“I like to climb and pick coconuts”

Moving Towards A Child-Guided Agentic Participatory Research Methodology: 7 To 11 Years Children’s Experiences Of Physical Activity.

Plowright-Pepper, Linda Caroline (2020). “I like to climb and pick coconuts”. Moving Towards A Child-Guided Agentic Participatory Research Methodology: 7 To 11 Years Children’s Experiences Of Physical Activity. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.000121bd


In 2018 only 18% of children met the UK Chief Medical Officers’ recommended physical activity levels in England (Public Health England, 2018). Despite emerging evidence suggesting that declines in physical activity may originate from 7 years old, little research has been undertaken with middle childhood children. This study addresses gaps in research which gives children an opportunity to express their lived experiences of physical activity.

The aim of this thesis was to evaluate the extent to which a new child-guided approach to researching lived experiences of middle childhood physical activity provided insights into children’s activity choices and familial influences. Informed by social constructivism this study assumed that children were agentic social actors capable not only of contributing to research but capable of guiding research into matters which affected them. Participatory and existential phenomenological methodologies were brought together in a new model of agentic child-guided (AChiG) participatory research. Physical activity was conceptualised as an embodied experience and framed as an individually socioecologically contextualised phenomenon (e.g. Merleau-Ponty 1962).

I enabled coresearchers to identify fresh conceptualisations of physical activity through the use of the AChiG model. Coresearchers conceptualised physical activity for instance as ‘conquering creative challenges’ and ‘playing at’ structured activities.

High levels of imagination and creativity together with a strong motivation to connect with close family members underpinned fun and enjoyment which drove physical activity. Coresearchers also contextualised physical activity within a broad range of physically active and inactive free-choice pursuits. These competed for coresearchers time in fluid, layered and spontaneous ways. These insights and lessons learnt from the new child-guided approach provide potentially fruitful strands to inform further research.

“Sources of fun and enjoyment were multi-stranded and interconnecting. For instance, perceived competence and a sense of mastery(Mccarthy and Jones, 2007b)could be underpinned by a sense of autonomy and agency in the decision to participate,(Mackintosh et al., 2011). Fun was found both in the activity itself but also in having a friend with whom to share the activity (Agbuga, Xiang and McBride, 2012)”