Research project

The Playful Researchers

Amplifying children’s voices through creative and playful research methods

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Start date

May 2022

Completion date

June 2024

For school educators interested in finding out more about playful approach to leading change see the Leading by Listening: A Playful Approach project.

The Playful Researchers have been formed within UoD to draw together and capitalise upon staff expertise within early childhood and play pedagogies.

In addition to conducting broader research into concepts of play, the main focus of this group will be in developing innovative, creative and playful research methods to amplify children’s voices. This research group therefore seeks to align participatory research methods with developmentally appropriate practice in the early years.

This project currently has three strands:

  • Strand One - Children’s Voices in Action in the Primary School
  • Strand Two - Conceptualising Play
  • Strand Three - Amplifying children’s voices through creative and playful research methods


Strand One - Children’s Voices in Action in the Primary school

This project is in its infancy and the research surrounding it is on-going (further details and findings expected January 2023). However, after the research team’s initial engagement with the primary school, the Headteacher and class teacher involved provided the following feedback about the impact which working with The Playful Researchers had. The data from this project is also being used to create a 'Framework for Listening to Young Children's Voices'. This will be a supportive tool for practitioners and will be shared here and disseminated widely in 2023.

Video below: Impact of our work: Laura Jarvie, HT, Carronshore PS

Nicola Wilson and Linzi Rankin, teachers at Carronshore Primary School, talked about the impact working with Lynsey and Duncan had on their professional development.

Initial thoughts

These were their initial thoughts at the end of the first engagement week, prior to formal feedback on the research findings being shared.
Listen to Nicola Wilson, P2/1 Teacher Listen to Linzi Rankin, P1 Teacher

Strand Two - Conceptualising Play

This research project is in its infancy, but seeks to uncover staff perceptions of play and to explore how children of different ages conceptualise play.

In addition to this, Dr Lynsey Burke is working a school in Clackmannanshire to support them with the development of their play pedagogy. This work will be continuing throughout 2022 – 2023, but after the first two initial sessions with the staff team, the Headteacher has provided the following feedback.

“From the initial 2 sessions, the biggest and best impact has already happened which is the motivation and excitement of staff. Lynsey has managed to inspire staff to work together to develop their play pedagogy and be committed to ensuring our young people have quality experiences. I am looking forward to the next stages of gathering evidence, responsive planning and purposeful adult interactions. ”

Julie McKenna, Headteacher, Redwell Primary School

“Working with Dr Burke has already had such a positive impact on the development of Play in our school. The input we have received has increased our own knowledge and understanding and as group we have a strategic plan to move forward. Dr Burke has helped us involve our children and families on our play journey and we re looking forward to the rest of the session. ”

Alison Given, Principal Teacher, Redwell Primary School

“As a member of teaching staff taking on my first leadership role within my establishment, working with Dr Burke has been an immensely valuable experience. I have learned key knowledge and skills when it comes to leading a team of people and staying focussed on agreed outcomes. Dr Burke has provided our establishment with a clear path for progression and a fresh focus and motivation to become a sector leading primary establishment. ”

Emma McCole, Class Teacher, Redwell Primary School

Poster notes showing the feedback from researchers in Playful researchers project. "I'm excited to involve our learners in creating a multi-sensory enabling environment..." "Very informative" "Lots of great and varied strategies for evidence learning"

Feedback from Impact of Research session 4 - "Very informative and enjoyable." "Lots of ideas." "Lots of helpful suggestions and range of approaches." "Lots of strategies for evidencing learning."

Strand Three - Amplifying children’s voices through creative and playful research methods

The Playful Researchers are collaborating with staff and children in Hallglen Primary School in Falkirk Council, to explore children's view of their play space and how they can make it better. This research will consist of two project weeks; one in November/December 2022, and the other in February 2023. Creative research methods will be used to amplify children's voices, such as drawings, mapping, puppets, Talking Mats, photovoice, clay, blocks, music and cultural probes. Alongside working with the children, the research team are also providing professional learning to the staff team.

Impact after Research Project Week 1: What is it like to be in this space?


“This week has been beneficial to see different ways to gather data on children’s voice and get to hear what the children really think about the area, both outside and inside.”

Feedback from staff after Project Week 1

“The children have shown high levels of engagement and keen to share their thoughts and opinions with the visitors we have had in school. They have enjoyed using the different methods to share their voice.”

Feedback from staff after Project Week 1

“Made me more aware of how to get the children’s voice. And to see what areas the children enjoyed and don’t like and what areas can be developed.”

Feedback from staff after Project Week 1

“Really useful to see a range of different methods to record children’s voice and I am looking forward to seeing the positive changes to make the indoor and outdoor environment better.”

Feedback from staff after Project Week 1

“Good to see a range of different ways to get children’s views in a meaningful way.”

Feedback from staff after Project Week 1

Impact after Research Project Week 2: How can we make this space better?


 Impact of research project on staff members

“This week had a fantastic range of resources for the children to experience. It allowed children to express themselves through different mediums. This project has opened my eyes to the multitude of ways to hear children's voices and also makes me want to research into Ateliers and Reggio more.”

Lynette Hendry, P2 Class Teacher

“I will continue to implement this multi-sensory approach... It also gives the opportunity to put the children's ideas into practice. Children will be able to see how their ideas can come to life, know that they are listened to and their ideas are respected.”

Nicole McMillan - P1 Class Teacher)

“I am much more aware of the importance of listening to children's voices in a variety of different ways and will take this approach forward. Children will hopefully feel valued and listened to and will be excited to see their ideas come to life!”

Julie McLaren - P1 Class Teacher

“Children will understand that we are listening to them and trying to get the play space they want.”

Laura Martin, EYO

Impact of our work: Morag Carson, HT, Hallglen PS

Amplifying children's voices: Findings from research

This infographic highlights some of the themes which arose from work with educators in Strand One and Strand Three above.

Around the roots of the tree are some of the underpinning principles we need to acknowledge and engage with when amplifying voices (i.e., The image of the child, Children's Rights, Voices is more than verbal, Value and respect voice, Inclusion and Voice is complex). In the centre of the tree, relationships and play were identified in the data as being central to creating a climate and the right conditions for amplifying children's voices. The remaining themes around the tree (spelling out the word 'LISTEN'), focus in on the role the educator may play when listening to and amplifying children's voices.

Please click on the links below the image to find out a brief explanation of each theme.

This data will be captured in a research article and the link to the paper included here when it is published. In the meantime, this infographic can be downloaded on the Discovery website.

Illustration showing different groups of children surrounding a tree, with a rainbow going over it from the left.

Impact of the Children's Voices Infographic

The above infographic was launched at a conference for Senior Leaders in Scotland in November 2023. Here was the initial feedback from delegates about how the infographic and workshop had changed their understandings:

Download a PDF version of the feedback

A long image covered with post it style notes.