What is a right? What rights do children have in their schools, families and communities? And most importantly, What are the rights young children believe they should have in order to reach their full potential and participate in their community? These are the questions early childhood Professor John Nimmo pondered as he embarked on a film project entitled “Voices of Children,” for the World Forum Foundation (WFF).
John Nimmo, assistant professor in the Curriculum and Instruction Department, is working with a team of multinational educators to discover the central values of our youngest global citizens –ages birth to eight years old. He is a member of the Working Initiative on Children’s Rights, for the WFF, an international consortium of educators working to improve the lives of young children around the world.
Nimmo’s global committee of early childhood educators and videographers sought to establish the voice of children in a documentary that would help adults understand the point of view of children. The group wondered what children actually knew about their rights. How did they feel about their place in society? And what was truly important to them?
For Nimmo, it was a unique chance to work with early childhood professionals from around the world. “What would it look like for videographers and social scientists from Brazil to come together with educators from the United States and Singapore and come to India and think about not only how we listen and how we speak about rights but also how we document them and make them visible?” said Nimmo, who has spent 30+ years working in early childhood education in multiple countries and cultures. “In the process, our goal was to unpack the typically Western and individualistic concept of rights and develop a more complex and culturally inclusive understanding.”
The team’s first obstacle was figuring out the best method to collect the data from numerous sites on seven continents. Nimmo was able to tap into a deep reservoir of enthusiastic colleagues who agreed to host his video crew and who provided access to locations and interpreters. They collected recordings from Scotland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Nepal, and Israel, to name a few. The team also travelled to Brazil, Kenya, USA, Singapore, and India to engage directly with children. The sites include a broad spectrum of socioeconomic and demographic groups.
Nimmo’s role in the project could best be described as the “pedagogical director.” His job was to determine the best way to elicit authentic responses from the children that were also absent of any adult influence and voice. The team used multiple methods at each site, including giving them the cameras to collect their own expressions.
Once the children were comfortable with the project team, the children really wanted to talk. “They wore us out talking,” he said. They danced, they exercised, and they played games. They made art projects and prepared food.
The team developed a new and profound understanding of how best to listen to the children. As a result, the schools they visited began to change. Educators began to learn new things and began to change how they viewed the children.
Hundreds of hours of recordings went into editing. Nimmo and the group met in Colorado to identify common themes and to tease out certain differences in cultures. Their goal is for the final 20-minute cut of the work to be totally absent of any adult voice. Nimmo says they have enough material to produce a second work, “The Making of the Voices of Children,” which could also be a useful tool for educators.
The Voices of Children premiers at the next convening of World Forum on Early Care and Education in Auckland, New Zealand in May 2017. It will then be available for screenings at conferences and educational forums around the world. Funding has come through the WFF, Avanti (Brazil), and the Child@Street11 Foundation (Singapore).
The World Forum Foundation is a nonprofit organization organized in response to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The United Nations General Assembly adopted the UNCRC in 1989. It guarantees children civil and political, as well as economic, social, and cultural rights.
The UNCRC is the most rapidly and widely ratified human rights treaty in history. The United States is the only UN country in the world that has yet to sign it.