoodeducator.



About the Author:


Paula Walshe is an ECEC trainer and placement assessor in the further education and training sector and a freelance writer. She currently holds a BA (Hons) in Early Childhood Education and will complete her studies for a Master’s Degree in Leadership for ECEC in 2022. Paula has extensive ECEC experience in both pedagogical practice and ECEC management. You can learn more about Paula’s work at her website (www.thedigitalearlychildhoodeducator.ie), where she writes a weekly blog on current topics in Early Childhood Education and Care in Ireland and provides useful professional and academic resources for students and professionals in this sector. Paula is also one of the creators of an ECE community of practice based on Twitter: ECE Quality Ireland (@ECEQualityIRL) / Twitter


Contact Paula: LinkedIn: Paula Walshe / Twitter: @digitalearlyed / Instagram: @digitalearlychildhoodeducator.


The Lundy Model (2007)






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