Child voice, child wisdom, and child theory hold different meanings.
Child voice represents his actual words, feelings, and opinions expressed as accurately as possible even when proper conventions are ignored. For example, a few months ago, a prominent deacon (“Mr. Franklin”) of a church in my community was killed under suspicious circumstances. Many children in the church and around the church knew of this man from their parents and from seeing him around the community. They may express confusion about not seeing Mr. Franklin at cookouts and at football games anymore. Consequently, they ask their parents who may attempt to explain how people die without explanation. Possibly, the child may role-play what it is like for someone to die under mysterious circumstances. The questions and role playing scenarios represent example of a child’s voice.
Child theory refers to how a child himself explains causes of effects that surround him. For example, even though a child in my community may receive an adult explanation of why Mr. Franklin died, the child may come up with his own “theory” highly associated with their cognitive development. Maybe Mr. Franklin went to another world? Maybe Mr. Franklin moved away to heaven? Maybe Mr. Franklin is still alive and in disguise? These are a child’s way of creating a rationale for an impacting event.
Child wisdom refers to how a child uses his insights and voice to deal with future circumstances. For example, after expressing his feels and theorizing in his own way, perhaps children in my community who knew Mr. Franklin may develop an new sensitivity to people that they (or their parents know). Other people may “move away to heaven” like Mr. Franklin, so a child’s wisdom may direct him to spend time with people while they are around. We must always keep in mind that children possess a sophisticated ability to interpret and examine both the geography of their world and the politics that exist within it (Soto & Swadner, 2005). Children in my community, for instance, relate easily to Mr. Franklin’s death because he lived within three miles of many of their homes (geographic understanding). They also see from the look on adults’ faces and from their conversations that he wield solid influence within their ecclesiastical communities (political understanding).
Armed with the above definitions, we must conduct investigations with children without making too many assumptions, for we as early childhood researches may often stereotype and generalize child development across all cultures. A child, for instance, living in a gradual, close-knit, small town community like mine may possess a different depth of psychosocial development than a child living within a more impersonal, faster-paced, urban setting. Early childhood researchers should not assume that all children possess the abilities (or inabilities) to participate in rational problem solving (Soto & Swadner, 2005). We often bring our childhood into our interpretations of other children’s wisdom, theories, and voices by inadvertently projecting our own personalized understandings on other children’s experiences.
Soto, L.D. & Swadener, B.B. (2005). Power & voice in research. New York: Peter Lang.