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Consultation with Children

Voice of the Child

Photo of three children hanging from a climbing frameThe people who understand best what children need are of course children themselves. They are renowned experts on their lives and we have a lot to learn from them. If we want to know how best to shape their outside worlds then it is to children we should turn first for advice. Children have a right to a say in all matters which affect them under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

This right is increasingly recognised and there are many examples of urban planning programmes, children’s play schemes and a diverse range of initiatives which are developed in consultation with children. The child’s right to have a voice is acknowledged under the National Children’s Strategy and the National Play Policy.  If there are changes proposed for a community, such as road development or new housing or even if there is a playground being installed, the needs of the local children must be met.

Consulting With Children

If children’s needs are to be understood, then consulting with them is essential. Not only do they propose suggestions that are of benefit to themselves, but their views invariably have positive implications for everyone in the community.

Although children often prioritise play,  a new playground full of swings and slides may not be what they want. Nor would children always choose the sort of equipment adults might.  Commercial play equipment alone may lose its appeal quite quickly.  Children tend to identify a need for a safe outdoor environment which gives them a variety of choices. They love to play outside with play equipment designed by nature; trees, hills, bushes and hedges, mud, water and sand.  Some very innovative playgrounds in Ireland are designed with this in mind and the idea of landscaping for play is beginning to emerge.

Children also express a desire to wander freely through their neighbourhoods. They take pleasure in a trip ot the local shop or being able to visit friends. All kinds of spontaneous play which utilises the pathways and small pockets of nature takes place on these trips

Listening to Children

Illustration of two children with a speech bubbleFrom a very early age, children have very strong and insightful opinions. But listening to children is challenging for adults. It requires both skill and the will to take their views on board. Their ideas are often very practical. They might look for a pedestrian crossing rather than a new slide in the park. Any consultation with children should be representative of those who will be affected by new plans in the area. There is a need to establish the age range, ability, cultural background, gender and personal preferences. Questions should be broad-based and the children’s proposal should be taken very seriously and as far as possible, their ideas should be implemented.