Childhood Studies Children's Views of Childhood
by
Kate Adams
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 March 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0167

Introduction

In the 1990s, the new sociology of childhood brought a fresh theoretical lens to studying childhood, a field that had previously been dominated by developmental psychology. The discourse now viewed childhood as a social construction in which children themselves played an active role in negotiating their lives. There was an emphasis on valuing the child as a being (who they are now) rather than becoming (who they would be in the future). The field gained momentum particularly in the context of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, which afforded children a range of rights, including the right to have their voice heard. Sociologists problematized childhood, highlighting multiple understandings of child, children, and childhood, which vary across cultures and within cultures over time. Interdisciplinary approaches drawing on anthropology, children’s geographies, and education (among other disciplines) further enhanced the scholarship in this area. However, despite this progression in understanding, children’s views of childhood were often omitted in texts particularly in the early phases, although empirical studies of children’s views have significantly increased in number in the early 21st century. The inclusion of children’s views about childhood has not in itself become a distinctive area in terms of general overviews; rather, research is often located within childhood studies and appears in aligned areas with specific foci such as play and education or in anthropological and ethnographic studies. These range from large-scale, quantitative, and mixed-methods approaches to small-scale, qualitative studies. This article helps readers locate those texts in their various forms and discusses the specific methodologies that have grown around them. From those studies, Themes in Children’s Views of Childhood can be isolated and examined. Themes of play and family recur in the literature and are detailed here. Children’s Inner Worlds (e.g., imagination, religion, and spirituality) are fundamental definers of identity in childhood; and although these comprise a relatively small field of study, they are are of considerable importance to children. Education (herein defined as “schooling”) is also addressed, given the amount of time many children spend engaged in it, and the inclusion of the child’s voice within a wide range of educational studies. Childhood Diversity also emerges as an area of study, with recognized facets such as gender, socioeconomic status, (dis)ability, and ethnicity being research topics in their own right. Within the minority world particularly, many children interact with a range of services that affect their lives on a daily basis and raise political and practical issues pertaining to the rights and needs of such children. Finally, recognizing that there is no universal definition of childhood, and acknowledging the vast range of life experiences that children have globally, studies from both the majority world and minority world highlight, and sometimes challenge, conceptions of the diverse lifestyles of children across the globe.

Textbooks

Textbooks on childhood abound, mostly interrogating theory but many omitting the voices of young people. Smith 2010 bridges the gap between theory and voice to an extent, offering a clear theoretical introduction to the sociology of childhood, which includes a literature review–based chapter on children’s views of childhood, thereby providing useful signposting. All other texts in this section incorporate children’s views alongside theoretical exposition. Historically, the author of Corsaro 1985 undertook one of the earliest sociological investigations of children and childhood in the 1970s, focusing on children’s relationships with peers in their early years. Using research from the 1950s onward, Opie and Opie 2001 is an extensive work exploring children’s rules and rituals of play in Britain. Although now dated in terms of the content of the children’s games, it remains a classic and provides an interesting comparison with Brooks 2006, which has broader narratives of the lives of nine young people in contemporary Britain. International perspectives, demonstrating the diversity of childhoods globally, are offered in Hopkins 2010, Cregan and Cuthbert 2014, and Corsaro 2015.

  • Brooks, Libby. The Story of Childhood: Growing up in Modern Britain. London: Bloomsbury, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Brooks interviews and observes nine young people, aged between four and sixteen, from different backgrounds. Each chapter is devoted to one child and presents each child’s narrative of his or her own childhood.

    Find this resource:

  • Corsaro, William A. Friendship and Peer Culture in the Early Years. New York: Praeger, 1985.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A much-cited book that details the findings of a year-long ethnographic study of a nursery school, focusing on the social and communicative processes that help create the world of young children.

    Find this resource:

  • Corsaro, William A. The Sociology of Childhood. 4th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2015.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Corsaro’s text provides an accessible overview of social theories of childhood. It draws on research with children and young people to detail the range of cultural and societal issues they face in different countries.

    Find this resource:

  • Cregan, Kate, and Denise Cuthbert. Global Childhoods: Issues and Debates. London: SAGE, 2014.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An accessible textbook comprising two sections. The first section discusses theoretical approaches to studying children and childhood, and the second contains case studies on the meaning of children and childhood, including themes such as child labor, child soldiers, and home, school, and work.

    Find this resource:

  • Hopkins, Peter E. Young People, Place and Identity. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2010.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An accessible textbook covering theoretical and practical issues pertaining to undertaking research with young people, before detailing empirical work with those aged sixteen to twenty-five. The voices of the young people, from a range of geographical contexts, illustrate how they negotiate their identities.

    Find this resource:

  • Opie, Iona, and Peter Opie. The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren. New York: New York Review of Books, 2001.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    In this classic text, originally published in 1959 by Oxford University Press, the Opies detail the rules and rituals that children created through play that they mediated themselves. The authors illustrate how children’s creativity is manifested through a wide range of games including riddles, rhymes, songs, and taunts.

    Find this resource:

  • Smith, Roger. A Universal Child? Basingstoke, UK, and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Chapter 9 What do Children Think about Childhood?, offers an overview of literature that incorporates children’s views, contextualized by the theory detailed in the other chapters.

    Find this resource:

Anthologies

Anthologies offer interesting perspectives on a range of aspects of global childhoods. Holloway and Valentine 2000 draws together chapters located within the field of children’s geographies focused on the three themes of play, life, and learning. Jeffrey and Dyson 2008 compiles an ethnographic-based text demonstrating the diversity of childhoods globally, while Panelli, et al. 2007 explores childhoods based in rural contexts.

  • Holloway, Sarah L., and Gill Valentine, eds. Children’s Geographies: Playing, Living, Learning. London: Routledge, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A comprehensive text in the Critical Geographies series that is ideal for final-year undergraduates and research students. This volume includes chapters on empirical studies with young people on three key themes and across a range of diverse global contexts.

    Find this resource:

  • Jeffrey, Craig, and Jane Dyson, eds. Telling Young Lives: Portraits of Global Youth. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This text, ideal for classroom use, offers ethnographic accounts of thirteen young lives from diverse contexts around the world, including an agricultural laborer in the Himalayas and a youth activist in Tanzania. The book offers insights into how these young people address key social and political challenges.

    Find this resource:

  • Panelli, Ruth, Samantha Punch, and Elsbeth Robson, eds. Global Perspectives of Rural Childhood and Youth: Young Rural Lives. Routledge Studies in Human Geography 17. London: Routledge, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This volume offers chapters exploring the themes of context and identities, agency and power relations, and processes in a variety of countries. Drawing on empirical work with children, the book represents an important contribution to understanding childhood in rural contexts.

    Find this resource:

Journals

Empirical studies that collect data on children’s views of childhood are often contextualized within the concepts of participation, voice, and agency. Therefore, journals that focus on these key issues, largely specializing in childhood studies, are a key source. Childhoods Today is the first port of call for postgraduate students and early career researchers for getting their work published. Although all are international in scope, Global Studies of Childhood and Childhood offer good coverage of studies about childhood in a range of cultures. Children’s Geographies offers accessible papers located in the discipline and Children and Society includes empirical work on children’s everyday lives in a range of settings. International Journal of Children’s Rights takes interdisciplinary approaches to further theoretical understanding and policy development across the world. However, these are by no means the only journals publishing on this topic. Research embedded in other disciplines and applied to professions is also published in specialist journals pertaining to the field in question. These include journals in education, social work, and other care professions.

Journal Articles

Research that includes children’s views about many aspects of their lives is becoming more prevalent, and such studies offer valuable insights into their experiences of childhood. However, few studies have directly asked children how they define a “child” and “childhood,” with most of the research focusing either on adults’ definitions or on children’s views about aspects of their lives in a broader sense. The journal articles presented here are examples of studies that posed the direct question to children about defining childhood. Harcourt 2011 and Lowe 2012 focus on the early years of children’s perceptions, while Adams 2013 and Adams 2014 explore the questions with those in middle childhood.

  • Adams, Kate. “Childhood in Crisis? Perceptions of 7–11 Year Olds and the Implications for Education’s Well-Being Agenda.” Education 3–13: International Journal of Primary, Elementary and Early Years Education 41.5 (2013): 527–537.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Presents findings of interviews with fifty-six children living in an economically deprived town in England focusing on how they experienced and understood childhood.

    Find this resource:

  • Adams, Kate. “What is a Child? Children’s Perceptions, the Cambridge Primary Review and Implications for Education.” Cambridge Journal of Education 44.2 (2014): 63–178.

    DOI: 10.1080/0305764X.2013.860082Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    In this study, fifty-six British children aged seven to eleven were asked to define a child and to compare childhood to adulthood. The study highlights how the biological element of childhood and their sense of becoming adults were stronger than is sometimes acknowledged in the literature.

    Find this resource:

  • Harcourt, Deborah. “An Encounter with Children: Seeking Meaning and Understanding about Childhood.” European Early Childhood Education Research Journal 19.3 (2011): 331–343.

    DOI: 10.1080/1350293X.2011.597965Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Harcourt presents data from fifteen children aged three to six years who shared their views on childhood and adulthood through conversations, drawings, or writing. Data suggests a need to reflect carefully on adults’ constructions of childhood.

    Find this resource:

  • Lowe, Rosemarie. “Children Deconstructing Childhood.” Children & Society 26 (2012): 269–279.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1099-0860.2010.00344.xSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Presents the findings of children aged three to four who responded to research questions that sought their understandings of “a child” and “childhood.” Lowe argues that adults’ conceptions of their role in play with young children may need to be reconsidered.

    Find this resource:

Reports

Measuring children’s subjective well-being is a means of comparing lives in and across countries and has been used in several large-scale research projects. The Children’s Society, a UK-based charity, in collaboration with the University of York, developed a tool to measure the concept. Known as the “Good Childhood Index,” it covers the main aspects of children’s lives, especially those identified by children themselves, which is statistically robust. Using large sample sizes, Rees, et al. 2012; Rees, et al. 2013; and Rees, et al. 2014 report on children’s lives in the UK, with the latter report also including a section on international trends. Quantitative data and qualitative comments from children are included. The first phase of the project is also available in book form (see Layard and Dunn 2009). In 1988 the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) established a research center to support its advocacy for children worldwide. UNICEF Office of Research 2007 and UNICEF Office of Research 2013 monitor and compare the performance of economically advanced countries in securing the rights of their children and incorporating children’s views through gathering data on subjective well-being. In 2009 a project entitled “Children’s Worlds: International Survey of Children’s Well-Being” was initiated at a UNICEF meeting. The project is supported by the Jacobs Foundation, a Swiss-based charity, and has its own website. Dinisman, et al. 2015 is a special edition of Child Indicators Research covering the first phase of the study. The notion of subjective well-being is in itself contentious, bringing its own methodological issues. However, these reports tend to draw on large samples and facilitate cross-cultural comparisons of specific aspects of children’s views of childhood.

Methodology

In addition to measures of children’s subjective well-being, detailed in Reports, other methodologies have also emerged to elicit children’s views. Amidst calls for more research that incorporates children’s voices is a small but growing literature on the child as researcher. Such methodology has emerged from concerns that adult-led research with children is inevitably interpreted through adult lenses. For that reason, there is an argument that child-led research has greater authenticity and that this has particular relevance for exploring children’s views on childhood. Kellett 2005 is a proponent of the concept of children as researchers and the outcomes are exemplified by Manasa Patil, aged eleven, in Patil 2006, which details her life as the daughter of a wheelchair user. This is a valuable approach to complement studies in which adults directly ask how the children themselves define “child” and “childhood” as exemplified in the citations in Journal Articles and those using measures of subjective well-being as detailed in Reports. Complementary methodologies are also embodied in the Mosaic Approach in Clark and Moss 2001, which is designed for use with young children. It incorporates the notion of participatory research. Also of significance are children’s views about the research methods that adults employ when researching the children’s lives; this is a theme which Hill 2006 explores.

Themes in Children’s Views of Childhood

Empirical research with children about their lives reveals consistent themes, particularly about what is significant to them. These include children perceiving play as a key definer of childhood and family as an important component. Another theme of literature that has less prominence but is meaningful to the child is that of inner worlds, which encompass imagination, religion, and spirituality, all of which potentially shape their sense of self. Another key area of research lies in education, herein defined as “schooling,” which occupies a central space and place in childhood for those who have access to it. Diversity among children, while emerging through different studies elsewhere in this article, is also a distinct theme in the literature. Finally, children’s perspectives on the services many of them use, including social care and health care, are detailed. Combined, all of these themes offer rich insight into different facets of how childhoods are experienced.

Childhoods and Play

Play is often identified as a key and defining feature of childhood, both from child and adult-centric perspectives. With many definitions of play identified in the literature, Wing 1995 explores young children’s understandings focusing on their distinctions between work and play. Reynolds and Jones 1997 offers an introduction for students working in play settings. In some industrialized countries, adults have expressed concern that children’s play, and indeed the quality of their childhood, has been impeded by an increased confinement of children to indoor locations and sedentary lifestyles. Such concerns, sometimes labeled “moral panics,” are based in part on romantic notions of times gone by. Opie and Opie 2008 is a useful representation of the latter, offering detailed accounts of the games played by children in 1960s Britain. In a similar vein, Marsh 2008 offers an international insight into different types of contemporary musical-based play. Returning to the concerns about the lack of outdoor play, Thomson and Philo 2004 and Veitch, et al. 2007 offer studies of children’s perspectives on outdoor play on two different continents.

  • Marsh, Kathryn. The Musical Playground: Global Tradition and Change in Children’s Songs and Games. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Winner of the Folklore Society Katharine Briggs Award 2009, this text examines children’s musical-based play in Australia, Norway, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Korea.

    Find this resource:

  • Opie, Iona, and Peter Opie. Children’s Games in Street and Playground. 2 vols. Edinburgh: Floris, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    These books, originally published in 1969 by Oxford University Press, detail the findings of the Opie’s extensive studies with over ten thousand children in Britain. It demonstrates the games that children played and the rituals they developed around them.

    Find this resource:

  • Reynolds, Gretchen, and Elizabeth Jones. Master Players: Learning from Children at Play. New York: Teachers College Press, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This text draws on research with young children in California. Gives insight into when educators should and should not intervene. It is highly readable and makes an ideal text for undergraduates.

    Find this resource:

  • Thomson, Joanne L., and Chris Philo. “Playful Spaces? A Social Geography of Children’s Play in Livingston, Scotland.” Children’s Geographies 2.1 (2004): 111–130.

    DOI: 10.1080/1473328032000168804Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Using eight- and nine-year-olds’ drawings and extracts from transcripts, the authors challenge adults’ perceptions of children’s play, arguing that children are often “being” rather than “doing.” They consider the implications for the design of outdoor play spaces.

    Find this resource:

  • Veitch, Jenny, Jo Salmon, and Kylie Ball. “Children’s Perceptions of the Use of Public Open Spaces for Active Free-play.” Children’s Geographies 5.4 (2007): 409–422.

    DOI: 10.1080/14733280701631874Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Six- to twelve-year-olds in Australia were the focus of this study, who revealed their views, barriers, and motivators for outdoor free play. Findings suggest that the current design of spaces may not be meeting the children’s preferences.

    Find this resource:

  • Wing, Lisa A. “Play is Not the Work of the Child: Young Children’s Perceptions of Work and Play.” Early Childhood Research Quarterly 10.2 (1995): 223–247.

    DOI: 10.1016/0885-2006(95)90005-5Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Young children drew on understandings from peers, teachers, and the classroom to differentiate between work and play, also identifying activities that fell in between the two.

    Find this resource:

Childhoods and Family

Approaches to studying childhood that adopt a social constructionist stance emphasize its relational nature (i.e., that childhood cannot be defined in isolation from other life stages such as adolescence and adulthood). Alanen and Mayall 2001 instigates an important discussion about how generational structures impact childhood, offering insights into the power dynamics inherent in them. The relational, for children, plays out particularly in their family context. Furthermore, children often cite family as one of the key factors in their lives. Several texts detail empirical studies that ask children about their conceptions of family, such as Christensen, et al. 2000 and Morrow 2009. Mason and Tipper 2008 takes a similar approach but also explores how children create kinship. Mayall 2003 combines its four studies to explore family lives in 1990s England within the context of relations. Ruth Forrest and Naomi Dent, both aged ten, share their research in Kellett, et al. 2004, which explores children’s views of the effects of their parents’ paid employment on the family. The changing nature of families and prevalence of parental separation in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand are the focus of Pryor and Rodgers 2001. According to children, however, people are not the only key determinants of family. Tipper 2011 shows how children place high levels of importance on pets as family members.

  • Alanen, Leena, and Berry Mayall, eds. Conceptualizing Adult–Child Relations. London: Routledge, 2001.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Combines theoretical approaches with empirical studies from different countries, which explore how children’s lives are experienced and shaped by the generational aspects of their respective cultures.

    Find this resource:

  • Christensen, Pia, Allison James, and Chris Jenks. “Home and Movement: Children Constructing ‘Family Time.’” In Children’s Geographies: Playing, Living, Learning. Edited by Sarah L. Holloway and Gill Valentine, 139–155. London: Routledge, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The authors explore how ten- to twelve-year-olds in England conceptualize family time and life, primarily through concepts of the “home” as a physical house that also gives practical voice to the idea of the home.

    Find this resource:

  • Kellett, Mary, Ruth Forrest, Naomi Dent, and Simon Ward. “‘Just Teach Us the Skills Please, We’ll Do The Rest’: Empowering Ten-Year-Olds as Active Researchers.” Children and Society 18 (2004): 329–343.

    DOI: 10.1002/chi.807Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Offers an original approach to research, incorporating two reports of research undertaken and written up by children.

    Find this resource:

  • Mason, Jennifer, and Becky Tipper. “Being Related: How Children Define and Create Kinship.” Childhood: A Global Journal of Childhood Research 15.4 (2008): 441–460.

    DOI: 10.1177/0907568208097201Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The authors present findings from a qualitative study with children aged seven to twelve in England, identifying five interconnected ways in which children made sense of kinship. They explore how children understood genealogical kinship conventions, creatively deployed or interpreted kin terms, and defined some kin who were unrelated as “like family.”

    Find this resource:

  • Mayall, Berry. Towards a Sociology for Childhood: Thinking From Children’s Lives. Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press, 2003.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Mayall draws on four separate studies with children conducted in the 1990s in England, with a focus on exploring the relational aspects of their lives, particularly child-adult and gender relations.

    Find this resource:

  • Morrow, Virginia. “Children, Young People and Their Families in the UK.” In Children and Young People’s Worlds: Developing Frameworks for Integrated Practice. Edited by Heather Montgomery and Mary Kellett, 61–76. Bristol, UK: Policy Press, 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Morrow details findings of a study exploring eight- to fourteen-year-old children’s definitions and conceptions of family. Accessible text for undergraduates and master’s degree students.

    Find this resource:

  • Pryor, Jan, and Bryan Rodgers. Children in Changing Families: Life After Parental Separation. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A much-cited text that examines issues and trends for young people in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and North America, drawing on demographic trends, theory, and empirical research.

    Find this resource:

  • Tipper, Becky “‘A Dog Who I Know Quite Well’: Everyday Relationships Between Children and Animals.” Children’s Geographies 9.2 (2011): 145–165.

    DOI: 10.1080/14733285.2011.562378Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    As part of a larger “Children Creating Kinship” study, Tipper asked forty-nine children aged seven to twelve about “who mattered” to them. This paper shows how children often see pets as an integral part of family and how they weave them into their accounts of their social lives.

    Find this resource:

Children’s Inner Worlds

Children’s outer worlds—comprising their material lives and daily activities of play, family, labor, and schooling—are immediately visible to adults and are the main areas for research. However, children’s inner worlds are as important in shaping identities and in gaining insights into what it is like to be a child. Sociologists debate the notion of children as beings and “becomings,” arguing that developmental psychologists were erroneous in conceiving children as “becomings”: that is, as adults-in-the making. Instead many propose that children should also be valued for who they are in the present—as beings. Such a view is implicit in the work of researchers who explore children’s inner worlds. Here, children are valued for their abilities to imagine and be creative, as well as for their competency in exploring philosophical issues. Also implicit is the desire to see these worlds through children’s eyes. Elements that are often directly associated specifically with childhood as distinct from adulthood are one focus. For example, Singer and Singer 1992 examines imaginary playmates within a wider context of play. Taylor 1999 also focuses on imaginary companions but changes the terminology because not all are benign playmates or friends. Majors 2013 undertook empirical research to explore the varied roles imaginary companions play for the children who have them. Adams 2010 extends the scope beyond imaginary companions to also explore a wider range of inner worlds. The author challenges the dismissal by many adults that such experiences are “just imagination” by emphasizing how real (and often meaningful) they are to children. Some work on inner lives is broadly located in the field of children’s spirituality, which may draw on religious beliefs and/or other worldviews that relate to meaning and purpose. Heller 1988 and Coles 1990 have explicit foci on children’s religious beliefs, including notions of God.

  • Adams, Kate. Unseen Worlds: Looking Through the Lens of Childhood. London: Jessica Kingsley, 2010.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This text draws on primary and secondary data to explore children’s experiences of inner worlds they inhabit including play, imaginary friends, religious worlds, dreams, and the unexplained. It draws attention to the more frightening elements such as nightmares and ghosts and how adults often dismiss these inner worlds as “just imagination.”

    Find this resource:

  • Coles, Robert. The Spiritual Life of Children. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This classic text, now out of print, details Coles’s research with Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and secular children spanning thirty years in the United States and other countries. He charts conversations with them about God, religion, and spirituality.

    Find this resource:

  • Heller, David. The Children’s God. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Heller details his research with forty children from four different religions, exploring their concept of God. Using drawings, play, letters, and interviews, the data reveals differences in conceptions according to age, gender, and religion but also similarities that transcend these potential boundaries.

    Find this resource:

  • Majors, Karen. “Children’s Perceptions of their Imaginary Companions and the Purposes They Serve: An Exploratory Study in the United Kingdom.” Childhood 20.4 (2013): 550–565.

    DOI: 10.1177/0907568213476899Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Presents the findings of a small-scale study of an under-researched area of children’s inner lives. Eight children aged between five and eleven years were interviewed about their imaginary companions to explore the different roles they play, including friendship, relieving boredom, and providing support during problematic times.

    Find this resource:

  • Singer, Dorothy G. and Jerome L. Singer. The House of Make-Believe: Children’s Play and the Developing Imagination. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An accessible and well-informed text that charts children’s imagination from the early years through to adulthood. It is informed by psychology and has a particular focus on play.

    Find this resource:

  • Taylor, Marjorie. Imaginary Companions and the Children Who Create Them. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Taylor offers an informed overview of children’s imaginary companions, revealing the types of children who tend to have them and the reasons children create them. In addition, she explores other elements of their fantasy worlds such as belief in Santa Claus and their dreams, interspersed with examples of children’s narratives.

    Find this resource:

Childhood and Education

For children who have access to formal education, particularly those in economically developed societies, the school is a prime site in which childhood is located. This section uses the term “education” to refer to schooling, although it is also acknowledged that “schools” and “classrooms” vary widely both in and across cultures. Research into children’s experiences of school has various foci, including their conceptions of life in the playground, the curriculum, how they learn, how they might evaluate and improve their school, and what constitutes a good teacher. Broström 2006 provides a useful literature review of such research in Nordic countries. Robinson and Fielding 2010 offers a literature review of how pupil voice has been studied in the UK, giving insights into children’s views on a variety of education-related issues while Cullingford 2006 offers a concise empirical study in the UK exploring various themes with children. Ethnographic studies have facilitated a more in-depth understanding of children’s conceptions of their life in the school context, as Levinson 2001 achieved in his study of a Mexican school. Hammersley and Woods 1984 collates a range of international ethnographic studies.

  • Broström, Stig. “Children’s Perspectives on their Childhood Experiences.” In Nordic Childhoods and Early Education: Philosophy, Research, Policy and Practice in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Edited by Johanna Einarsdottir and Judith T. Wagner, 223–256. Greenwich, CT: Information Age, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    While this chapter is largely theoretical, it offers a useful overview of themes in Nordic research relating to studies and methods with children which have elicited their views on aspects of education.

    Find this resource:

  • Cullingford, Cedric. “Pupils’ Views of the School Experience.” In Changing Teaching and Learning in the Primary School. Edited by Rosemary Webb, 60–70. Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Cullingford’s chapter explores students’ perceptions of interactions and relationships with teachers and peers, inclusion, and the curriculum and its purpose.

    Find this resource:

  • Hammersley, Martin, and Peter Woods, eds. Life in School: The Sociology of Pupil Culture. Milton Keynes, UK: Open University Press, 1984.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This is an important edited collection that brings together ethnographic studies of schools covering a range of themes and incorporating pupils’ perspectives.

    Find this resource:

  • Levinson, Bradley A. U. We Are All Equal: Student Culture and Identity at a Mexican Secondary School. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822381075Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This ethnographic account of secondary school students in a Mexican city explores a range of factors that impact students’ lives and identities particularly in relation to their schooled identity.

    Find this resource:

  • Robinson, Carol, and Michael Fielding. “Children and Their Primary Schools. Pupils’ Voices.” In The Cambridge Primary Review Research Surveys. Edited by Robin Alexander, 17–48. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2010.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A well-structured overview of studies that are the result of research on a range of aspects of children’s perspectives on school.

    Find this resource:

Childhood Diversity

Diversity among children takes many forms that emerge in the literature, including gender, socioeconomic status, (dis)ability, and ethnicity, all of which have a bearing on how their childhoods are shaped and experienced. Increasingly, these have been studied in relation to children’s perspectives. Davis, et al. 2006 and Wells 2015 cover a range of topics relating to diversity in childhood and its different forms, drawing on children’s narratives. Middleton 1999 and Connors and Stalker 2007 offer empirical studies of children with (dis)abilities that provide insight into their experiences and needs. Connolly 1998 considers the interconnectedness of racism and gender as manifest in a group of young children from a multiethnic community, while Renold 2005 explores gender and sexualities in middle childhood. Scourfield, et al. 2006 considers how children identify with nation and locality in their creation of identity.

  • Connolly, Paul. Racism, Gender Identities and Young Children: Social Relations in a Multi-Ethnic, Inner-City Primary School. London: Routledge, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A thought-provoking text that highlights the ways in which racism intervenes in the lives of a multiethnic community and shapes children’s gender identities. The book is particularly challenging because the sample is young (i.e., five- and six-year-olds) the voices of whom are represented and discussed throughout.

    Find this resource:

  • Connors, Clare, and Kirsten Stalker. “Children’s Experiences of Disability: Pointers to a Social Model of Childhood Disability.” Disability and Society 22.1 (2007): 19–33.

    DOI: 10.1080/09687590601056162Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The paper details a study of the lived experiences of twenty-six disabled children aged seven to fifteen who described themselves in terms of impairment, difference, other people’s behavior, and material barriers but also spoke of “sameness.”

    Find this resource:

  • Davis, John, Malcolm Hill, Alan Prout, and Kay Tisdall. Children, Young People and Social Inclusion: Participation for What? Bristol, UK: Policy Press, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Ideal for students and practitioners, this text explores the relevance of policy in facilitating the inclusion and participation of children and young people from diverse backgrounds, including those living in poverty. The perspectives of young people are central to the narrative.

    Find this resource:

  • Middleton, Laura. Disabled Children: Challenging Social Exclusion. Oxford: Blackwell Science, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Written to support practitioners, this book draws on dis(abled) children’s experiences to facilitate understanding of their lives and needs, covering a range of issues including discrimination, communication, bullying, and family matters.

    Find this resource:

  • Renold, Emma. Girls, Boys and Junior Sexualities: Exploring Children’s Gender and Sexual Relations in the Primary School. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2005.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Renold offers an ethnographic account of how schools are sites of negotiation for children about sexualities, applying theory to practice while interweaving children’s voices throughout the book.

    Find this resource:

  • Scourfield, Jonathan, Bella Dicks, Mark Drakeford, and Andrew Davies. Children, Place and Identity: Nation and Locality in Middle Childhood. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Details findings of a study of children aged eight to eleven living in Wales, exploring how they identify with their country and locality. Extracts from the transcripts are included as the authors discuss the data in an international context.

    Find this resource:

  • Wells, Karen. Childhood in a Global Perspective. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2015.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An accessible and comprehensive book that covers a range of childhoods and matters relating to diversity, including gender, race, and class. It also demonstrates the diversity of childhoods around the world, including children at war and migration.

    Find this resource:

Children’s Services

Countries in the minority world provide a range of services for children as part of wider welfare provision. Access to (and the quality of) such services varies both within and across countries, and there has been criticism that children are insufficiently consulted on how these services may best meet their interests. However, an increasing range of studies explores children’s views on the services they access. Clark, et al. 2005 offers an edited collection that considers ways of listening to children’s views in an international context. Morgan 2014 provides a large-scale overview of children’s experiences with a range of services in England, while Aubrey and Dahl 2006 conducts a smaller-scale project in a similar vein. A key area of study in this area is children’s involvement with health-care systems: La Valle, et al. 2012 provides an overview of children’s interactions with a range of health services in England, while Coyne and Kirwan 2012 explores the experiences of children who are hospitalized in Ireland. Another area of study relates to adoption and foster care. McLeod 2010 provides a concise literature review on listening to children’s views, while Goodyer 2011 investigates the different stages of the fostering process from children’s perspectives. Many children, both within and outside the adoption and fostering systems liaise with social workers, a relationship that Oliver 2010 addresses with children.

  • Aubrey, Carol, and Sarah Dahl. “Children’s Voices: The Views of Vulnerable Children on Their Service Providers and the Relevance of Services They Receive.” British Journal of Social Work 36.1 (2006): 21–39.

    DOI: 10.1093/bjsw/bch249Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A combination of a systematic literature review and empirical work with young children, aged eleven and below, which critically addresses the extent to which children’s views impact policy.

    Find this resource:

  • Clark, Alison, Ann Trine Kjørholt, and Peter Moss, eds. Beyond Listening: Children’s Perspectives on Early Childhood Services. Bristol, UK: Policy Press, 2005.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This compilation of chapters spanning six countries offers an accessible exploration of different approaches to listening to children’s perspectives about a range of services. It is an important contribution to the literature because of its focus on young children under the age of seven.

    Find this resource:

  • Coyne, Imelda, and Lisa Kirwan. “Ascertaining Children’s Wishes and Feelings about Hospital Life.” Journal of Child Health Care 16.3 (2012): 293–304.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This study gathered the views of fifty-five children aged seven to eighteen years from three hospitals in Ireland. Children commented on the hospital facilities, views of the doctors and nurses, their interactions with doctors and nurses, and participation in decision making.

    Find this resource:

  • Goodyer, Annabel. Child-Centred Foster Care. London: Jessica Kingsley, 2011.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An accessible book that, at its core, includes children’s views about all aspects of being fostered. Their experiences of being fostered, moving to and living in a foster home, and opinions about the system as a whole are detailed and applied to practice.

    Find this resource:

  • La Valle, Ivana, Lisa Payne, Jennifer Gibb, and Helena Jelicic. Listening to Children’s Views on Health Provision: A Rapid Review of the Evidence. London: National Children’s Bureau, 2012.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A report on children and young people’s views on their experiences with the National Health Service in England, covering physical, mental, and public health.

    Find this resource:

  • McLeod, Alison. “Thirty Years of Listening to Children.” Adoption and Fostering 34.3 (2010): 67–73.

    DOI: 10.1177/030857591003400312Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A concise literature review offered by a social worker that provides a clear account of children’s views in a range of British services related to adoption and fostering. Ideal as introductory reading for students.

    Find this resource:

  • Morgan, Roger. Children’s Views Digest. Manchester, UK: Ofsted, 2014.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An invaluable resource summarizing ten years of research with children in England, seeking their views on a wide range of care services including adoption, residential family centers, boarding schools, and residential colleges.

    Find this resource:

  • Oliver, Christine. Children’s Views and Experiences of Contact with Social Workers: A Focused Review of the Evidence. Leeds: Children’s Workforce Development Unit, 2010.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This useful review focuses on England and English children’s perspectives on social workers’ tasks, their relationships with them, what constitutes a good social worker, and their recommendations for how the professionals may be able to enhance their practice.

    Find this resource:

Childhoods in the Majority World

Children’s geographies, a subdiscipline of human geography, draws on the central principles of childhood studies to research the places and spaces of children’s lives drawing on a range of fields. Although not exclusive to children’s geographies, included here are valuable small-scale qualitative studies that give voice to children about their lives in a wide range of global contexts. These span a range of themes, each of which has its own literature and areas of contestation. Cregan and Cuthbert 2014 provides a broad overview of different types of childhoods based on case studies, which serves as good introduction to this area. Some studies may challenge conceptions of those working in the minority world. For example, Peruvian children working as street traders outlined the benefits of their work to Bromley and Mackie 2009. Ursin 2011 hears from children in Brazil who have chosen to call the street their home. Cheney 2005 reports on the experiences of child soldiers in Uganda. In less uncomfortable reading, Punch 2000 details children’s agency in creating spaces for play in Bolivia and how they manage them in relation to work and school.

  • Bromley, R. D. F., and P. K. Mackie. “Child Experiences as Street Traders in Peru: Contributing to a Reappraisal for Working Children.” Children’s Geographies 7.2 (2009): 141–158.

    DOI: 10.1080/14733280902798852Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This study engaged one hundred child street traders aged six to sixteen in an interview survey, which was followed up with thirty in-depth interviews. The findings are thought provoking. While recognizing the serious concerns and dangers facing the young traders, the children highlighted the positive elements such as employment, economic empowerment, agency, and self-esteem.

    Find this resource:

  • Cheney, Kristen E. “‘Our Children Have Only Known War’: Children’s Experiences and the Uses of Childhood in Northern Uganda.” Children’s Geographies 3.1 (2005): 23–45.

    DOI: 10.1080/14733280500037133Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Cheney reports on the experiences of children who were forcibly abducted by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army and explores how notions of childhood permeated through government and aid agencies to affect children’s “rehabilitation.”

    Find this resource:

  • Cregan, Kate, and Denise Cuthbert. Global Childhoods: Issues and Debates. London: SAGE, 2014.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Case studies are presented representing diverse childhoods, including child soldiers, child labor, and aspects of home and school life.

    Find this resource:

  • Punch, Samantha. “Children’s Strategies for Creating Playspaces: Negotiating Independence in Rural Bolivia.” In Children’s Geographies: Playing, Living, Learning. Edited by Sarah L. Holloway and Gill Valentine, 48–62. London: Routledge, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Punch details her research in rural Bolivia, where she explored the power relations between children and adults and the ways in which children actively created spaces between work and school to engage in play.

    Find this resource:

  • Ursin, Marit “‘Wherever I Lay my Head is Home’:Young People’s Experience of Home in the Brazilian Street Environment.” Children’s Geographies 9.2 (2011): 221–234.

    DOI: 10.1080/14733285.2011.562382Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This paper represents the growth in literature on street children. It focuses on young people’s narratives of “home” and considers the reasons why some had chosen the street as their home.

    Find this resource:

Childhoods in the Minority World

In many countries in the minority world, a discourse of childhood being in crisis or being lost has prevailed in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Statistics often play a role in instigating fears over threats to the quality of childhood: for example, over rising levels of obesity and mental health issues, decreasing levels of outdoor play, and threats from children’s online activities as technology rapidly progresses. The notion of childhood in crisis has been challenged, particularly on the grounds that it is overstated and is more likely to reflect adults’ projection of their own fears onto children. Studies that engage children’s views on such contentious topics bring valuable levelers into the equation. Buckingham and Willett 2006 offers an edited text that includes children’s views on their experiences with digital technologies. De Block and Buckingham 2007 highlights migrant children’s perspectives on media and casts new insights on notions of citizenship and belonging. Another area of concern, related to health and eating in childhood, is explored in Oliver and Thelen 1996, which investigates how peers affect children’s perceptions of eating concerns (a theme revisited in Ludvigsen and Sharma 2004). For international comparisons on wider themes, Solberg 1997 offers an overview of Norwegian childhood.

  • Buckingham, David, and Rebekah Willett, eds. Digital Generations: Children, Young People, and the New Media. London: Routledge, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Based on papers from a 2004 international conference in London, this anthology comprises seventeen research-based chapters exploring young people’s engagement with the online world.

    Find this resource:

  • de Block, Liesbeth, and David Buckingham. Global Children, Global Media: Migration, Media and Childhood. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An early forerunner in the exploration of migrant children’s perspectives regarding their childhood, viewed in relation to media.

    Find this resource:

  • Ludvigsen, Anna, and Neera Sharma. Burger Boy and Sporty Girl: Children and Young People’s Attitudes towards Food in School. Ilford, UK: Barnados, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A study involving 174 children showing that peer pressure and images from the media and food advertisements are strong influences on children’s food choices.

    Find this resource:

  • Oliver, Krista K., and Mark H. Thelen. “Children’s Perceptions of Peer Influence on Eating Concerns.” Behavior Therapy 27.1 (1996): 25–39.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0005-7894(96)80033-5Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A quantitative paper with a high citation rate, indicating the key elements of peer influence, particularly likeability, which impact on perceptions of eating and body image.

    Find this resource:

  • Solberg, Anne. “Negotiating Childhood: Changing Constructions of Age for Norwegian Children.” In Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood: Contemporary Issues in the Sociological Study of Childhood. Edited by Allison James and Alan Prout, 123–140. London: Falmer, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Solberg summarizes the results of several of her studies exploring the daily lives of children in Norway over an entire decade. There is a specific focus on the labor undertaken both in and outside their homes. She presents the data from the children’s point of view.

    Find this resource:

back to top

Article

Up

Down