Breakfast foods laid out on a tableclothAlternatively, we may present children with a narrow set of implicit options in their day-to-day environments (Inside or outside, home corner or story corner, apple or raisins, happy or sad etc) and hold up these limited/binary choices as “participation”. Or we may have a preconceived plan which we want children to endorse. (“Should we go to the museum today?”)

Moosa-Mitha and the UNCRC encourage us, as adults, to “acknowledge” and “take seriously” children’s views. However, they do not fundamentally challenge the idea that adults are routinely gatekeepers of what is right, appropriate or “available” or that we control the ways in which children are invited to participate.

Three pitfalls


Kay Tisdall (2015) reminds us that participation can easily be:
Tokenistic (have no real interest in acting on children’s contributions)
Instrumental (highly selective of children’s contributions in order to reinforce our own aims)
Exclusionary (amplify the children who speak most, or forget that an invitation to participate isn’t enough if children have previously been disempowered).

Case study

Anita is struggling to support children’s free play when she also has to get everything ready on the lunch tables. One day a child asks Anita to read her a story just before lunch time. At the next team meeting Anita says that “the children” have been asking to have a story before lunch time – and suggests that all the children are invited to sit down for story time at 11.30. Some colleagues sense that other children may have different needs on different days, but it is agreed to implement Anita’s idea because it has come from “the children” and staff can see how it will help Anita.

Q: Which of Tisdall’s concerns are reflected in this situation?
Q: What alternative approaches could have been used to consider children’s perspectives and balance them with Anita’s needs?

Children’s Participation, A Toolkit – Table of Contents

1. What is participation     2. Limits of participation    3. Children’s resistances    4. Children’s right to shape the world    5. New worlds     6. A co-learning community     7. A new kind of citizenship     8. Resources