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Cambridge Friends School students evaluate a city supermarket for its accessibility for disabled and wheelchair bound patrons. (Photo: Cambridge Friends School)

Cambridge Friends School students evaluate a city supermarket for its accessibility for disabled and wheelchair bound patrons. (Photo: Cambridge Friends School)

Americans can vote at 18, but when when do you turn to a child to start their participation as a citizen? Fifteen? Twelve? Seven?

Lesley professor, Harvard education researcher and author Ben Mardell makes the argument to aim as low as 4 years old, and he’ll say why and how in a talk Monday at the Cambridge Friends School called “Children Are Citizens: Promoting the Right of Participation for Our Youngest Students.”

“In the U.S., the rights of young children typically refer to the rights of protection and provision, rather than participation,” said Peter Sommer, head of the school. “The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child identified not only children’s human rights to protection from violence, neglect and exploitation and provisions of care and an adequate standard of living; it also suggested that children have civil rights to participation – to express their views, to be listened to and to join a range of cultural, civic and other activities.”

Mardell

Mardell

In addition to Mardell, co-researcher on Harvard’s Project Zero set up at six charter, pilot and district public schools in Cambridge and Boston, the talk includes Kate Beal and Lynne May Lim, teachers of first-graders at Cambridge Friends School, which has developed curricula focused on children’s civil rights to participate as citizens of their classrooms, schools and city.

Mardell put the principles into practice in Providence, R.I., where young children made suggestions about park improvements. Juli Greenwood, doing publicity for the Monday event, had an example even closer to home:

Young students at Cambridge Friends School evaluated a large Cambridge supermarket for its accessibility for disabled and wheelchair bound patrons, in part because young children are at about the same height as customers in wheelchairs. They visited the store, assessed the problem areas and came up with a plan to make improvements – and the store implemented the needed changes.

The speakers will describe several projects that support children’s learning and can enrich society, Greenwood said, with the goal of challenging assumptions about the capabilities of young children and provoking a conversation about their role in our community.

In addition, Sommer said, the talk could give “politicians, policymakers and members of the community a deeper understanding of the capabilities of young children and the value of high-quality early education.”

The talk is scheduled for 7 to 8:30 p.m. Monday at Cambridge Friends School, 5 Cadbury Road. Free registration is here.