The rights of the child must be continuously taken into account in early childhood education and care. Almost all rights also involve a physical activity dimension.

Physical activity is one of the rights of the child

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is an international human rights agreement adopted by the UN General Assembly on 20 November 1989. In Finland, the Convention was adopted by an Act of Parliament and entered into force on 20 July 1991. It is binding for all national and local public officials as well as any private parties discharging official duties.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child sets the best interests of the child as the highest priority and as the main thread running throughout the Convention. The best interests of the child must be a primary consideration in all activities and decision-making processes concerning children. In the context of early childhood education and care, the key aspects include the child’s right to play and leisure, the child’s right to participate and have a say in matters affecting them, and every child’s right to equal treatment and non-discrimination.

Almost all the substantive rights included in the Convention also involve a dimension relating to physical activity. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has expressed its concern for the fact that children are losing their touch with nature and outdoor recreation, because teaching mainly takes place indoors. Excessive pursuit of safety should not prevent children from playing and testing their own physical limits.

Children’s rights and participation form the backbone of early childhood education and care activities. A healthy and happy child is also featured in the objectives of the National Core Curriculum for Early Childhood Education and Care. Wellbeing stems from respecting and listening to children, and it is a prerequisite for growth, learning and development.

Putting children’s participation at the core of early childhood education and care

Our current conception of the child is based on children’s participation. Children are seen as active, independent, social, inquiring and skilled acquirers of information, parties to interaction and builders of their own world-view. Their experiences and opinions are respected and they are included in planning, building and assessing educational activities and environments.

It is important for early childhood education and care to place an emphasis on the nature of childhood as an intrinsic value, to cherish childhood and to guide children in their growth as human beings. Children have the right to be seen, heard, understood and taken into account in accordance with their age and maturity, both as unique and valuable individuals and as group members.

It is the educator’s responsibility to ensure the realisation of children’s rights and participation. Participation is realised when children are included in planning and implementation of activities. This allows children to feel that their opinions matter and are taken into account. Indeed, this boils down, first and foremost, to community spirit and full membership of the community.

Children’s participation does not reduce the adults’ responsibility. Adults are responsible for the quality of pedagogy. It is their task to organise an inspiring and stimulating operating and learning environment, where children have the opportunity to take initiative and opt to use equipment and facilities that inspire physical activity, for example.

How do children see their own everyday lives in early childhood education and care?

The aspects most preferred by children are playing and physical activity. Children want to exceed their limits and learn new skills, especially climbing, running and jumping. Physically active games are also important for children. They find long stationary periods dull and identify their own bed and bedroom as dull places. They expect adults to enable playing and physical activity. The data shows that children have a lot to give for the development of everyday practices in early childhood education and care. (Source: a 2014 Ministry of Education and Culture survey of the perceptions of everyday life among children in early childhood education and care.)

Text and image by: Joy in Motion programme

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