Thinking Critically about Early Childhood Sources

Blog 30-11-18We watched the first episode of a new television series called Babies: Their Wonderful World on BBC Two this week. The series focuses on what we know from scientific research about children’s development up until the age of two. The first episode looks at the research that has been conducted about babies’ individuality. For instance, it showed experiments that aimed to determine a young child’s temperament (at just 6 months), considered children’s widening vocabulary and examined the differences in gross and fine motor skills between tech and non-tech users.

The programme explored aspects of children’s cognitive, moral and physical development in an accessible way and it’s great that programmes like this open up the fascinating world of child development to a wider audience. It might also make more people passionate about the importance of children’s earliest years, like reports such as the 1001 Critical Days manifesto assert. But, like any source of information it’s important that we look at it with a critical eye and don’t take the claims made on face value.

In our book Introducing Research in Early Childhood we look at what the markers of quality are that might affect a source of information, like the provenance of the author, resonance, truthfulness and integrity, timeliness, style and the relevance of the information presented. It’s really important to consider these elements in relation to a source of information to help you decide whether it’s worthy of using and referring to. For instance, a limitation of the television programme is that the experiments we saw had very small sample sizes (for instance 3 non-tech users and 3 tech users in one experiment) and we can’t draw out wider generalisations from such small numbers of participants. However, what was good about the programme is that it cited the names of researchers that had been previously involved in published studies, like Professor Jessica Somerville, who we saw carry out a study that explored young children’s racial biases. This means we can check the provenance of the people involved in creating the programme. We recommend that if you are writing academic work that you find, read and reference to the studies that the programme has cited directly rather than referring to the programme (Googling the names of the academics featured in the programme to get lists of their published work would be a good place to start).

Did you watch Babies: Their Wonderful Worlds? What did you think? How would you evaluate it critically?

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