How can we engage with young children to understand their views and opinions?


The Young Vic Theatre

Many approaches have been explored to gather thoughts and feedback from young children, such as think-aloud tasks, drawing, or using picture cards. However, it remains a challenging activity. The theatre production company, Fevered Sleep, who are resident at the Young Vic theatre in London, approached us with the challenge of gathering feedback from young children on one of their immersive performances, called Dusk. They had previously experimented with methods such as storytelling and picture cards, which worked well in a classroom setting, with no time constraints, several weeks after the children attended the performance. However, the aims of this project were to design and develop technologies that could gather feedback from children in-situ, immediately after the performance while still in the theatre space. This also meant that time was a key factor as the theatre had a strict schedule of performances throughout the day.

We designed and developed the SmallTalk system to address these challenges. SmallTalk is a physical questionnaire system specifically designed to gather feedback and opinions from young children. In this case it was tailored to the immersive theatre performance, Dusk, and designed to be modular and easily moveable in the theatre space. The system consists of five interactive question boxes. Each box asks a question or questions that the children can answer by pushing buttons, moving rollers and turning dials. Audio was included for all question and answer text to support children who could not yet read and was recorded by the main character in Dusk to provide a familiar and friendly voice for the children.

The final box included a video that featured the main character in Dusk asking the children a number of questions on a screen which they answered by speaking into a large microphone. Questions included demographics, thoughts on the theatre experience, as well as what they liked and remembered most from the performance.

SmallTalk was deployed in the theatre space immediately after 7 performances with a mixture of school groups and families. Over 60 children used the system, ranging in age from four to nine years old. Our findings showed that SmallTalk worked very well in the challenging theatre environment and was able to gather interesting insights from the children with minimal adult supervision. The video box worked particularly well and although it required the children to talk out loud, the vast majority provided relevant answers. The answers suggested that the children empathised with the lead character and remembered poignant moments of great happiness and sadness from the performance. From an interaction perspective, it was interesting to see how children aged five and under often struggled to understand the affordances of the different physical inputs and in some cases tried to swipe physical buttons (as a touch screen interaction) before being shown how to push the buttons until they clicked. The children’s confidence grew as they moved from box to box, exploring each new interaction, and many requests for ‘another turn’ suggested that SmallTalk provided a fun, engaging experience.