Giving voice to children: challenges and priorities
To educators and parents from every corner,
I would like to address you as a spokesperson for our children and invite you to pause for a moment and listen to what children have to say.
Most of us have forgotten that we were once children. We forget how much we loved to play, to hide, to share and keep secrets, to be a superhero, play house, doctor, play catch, play with kites; to do nothing, to scribble away the world, run and dance away; how much we loved to paint, draw, and dream. We learned a lot from our parents and grandparents and later from our neighbors, cousins and friends from school. We were afraid we would not be accepted, rejected by our class, scolded by our parents and teachers. We hated it when we were pressured or when people discovered our secrets and plans, or worse, when they put an end to them. Like any child, we just wanted to be free and to do only what we enjoyed doing. Perhaps the greatest lessons we have learned came from the pain of punishment, frustration and rejection.
I don't know if you remember that, in the past, children had very few rights and many obligations, they were seldom heard or could share their opinion, or express their feelings and needs. Perhaps those who listened to us the most - up until today - are our grandparents.
On the other hand, children had a lot of free time, they played and lived with children of different ages, had the street to themselves and nature was always close by.
Today it seems that clocks run faster and that the day itself is never enough for children to have play breaks. Nowadays, time and bodies are 'taken' by cell phones, videogames and connections in social networks. Today, they are offered promises of 'joy' and ‘happiness' by toys and consumer items even though what they really desire - even if they might not be aware of it - is to live out their childhood times fully, to discover and venture into different experiences with their bodies and their souls, to get to know the world, people and spaces around them.
Because of all these perceptions of how childhood used to be, not so long ago - here in Brazil and around the world; for realizing how childhood is today; and the opportunity for many researchers, activists, educators, and professionals from the most diverse fields of knowledge to contribute with many new discoveries, evidence and experiences about the realities and universes of children; we are all learning how important it is to listen to the children and give them space and time so that they can express themselves, play, socialize, discover and fully live out their childhoods.
We have noticed that free time nowadays is full of activities: there is great pressure on the adults, we want our children to learn everything about this world so soon! We are anxious for our children to prepare for the future and not always realize the importance of 'here and now', of each child's present moment in life. We have shown that despite so many achievements and increased awareness of the importance of ensuring child-friendly spaces in cities, public spaces and nature are still rare. And many adults are bothered by the presence of children in certain places. And in turn, children have been sad, sick, distressed, and aggressivein many occasions.
But many adults - parents, teachers, caregivers, managers - have come to discover that children have an immense repertoire of knowledge, symbols, games, narratives and languages unknown to them.
I would like to motivate you through this letter - such as those we used to write with pen and pencil on paper and were sent by post - to get closer to the children around you, to get to know and learn from them their jokes, talk about their lives, build with them the dreams of the cities we all want; to read and try to understand, together with children, what their drawings and paintings ‘tell us', what they mean when they sing, when they dance, when they scribble and speak to themselves. Perhaps maybe we learn who they really are through their looks, their feelings and their voices?
Often adults look at children and it is as if we were in front of a mirror that reminds us that one day we were also children and that we too had our own dreams, time to spare and much to conquer. But we must not forget that in every adult we carry inside our inner child and a chest full of memories. Children remind us of these memories and the importance of this phase of life - childhood - each time we can truly connect with them.
What I’m proposing here is to offer them more time, space and eager ears and eyes and our full presence so they can slowly guide us through their worlds and, from their voices and expressions, give us the opportunity to learn what each one has to tell and teach us.
We adults have our wisdom. But they have wisdom that we do not know of and so much more we have already forgotten.
And with all this knowledge we want to be able to contribute to improve our cities, our daily lives, our spaces and enrich the education and culture of life of society. Let's do this together? Let's ask them permission so we can peek through the cracks of their lives and get to know more about them? '