Reflections on the image of the competent and capable child

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What does it mean when people say their image is of a competent and capable child?

When I say that children are competent, I mean that they are in a position to teach us what we need to learn. ….. To learn from our children in this way demands much more than that we speak democratically with them. It means we must develop a kind of dialogue that many adults are unable to establish even with other adults: that is to say a personal dialogue based on equal dignity.”

Jesper Juul.2011. Your Competent Child: Toward A New Paradigm in Parenting and Education. Revised edition by Balboa Press. USA.


Competent in what?

As Loris Malaguzzi wrote, it is the image of the child, who from the moment of birth, is so engaged in developing a relationship with the world, and intent on experiencing the world that he or she develops a complex system of abilities, learning strategies and ways of organising relationships…A child who is powerful from the moment of birth because of being open to the world, and capable of constructing his or her own knowledge.”

Carla Rinaldi. 2013. Re-imagining Childhood -The inspiration of Reggio Emilia education principles in South Australia. Government of South Australia. June 2013. p15.


What are the implications for the parent or the teacher to have an image of the competent and capable child?

Our recognition of the ultimate value of each child has educational implications: children are subject and agents of their own learning….Children bring a world of experience and questions to the learning processes, which should begin with that experience and those questions. … The education endeavour to foster children’s flourishing is an expression of God’s Grace.”

Catholic Education South Australia. 2015. Children Close to the Mystery of God. A CESA Stimulus Paper for all engaged with re-imagining childhood 0-18 April 2015. p.5.


Our ways of seeing children shape our practices and, at the same time, our practices can shape children’s ways of seeing themselves.”

James, Jenks & Prout. 1998. Susan Wright (ed). 2012 Children, Meaning-Making and the Arts. Edition 2. Pearson Australia.p.35

Who is the competent child?

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightening about shrinking so other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to manifest the Glory of God within us. It’s not just in some; it’s in all, everyone. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Nelson Mandela, 1994 Inaugural Speech


What kind of school, what kind of educator and what kind of me for what image of the child?

 It’s necessary that we believe that the child is very intelligent, that the child is strong and beautiful and has very ambitious desires and requests. This is the image of the child we need to hold.”

Loris Malaguzzi


The competent child: Professor Carla Rinaldi – Adelaide Thinkers in Residence



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