The paper outlines a new orientation towards constructing childhood arising out of children's rights discourse, sociology of childhood and sociocultural theory. Children have traditionally lacked voice and visibility, but slowly a recognition of children's role as social actors who are active co-constructors of meaning and "experts" on childhood is emerging. The paper looks at how the childhood studies paradigm highlights the importance of participation rights for children and young people. The paper describes how these theoretical paradigms are being reflected in educational policy and practice. It analyses examples of research and practice on how children are encouraged and supported to be active participants and social actors in their early childhood, primary and secondary education settings. The paper argues that having participation rights and being a citizen are part of an ongoing learning process, and that what happens in educational settings give meaning to children's understanding of what it is to be an active and involved citizen.This paper examines the application of the new paradigm of 'children's studies' to the development of policy and practice relating to children's participation rights in education. Theory and research is used to develop a framework for the principles of effective participation, and then an example at each level (early childhood, primary and secondary) of how these principles have been put into practice in education analysed.