Did you do anything special to celebrate Universal Children’s Day on 20th November this week? Here is a short piece of writing we were asked to compose around listening to the child’s voice…
In times gone by, when we wanted to find out about children we had to draw on research conducted on them. This positioning of children saw them as ‘objects’ or ‘subjects’ of research (Penn, 2008: 142); we only have to think of the seminal psychology studies of Piaget (1926) or Ainsworth (1964) to realise this. However, in more recent times there has been a shift in our thinking about what children are capable of and a re-evaluation of how children themselves may contribute an important voice as ‘experts in their own lives’ (Clark and Statham, 2005).
Research with children is important for many reasons including supporting children’s empowerment, providing perspectives adults may not have access to and encouraging creative methodologies which could provide richer data (Bolshaw and Josephidou, 2019: 69). If children are both encouraged and supported to participate in research they can also develop valuable skills which will be important to them as active members of society who can make an increasing contribution as they get older (Punch, 2002).
Nevertheless, difficulties with this approach cannot be brushed under the carpet. For example, there is still a power issue to be addressed; we are asking children to participate but we are asking them to do it on our terms, for our agenda. Bradbury-Jones and Taylor (2015) outline many other objections raised about this kind of research; they not only address them but also signpost counter-arguments such as how children could be compensated for giving up their time rather than the adult researcher assuming that they are happy to do so.
Researching with children can be valuable both in terms of creating new knowledge and supporting children to develop an awareness of themselves as people who have agency in society and therefore can contribute to change. Yes it is not easy, yes there are still power issues to be addressed but worries about tokenism should not discourage this kind of research (Lundy, 2018); rather it should be seen as a step to action.
Ainsworth, M.D. (1964) ‘Patterns of attachment behavior shown by the infant in interaction with his mother’, Merrill-Palmer Quarterly of Behavior and Development, 51–8.
Bolshaw, P. and Josephidou, J. (2019) Introducing Research in Early Childhood.London: Sage.
Bradbury-Jones, C. and Taylor, J. (2015) ‘Engaging with children as co-researchers: challenges, counter-challenges and solutions’, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 18(2): 161–73.
Clark, A. and Statham, J. (2005) ‘Listening to young children: Experts in their own lives’, ADOPTION & FOSTERING, 29 (1): 45-56.
Lundy, L. (2018) ‘In defence of tokenism? Implementing children’s right to participate in collective decision-making’, Childhood, 25(3): 340–354.
Penn, H. (2008)Understanding Early Childhood: Issues and Controversies. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
Piaget, J. (1926) Language and Thought of the Child. London: Routledge.
Punch, S. (2002) ‘Research with children: the same or different from research with adults?’, Childhood, 9(3): 321–41.