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Top six ways to learn how to listen to young children

date January 5, 2023Tamsin Grimmer

Listening to the voice of the child has become a popular notion in recent years. What we do mean when we talk about this and how do we genuinely consult them and ascertain their views? Sonia Mainstone- Cotton describes truly listening to young children as, “a two-way act of intent and purpose” which moves beyond merely hearing their words to fully responding to the child in terms of what they say, how they say it and how act and behave (Mainstone-Cotton, 2019).

Top six ways to learn how to listen to young children

…and ensure they have a voice in your provision!

1 – Get down to children’s level

Always get down to a child’s level or lower. This removes the power dynamic which is neither helpful nor necessary. This is particularly important for any children who have a background of bullying or are from homes where power dynamics are always in play. We must ensure our settings are counter to this and address the balance of power between children and adults.

2 – Attempt to see the world through your children’s eyes

This might mean literally crawling around your provision! Talk to your children about what they like, dislike and their preferences.

3 – Closely observe children

Take time to become attuned to children, listen to any words spoken or notice the sounds they make alongside any body language, gestures and sign language. Notice what they do, what their interests are, where they play, who they play with and how long they are there.

children observing a plant

4 – Interpret their creations, drawings, pictures or mark-making

Their creations can tell us more about what our children are interested in, their lived experiences and their current fascinations. We can then use this information to incorporate these interests into our provision.

5 – Adopt a mosaic approach (Clark & Moss, 2017)

Listen to and consult with your children using a range of methods, e.g. observation, map making, giving the children cameras, taking them on a tour, discussion, bookmaking, and informal interviews.

6 – Offer children choices

We can offer children choices throughout the day, for example, what to eat, what to play with, where to go etc. This is a way of giving children a voice, listening to them and offering them a little bit of control over their lives.

 children playing happily on the floor


Listening to young children and finding out their views is meaningless if we do not intend to act upon this information. We need to empower our children to have an impact on their own lives and offer them agency. Young children are living in a world where they have very little power over the daily things that happen to them. Their parents and educators tend to plan and control most aspects of their lives – for example, what they wear, their routine, where they go, what they do and who they do it with. Whenever possible, we need to allow children to make decisions for themselves and have more say over things. Sometimes, we may need to advocate for children and promote their needs, which helps their perspective to be seen by others.

Article 12 of the UN convention on the rights of the child states that, ‘Every child had the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously’ (Unicef, 1989).  So if we put it into practice fully, rather than just paying lip service to it, this article empowers children as they begin to learn that they have a voice and can use it to change their lives.

 Tamsin’s webinar on this subject is now live on the Kinderly Learn platform for members. Become a member today and access 100’s of webinars on-demand along with micro courses on all the key early years topics.  Find out more: HERE

empowering children



Clark , A. and Moss, P. ( 2017) Listening to Young Children: A Guide to Understanding and Using the Mosaic Approach. London: Jessica Kingsley.

Mainstone-Cotton, S. (2019) Listening to young children in early years settings: a practical guide. London: Jessica Kingsley.

Unicef (1989) United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Available at