Young children’s enactments of agency during participatory wellbeing research

Jennifer Fane, Capilano University, Canada (

Background: Young children have been largely excluded from child wellbeing research due to assumptions surrounding their capacity to engage within participatory research paradigms. Participatory research is generally understood to be important for empowering marginalised and excluded voices, such as those of young children. However, without careful thought to how much agency participants are able to enact throughout the research process, participatory research runs the risk of replicating traditional research power imbalances.

Aim: To learn how and when young children enact agency within a participatory research paradigm.

Method: A qualitative longitudinal study design was used to investigate the understandings and experiences of 20 children as they transitioned from eight early childhood education and care contexts to primary schools in metropolitan South Australia. Emoji were used as a visual participatory research method to elicit young children’s experiences and understandings of wellbeing across the transition to school in both paired and individual research activities. The structured approach to trajectory analysis was employed to analyse the data.

Results: Findings suggest that young children enact agency within participatory research through the use of humour, refusal, storytelling, and choice in what materials they bring into research activities. These decisions and choices can teach us not only about young children’s interest and engagement in participatory research (or lack thereof), but also perceptions of their own agency within the research processes.

Conclusions: Investigating the ways in which young children enact agency when working with a researcher informs our knowledge of conducting research with rather than on young children.

Implications for children: What you think and need are important. It is important for adults to listen to children because you can teach us important lessons about what makes you feel safe, healthy, and happy.  

Implications for families: Children’s voices and experiences are important and should inform knowledge, practice, and policy as it relates to the services and systems you and your family interact with.

Implications for practitioners: Children’s voices can and should inform the knowledge base on which our practices, pedagogies, and policies are based on, and the development of our daily interactions with children.

Key words: children’s voices, wellbeing, agency, education, communication, qualitative methods, visual research methods.

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: