'Why do you think nobody wants to play with Emma?': Persona dolls, participatory methods and methodological issues in researching young children's views on exclusion
Education University of Edinburgh UK,
This paper is based on a doctoral, ESRC funded, research project which was interested in listening to young children's views (aged 3-5) regarding their constructions of identity and difference. Emphasis was also given to children's constructions of exclusion. The broader aim of this study was to listen to children's views in order to develop early years practice, particularly in terms of social justice and equity, in ways that would reflect and respect children's lives. During this research, through the use of ethnographic methods, a plethora of rich and in-depth conversations and experiences with children took place. Naturalistic observations, informal conversations and participatory methods, like drawing activities and doll activities, were used in order to capture the complexity of children's identities, views and experiences.
In this presentation I will discuss one of the activities I used with the children, the Persona doll activity and the methodological challenges that I faced. For this activity, six personas were created, three girls and three boys, all with different characteristics and identities, reflecting in that way the diversity of the children in the nursery. Each doll was given a name, age, country and language. The dolls had stories to tell the children about their lives, one happy and one sad story. Through informal discussions children were invited to express their views about the problems the dolls were facing in their stories. By opening up the discussion to the children, and with reference to their own experience, the children provided a plethora of ideas regarding reasons of exclusion and discrimination that take place at the nursery level. What were the challenges that I faced in terms of using participatory methods though? How can such methods link to children's real lives? What are the advantages and disadvantages of both naturalistic and participatory techniques? Are we minimising adult power through participatory methods? To what an extent is the researcher directing or influencing the scene or children's views? This paper will seek to answer all of the above by reflecting on my personal research experience in early childhood education.