Can children be too young for informal education?

I have realised that its been a while since i wrote about youthwork or informal education, and over the past few months we have had a bit of a challenge at DYFC ( see above page) which has provoked the above question – can children be too young for informal education?

when you think of the following; Childrens work, Junior work, After schools clubs, these can be high energy affairs, lots of programmes, activities and games, with teaching as another aspect of the programme. Especially, but not exclusively in faith group settings. At Durham YFC we have taken a different approach with our after school club – which has raised some unexpected opportunities and challenges.

The setting of the after-schools club is in the community centre at the heart of an estate in Durham, a traditional community centre which now also hosts job clubs, cafe, social enterprises and is, because there are no other spaces, at the heart of the community. The club exists in this space one afternoon a week  in a place that anyone in the community is welcome and comfortable in.

Informal education is a way of working with people that values education through conversations, is part of the daily round and requires a kind of skill to be attentive, observant and improvise as situations emerge, and importantly to create a space that allows this to happen. (for more see

The content of the DYFC after-schools club is to set up a table to one side of the community centre, and have 2-3 craft based activities on the table for anyone who attends and as they are there they can learn to do the craft, make something and then have conversation.


That’s all there is, for 90 minutes. No games, though there is a table tennis table if young people want to use it, no computers, no songs, or teaching slot. It is a space that is open to all, and open to give those attend a safe space, in their space, and to do something whilst being in conversation.

And conversation does happens.

Despite or even in because the nature and needs of the children (sometimes as young as 6, as old as 12) who drop in.

Conversations about school, future, politics, fashion, art, faith, local issues, family issues all happen, as provoked and promoted by the young people. Other times glimpses of conversations are had with the young people as they often give away snippets of their lives, and move on to something else. In the conversation we can ask, and listen, and make things together, sometimes it is just about being there to hear, and provide a space.

The opportunities for diverse conversations, to build relationships based on trust and interest are obvious. However, the question for us is whether providing this type of space in

However, the question for us is whether providing this type of space in childrens lives – ie the 6-9 year olds that when these ‘children’ become 11-12 year olds and the young people who have journeyed with us who are now 12-13, and in many situations they might love the ‘space to chat’ thats open, safe and hopefully friendly. But they have been part of this environment for 3-4 years already and so its almost as if theyve grown out of needing it.

Could it be that there is a younger age for ‘Informal education’?  Or whether this type of approach should be reserved for ‘non children’?  for the time at which they most desire an open/informal type space?

What this proves to us is that an informal space approach does work with children, the most chaotic appreciate the simplest of activities, the attention and being respected and having the chance to be listened to. Having less preciousness over programmmes mean that participation becomes less of contention. But unintentionally has this caused challenges for using similar approaches, with the same people in the project, who are now older.

Informal education with Children- is it ever too young? are there other challenges that you have? or advice you might give us?


If you would like to give to the work of DYFC, or find out more please click the link above.




  1. The youngest of children are naturals at informal education. This is how babies, toddlers and preschoolers learn imho. I mean it might not be through deep chats, but they learn through the world around them , their own actions (and the reactions to them) and the people around them especially, but it’s certainly not formal education. Sometimes I think we can learn a lot from good preschool education, precisely because it tends to be more child centred, informal and spontaneous. Of course the younger the child the more structure is needed to allow this to happen (eg small children even more than older children need regular mealtimes and routines), but any informal education happens within some sort of structure (eg we generally engage in detached work at the same time each week).

    I realise that you are talking about older children but my point is that I think you are never to young (or old) for informal education, and that in fact it is the most natural (and accepted) for the youngest of children. (Although, conversely this is probably a reason that toddlers groups, preschool education and parents taking time to play with young children is often undervalued in comparison to formal education. That is also why we resist starting children at school later, despite the mountain of evidence that suggests it is better for them and leads to better “results” too. There is something intrinsic to many parents that thinks the younger their child learns to read the further “ahead” they are, which might be logical, but isn’t true.)

    Liked by 1 person

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