Helping the young find their voice

Once Jenny Ritchie completes her research into how children can be active citizens, she wants to work on improving their ability to articulate emotion.

Professor Jenny Ritchie, School of Education
Professor Jenny Ritchie, School of Education

Many of us might find it hard to imagine the role young children could play in taking action on environmental or social justice issues. Associate Professor Jenny Ritchie believes it’s time to question our assumptions.  

Much of Associate Professor Ritchie’s research involves supporting educators to teach even our youngest children about issues such as climate change and living more sustainably.

“Civic action isn’t usually something we associate with young children, but we’re trying to challenge that view,” she says.

“We know children can be encouraged to advocate for their own wellbeing and others’ wellbeing. That could be a child noticing and calling for support for a child with a bleeding nose or it could be children negotiating the rules of engagement in their own reality.

“Children can assert themselves on their own behalf, on behalf of others and on behalf of the planet.”

Associate Professor Ritchie, who is in Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Education, started her career as a childcare educator and kindergarten teacher. Her subsequent teaching, research and writing have focused on supporting other educators to bring social, cultural and ecological sustainability into their teaching.

Her research also reflects her desire to incorporate the commitments of the Treaty of Waitangi into early childhood education.

In her current research project, Associate Professor Ritchie is co-director of an international collaborative initiative that documents young children’s active citizenship across three countries: the United States, Australia and New Zealand. The researchers are focusing on an early childhood centre in each country, including a centre in Porirua’s Titahi Bay.

Funded by the Spencer Foundation of Chicago, the project has a particular focus on indigenous and/or marginalised children.

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In a nutshell

My research matters because … Young children (and their whānau) deserve absolutely wonderful, thoughtful, committed, ethical teachers who care deeply about their wellbeing and that of our planet.

One of the inspirations person or thing for my research has been … Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

The best thing about my job is … It aligns deeply with my ethical commitments.

My career highlight so far has been … Working with my wonderful colleagues and students at Victoria University.

My advice to aspiring researchers is … Engage deeply and ethically with research partners and participants.