Turning points

Perspectives on research methods in children’s media cultures and on media education

(In Finnish: Solmukohtia: näkökulmia lasten mediakulttuurien tutkimusmenetelmiin ja mediakasvatukseen)

Heta Mulari (ed.) 


In public dialogue, media cultures of pre-school aged children are often discussed in dual tones: on the one hand, we focus on children’s abilities and their status as digital natives, while on the other, we express concerns regarding the fundamental changes taking place in childhood, which are connected, in particular, with the digital media culture. Therefore multimethod research designs, focusing on children’s experiential knowledge and participation, play an important role in childhood and media research. Most frequently, data on media use by pre-school children and their media cultures have been collected using statistical methods and by asking adults about the subject. 

In the Children’s Media Cultures research project, qualitative methodologies for researching pre-school aged children’s media cultures were tested and developed at daycare centres and at home. This research report compiles the research project’s results. The report comprises research papers focusing on methodology, and opinion essays examining child-oriented media education. The project was funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture and was carried out at two daycare centres in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area and at children’s own homes over the period 2015-2016. The researchers who worked on the project were Heta Mulari, Elina Paju, Satu Valkonen, Saara Salomaa and Annukka Lehtikangas. 

The common subject of the report’s texts is critical analysis of the child perspective and of children’s participation, both in research and media education. The report emphasizes media’s social significance in children’s daily life and the encounters that media culture enables and limits between children, daycare centre staff, parents and researchers. 

The important common themes in the report’s texts comprise firstly of highlighting the experiential knowledge of pre-school aged children to provide an insight into the way that they give meaning to media devices and content in their speech, play, peer relationships and relationships with their parents. Emphasis of children’s experiential knowledge is connected with the child and youth policy concept that children are entitled, in their own way, to participate in decision-making that concerns them, and to express themselves. Secondly, the texts focus on methodical questions within research on children’s media cultures. Which research methods will allow us to discover the meanings that children give to media? What kinds of opportunities can be offered by the child-oriented methods that aim at increasing children’s participation? And what special ethical questions are associated with these? Thirdly, the opinion essays discussing child-oriented media education consider the meanings and opportunities in children’s own media cultures for the media education that is provided as a part of early childhood education. 

The report examines the qualitative methods in the study of children’s media cultures through observation, interviews and visual methods that aim to increase participation by children, such as drawing, and taking photos and videos, that are carried out in daycare centres and at home. The report suggests that research designs that combine statistical and qualitative methods are important areas for development when studying children’s media relationship and media use. Multi-method research designs that aim to increase children’s participation and which combine statistical questionnaires, interviews with and observation of children, and various visual and physical methods would form a multidimensional starting point for research into children’s media cultures.