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Potties loom large in child's eye view

Disposable cameras gave researchers insight into what counts to infants. Ceri Williams reports.

Potties and cots loom large in a young child's view of the world - but friends' footwear and hairstyles also make a big impression, new research shows.

The Thomas Coram Research Unit, at London University's Institute of Education, gave three and four-year-olds disposable cameras, and told them to take pictures of "important things", to discover a child's eye-view of their kindergarten.

They took pictures of friends, favourite play equipment, displays of days out, hidden spaces, trees, keyworkers, their artwork and furniture.

The children were also asked to record the lives of toddlers under two in a nursery.

Here they took pictures of potties, cots, mattresses, towels, changing and washing areas. Some 20 children, aged six months to five, were involved in the project. The project was run from the Thomas Coram early childhood centre, unrelated to the research unit, and from the Field Lane homeless families centre, both based in King's Cross, London.

Research associate Alison Clark who carried out the study with project leader Peter Moss, professor in early childhood provision, said the project allowed children a non-verbal way of describing their world.

The subsequent book shows that friends and changing friendships were a repeated feature of the photographs and interviews with the children. Also a feature were details about friends' shoes and hairstyles.

Professor Moss said hairstyles and shoes play a part in establishing a child's identity. "Children, like adults, are acutely conscious of such things," he said. But he added that it was not always easy to interpret the children's images.

The children also took researchers on tours of the nursery and drew maps of their surroundings for the study launched in January 1999. These, along with impressions supplied by parents and nursery staff, formed a mosaic which revealed each child's priorities and impressions of nursery life.

Listening to Young Children: the mosaic approach is published by the National Children's Bureau and was commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Coram Family heritage, 10

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