Skip to content

Jamie-Lee McDowell and Rhyannon Dynes, who are both studying for a BA (Hons) in Early Childhood Studies, adopted a creative, participatory and child-centred research approach to collecting the primary data for their dissertations.

Using ‘draw and talk’ (asking the children to draw their thoughts during a conversation) and ‘image-value line activity and discussion’ (asking the children to choose an image from a selection) techniques, the two students gathered the data while on their placements in primary schools. They found the children were eager to engage with the fun research activities and were able to gather a large amount of data which reflected their diverse voices.

Rhyannon’s study using images of Disney characters suggests that although Disney has introduced less stereotypical female characters, such as Mulan, Merida and Moana, many young children still have firm ideas regarding gender roles and expectations.

During the activities, Rhyannon found that rigid gender binaries exist in children’s thinking. The girls selected the princesses because they liked their ‘pretty and colourful dresses, long hair and really good singing voices’. The boys, who had selected male characters only, said it was because they were ‘fast, brave, strong, and funny,’ unlike princesses who were ‘boring, weak, polite, clumsy and dozy.’

Following her study, Rhyannon, 21 from Connah’s Quay in Flintshire, recommends that rather than practitioners and parents avoiding introducing children to older Disney stories and characters, they use them to address and challenge gender stereotypes. She also states how vocal children can be in expressing their thoughts and opinions when given appropriate and enjoyable opportunities.

Rhyannon said: “I came up with the idea after previous modules at University discussing gender issues relating to the early years, as I found this really interesting. I really like Disney and wanted to base my dissertation around it. I enjoyed taking part in the two activities with the children and hearing some of their responses in regards to the prompt questions.

“When I was younger, I went to the primary school next to the University and said to myself that I would go there one day, as I admired the students who worked within the School. I have particularly enjoyed working with the staff because they are all really welcoming and made the learning interesting and enjoyable.”

Findings from Jamie-Lee’s study also suggest how gender stereotypes continue to affect children’s participation and interest in sporting activities. Although gender equality strategies have started to see positive change in this area - such as women’s football - friends, family, siblings and the media continue to influence, causing some children to ‘police the borders’ as to what is deemed acceptable based on gender. Most of the boys discussed how ‘girls can’t play football’. However, two of the girls who played football described how the boys excluded them from playing and felt they had to justify engaging in the sport by stating ‘girls play too, you know?’

Dance was seen mainly as a sport/hobby for girls. Some of the girls talked about dance parties and how the boys could not join in. When the boys were asked why they had positioned dance towards the end of the image-value line as something they would not engage in they said ‘boys can do it, but it’s mainly for girls’ and ‘I wouldn’t want anyone to see me do it’.

Jamie-Lee, 23, from Ellesmere Port, found there to be a gap in published literature and research regarding young children’s perceptions of gender and sports. She feels more research should be undertaken regarding the extent to which positive changes in the perceptions held by family members and friends can help break down barriers and stigma, as gender binaries appear deeply rooted in, and associated with, children’s friendship groups and notions of belonging and conformity.

She said: “The idea came from my own personal experience growing up with sports and gender stereotypes. Being a sporty person myself, I found whilst growing up I did encounter various situations where gender stereotyping became a barrier to participate. I noticed these gender perceptions of sports influenced other people participating in different sporting activities and I therefore created this research topic to explore the influence of gender on children’s perceptions of sports.  

“I enjoyed analysing the collected data, particularly the children’s illustrations; seeing how their thoughts, feeling and experiences were all captured within two drawings.”

Both students are considering continuing their studies by undertaking PGCE qualifications to become primary school teachers.

Dr Paula Hamilton, Senior Lecturer in the University’s Faculty of Education and Children’s Services, said: I am really proud of the quality of Rhyannon’s and Jamie-Lee’s research. “The ‘image-value line’ was a new technique that we developed. It shows just how much children can engage in the research process when creative, playful and child-centred methods are used. Too often pressure is placed on children to express themselves verbally, when they may not yet have the vocabulary or experiences. I hope to see more students adopting a participatory research approach for their dissertations.”

Share this content