Different forms of citizenship education, participatory settings and other political elements have been established in children’s worlds, where children are recognised as participating subjects, active citizens or political agents.
What is missing in these kinds of settings is understanding participation from children’s point-of-view. For example, by analysing interviews from 120 schoolchildren aged between 11 and 15 years old from two cities in Finland, I found out that children’s everyday relationships form the most important contexts for actively taking part in any matter. They participate by negotiating in various situations, form opinions, and listen to and collaborate with others. Issues related to hobbies and pets, and rules at home, kindergarten or school, can form mundane contexts for participation.
Everyday Life Participation
An example of everyday life participation is children’s negotiations about quitting their hobbies. In this mundane, but to them meaningful, matter they learn to understand what their role is in matters important to them. How do adults listen to them? What weight is given to their opinions?
In mundane contexts, children learn how other people listening to them perceive their point of view, and these interactions are important for children’s experiences of participation. These experiences vary from child to child and it is impossible to say that there could be some kinds of common “children’s issues” in societies. As adults, we should be sensitive to every child-subjects wishes to take part in what is important to them.
At the same time, we should create structures that recognise children as citizens in their own right. We should enable understanding, where children have a say in matters important to them without implying that their thoughts are less important because of their age.
Where participation happens?
From an everyday life point-of-view, participation is mundane and happens in everyday life communities. That is not to say that issues important to children are smaller-scale matters but to create an understanding of where children form understanding of their place in society. In policy-making and participatory practices, it is important to notice moments, matters and communities important to children in their everyday lives, and to promote their possibilities to act in these contexts.
From a child-centred perspective, children should be offered opportunities to find communal ways of living on their own terms, and have possibilities to take part in different processes in their everyday environments. This makes their participation, citizenship and political agency meaningful.
Participation in SOS Children’s Villages Finland
In SOS Children’s Villages Finland, we are promoting children’s participation in their everyday life by giving them a voice in matters important to them. For example, young people have created an educational tour for social workers called “How you could be the best social worker for me”. We are also strengthening adults’ understanding of mundane participation and its meaningfulness to children’s experiences. Children’s participation can be seen at least from three point-of-views; it is an everyday life interaction, a possibility to develop services and an societies institutional settings for participation.
At the same time, by promoting children’s mundane environments as important participating contexts, we offer them also a possibility for a different active citizenship role. Becoming a member of society is a process through which children learn, little by little, how to function in modern societies. In these non-linear processes, children are at the same time “beings and becomings”, which is to say that what is significant in childhood may also carry importance in adulthood.
By appreciating children’s mundane environments, everyday life communities and important matters, we create a society where participation is not a project or an additional activity, but a common part of a life as a (child)citizen.