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Jan Noga on Surveying Young Children Part One: Planning and preparation are key!

Hi! My name is Jan Noga and I am the owner of Pathfinder Evaluation and Consulting, in Cincinnati, Ohio. I’m a developmental and counseling psychologist with a specialization in early and middle childhood. I’ve spent a lot of time in preschools – as a teacher, researcher, observer, and evaluator. I learned from some amazing advisors and mentors – Eleanor Maccoby, Albert Bandura, Walter Mischel, and Urie Bronfenbrenner – invaluable in my work with young children.

Lesson Learned: As an evaluator, I’ve run surveys with children as young as three. I’ve gone in as a solo evaluator on a project, and I’ve also managed teams of evaluators spread out across multiple schools. The one element that I always, always insist on is prior experience working with young children in group situations. This often rules out undergraduates (and even many graduate students), simply because they haven’t worked with more than one or two young children at a time. The same goes for parents – having a toddler or preschooler does not necessarily qualify you to do data collection with a classroom of young children. The people I turn to the most often are those with preschool teaching experience – they’ve got the most experience managing a diverse group of children.

Hot Tip: Surveying young children is best done as either a one-on-one or small group activity. I’ve found that a group of four or five children is the maximum size; any more than that and the kids will run the zoo instead of you!

Hot Tip: Keep your questions simple in structure and few in number, if only for your own sanity. Preschoolers and kindergarteners can handle up to 12 questions, but anything beyond that and they will quickly get tired of the game. Kids in first through second grade can handle up to 20. Remember, you’re going to be doing this over and over again with multiple groups – how many questions do you really want to read each time?

Lesson Learned: Another issue you might encounter with very young children is developmental diversity around language and the ability to express thoughts and ideas. I find that three-year-olds tend to be a little young to understand abstract concepts but can respond to very concrete questions (“Was this fun?,” “Was this hard?,” “Do you like to do art by yourself or with friends?” etc.). Four- and five-year-olds will still vary in terms of developmental levels, but can respond to very basic abstract concepts. Keep questions as concrete as possible. If language and abilities are not there, you may be better off using observation in structured situations, such as a play scenario.

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1 comment

  • Teri · August 2, 2017 at 8:53 pm

    Hello Jan. Excellent hot tips. Thank you for sharing. What kind of questions do you ask them? Do you find you get better results one on one than in small groups? Or does it depend on the class setting and children? Do you ask them the questions more than once in a year? I’m curious if the answers would change based on their comfort level in September and then again in June also keeping in mind their maturity has increased. What kind of information are you looking for as a developmental counsellor and psychologist? Do the parents need to consent before you do your surveys? Thanks in advance.


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