Including the voices of children in research

Including the voices of children in research

9 April 2014
Including the voices of children in research

How can researchers gather children’s perspectives? What are child friendly methodologies, and what do children think of them?

Research that includes the voices of children has the potential to help us understand their perspectives and inform social policy and practices that are in the best interests of children. 

So, how can researchers gather children’s perspectives? What are child friendly methodologies, and what do children think of them?

Research suggests that if we regard children as experts and want them to inform research, then adults need to become experts at unlocking these insights and interpreting them accurately. The success of gathering authentic children’s views, and viewing children as thinkers, creators and communicators, relies on the researcher’s ability to use appropriate methodological strategies. Getting this wrong can result in a false understanding; reporting on what is an ‘assumed’ voice, or a voice constructed by adults, rather than the authentic voice of the child. 

‘Draw and talk’, outlined by Tay-Lim (2013), is an interactive method designed to elicit children’s first-hand experiences, perspectives and understandings through drawing and one-to-one conversations with an adult researcher. The adult plays a crucial role in this process, encouraging children to be as articulate as possible and share how they make sense of the world. Researchers need to be well trained in this method to be able to encourage a meaningful dialogue with the child. Similarly, the ‘mosaic’ methodology, described by McTavish et al (2012), is often used with young children. In this approach conversations with, and observations of, children are combined with their drawings, photographs and other modes of communication, such as video gaming, to draw out an understanding of children’s experiences and perspectives.

The views of children regarding methods used in research and consultation, particularly those looking at children’s views on social topics, were assessed by Hill (2006). Findings showed that what children said they wanted when participating in research was similar to existing good research practice. There was no clear consensus however amongst children regarding their preferences for certain methods; this varied based on the individuals interviewed. When asked for a preference between being interviewed in a group or individually, some children were in favour of groups:

‘I like a group, so that we can all put in our ideas’


‘You could look at things from more points of view’

while others were not:

‘You’re not going to be talked over if you’ve got a survey’.

Hill (2006) found children liked methods that they considered fun and relaxing, which were usually group methods involving activities and exercises designed to be as fun as possible. In relation to sensitive private matters, children valued their privacy and preferred individual interviews:

‘You could say things without your friend knowing’

or questionnaires:

I’d rather write if it was someone I don’t know’.

In working with young children, the ‘draw and talk’ and ‘mosaic’ methods may be helpful ways researchers can gather children’s perspectives. If children’s voices can be heard clearly and are well interpreted, researchers stand to gain better quality insights into childhood.  

Further resources

Ethical Research Involving Children (ERIC)

ERIC aims to assist researchers and the research community to understand, plan and conduct ethical research involving children and young people in any geographical, social, cultural or methodological context.  


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Joanne Commerford

At the time of writing this, Joanne was a  Senior Research Officer with the Child Family Community Australia (CFCA) information exchange.

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