‘The voice of the baby’; including babies in research

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At the start of May we both attended the 9th Baby Room Conference on the theme of “Debating Quality and Its Significance”. The conference focussed on research and practice that relates specifically to babies. For instance, Dr Mihaela Ionuescu spoke about the International Step by Step Association (ISSA) and a quality framework that’s been developed for professionals working in ECEC with children aged under three. Later Peter Elfer led a discussion about the realities of the key person approach in baby rooms. The conference offered lots of provocations and we certainly learnt more about the lives of very young children. But it got us thinking – if we were to conduct a piece of research, how could we include babies as active participants?

When we talk to our students about their proposals for research we always encourage them to consider how they could incorporate the voice of the child.  For example, if they want to find out about the importance of play in children’s lives why would they just ask adults? Wouldn’t it be better to find an approach which would enable the children to also share their expertise? We are certainly not saying this is simple and we have our own anecdotes of when research with children has gone wrong.  Certainly the younger the child the more difficult it can be to include them in research and there are limited studies which have tried to include babies actively; however Mukherji and Albon (2018, p. 129) remind us that ‘babies… tell us a great deal about their lives if we take the trouble to listen’. They encourage us as adults to find different ways to listen such as noticing the head, tongue and arm movements babies make when trying to communicating with a sensitive adult.

 

We’ve reflected on how other people have tried to involve babies as active participants. For example, Clark and Moss (2011: 25) talk about how they’ve used the Mosaic Approach to gather perspectives on the lives of babies. They asked a three and four year old in a nursery setting to spend time in the baby room and take photos of “important things” to show what it was like for the babies in that room. Clark and Moss (2011) say that this type of research needs more attention, but may be a valuable way for adults to learn more about the babies who spend time in baby rooms. Meanwhile Sumison et al. (2011) have built on and adapted the Mosaic Approach by adding a headband with a “baby-cam” to young children, in order to capture their experiences. Whilst the Mosaic Approach aims to advocate ethical approaches to “listening” to young children, we do recognise that baby-cams may present challenges of privacy and a lack of informed assent from very young children.

Just because something is difficult in research doesn’t mean we should shy away from it (Thomas, 2013).  For example, before Clark and Moss’ ground-breaking approach to researching with children, researchers could have believed that young children were not capable of bringing new understanding or expertise. The minute we start approaching difficulties in research is the minute we have to start thinking creatively and that’s when we will develop creative research approaches that include the voice of the greatest number of participants.  What do you think?  Do you think babies can be active participants in research? How can we let them demonstrate the expertise they have in their own lives?

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