Research with Kids: Little Voices & Big Insights

October 26, 2021
By Ashley Avarino
Research with Kids: Little Voices & Big Insights

As adults, we make decisions and inferences about the things and people around us every day. Kids do these things too, but do so from a different perspective and at a different point in development. The experience of a 4-year-old is different from that of a 14-year-old, and even more so from that of a 40-year-old (although I think we can agree that adults have 4-year-old and 14-year-old moments).

This is a guiding question in child research: How do children experience the world around them, and how do these experiences shape different aspects of their development? And given this challenge, how do child researchers gain knowledge about children's experiences?

How Do Researchers Study Child Development?

Doing research with kids requires different methods than with adults. Kids can’t just complete an online multiple choice survey to answer your research questions. Instead, child researchers develop creative methods to question kids about the way they think and experience the world. Some of these methods involve showing kids pictures, telling them stories and then seeing what types of inferences they make based on the information shown. Other methods use scales with emojis to measure feelings like happiness, sadness, anger, pain or even like and dislike. No matter the method, research with kids requires interaction, conversation, and special considerations.

A Shift In Methodology: Moving Online

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of developmental researchers completed their research in person. But, pivoting to online data collection methods has been crucial for research programs to continue. Any researcher knows that a change in methodology is a big undertaking. First you need to consider potential barriers, and then evaluate what tools are needed to help ensure that your project is successful.

Considerations For Doing Online Research With Kids

Some special considerations for doing online research with kids are:

  1. Participant Screening. How do you confirm that a child is completing your study, and not a parent or adult?
  2. Data Quality. How do you ensure that children are taking their time answering your questions? How can we know if they’re distracted in their environment?
  3. Ease of Use. Is your program software easy for parents to set-up and even easier for kids to use?
  4. Maintaining Interaction. How can we make online studies as interactive as possible?
  5. Modality. What is the best way to get responses from kids online (e.g., pointing, talking, writing or typing)?

Using Kids’ Voices to Overcome Online Barriers

Child voice data addresses each of the above considerations, making it a great choice for moving child research to an online format. Benefits of verbalized responses include:

  • Confidence that voices belong to real children (not adults or parents).
  • You can hear audio distractions, but also thoughtful pauses that indicate children are taking their time. Still worried about visual distractions? You can use a video response question type to ensure that kids are focused on your question and not looking away at distractions.
  • It’s easy for parents and children to use.
  • It maintains the conversational and interactive aspect of child research.
  • Verbal responses are a rich source of genuine insights.

If you’re interested in how you can integrate Phonic with different child research methodologies, check out some examples below.

Language Production

Phonic can be easily integrated into any language production task, including those with kids. Language production tasks typically display different picture or video stimuli and collect children’s verbal responses to them. For example, a researcher might display a series of objects and ask a child to describe them. Verbal or video instructions can be added before stimuli are presented, or parents can read children each question.

Language production task with kids

Social Cognition

Voice based research can also be effective in studying children’s social cognition. These types of studies are similar to the above methodology, but with different research questions and variables of interest. For example, showing children two pictures of immoral situations (e.g., stealing vs. cheating) and asking them which situation they think is “more bad”, and why.

Concept Testing

Building products and programs for kids requires insight from kids. You can easily run a concept test with kids by adding pictures and videos to audio or video response type questions. For example, children can view clips of videos that contain a new product, and then audio record whether or not they liked it, and why. You can also set your video clip and audio recording to play automatically, so kids just need to watch and talk without the added stress of clicking the correct buttons.

Concept test with kids example

Childhood Shyness

Many studies that look at childhood shyness use what’s called a “Stress Test”. For example, telling an adolescent that they need to give a speech that will be recorded and then shown to their peers. Researchers use these stress tests to look at differences in children’s body language and verbal language use, and how these might relate to their level of anxiety or other social stress variables. With Phonic’s video recording feature, a modified social stress test can be administered online by asking parents to read the instructions out loud and getting adolescents to record their video response.

What About Video Chat?

You might be thinking that a lot of these methodologies can be administered over video chat, which is what many researchers do. Video chat can be terrific and, at low sample sizes, a cost effective way to do child research. In addition to increased consistency, a major benefit in moving to an asynchronous method is scale. Developmental research can be slow in part, because of the significant time commitment required for each participant. As an asynchronous platform, Phonic enables researchers to collect more data (and get better insight from kids) without compromising the time spent with each child.

Reach out to our team today at for more information on how you can use Phonic in your research.

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