Last reviewed 27 November 2020

Rebecca Fisk looks at the importance of listening seriously to children in early years settings and how they can be a stronger part of the community as a result.


‘Every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously’. Article 12 UNICEF UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Children need to be able to contribute. They need a sense of belonging. Encouraging children to have some control over the provision in their early years setting can help them feel empowered and part of the community. Practitioners can ‘listen’ to children in different ways.

Different ways of listening

Practitioners can gather children’s ideas and thoughts about a particular space, resource, or routine in the setting.

There are several different ways of ‘listening’ to children.

  • Simply asking them and helping them to articulate what they mean.

  • Encouraging them to show you. Allowing them to move things around and demonstrate their thinking.

  • Observing them carefully and watching where and how they play, noting their fascinations and interests and what they are curious about.

  • Noticing how they behave in different spaces and at different times of the day. Consider how they interact with the space and each other when they are in it.

  • Being aware of how they feel and how aspects of the environment seem to impact on those feelings.

  • Asking children to represent their thinking perhaps through mark-making and design, creating models, small world scenario play or puppet talk.

  • Allowing children to photograph the things they like and dislike about the environment and making a gallery to show what has changed.


Ask children to share what they like and dislike about an area, such as the outdoor space. Perhaps they do not like all the soggy leaves because they slipped on them once and now avoid playing near the tree? They may love the blanket den because it makes them feel hidden and safe. Also take time to notice where the children play least often, and ask the children to tell you about that space in their own words. Maybe they avoid the jigsaw and games area because they have outgrown the resources there or it isn’t set out in a way where you can easily collaborate with others?

Consider where children like to take risks and ensure enough opportunity for them to take risks in an appropriate way. Think about where children like to demonstrate their schematic play. For example, a child who likes containment play may often want to hide themselves so making safe places for them to do so supports their current pattern of playing.


Focus on a resource such as the sand tray and ask children how it can be improved. They may have experience of playing in the sand at a beach or large playground on holiday and have new suggestions on what they would like to see in there.

Young children, especially babies, may be drawn to sensory items. Share professional development on heuristic play and ask each member of staff to develop a different treasure basket for the baby room.

Find out what resources might be missing, for example, asking children about their homes to better inform how you resource role play areas.

Ensure resources for different schemas (patterns of play behaviour), such as things to support containment, connection, linear play, rotational play and so on.


Gather information from children about what they do and do not like about different routines. They may like mealtimes all together or prefer just to sit with a friend. They may consider circle time goes on too long and is ‘boring’ or love being part of a larger group.

Discuss with parents and the Special Educational Needs Coordinator if some aspects of a routine might trigger anxiety in some children, for example, the sound of the hand dryers during a hygiene routine. Can you make a towel available for that child instead?

Consider if your routines are in place for the children or the adults. This is a great conversation starter for a staff meeting!


Every child has the right to have their views respected and by showing children you are really listening to them you are boosting their self-esteem and confidence to express themselves. It helps practitioners to get to know children and plan for their next steps, as well as build a relationship of trust and security.

Enabling all children to make choices and have some control over their experiences is a central to quality practice. It is embedded in the principle of a Unique Child in the Early Years Foundation Stage and required by the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Code of Practice. Children are the future and encouraging their voices and choices to be heard in all aspects of early years provision will support them to participate and inspire them to contribute their ideas, thoughts, and knowledge.