The bi-annual SAASIA (Society of Aoga Amata Aotearoa) conference was held in Samoa in September and October 2015 with the theme around children’s voices. SAASIA is a national organisation that provides guidance, support, and advice to aoga amata (Samoan Early Childhood Services) across Aotearoa.
Ruta McKenzie and Justine Mason, along with Veronica Kidd and Jan Fensom, the recipients of this year’s CORE Pasifika grant (KIDDZ Homebased Care Services) had a presentation accepted for this conference. Belinda Williamson from North Beach Childcare Centre also travelled to the SA’ASIA conference alongside her fellow teacher researchers from Mapusaga A’oga Amata.
Following is Ruta and Justine’s review of the conference.
Perspectives on seeing, looking, listening, and hearing
During our presentation we shared our perspectives on four words — Seeing, looking, listening and hearing. These might sound like simple words but if you are mindful of the significance of these words they become a very deep frame through which we can reflect on our interactions with children.
We believe that we need to do more than “look” at a person. We aim to provoke teachers into making significant shifts in their practice by providing a means to look deeper into the child/aiga, to not just look and listen to them, but to see and hear who they are, and how their language and culture forms and informs their identity.
In Alaska, when a child is born and her/his voice is first heard, the Athabaskan people say: “Who has come?”
In the Western world when a baby is born and her/his voice is first heard, people often say, “is it a boy or a girl? How heavy was she or he? Are they both all right? What time did the mother give birth? Did she have a caesarean or natural birth?”
In the Pasifika world when a baby is born and his/her voice is first heard the family says, “Let’s give thanks to God for his precious gift to the family, church and the village”. These messages convey the ways diverse communities hear/listen to children’s voices.
A historical view of children in some societies has been that children are to be seen but not heard. Children were often expected to listen and obey without question in this traditional view. To question authority was a sign of disrespect and rudeness. Pasifika children are often introduced to societal norms in a religious context where they learn biblical verses and rules to honour their parents.
Listening to hear, looking to see.
It is only relatively recently that children’s voices and views have been seen as important (Bishton, 2007). At the SAASIA conference the majority of participants were Samoan. Our presentation was delivered in Samoan and English. To support participants to connect culturally with our message, the importance of listening and hearing children’s voices was emphasized by biblical quotes, cultural proverbs and Western worldviews. Recognising the perspectives of young children is part of cultural respect, listening to children, adults and families in the early years was foregrounded.
Ruta shared an example of listening to hear and looking to see. Ruta was visiting a local Aoga Amata and she took the time to observe a child at play. Talia was at the art area using coloured pencils drawing a rainbow- “O la’u nuanua lea” (“Here is my rainbow”), she said.
When Talia was sharing her drawings of the rainbow, Ruta’s initial thoughts were about the rainbow in the sky. However, she held on to her ideas and let Talia share her own story. The rainbow (nuanua) was drawn with different colours, which, when Talia told her story represented members of her nuclear and extended family. Talia concluded with two marks that exemplified her cousin and herself, saying that she is big and her cousin is small. Throughout the process of naming and exploring Talia’s story it appeared that the colours of the rainbow best captured her own story of her cultural construction and identity.
Ruta’s knowledge and understanding about the value of listening and hearing children’s voices enabled her to see the complexity of Talia’s cultural understanding about identity and the uniqueness of each family member in her life.
Connecting body, mind and spirit — being in the moment
During the conference all participants had an opportunity to visit local preschools in Savaii. Preschools in Samoa are located within the villages and operate under the village church.
We were welcomed to the village preschool at Gataivai by the preschool children who were dressed in their sparkling uniforms, their faces beamed as they greeted us with “Talofa Lava”. Their parents proudly stood behind them as we entered their preschool. We were then formally welcomed by the matai (village leaders) and the church minister. During the lotu (prayer) the children began to yell loudly while the church minister was praying.
We wondered why no one was stopping them yelling. In a palagi world there is usually silence during prayer. It soon became apparent the children were saying “AMEN!, THANK YOU LORD!, YES WE AGREE!” at the top of their lungs with confidence and knowledge that they were doing the right thing at the right time. They were, in fact, responding to the church minister’s prayer in an appropriate way for their congregation.
It dawned on us all in that moment that we were looking and listening, we needed to open our eyes and ears so that we could see and hear their spiritual connection, their cultural competencies and what is valued in their world.
The above examples echo Lisa Burman’s statement about listening with intent;
Lisa Burman discussed the importance of ‘listening with intent”, which emphasises the difference between listening and merely hearing. Teachers often hear the voices of children. They hear children’s words and make sense of children’s words in a superficial way. This is about hearing without listening. To understand children’s thinking, teachers need to listen beyond their words and listen to their ideas. Teachers need to be in the moment, both in body and mind. It is easy to look like an attentive listener, sitting still, making eye contact and occasionally nodding the head. But how many times do teachers drift off in thought during these times?
Reflecting on teacher practice
As mentioned earlier, our presentation at the SA’ASIA conference emphasised the importance of listening and hearing children’s voices. The following quote from Carr et al (2005) highlights the importance of looking to see and listening to hear as a teaching strategy to gain deeper understandings into children and families ways of knowing being and doing.
“Teachers who pay careful attention to children’s voices gain windows in their world views and assumptions”
Carr, et al 2005, p.4
The following framework of questions were developed by Carr & Podmore as a tool to support assessment in early childhood, they encourage us to look, see, listen and hear from a child’s perspective.
Do you know me?
Can I trust you?
Do you hear me?
Will you let me fly?
Is this a fair place for me?
Have you ever considered the ways you could respond to these questions from a child’s perspective?
Burman, L, (2009) Are you listening? Fostering conversations that help young children learn. Redleaf press
Carr M., May H., and Podmore V. (2001) The “child’s questions” – Programme evaluation with Te Whariki using “teaching Stories” ECE Folio 5
Carr, M., Lee, W., & Jones, C. (2007). Kei tua o te pae: Assessment for learning: Early childhood exemplars (Book 4). Wellington, New Zealand: Learning Media.
Bishton H. 2007 http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/7056/1/download%3Fid%3D17125%26filename%3Dchildrens-voice-childrens-rights.pdf