“It makes me feel joyful”: getting young children to talk about what they think and how they feel

09 June 2015

Lisa Garnham discusses her experience using creative techniques to engage young children in research.

Over the past two years I’ve been a researcher on the GCPH evaluation of Sistema Scotland’s Big Noise children’s orchestras in Govanhill and Raploch.  Sistema Scotland’s aim is to ‘transform lives through music’, by teaching children and young people how to play musical instruments in order to build a community-based orchestra. 

How does it make you feel when you’re singing? Happy!

It’s been fantastic speaking to so many different people from so many different walks of life, and especially talking to the children about their experiences.

As part of the evaluation we needed to ask the children what they thought about Big Noise.  We wanted to find out what they liked and what they would change about coming to orchestra if they could. 

In Govanhill, the children who go to Big Noise are between 6 and 8 years old.  As well as being quite young, three quarters of children who go to primary school in Govanhill  have English as an additional language.  Because of this, we decided that using straightforward interviews, i.e  directly asking the children what they thought, might not be the best way to engage the children in the research.

I like everyone in Big Noise, even the teachers!

Instead, we decided to make things more interesting, both for the children and for us.  We asked them to draw two pictures for us – one that showed their favourite thing about Big Noise and one that showed something they didn’t like about Big Noise.  We did this in groups to encourage the children to talk to each other about what they thought.  We also asked them to tell us what they were drawing as they went along.  We asked some of the volunteers at Big Noise to join us in running the sessions, and we were very grateful for all their help.

It makes me feel joyful

These sessions gave us a great insight into what the children thought about Big Noise and a lot of detail about how they felt.  Not only did we collect many drawings that showed us the most important parts of Big Noise from the children’s points of view, but we had also used a voice recorder during the sessions. 

It’s your Big Noise and you have to make sure it’s clean and tidy.

This meant that we could listen back to the conversations the children had had with us and with each other, to pick up things we might have missed during the sessions – which were very busy and full of energy!  We ran these drawings sessions with over 100 children, so the recordings also allowed us to look back at the most and least popular aspects of Big Noise once all the sessions were complete.

I don t like mess

Although this was a creative and, in some ways, unusual research method, the end result was a collection of ‘traditional’ interview transcripts, with the added bonus of producing illustrations that we could use in our reports and other publications. 

We found, in the course of the research, that making the process fun and exciting for the children did not lead to a decline in the quality of evidence collected.  If anything, our approach helped the children engage more fully with us and really got to the root of what they thought and how they felt. 

I like LornaFind out more about our Sistema Scotland evaluation.

Lisa's colleague Aileen, who works for Audit Scotland, has blogged about her experience working with us on the evaluation and Anthony Clark, Audit Scotland Assistant Director, has also written ablog reflecting on the process of auditing complex community projects.


About the author

Lisa Garnham Public Health Research Specialist


Lisa’s background is in health geography, especially the role of place in the relationship between socio-political change and public health.

She is currently working on two main projects. The first is the Centre’s evaluation of Glasgow’s new Integrated Mental Health and Wellbeing Hubs. The second is a peer research project in collaboration with Govanhill Baths Community Trust, Unity Sisters and Milk Café, in which Lisa is supporting the monitoring and evaluation of the Our Rights, Our Communities project.

Lisa’s previous work at the Centre has included collaborative projects on housing and wellbeing with the University of Stirling and Glasgow Caledonian University, the evaluation of Sistema Scotland’s ‘Big Noise’ children’s orchestras as a social intervention, as well as the Neighbourhood Change project, which involved working with peer researchers and using creative methods of data collection.  Before joining the Centre, Lisa worked in the third sector. 

Read all articles by Lisa Garnham