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Listening to Children in Designing Environments that Support Children's Development (First International Conference of the CRN Child Science Exchange Program in Asia)

Japanese Chinese

Presented at the "First International Conference" of CRN Child Science Exchange Program in Asia held in Shanghai, China, March 4-5, 2017.

Using the Inductive Approach to Discover the Child's World

This study adopts the qualitative methodology using the Mosaic Approach to collect the data from children. What does the "Mosaic Approach" involve? Developed by Clark and Moss (2005), it involves a multiple methods approach using photography, informal interviews, drawings and tours of classrooms to engage children's voices in research. In this study, focus group interviews and children's drawings were used to "capture" the children's voices. Their drawings included "happy" and "sad" moments as well as what they would like to do on a free day. The focus group interviews and the drawings collected were triangulated to reflect the voices of children.

The purpose of this study is as follows:

Figure 1

Research Sample

In Singapore, the first sample consisted of 43 children from 5 childcare centres. Subsequently, 225 children from 55 centres were added. As such, in total, 268 children were involved in this study. The two groups are different in that the first group was from typical developing groups of children while the second sample was from a literacy early intervention program.

In the United States, this study was conducted in the State of Tennessee within two elementary schools. There were two samples with different socio-economic status (SES). The first sample was eight boys and eight girls, 16 children in total, consisting of a very diverse ethnic group of children from low income families. This sample included children from White, Hispanic and African American children. The second sample consisted of 30 children from middle income families. There were 16 boys and 14 girls and most of them were White. In total, 46 children were involved in this study. It was intentional that two very different samples were selected. This is to compare the views of childhood between the two groups of different socio-economic status (SES) and ethnicity.

Figure 2

Findings from Children's Drawings

In Singapore, both samples of drawings reflected play. However, in the first sample, the drawings reflected playful times with family members while in the second sample, play was reflected as playing with friends. So the difference, between the sample from the typical developing groups and that from the literacy early intervention program, lie in the choice of people involved in play; one is with family members and the other is with friends. This difference may imply that families have more time with their children in the typical developing groups while the children in the literacy early intervention program look for friends to play while their parents are busy working or occupied. Please refer to the slide below for drawings of play.

Figure 3

In Tennessee, both samples of drawings also reflected play. From the children's transcript, play evokes positive feelings as they engaged in playful times. In Sample 1, the drawing focuses on outdoor play whereas in Sample 2, the drawing includes the use of technology such as an iPad and a phone. This difference could be due to the different SES of the two samples. Sample 2 consists of children mostly from the middle SES families, while in Sample 1 most children were from the lower SES families.

Figure 4

Let's turn our attention now to the children's drawings of "Happy" and "Sad" pictures. In Singapore, children are happy to be with their families. In the first picture to the left, the child is alone but is happy because "My daddy, mummy, & baby brother are at another place building sand castles."

Figure 5

In Figure 6 below, children in the Tennessee sample drew pictures of their "happy" times. In Tennessee, children are happy at play and spend time with family members such as "sissy". Both in Singapore and Tennessee, family members were included in their drawings of "happy pictures".

Figure 6

As for the "sad pictures" (Figure 7) from the study in Tennessee, children's pictures reflected how they were affected by the relationship between the immediate setting in the family and school as supported in Bronfenbrenner's Mesosystem. The picture on the left shows a Hispanic child locked out of his home. This picture came from Sample 1 with children from lower SES families. This implies that the family is strapped with issues that would inevitably affect the child. Meanwhile in Sample 2, one child drew the picture of feeling sad without the teacher in school.

Figure 7

Findings from Focus Group Interviews

The findings from the focus group interviews done in Singapore is summarized in Figure 8 below. Children in Singapore appreciate play, work and being in an aesthetically pleasing environment. What don't they like? In the first Sample with the typical developing group, children disliked the boy's toilet because it is smelly. Besides that, some children do not like their toys and others disliked being scolded by the teacher.

In the second sample, from the literacy early intervention group, children do not like the windows to be opened because of the smell from dustbins; they also do not like to do work when the tasks are difficult; they disliked fighting; do not like to be bullied and disliked being scolded by the teacher. It appears that more fighting and bullying is being experienced in the second sample from the literacy early intervention group.

Figure 8

The findings from the focus group interviews done in Tennessee are summarized in Figure 9 below. Children in Tennessee enjoy outdoor play and learning centers in the classroom. Both samples do not like being "clip down". In the United States, most classes adopt a behavior management chart that moves the children's name up or down depending on their behavior. When children have positive behavior, their names will be moved up on the chart and when they misbehave, their names will be down on the chart. Children do not like being clipped down and many of them indicated that it is something they dislike in class. In addition, both samples also experience being bullied. Sample 2 seems to also include being hurt by pets that was not mentioned in Sample 1.

Figure 9

Comparing the results of the research study in Singapore and Tennessee; in both cases it gives pleasure to children to play together with friends and family members. However, the drawings show that technology, games, sports and pets are given more attention in Tennessee; with pets and technology games being more prevalent in the majority with Sample 2. In Singapore, children attend private tutoring classes or workshops, but children in Tennessee did not mention attending workshops, private tutoring classes or other extra curriculum activities.

Listening to Children in the Design of Environments

What is the most important thing for children? Play has been reported as being very much part of children's lives. Therefore, in designing environments for young children, play areas should be provided for different types of play; for example, block building, messy play, imaginary play, dramatic play, in-doors and out-doors, as well as areas for building social network and community.

Also, families are an integral part in the lives of these 5-6 years old. As such, it is important that families are made to feel welcomed in early childhood settings. A reception area with books where families can sit and read to the child during pick up or drop off time, not only gives the message that families are welcomed but reading to children is a good way to bond with their young ones.

In Singapore, from the focus group interviews children enjoy the challenge of academic work. Therefore, in planning the curriculum, care should be taken in providing the balance between play and challenging academic work.

In Tennessee, children enjoy learning centers and are strongly opposed to being reprimanded or clipped down. Environmental designers could enhance the children's learning by creating a curriculum that includes extended time for play through the exploration in the learning centers. When children are engaged, there would be less disruptive behaviors and therefore less use of "clip downs". Thus, we need to focus on creating environments that are positive and warm; one that allows children time to create social networks and build communities through play and exploration.

Since play is integral in the child's life, how do we ensure that children are learning from play? We need to set up environments with learning centers where children can learn, create a community, collaborate in problem solving and innovate through careful guidance and the teacher's skillful scaffolding. These are important considerations to be taken seriously in designing environments for children to learn and thrive.

Implications/Future Directions

This study adopts Bronfenbrenner's theory as a theoretical framework. The Microsystem consists of the child within a network of system and the Mesosystem presents the inter-relationship between the child, family and the school. The findings in this study support that the child's world is very much influenced by the relationship in the home and school. The third system, the Exosystem, does not consists of the child, such as the parents work place, and the last system the Macrosystem, encompasses the government policies and cultures of the country, all of which, have impact on the child.

The finding that children in Singapore are challenged by academic work reinforces Bronfenbrenner's Theory of the Ecological Systems. As such, children in Singapore reported that they enjoy academic challenges which is not reported by the children in the Tennessee samples. This reflects the value placed on academic excellence in the Singapore society as well as the policy of academic achievement and meritocracy which are not apparent in the United States.

However, this study is limited to a small sample comparison between Singapore and Tennessee, United States. The authors aspire to expand the sample size to include other countries, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, China, Japan and all those who are committed to amplifying the "voices of children" for the whole world to listen to.

In conclusion, as responsible adults we want to give the best to the children who are our future as well as our present. Children today deserve environments that would enable every child to reach his/her potential. Together we can advance the well-being of children and their families by listening to them with our hearts and minds and make a concerted effort to amplify the voices of children.


Christine_Chen.jpg Christine Chen

In Singapore, Dr. Chen was the Founder President of the Association for Child Care Educators (ACCE) and Founder and current President of the Association for Early Childhood Educators (AECES). Dr. Chen received her BA in Social Work from the University of Singapore, continued with her Masters of Science in Early Childhood Education from Bank Street College of Education, New York City and the Doctor of Education from the George Washington University, Washington D.C.

Internationally, she is the President, Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI, 2015-2017), Director of the Asia-Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood (ARNEC, 2014-2018), and Deputy Chairwoman of the Asia-Pacific Preschool Education Association (2014-2019). She is also a Member of the Advisory Board of IndoCARE – Indonesia Centre for Autism Resource and Expertise. Dr. Chen has also been invited to present in China, Indonesia, Russia, Thailand, Vietnam and the U.S.A.

Jane_Lim.jpg Jane Seok Jeng Lim

Seok Jeng Jane Lim, Assistant Professor, earned her Bachelor of Social Science in Children & Family Studies from Edith Cowan University, Perth, Australia. She acquired her Master in Educational Leadership in Early Childhood Education from Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. In 2012, she earned her Ph.D. in Elementary/Early Childhood Education from University at Buffalo, The State University of New York.

Dr. Lim is a Singaporean and has more than 20 years' experience in working and teaching preschoolers and adults in early childhood education. She has presented in 40 national, state and international conferences. Her area of research interest is on the issue of bullying among the underrepresented population – refugee children. She was the former Executive Director of Association for Early Childhood Educators (Singapore) – AECES. She was on the executive board of the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) and is the Immediate Past President of Tennessee ACEI.

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