Are children citizens?
Well, yes, but we don’t often think of them as having the capacities we expect of citizens, and we don’t often include their voices in civic conversations. But what if we changed that framework? Instead of viewing them as junior, cuter, future versions of citizens, what if we saw them as citizens now, capable of making meaningful contributions to their communities?
That’s what a unique collaboration led by the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero is trying to achieve. Partnering with schools and civic and cultural organizations in Washington, DC, Project Zero’s Making Learning Visible has created a research and professional development program aimed at helping educators connect children with their city.
Over the course of the past year, 331 children and 23 educators from across the district worked together to explore kids’ ideas about the place they call home. First, the adults listened to the children about what was most interesting to them about DC. “We learned that the children were fascinated by the Metro, monuments, museums, Union Station, natural spaces, public sculptures, and playgrounds,” says Project Zero researcher Mara Krechevsky. So educators helped children research these places of interest, encouraging questions and theories. Children talked, wrote, drew, played, created models of their ideas, and visited museums and cultural sites, and educators experimented with new ways to support their students’ inquiry into the city.
“The children learned that the world is much bigger than their immediate neighborhoods — bigger than the streets they walk on and the people that they see every day,” says Krechevsky. “Children learned to express their ideas in words and pictures, to give and receive feedback on each other’s work, to extend their thinking in new ways, and to wonder.”
The initiative, called Children Are Citizens: Children and Teachers Collaborating Across Washington, DC, is marking the end of its pilot year with the launch of a kid-authored picture book [PDF] called Washington, DC, Belongs to Everyone!, to be released at a family event at the National Gallery of Art on April 25.
The project expands on previous Making Learning Visible work, notably in Providence and Boston, that also aimed to help educators and children expand their civic roles, express their views, and engage in the life of their cities.
“Opportunities for young children to engage intellectually with their peers are rare,” says Krechevsky. “When children grow up in a culture and begin their schooling with support for thinking, feeling, and acting in groups, they are more likely to participate in and practice democracy as informed and caring citizens.”
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