The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

 In Early Childhood Education

Michael Reisman, M.Ed.
Director, HCYMCA Early Childhood Education

Today, April 28, marks the final day of a week of action the Hunterdon County YMCA has been involved in, supporting Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Month.  Coincidentally, this week has also been the Week of the Young Child.  Preschools and early learning centers across the US have drawn attention to the work, creativity and importance of young children, not only personally to our lives, but socially and economically to the future of society and democracy.

What does that mean in terms of our daily lives and interactions with children?  Certainly you understand the permanent and devastating effect physical, sexual and emotional abuse has on a human being.  The fact that these crimes have a ripple effect, reaching the whole of our society is not news to you.  It is the obligation of every early childhood professional to understand and address the warning signs of such abuse. But it is also our obligation to go above and beyond and to model and demonstrate that children are human beings, with a set of automatic, inalienable rights distinct to them, the most vulnerable members of our society.

We are the Hunterdon County YMCA Early Childhood Community, part of the greater YMCA Community, in Hunterdon County and elsewhere.  We are also part of an international early childhood community.  We are concerned about preventing abuse.  We are committed to fulfilling the basic health and safety needs of all children in and out of our care (as mandatory reporters of abuse and neglect).  But that is merely where our work begins, quite far from where it ends.

In 1990, the United Nations authored the Convention for the Rights of the Child, with the goal of creating “a legally-binding international agreement setting out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of every child, regardless of their race, religion or abilities.”  It is a thorough document that I invite you to peruse here (OHCRC).  Countries and organizations all over the world have ratified this agreement*, which goes far beyond the basic physical, health and safety needs of the children in our care.  Check it out.  It covers abuse, neglect, trafficking, rights to parenthood AND due process.

I call your attention to Article 13, which speaks to a very particular human right:

The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.

Could our work be any more open-ended?  The list of possibilities that comes to mind is literally endless and certainly includes drawing, painting, singing, dancing, talking, hugging and experimenting.  But what about:

·       Crying during rest time

·       Standing up and walking around during circle time

·       Mixing all the paint colors to make brown every time

·       Applying said paint to one’s face

·       Putting math center toys in the sand/water table

I site these “alternative” examples because many folks in the field (and in the home) are fully supportive of children’s choices until they push back against the adult agenda.  And, speaking generally of course, this agenda grows out of societal pressure to “prepare” children for the academic and institutional challenges to come.  Who can blame teachers and parents for wanting their children to get ahead or go one step beyond what is considered developmentally appropriate for their age?  As the parent of a first grade boy, I can totally relate.  I want him to succeed now, and later.  But as an early childhood leader I must control that emotional impulse.  He is six years old, still couched in the early childhood years.  He still has the right to his childhood.

At work I must encourage our teachers to find the healthy balance between the needs of the group, the desires of parents, and the rights of the child; and to error towards the rights of the child. Early childhood is the time for curiosity, exploration, trial-and-error and cause-and-effect.  The early childhood classroom is the haven for this, especially designed for this, and without it we would not be able to attain scientific method, discovery, critical thinking and math, respectively.  Can you envision how the former list informs the latter?  It is the same as crawling leads to standing leads to waking.

So as we embark on the very merry month of May, the early childhood professionals who work at the HCYMCA Child Learning Center and Milford YMCA Preschool will continue to diligently attend potential warning signs of abuse among the children in our care.  But that is only the base line, for we see ourselves as fulfillers of the mandate to ensure that children have a safe and loving place to explore and discover their world, each other and themselves.

*Three countries in the world have yet to ratify the UN convention:  Somalia, South Sudan and the United States.  For more information on that, click here.

Michael Reisman, M.Ed. is Director of Early Childhood Education for the Hunterdon County YMCA.  mreisman@hcymca.org  908-483-4623

For information regarding Round Valley Child Learning Center Programs call 908-236-0055, ext. 4605.  For the YMCA Milford Preschool, 908-995-8107

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