Let's start something new
Let's start a ..... Sunday School/mid-week group/Messy Church/youth club.
It could be a great idea - but before you plough ahead with the planning, listen. Listen to the children and young people who might be part of it. What they have to say will help you know if it's really a good idea, will help shape how it looks and will save you from starting something that might not be wanted or needed.
Why not just get on with it?
Often, new initiatives are set up in churches by adults with good intentions. But it's important to stop, talk with the children/young people who might be involved, and listen to what they have to say. This helps move 'doing things FOR' young people to 'doing things WITH' young people. It means that they can contribute to the early planning stages and help the adults understand what they want and need.
Setting up anything new involves a journey of discovery through listening, negotiating, compromising and managing expectations. When children and young people are part of this journey they can offer their ideas, hopes, concerns and expectations. Not everything they suggest will be practical or possible, but if we don't listen we will miss fresh ways of looking at situations and opportunities.
What's the point of listening?
- It creates a greater sense of ownership and belonging
- It helps avoid setting up something that is neither wanted or needed
- It can offer a different and fresh perspective
- Children and young people are more likely to be interested in something that they have helped to shape
- It enables adults and children to work together
- It helps develop skills of negotiation, decision making and cooperation
- If external funding is needed, it's more likely to be given if children and young people have been part of the process
Who to listen to
- Begin with those who might use/be part of the group or activity
- If it's a church/worship based activity, start with the children/young people in your church (maybe invite them to include their friends)
- Maybe consult more widely with grand-children of church members, students from a local school or uniformed groups
- If it's a mid-week activity, listen to children/young people with whom there has been some recent contact but who you may not have not seen for a while (which might include children from baptism families).
Always follow your church's safeguarding policy when gathering groups of young people together.
What might you ask?
Some of these areas would make good starting points:
- We're thinking of starting (activity/group).Is this a good idea? Why? Why not?
- Is there a similar (activity/group) that you know of?
- If (activity/group) was set up, what sort of things should be included?
- What would be a good day/time for (activity/group)?
- Where would be the best place for (activity/group) meet?
- Who should (activity/group) be aimed at?
- How could (activity/group) make links with the church?
- What might the (activity/group) be called?
- How could we let people know about (activity/group)?
- If the church set up something like this, would you go to it?
- What do you think should happen next as a result of this meeting?
Don't ask a whole series of questions - choose one or two to start the discussion. This section has a lot of good ideas to get you going.
More than asking questions
Listening is about more than just asking questions. Here are a few ideas that might work well with your children and young people. Always bear in mind the age of the group, number of participants, practicalities of getting together and any safeguarding guidelines which need to be followed.
- Have a comment box in the church porch or in the local school reception
- Create a comments board or wall for Post-it notes
- Use lining-paper to make a graffiti board for suggestions
- Put questions on a board with different coloured stickers available to indicate opinions
- Use junk modelling, craft, painting or collage to express opinions
- Invite opinions through short video clips
- Have an informal discussion
- Conduct a formal consultation with prepared questions
- Conduct a simple questionnaire or online survey
- Use social media, a closed Facebook group, tweets, blogs and texts
- Play a variety of decision making games to gauge interest and gather ideas or suggestions
- Use drama or role-play where ideas can be expressed
There are plenty more ideas (with more detail) in the Listening Ideas section.
If you are gathering a group together, juice and snacks are a good way to help young people feel comfortable.
More than just listening...
Listening is the easy part - but it's only part of the cycle to hear the voice of children and young people and to allow it to make a difference.
Here's a quick checklist to help you think about the before and after:
- Be clear about what you're asking and what you hope to achieve
- Identify the group you want to talk to/consult with
- Choose a suitable venue
- Know who is in charge of facilitating and what might be the best methods to use
- Ask someone to be the 'recorder' , taking notes, capturing comments and collecting any paperwork
- Follow the relevant safeguarding procedures, including obtaining any permissions and consents
- Check allergies if you're serving snacks
- Make sure all participants (and their parents) are clear about the topic and practical arrangements
- Think how to include those with lower literacy skills or additional needs
- Consider how to present your findings and who needs to hear them
- Remember to tell the participants what will happen/change as a result of their input
- How else might the participants be involved in the outcome?
- Don't stop listening - let the voices of children and young people be heard again, and again, and again!
There's more information, advice, ideas, resources and useful links on listening to the voice of children and young people on the Going for Growth website.