Tips & Tricks for Child Focus Groups, Part 2

Posted on October 19, 2015 | in Uncategorized | by Mandi Singleton

by Mandi Singleton


(Note: this post is the second part of a two-part series.)

As I mentioned in the my last blog post, one of my favorite things about my job at CRC is conducting focus groups. Focus groups with elementary school students can be the most challenging and the most fun for me as a focus group facilitator. Here in part two of my discussion of tips & tricks for doing focus groups with kids, I get into strategies that make for effective and enjoyable groups.

**5. Make it fun with hands-on-activities! ** Studies show that incorporating hands-on activities in focus groups with school-aged children increases participation and stimulates discussion.

In focus groups I’ve conducted, I led children in several hands-on activities as part of data collection. During one activity, children were given four paddles with faces on them (very happy, happy, sad, and angry) and instructed to hold up the paddle that reflected how they felt in response to statements read aloud.

[caption id=“attachment_2371” align=“aligncenter” width=“429”]

Exhibit A. The Paddles

Exhibit A. The Paddles[/caption]

Another activity I’ve done with kids involves them responding to statements by placing stickers on posters, which incorporated the same four expressive faces as the paddles.

[caption id=“attachment_2372” align=“aligncenter” width=“271”]

Exhibit B. The Posters.

Exhibit B. The Posters.[/caption]

Other non-verbal forms of response are effective for use with kids, and multiple types of queries can be used together in one group. For example, along with using the posters in one group I also asked the children to complete a drawing activity in which I instructed them to draw their favorite and least favorite things about their afterschool program.

[caption id=“attachment_2373” align=“aligncenter” width=“313”]

Exhibit C. Time to Draw!

Exhibit C. Time to Draw![/caption]

[caption id=“attachment_2374” align=“aligncenter” width=“382”]

Exhibit D. A Favorite Thing.

Exhibit D. A Favorite Thing.[/caption]

[caption id=“attachment_2375” align=“aligncenter” width=“395”]

Exhibit E. A Least Favorite Thing.

Exhibit E. A Least Favorite Thing.[/caption]

Implementing all of the above hands-on activities has been successful for me, appearing to boost kid’s engagement and stimulating discussion. I’ve noticed that the sticker-poster activity has been more conducive, compared to the paddles, for eliciting honest responses (perhaps because it can be too much fun to wave different faces!). And the drawing activity has stimulated discussions that I believe would have never happened if children were only asked for verbal responses.

6. Watch the clock.. Response quality declines in child focus group sessions lasting longer than 45 minutes. To avoid participant fatigue and promote thoughtful responses, research suggests that focus groups involving school-aged children shouldnt run any longer than 45 minutes and should include breaks for refreshments.

The groups I’ve facilitated have averaged 35-45 minutes and, although there were no breaks included, children remained attentive and actively engaged throughout the entirety of sessions. I attribute their attentiveness and active engagement to the short duration of the focus groups, along with the hands-on activities I included. Plan carefully for your choice of activity and timing, though, because they can take longer than you might expect. All-in-all, short time frames and activities have kept me on my toes as a facilitator but definitely kept the kids happily busy and more open to sharing information, too.

7. Watch for signs of distress! When conducting focus groups with young children, it is extremely important to maintain awareness of group dynamics even as you try to keep things fun and productively moving along. Young children can become easily distressed when discussing sensitive or personal topics.

For example, in my experience, I’ve had one student bring up bullying as her least favorite thing about afterschool programming. When this happened, efforts were made to ensure the student was in control of how much she disclosed about the bullying. When I inquired for more detail with follow-up questions, I was careful to ask if “any students in the program had been bullied” versus if she had been bullied. Formatting the follow-up question in this manner gave the student the option to choose how much she disclosed and enabled her to discuss the issue without it becoming too personal or distressing.

Concluding thoughts

I hope that my experiences and the strategies I’ve described help you in considering the key factors that impact child participant involvement, levels of engagement, and production of thoughtful responses during focus group sessions. Before conducting such focus groups, I had concerns about engaging very young children. However, contrary to how I imagined the groups would go, kids I’ve worked with have not been rambunctious or inattentive; they were enthusiastic and sometimes less focused, yes, but they were still active participants who were able to reflect on and effectively communicate their personal experiences. I’ve enjoyed seeing how excited children are to give me their opinions on issues.

_Have you ever conducted focus groups with young children? Do you have any funny stories or suggestions? Please leave a comment and share your experiences with us! _

Further reading:

  1. Hearing childrens voices: methodological issues in conducting focus groups with children aged 7-11 years (Myfanwy Morgan, Sara Gibbs, Krista Maxwell and Nicky Britten, Qualitative Research 2002)

  2. Interviews and focus groups with children: Methods that match childrens developing competencies (Gibson, 2012)

  3. Focus on qualitative methods: Interviewing children (Sharron Docherty, Margarete Sandelowski, 1999)