What is a child’s sense of agency?
In an educational framework, agency is broadly defined as the ability to influence events and make independent decisions that impact the world. We should foster every child’s sense of agency because it impacts their physical and cognitive development. Supporting agency is not limited to giving children choices, but also making sure that you actively listen to them; this way they perceive that their opinion is valued and has influence on others.
Supporting agency in the classroom
When educators use an intentional curriculum/teaching method they allow children to influence what and how they approach learning. This can be done by allowing children to decide the topics that they want to learn more about, and their preferred research methods. For example, children might decide how they research astronauts and space travel or what they want to make in a cooking class.
Independent decision making
Support your child’s sense of agency by trusting that they are competent decision-makers. Often, parents instinctively do what they believe is best for their child (partially because they do not believe that their children are capable of making decisions). A good exercise is to create situations where children have a range of opportunities to make choices.
Meaningful or responsive interactions are all about making sure your child’s thoughts and opinions are genuinely valued. An easy way to do this is by asking your child what they think matters and responding to their thoughts. This will give your child a sense of ownership over decisions they have contributed to.
Supporting agency at home
For children under 2 years old:
- Use language to help your child express their feelings
- Recognize your child as being an active participant in daily routines, activities, and experiences
- Build self-help skills instead of doing things for your children
- Be aware of your children’s verbal/non-verbal cues
For 3 – 5 year old children:
- Encourage your child to negotiate towards a solution rather than handing a solution to them
- Allow your child to set their own learning goals
- Provide a range of learning experiences based on your child’s interests
- Try using a more democratic style of decision-making based on voting
For 5 – 6 year old children:
- Allow your child to pursue learning opportunities related to their interests
- Assign your child the responsibility during arrival and departure procedures at preschool
- Allow your child to identify and assess different hazards and come up with risk assessment/reduction strategies