An initial survey of all parents and practitioners in the setting provided background information on adult literacy beliefs and practices. This was followed by detailed observations of ten boys and girls from diverse social backgrounds in the nursery and in the children’s homes. The children, their parents and practitioners who worked with them were all asked about the children’s literacy activities and the role of traditional and new technologies in the children’s present and future lives. Data collection methods included:
- A review of relevant national, regional and institutional documentation to situate participant understandings of early literacy within local and wider sociocultural contexts.
- A questionnaire distributed to all parents at one Sure Start Children’s Centre nursery in the South of England. This explored home literacy practices, parental beliefs around literacy, ownership and uses of traditional and digital literacy resources (Total 41 responses: 54% response rate). A similar questionnaire was given to practitioners in the setting (Total 17 responses: 81% response rate).
- General observation of settings Preliminary observational visits were made to the children’s homes and literacy provision in the nursery was assessed using the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale Extension (ECERS-E).
- Video case studies of ten children (equal numbers of boys and girls from a range of ethnic and social backgrounds, with a spread of learning abilities and reported uses of printed and digital media). Video recordings were made of each child in Spring and Summer terms for up to 1 hour in the nursery and 1 hour at home. Hand-held camcorders with remote radio microphones captured the children’s interactions as they moved around, so we could observe the children from a respectful distance without interrupting or invading the natural flow of their play. (Total 30 hours video data)
- Field notes and research diaries kept a record of conversations and events beyond the video lens, and documented emerging themes (Total 40 pages).
- Semi-structured interviews with staff and parents were audio-recorded and transcribed. These explored themes emerging from the literacy review, questionnaire feedback and observational data. Unstructured interviews were noted in field notes. Child interviews constituted informal ‘chats’, sometimes using shared video viewings as a catalyst for discussion. (Total 12 hours interview data).
The resultant multi-media data set offered rich, complex and grounded evidence upon which we were able to build deep understandings of children’s early experiences of literacy in diverse media.
Ethical concerns were given highest priority throughout the project, and a careful balance was struck between the research requirements and the interests and sensibilities of children, families and staff.