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Imaginary friends – understanding children’s fantasy world by Alice Tofi

An invisible flying dolphin who lives on a star. A tiny, completely white figure, who lives in the light of lamps. An invisible 160-year-old business man. These are all examples of children’s imaginary friends.

Children’s use of fantasy is an important developmental stage, and they are often encouraged to engage with it in a variety of ways. Children’s story books, TV shows, films, and imaginative play can all draw on fantasy, giving children a high level of exposure to worlds of make-believe. Yet imaginary friends can sometimes cause parents to worry, as can the effects of high exposure to characters within video content, viewed sometimes as a limiting factor on the development of a child’s own imagination and creativity. Extensive research led by Dr Marjorie Taylor, Developmental Psychologist at the University of Oregon, helps to shed light on the phenomenon of imaginary companions (ICs) and finds that creative imagination in children is still strong.

Dr Taylor has outlined two types of ICs from her research: those that are invisible, and those that are formed with toys, where the child talks to and listens to what the toy has to say. Of the 341 descriptions of ICs collected in Dr Taylor’s research, 31% were special toys functioning as ICs, whilst the remainder were invisible ICs. The invisible ICs took a variety of forms, with ordinary children (27%), animals (19%) and magical children (17%) being the most frequent categories. However a wealth of diversity was found between these imaginary characters, and even though the children had typically been exposed to many characters in books, films and TV content, the majority displayed originality.

Findings reject the stereotype that a child who invents a friend is too shy or withdrawn; the children researched were observed as less shy and found social interaction particularly enjoyable. The majority of children also knew that their IC was not real, despite their attachment and absorption in the fantasy.

‘The Real Guide to Imaginary Companions’ are short videos illustrating Dr Taylor’s research. The use of imaginary friends as a tool when carrying out market research with children will be considered in a later blog.
The Real Guide to Imaginary Companions: Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3 , Publication

Alice is a Research Executive at FK&Y with wide experience of running children’s surveys. She is interested in exploring new methods of carrying out research with children.

Can virtual reality be used in market research with children? by George Hanks

Virtual reality has been at the forefront of technological development for several years but is still struggling to find its niche. Many companies have developed the use of this technology for immersive games and entertainment, while new applications are being launched daily. The use of virtual reality tools when carrying out market research with children cannot be far off.

Newcastle University, in collaboration with Third Eye Technologies, has shown that virtual reality can be used as a therapeutic technique for children with autism. This was achieved using Third Eye Technologies’ ‘Blue Room’. This room allows for a fully immersive audio visual experience without the need for a headset, which autistic children can find distressing. Psychologists lead the children through simulations of real life scenarios that may have caused anxiety in the past while teaching them relaxation techniques and coping strategies. The treatment reported improvements in eight out of nine children, allowing them to move past these fears.

Such rooms are not the norm for Virtual Reality however. Most commonly, it is formatted to exist within a headset which is worn by the user. Although this has been developed further by companies such as Tick Tock Unlock, into a multi-sensory ‘Hyper Reality Experience’, users can have access to the platform through a variety of headsets made from as simple a material as cardboard. Such devices were distributed to UK classrooms in 2016 by Google, enabling teachers to take their students on ‘virtual reality field trips’. (more…)

Research with Children

Children make the best participants in research

Children’s research can seem daunting and fraught with difficulty to clients, but actually children make the best respondents. They are honest, straightforward and eager to be asked their opinion. Kids in research can also however be too ready to please if in the hands of an inexperienced researcher; they might say what they think is the right answer, rather than express their opinion. They can also push the boundaries a little, if they think the researcher is uncomfortable.

So, how do you research children? Well, there are 3 simple, but important, considerations before you begin. (more…)

Helping Parents to Parent

Many parents need support to be the best parents and ensure their children have the best outcome, is the overall conclusion of our report, released today by the Social Mobility Commission.

The report analyses evidence from parenting programmes in the UK and around the world and examines how public policy can support parents, particularly in the early years. It argues parenting programmes and interventions should be available to all parents regardless of background. Such programmes can help to develop parental management skills and confidence, build healthy family relationships and enhance children’s social, behavioural and cognitive development and well-being, the report says. FK&Y’s Dr Barbie Clarke said, ‘We argue that every parent needs help at this challenging time of huge change. It’s back-up for all parents and early family support avoids creating problems for the future. Programmes need to be universal to reduce stigma and encourage parents to take part.’ (more…)

Nursery teachers’ qualifications have little impact on children’s learning

The London School of Economics along with University College London and Surrey University conducted a research study which revealed that the children’s learning and development was not significantly impacted upon by nursery teachers’ qualifications. The researchers evaluated data from the National Pupil Database and found that children’s learning only increased by a third of a point with graduate teachers. There was also no significant effect on children’s outcomes if they attended a nursery rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted. Dr Jo Blanden, lead researcher of the study, stated that government’s efforts to improve teacher qualifications in order to improve children’s learning may not be particularly useful. Chief Executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance emphasized that voluntary nursery settings are not of a ‘lower quality’ only because they are less likely to employ graduate staff. This research contrasts with the findings of a study conducted by Save the Children in 2016 which claimed that nursery teachers must be qualified to improve children’s outcomes.

Schools to have cyber-security lessons

Schools in England will offer cyber-security training to pupils in an attempt to have more experts defending the country from cyber-attacks. In a five-year pilot beginning in September 2017, around 5,700 students aged 14 and over will spend nearly four hours a week gaining skills in cyber security including training in hacking. This comes at a time when foreign cyber attacks are considered a huge threat to national security and there is a shortage of recruits with the right skills for cyber defence. The cyber security lessons are sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and £20m funding will be provided to tailor lessons for pupils and fit them around the curriculum. Cyber security expert, Brian Lord, says that the scheme is an “essential initiative” to attract and recruit more people into the profession. Read more here.

Poll reveals half of British children ‘fear’ the Internet

A poll conducted by the cybersecurity company, Kaspersky Lab, to mark Safer Internet Day, reveals that almost half of the 1,000 pupils asked (aged 10-15) were scared or worried about going online. The poll questioned children about their attitudes towards using the Internet and nearly 49% were wary or concerned about strangers accessing their personal information or being asked to do something which they were not comfortable with. 1 in 10 children believed that deleting information did not ensure that strangers would not be able to access it and more than 36% surveyed said they had regretted posting online due to negative repercussions on someone else. Member of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, David Miles, said that we all must take responsibility to make certain that children are kept safe from online risks while simultaneously ensuring that children are also able to benefit from using the Internet.

Research suggests girls’ confidence declines by age six

A collaborative research study from Princeton University, New York University and the University of Illinois has presented findings which suggest that girls begin to lose confidence in their own abilities by the time they reach six years of age. The study which included 400 children found that as gender differences develop, confidence and faith in one’s own gender also diminishes. The study included an experiment whereby children were read a story about a very intelligent protagonist, they then had to choose from images of two men and two women, to identify who they thought the protagonist was. At the age of five, children were more inclined to pick their own gender but by the age of six, girls were more likely to pick the opposite sex, while boys continued to pick the male images at least 75% of the time. One of the researchers, Professor Cimpian, states that society’s stereotypes manifest themselves quite early in children’s lives and this can have an impact on life choices and trajectories.

Play and childhood development

Cambridge University, along the Lego Foundation of Denmark, is aiming to recruit a Lego Professor of Play to advance research on play and its role in childhood development. The professor will join the Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development and Learning (PEDAL), a new research centre at Cambridge University. Bo Stjerne Thomsen, global head of research for the Lego Foundation, asserts that the hope is for the UK government to promote more playful learning in schools in order to foster creativity, problem-solving skills and innovation in individuals. Cambridge University states that the position for the Lego Professor will be filled by a candidate who is a specialist in education and can innovate creative methods of conducting research across a variety of disciplines linked to children’s development. Read more here.

‘The internet is not designed for children’ says UK Children’s Commissioner

The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, presented a report which stated that the Internet is ‘not designed for children’ as they are unaware of the risks and do not know how to keep themselves safe. A study investigating whether teenagers understood Instagram’s terms and conditions revealed that none of the adolescents using Instagram clearly understood the terms. The terms and conditions were then simplified and some of the teenagers deleted the Instagram app from their phones while others realised the risks of sharing personal data online. Instagram’s head of policy stated that they ensure that users are able to understand information governing their policies and procedures. A spokesman from the government said that the UK was ahead of other countries in respect to internet safety but admitted that the risks presented in the report need to be considered as there is a lot about the internet that remains unknown. Read more here.

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