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Rhyannon Dynes, from Connah’s Quay in Flintshire, who studied for a BA (Hons) in Early Childhood Studies, adopted a creative, participatory and child-centred research approach to collecting the primary data for her dissertation.

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

The findings have been published on the Early Childhood Studies Degree Network, which aims to develop graduate and postgraduate training and research in the field of early childhood studies, as part of a showcase of exemplary student work.

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 Rhyannon gathered the data while on her placement in primary schools. She 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.

During the activities with the small groups, 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’. One girl selected a male character, Wreck-it Ralph, as he was ‘funny’ with her second favourite Moana, a contemporary independent princess who goes on adventures but the character she drew for her art activity as her favourite was the traditional princess Rapunzel. 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’.

Jeanette Bailie, Programme Leader for BA (Hons) in Early Childhood Studies, said: “We are very proud of Rhyannon’s publication and her research has made a positive contribution to the field of early childhood studies. Rhyannon’s use of a child-centred methodology demonstrates a commitment to carrying out research with children as equal partners in the research process. Rhyannon reaches some sound conclusions, which include empowering children to participate in expressing their thoughts and ideas through the medium of art.”

Paula Hamilton, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education and Children’s Services and Rhyannon's research supervisor, added: “Rhyannon has done an amazing job in getting her work published on the Early Childhood Studies Degree Network, as so many submissions are made from students across the UK. Her work demonstrates a high level of understanding and skill in engaging young children more inclusively in the research process through her use of creative, playful and artistic methods.”

Rhyannon said: “I decided to complete my dissertation on Disney and gender as I have always enjoyed the Disney films and literature growing up myself and believe that gender is a topic which requires thorough discussion. I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to study this topic and with all the knowledge gained throughout the past three years I wish to go on to be a teacher within the early years sector.

“My goal is to give children the best support early on in their lives so that they can achieve anything they wish. I would also like to thank my tutors for all their support and belief in me throughout my time during University.”  


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