Simone Myskiw - Guardian Blyth Street Early Learning Centre
Simone Myskiw - Guardian Blyth Street Early Learning Centre
This week we spoke with Simone Myskiw centre manager of the Guardian Blyth Street Early Learning Centre in Brunswick, Victoria about her innovative children's council concept.
How long have you been the Centre Manager at Blyth Street Early Learning Centre?
I have been the Centre Manager at Blyth Street for just over two years now.
How did you come up with the idea for a children's council?
I came up with the idea on a study tour in Reggio Emilia two and half years ago. I was so inspired by reading the documented conversations that children had with each other in the Reggio Emilia schools, the discourse between children and the pedagogista was so different to what I had witnessed in the past. While sitting in a lecture and reflecting on this, the idea sparked. I wanted to create a space for children and adults to engage in a relationship that created an image of the child as capable, intelligent, engaged and an active participant in their own learning and in their community.
We strive to embed each child’s voice, ideas, theories and opinions into our daily practices. We have reflected on how we do this, and in the past, we have made decisions for children, and then observed and discussed alongside them after changes have been made. In reflection, I wanted to invite a group of children to be a part of a decision-making council.
When we look at making changes to the centre, we first bring it to the council to get the children’s point of view. The intent was that we would role model and encourage children to become active citizens in their community, engage in debate and democracy and experience ownership over their decisions and what it means to make a decision for another person.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is a guiding document for us, our curriculum, philosophy and our practices. The UN Convention refers to the participatory rights of children, and as educators, we understand that children have the right to make decisions about how they participate.
How does it work exactly?
The children who are currently on the council meet with me in the office once a week, or whenever an issue arises, and we have to call an emergency meeting. We open the meeting by pulling out the documentation from our last session. This documentation takes the form of written document by myself or the educator running the meeting, documentation written or drawn by the children, and video and voice recordings. We go through it and either continue where we left off, or we might find something in our reflection/review that is interesting and pick that up.
With regards to how we decide what issues and ideas to discuss, it is both adult-led and child-led. Once we decide on an issue/idea/topic to discuss we really do leave the decision making to the children and try to use their language and capture their voice as much as possible. The Children’s Council operates much like a school’s Student Representative Council in which children meet to discuss important issues happening at the centre. This initiative is a great example of Guardian’s curriculum in action, as it recognises the children are global citizens and encourages them to communicate their ideas and to express themselves. Through exciting learning experiences such as this, children develop academic, social and critical thinking skills to prepare them for formal schooling and beyond.
What kind of issues get discussed and resolved in the council?
Children discuss everything from which water bottles they would prefer to use in the centre, input into the menu, issues around consent, privacy and rights to traits they would like their new educators to have. Earlier this year, discussions about appropriate play even lead the council to develop a code of conduct for play, to set expectations about what is and isn't appropriate behaviour for children in the centre and to guide educators on how to engage with children in their play spaces. The children have also contributed to our annual philosophy review by writing a charter of rights for Blyth Street Children.
Our most recent meeting discussed traffic management around the centre and this sparked a campaign to rally the community to create safer conditions. The children have designed flyers about the importance of improving safety around their local area and participated in a letterbox drop. The children have also created a petition and have been going out and about in their local community to parks and cafes to ask residents to sign in support of the cause. The children, their parents, and our leadership team also attended the council public meeting to submit our petition for a crossing. It was so important for the children to engage in the wider community and participate in democratic processes. More recently we have shifted our focus to sustainability as the children have been observing and tallying rubbish that they have seen in Merri Creek where we explore and play during our Bush Kinder sessions. We met with Green MP Tim Read so the children could discuss their concerns and share their ideas and concerns.
How long have you been doing the council?
The Children's Council at Blyth Street Early Learning Centre has been in operation for around two years.
What has the feedback been from parents, children and educators?
It has been really positive, it was a leap of faith when I first introduced it, as it does sit outside the box of what we usually see in early childhood settings, and I always get asked if this is giving children too much power. At its heart this is not what the children’s council is about, it is about engaging children and educators to think together and co-construct debates, share ideas and get a sense of what the largest group of stake holders in our community think about and care about. The educators and families have really enjoyed this process, with many adults in our community who have suggested a change or have been curious about how we could do something differently, asking us to 'take it to the council', and generally there has been little push back or challenge from educators and families about the decision that the children have made.
What do you think the benefits are in having a children's council?
We spent a long time critically reflecting on how we introduced new ideas and made changes in consultation with educators and families. But when it came to the child, we were still making a decision and delivering the outcome to children, we wanted to find a way to more effectively include children in the decision making process. So I felt like the time to introduce the idea of the children's council was now, that we had organically come to this decision to actively change the way we work alongside children to work in consultation with children. We are now in our second year of the council and the children, educators and parents alike love the initiative.
For us, we see how important it is to encourage a child's belief that anything is possible. When one of the children on the council shared a story about having to be very careful of the traffic in the local area, once she had finished her story, the other children on the council had similar stories - a shared community experience - we then made the wider community of families, educator’s and children aware of this conversation and found that many of the people in or community had a shared experience and concern. The children initially thought it was my responsibility alone to do something about it. Once we discussed how they can use their voices to make positive change in their community by appealing to their local representatives, I empowered them to build relationships in their community and foster a sense of independence and leadership to do something about the traffic. This is a great example of Guardian's commitment to empower children to take Educators on their journey in order to create high-quality learning and development outcomes for them.
Has there been anything surprising or challenging that's resulted from the council?
When we worked on the Code of Conduct for Play and the Charter of Rights for Blyth Street Children, we were really surprised at some of the issues that the children raised, and it was a really valuable insight into what they believed was important. What surprised us most was the connections that children had between home and care, the importance of relationships with each other and their educators and the desire to be in nature and engage with the wider community, and that they have recognised that play is a form of learning. The most challenging part of the children's council has been asking the right questions and when we have a session that isn't working, it isn't always the fault of the group of children, but that maybe as the adult, you are asking the wrong questions or that you are focusing on a topic that the children are not interested in or you are trying to go down a path that the children aren't interested in. Like I mentioned earlier, I let this idea bubble away for over a year before I introduced it to the educators and children, it has been a deep reflective and critical process.
Are there any other experiments or activities that are unique to your centre?
We are really passionate about engaging our team of educators to share their interests and passions, and so we have developed a Bush Kinder program that operates one day a week and rotates through the days over the year due to a shared passion for being in nature and sustainability, and community connections. We also have Italian classes that are led by one of our educators and are on offer for all children in the centre, and we are soon to launch a Chinese class. We also have another educator, who for the last 18 months has taught Nepalese dancing and singing classes once a week for children to participate in.
Any ideas for future programs you'd like to undertake that would see more input from the children (like the council)?
We rarely set an agenda for the council meetings, however we do set broad goals for the centre for the educators and leadership team to work on, and often these goals and big ideas are brought to the children's council at some stage to gain their perspective. The children are quite versed in how to participate in this group, some children have been members for two years now, so they are confident in asking questions and forming debates.
This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Monday, 30 December 2019
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