I have been thinking a lot about childhood recently. COVID-19 has changed the lives of every child, and everywhere children are finding ways to be children in a world that looks very different. At the same time, the struggles that many children face remain the same throughout history: oppression, prejudice, violence, poverty, injustice. Where is the scope to be children in these spaces? The protests following the murder of George Floyd bring this into stark relief. Children are marching.
How do these ancient struggles and new challenges shape childhood? This Coffee Break is too small a space to do anything more than ask the question. But here is a small collection of words about childhood that I have gathered together.
Let’s begin with a definition of childhood from UNICEF:
Childhood is the time for children to be in school and at play, to grow strong and confident with the love and encouragement of their family and an extended community of caring adults. It is a precious time in which children should live free from fear, safe from violence and protected from abuse and exploitation. As such, childhood means much more than just the space between birth and the attainment of adulthood. It refers to the state and condition of a child’s life, to the quality of those years.
And then we can add to that the words from The Open University’s course on Childhood and children’s rights:
As you consider characteristics of children, you need to recognise that every child is unique and special in its own way. There are, however, some common characteristics of the period of childhood, which should guide you in the way you look at and work with children. Three of the most important are: dependency, vulnerability, and resilience.
On childhood play, Jean Piaget wrote that ‘Play is the work of childhood’ and Albert Einstein said that ‘Play is the highest form of research.’ Friedrich Froebel believed that 'the plays of childhood are the germinal leaves of all later life.'
Michael Morpurgo says that children 'should grow up in the soil of affection and care'.
The writer and poet Lemn Sissay describes childhood as a book:
Ultimately, family is a collection of stories and childhood is an introduction to that book. As you live your life you come to realise the significance of that introduction.
And finally, Maria Montessori:
Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future.
Edited by Jules