How children can make silenced voices heard

UBC Public Scholars Award recipient Claudia Diaz worked as a manager of social education programs in Chilean inner city schools before moving to Canada for graduate school, including a PhD in Educational Studies at UBC. Her current research addresses the silenced presence of Indigenous people in B.C. and proposes ways of making their voices heard in an early childhood education setting.

Diaz’s study emphasizes diversity and social responsibility in early childhood education, with a particular interest in how people prioritize certain things over others in education.

“I was interested in looking at how young children learn about those issues through the relationship they have with their places,” says Diaz.

Outdoor schooling aims to foster ties to the land. | Photo courtesy of Claudia Diaz

Silenced history

Diaz visited a daycare centre in an ethnically and culturally diverse neighbourhood of East Vancouver over the course of several months in order to understand the everyday lives of children in an early childhood education environment. The location’s strong history of Indigenous residents could be evidenced by Coast Salish murals that the children would pass by on neighbourhood walks.

“Despite all of these things that are in place materially, we keep reproducing this silenced presence,” says Diaz. “Education has a role in silencing that presence.”

Diaz notes how the children would try to catch up to the local train as it passed through the neighbourhood, while the nearby Indigenous mural remained ignored.

“We have overlooked a history that is important for Canadians,” says Diaz. “We need to stop reproducing these practices of settler colonialism that have tried to banish Indigenous presence.”

Taking learning outdoors

Diaz notes how many pedagogies emphasize improving oneself at the expense of learning to respect others and the environment.

“Children are not learning how to take care of others. How are they going to be sensitive to the scarcity of water if they’re taught to improve themselves all the time?” asks Diaz.

Claudia Diaz, expert in early childhood education. | Photo by Serbulent Turan

According to Diaz, one way for children to learn about difference, and how difference has been treated through the years, is knowing and exploring the relationship they have with their surroundings. She suggests tapping into children’s natural curiosity by letting them explore outside. It would be the responsibility of educators, including teachers or elders, to help the children better understand the history of their neighbourhood and other ways of relating to the land.

“What happens if I think that my responsibility doesn’t only have to do with people, but also with places, with nature, with animals?” asks Diaz. “It means that my status as a human being is no longer on the top of this hierarchy we have created, but it has to do with moving ourselves to our place, to establish a more equal relationship.”

An uncertain future

Diaz’s research tackles the question of how we can live well together with differences.

It’s essential today to realize where we are going to be living in the future will not be the same due to displacement or environmental crisis, expresses Diaz.

“People that are going to be in that place are not going to be the same,” says Diaz.

According to Diaz, children are seen as not ready to discuss the problems we are facing because adults want them to grow up in a harmonic environment.

“We shouldn’t present children with all the terrible things that are happening in the world,” agrees Diaz. “But we should take children seriously and as being able to think about important questions in their lives. It’s our responsibility as adults to assume that we’re not giving them our world without problems.”

Diaz states that living well together will require us to be open to uncertain times.

“We have so many problems that we have not been able to solve because we think we have the solution to every problem. So maybe we need to think differently, become more humble and open to uncertainty and be able to stop before we rush with a solution,” says Diaz.

Diaz returns to the idea of thinking about our relationship with our surroundings, and teaching this value to children starting at a young age.

“It might help us to re-think the way we do things. Maybe just re-thinking is just a good way of changing things,” says Diaz.

For more information about Claudia Diaz, visit