How do we listen to children's voices using the creative arts?

  • girl wearing headphones sitting in front of white piano

    Most young children don't write essays or reports to tell us how they are feeling, what they think about what is happening in their lives, or what they would like to see happen. While some children can speak in paragraphs, they may not have the words to fully express their ideas, opinions and emotions. Other children may not yet have the words adults fully understand or be able to write in the way adults understand.

    So, adults need to be able to listen to the many other ways children express themselves. While it is remarkable that children can express themselves in so many ways, do we as adults listen differently?  The ‘Hundred languages of children', described by Malaguzzi and other Reggio Emilia educators, is often quoted when discussing how children express themselves. But, 'less is spoken about the hundred ways of listening' (Rogers, 2017, p. 81).

    Child, Colors, Nepal, India, Finger

    So, how do we encourage children to communicate? Actually, children are excellent communicators and often like to do so through active involvement experiences such as the following:

    • visual arts (drawing, painting, plasticine, clay, craft, construction, printmaking)
    • dance and movement
    • singing songs and playing music or improvising their own music
    • role play
    • pretend play
    • dress-up play
    • puppet play

    If a child is sad, we can join them by singing a sad song. We can chat about the sad topic the song is about. Then we can choose a brighter song and perform that together. Then we can sing a happy song and add in actions. Many songs cover a range of moods in the Children's Resources. In this video, Dr Ben Thorn discusses ways children can express their emotions through music.

    We can draw alongside children and talk about what they are drawing. Dr Margaret Brooks discusses how drawing can allow children to express their emotions and talk about what is happening in their lives or what they would like to happen.

    Here are other ideas for using the arts to draw out children's voices.

    Start by reading one of the eBooks in the Children's Resources with children. Use it as inspiration to talk about what happened in the story. Ask children what happens in their home when something similar happens. For example, when a parent goes away for work.

    Follow up this chat with an arts-based activity that provides opportunities and time for children to talk about parental deployment, training, absence from home, and/or relocations for that family. Of course, it is okay if children want to talk about something unrelated.

    Street Chalk, Chalk, Colorful, Asphalt

    Additional ideas for arts-based activities include pictures/scenarios such as:

    • what their parents do, such as work on a ship or plane, drive trucks in the army (drawing)
    • what they would like to do with their parent when they return (painting),
    • what they enjoy doing with their families when they are all together (plasticine or clay)
    • what farewells and reunions are like in their family (role-play using finger or hand puppets, paddle pop stick puppets [from the Children's Resources] or soft toys)
    • what is moving house like in their family? (Use socks and decorate with buttons or draw a face with markers, paddle pop sticks, rope dolls, or any of the figures/dolls/teddies in the make-believe play corner can be used.)

    Knead, Modeling Clay, Children, Creative

    More ideas...
    • make up a song, rap or rhyme about what their parent does, where they are going when they are coming back.
    • create a craft item out of recycled materials that represents some of the activities the child’s parent may be involved in such as building a hospital or bridge, dental care for military and civilians in other countries, flying a plane, robotic tank
    • consider moving any of these experiences to an outside setting for a different experience and perspective
    These activities may go on for several days or weeks, and discussions with the parent about what the deployed parent might do on an average day would be helpful (where that is appropriate).

    For children 9-12 years

    Children can write poems about their experiences of parents working away. Help them add music to the poem. This could be simple sound effects used as they read the poem or a melody or background music that matches the poem that could be played before or after a reading of the poem.

    Children create a cartoon scene about a family who experiences a parent working away. Ask them to record themselves telling the story as they show each cartoon scene. This can also be done using 'Zoom' or 'Explain Everything' programs or similar software.

    Children can add a soundtrack to the cartoon they create using a mix of sound sources e.g. body percussion, voice, percussion and other instruments.


    Rogers, M. (2017). Young children's understanding and experiences of parental deployment within an Australian Defence Force family. School of Education. Armidale, Australia, University of New England. Doctor of Philosophy. 10.13140/RG.2.2.26497.61281 Accessed from

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    Last modified: Wednesday, 7 February 2024, 11:24 AM