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lJPP Research Seminar
Research methods for researching with children


This is the eighth IJPP research seminar for academics and practitioners from any discipline who are interested in researching with children. This free online seminar will include five presentations by internationally known experts from different disciplines and will take place on 21st April, 13.00-15.00 (UK time). For more information about International Journal of Playwork Practice, please click here.

 Dr Lorna Arnott, University of Strathclyde

Adapting play pedagogies for research methodologies: Complex but necessary


Based on the data from our edited book Research through Play: Participatory Methods in Early Childhood, this presentation offers an insight into the complicated world of research with very young children, using play inspired methods and methodologies.  As progress continues to be made in terms of children’s rights and the understanding that children are capable and competent individuals, it seems logical that children should not be excluded from research data; particularly data pertaining to them.  Yet the process requires nuanced and reflexive approaches to data collection in order to maintain the highest ethical standards and research rigor.  In this presentation I share some examples of what these research approaches can look like with children in early childhood, while also articulating the tensions and dilemmas of conducting this work. 


Lorna Arnott is a Senior Lecturer and Director of Early Years in the School of Education, University of Strathclyde. Lorna’s main area of interest is in children’s early play experiences particularly in relation to technologies, social and creative play. She also has a keen interest in research methodologies, with a specialist focus on consulting with children and methods derived from pedagogy. Lorna is the convener for the Digital Childhoods, STEM and Multimodality Special Interest Group as part of the European Early Childhood Educational Research Association and is the Deputy Editor for the International Journal of Early Years Education and Assistant Editor for the Journal of Early Childhood Research.

Dr Mallika Kanyal, Senior Lecturer and Program Director at Anglia Ruskin University, Chelmsford, Essex

Engaging in research ‘with’ children: creative methods and methodologies

“Every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously.” (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 12)


With developments in policy and practice in greater children’s involvement in matters affecting their lives, research is one way through which children can share their ideas on matters important to them. The seminar will consider possibilities and challenges of engaging in research with young children, drawing examples from different projects that I have led or been part of. The aim will be to discuss different research methods and methodologies in supporting children to elicit their views, especially in education and care context. Issues of ethics around uncertainties in relation to power and, ethics of children’s agency in research will also be discussed.


Dr Mallika Kanyal is a Senior Lecturer and Program Director at Anglia Ruskin University, Chelmsford, Essex. Mallika has been teaching in Higher Education, especially on Early Childhood programmes, for more than 20 years. Her teaching experience ranges from undergraduate level 4 to doctoral studies. Mallika’s main research interest is around the usefulness of participatory research and its place as an alternative to conventional research in educational contexts. Her research focuses on the application of participatory approaches in early and primary school years and in higher education, for example, in understanding pupil voice through creative, arts based activities. She has published this work under the strand of children’s participatory rights and students’ voice in higher education. Mallika has successfully worked on a funded research project ‘Creative Writing through the Arts’ with Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Royal Opera House and is currently working on a partnership project with the Festival Bridge (Norfolk & Norwich Festival ) and Magic Acorns on ‘Creativity in Early Years’.  

Anna Klerfelt, PhD. Associate Professor in Education, Specialisation School-age Educare/Extended Education, Department of Child and Youth Studies, Stockholm University.

Walk-and-talk conversations

In several of my projects I have worked with the methodological challenge to involve children as active participants in research by using a kind of walk-and-talk conversations, building on modern theories for communication from out dialogical perspectives and involving the camera as mediational means. In this presentation I will present this method as a way to come close to children’s perspectives.



Anna is studying the school-age educare centre as an educational practice within the school framework, but with a specific assignment and an expanded perspective on knowledge and learning. She has a special interest in the relationship between education and care and children’s perspectives. She is interested in developing theoretical grounds and new methods for researching school-age educare. Anna is especially focusing children’s meaning-making, creativity and their communication with aesthetic expressions.



Professor Cath Larkins, University of Central Lancashire, UK

Learning from children how to research with children, with a little help from Aristotle.

Children are widely seen as needed training to become young researchers. Reflecting on a co=created research study www.stories2connect.org we challenge that suggestion. We highlight that rather than seeking to get children to conform to imposed standard methods for research, creatively learning together enables academics to develop the skills and understanding needed to research well.  Using Aristotelean notions of knowledge and the willingness to critique our own practice, researchers may become better able to appreciate what they do not know about how to research and what children can teach them. 

Prof Cath Larkins innovates in participation, activism and knowledge exchange with children and young people, and their allies, across the UK and Europe. She conducts co-research, particularly with marginalised children and young people which is focused on challenging discrimination and improving policy and practice. Working with a wide range of child and adult colleagues, she co-authors guidance to inspire social change. Her scholarship advance theories and methodologies for participation and citizenship. Her collaborative work with children and young people has led to impact on policy and practice internationally.

Cath has published widely in the fields of Childhood Studies, Child and Family Social Work, Youth and Justice. Her writing combines social theory and cocreated empirical research with children and young people to critique dominant understandings of children, childhood and childhood policy and practice. This work has been funded by the AHRC, the European Union and Council of Europe, UK Governments and charitable foundations. She is currently leading a Learning Partnership for the Youth Endowment Fund Peer Research and Social Action Network and an Open Society Foundation funded Europe wide project to research and promote marginalised children’s participation in public decision-making. She co-leads an arts-based AHRC funded project exploring young people’s perspectives on landscapes decision-making. She supports and mentors staff involved in a wide range of participatory research and evaluation activities. Cath also supervises PhD, Prof Doc and Masters students and contributes to teaching on the MA Social Work and the MA Professional Practice with Children and Young People. Cath has conducted collaborative research with children and young people since 1997, working with a national and international children focused organisations . She started work at UCLan in 2011 and since then has also provided advisory roles for national and international governments in relation to children’s participation and children’s rights focused policy and practice. This has included work in Mongolia on behalf of an EU diplomatic mission and supporting the development of inclusive and impactful participatory processes at European levels. Cath is Co-Conveynor of the European Sociological Association Sociology of Children and Childhood Research Network and an editorial board member of Sozialwissenschaftlichen Literatur Rundschau (SLR).


Dr Harry Shier, Ireland

What is the Playworker Mindset? In the opening chapter of the 2017 collection “Researching Play from a Playwork Perspective”,  I claimed that, for a researcher such as myself, coming from a playwork background, the “playworker mindset” offers a distinct advantage in participatory research with children. So, what is this “Playworker mindset”? For me it means:

  • Playworkers are the only group of professionals working with children whose job is to let children and young people determine and control the content and intent of their own actions, by following their own instincts, ideas and interests in their own way for their own reasons” (paraphrased from Playwork Principle no.2)
  • Therefore, playworkers do their best to ensure that children’s action is not adulterated by external (adult) agendas. “This means that playworkers do not try to educate, train, tame, or therapeutically treat children”. (paraphrased from Wilson, 2010).

My argument then, and now, is that this playworker mindset differentiates playworkers from all other professionals who work with children, and that this gives us a clear advantage in conducting research with children in a way that is fully open to their way of understanding their world.

Evolution: I never intended to become a researcher. I started as a playworker, then I became interested in children’s rights, particularly the right to play. This brought me to the underlying principle of the child’s right to be heard. Seeking an eye-catching way to demonstrate this in practice led to the UK Article 31 Children’s Consultancy Scheme. Then I went to work for CESESMA in Nicaragua and soon an opportunity arose to try out Children’s Consultancy in that very different context. But the new context needed a new concept, and thus the emergence of Transformative Action Research by Children and Young People. Though by then I was years away from doing playwork, the Playworker Mindset never left me.

CESESMA’s new book: Transformative Action Research with Children and Young People: In 2020, the CESESMA team in Nicaragua took advantage of the lull in community activities forced by to COVID-19 to undertake a sistematización  (structured reflective review) of eleven action research projects with children and young people during the previous 13 years. This review led to the development of a new practical manual which guides users through the process of a transformative action-research project – all inspired, conceived and designed using the Playworker Mindset.


Born in Ireland, Harry Shier worked on adventure playgrounds in London in the 1970s, then in playwork training, founding PLAYTRAIN in Birmingham in 1981. From the 1990s he worked in children’s rights and participation. In 2001 he moved to Nicaragua, Central America to support child workers on coffee plantations claiming and defending their rights, including the right to play. There he authored the influential global report on children’s right to play that convinced the UN to issue guidance to the world’s governments on this topic. In 2016 he was awarded a PhD at Queen’s University Belfast for his study on Nicaraguan children’s perceptions of human rights in school. He now lives on the banks of the River Liffey in Co Kildare, where he continues to work on children’s rights and participation initiatives. All his published work is at www.harryshier.net

This will be a free event hosted online via Zoom. To receive the Zoom link, just contact us and let us know that you would like to join.

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