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Doing narrative research with
young children
Anna-Maija Puroila
Adjunct professor, Senior Research Fellow
University of Oulu, Faculty of Education
Belonging and exclusion in day care centers (2013-2015)
Values education in day care centers (2013-2015)
Narrative action research
Children’s narrated well-being in day care centers TelLis (2010-2013)
Narrative ethnography
Practitioners’ everyday work in day care centers (2002)
Goffman’s (1974) frame analysis
Leadership in early childhood education (1997-2000)
Mixed methods
My research interest:
Everyday life in day care centers
What do we mean by narrative in a research context?
How to do narrative research with young children?
Database search (EBSCO)
• Keywords Children, Narrative and Research
• Results: ~130 scientific articles published since 2000
• General observations:
• Multidisciplinary research area
• Education, psychology, nursing sciences, social sciences, linguistics,
literature, logopedics...
• Emphasis on verbal narratives (oral or written)
• Both quantitative and qualitative methods
Database search (continues)
• Two main lines:
– 1) Narratives and children’s (language) development
Problems in children’s (language) development
Development of children’s narrative skills
Developing assessment methods for children’s language development
Journal of Language, Speech & Hearing Research; International Journal
of Language & Communication Disorders; American Journal of SpeechLanguage Pathology; Child Language Teaching & Therapy
– 2) Narrating as a therapeutic method
• Children who have problems with health, growth, development or
• Children who have risks and problems in social environment
• Children with trauma
• Child & Family Social Work; Pain Medicine; Journal of Child Psychology
& Psychiatry; Journal of Trauma & Dissociation; Child Abuse Review;
Journal of Child Psychotherapy
Database search (continues)
• Emphasis on school aged children (5 years >)
• Children as becoming narrators - not as active,
competent narrators
“Children do not display full competence in producing narratives
with episodic structure before school age”.
(see Ilgaz & Aksu-Koq, 2005, 527)
What is a narrative?
Narrative in this study is defined as an oral representation of one or
more events organized in certain order (Tsai, 2007, 464).
Narratives can be defined as unites of discourse representing a
sequence of temporal-causally related events. (Ilgaz & Aksu-Koc,
Criteria of a “good” story or a “well-formed” narrative:
• Narrative consists of verbally articulated past events
• Events have a certain order
• Temporal linearity
• Causal coherence between events
• Structure: beginning, middle, end
• Emphasis in analysing the structures and contents of
individual’s life stories
Previous narrative research with
young children - limitations
• The present terminology is not applicable in
exploring the narratives of the youngest
The concepts and methodological tools do not capture
important dimensions of young children’s narrative activity.
(Nicolopoulou, 2008)
• Focus on vebal stories
Children’s other ways of narrating are largely ignored (such
as playing, body language, emotional expressions, arts, crafts).
(Engel, 2006; Ochs & Capps, 2001)
• Most studies deal with children’s
comprehension of stories they are told
Studies of spontaneous everyday stories are rare.
(Ahn & Filipenko, 2007; Nicolopoulou, 2008)
Narrative research with young
children -potentials
• However, some scholars have highlighted the potential of exploring
young children’s narratives
“Many of the narratives and narrative fragments spoken by young children do not fit
logical models. […] children’s stories are brimming with different levels of meaning.
They can tell us a lot what a child is thinking but also how he is thinking.” (Engel,
2003, 39)
”Children’s worlds are filled with diverse narratives. […] Children encounter and use
narrative in diverse ways.” (oral, written, and visual contexts, playing, drawing,
painting, singing, silence, resisting, …). (Ahn & Filipenko, 2007)
Expanding scope of narrative
• Contents and structures of narratives (What?)
Narrative as text
> narrative as an interactional process (How?)
Narrative as talk-in-social interaction
(De Fina & Georgakopoulou, 2008)
> narrative environment (Where? When?)
Narrative in context
(Zilber, Tuval-Mashiach, & Lieblich, 2008)
“Narrative practices should be captured in their contextual complexities: the
whats, hows, wheres, and whens of the narrative production.” (Gubrium &
Holstein, 2008)
Towards doing narrative research
in day care centers
• Research question: What is the nature of
children’s everyday narratives in a day
care center context?
– What do children tell (content)?
– How do children tell (process)?
– How do the practices of day care centers enable or constrain
children’s narrating (context)?
Research methods and data collection
• Narrative ethnography (Gubrium & Holstein,
– Co-constructing a vast collection of research material
• in versatile ways
• in intensive interaction with the participants
• over extensive period of time
• Field work
Autumn 2009 – autumn 2010
(Participant) observations, field notes
Tape recording children’s spontaneous stories
Collecting children’s drawings
Carrying out a photographing project
Does Santa exist?
This happened in a day care center
a few days before
Anna, Maria, Laura, Lisa, and Timo – children from four to five years old – are drawing at a table in a kindergarten
classroom. While drawing, they talk about the forthcoming Christmas. Suddenly Anna says:
Anna: Those who believe in Santa Claus, raise your hand!
Other children excluding Anna raise their hands.
Anna: I don’t believe.
A fuss follows this comment. Other children begin to talk at the same time.
Other children: But why? Santa Claus came to my home…
Anna: Santa Claus is just a man who dresses up in clothes! My mam said that Santa doesn’t exist.
Other children: How come? Santa came to my home!
Anna (stressing the words with hands on hips): I can’t tell you because you’ll never believe me!
Timo: I’ll believe you!
Maria: Santa came to my house, at least! But Anna, how come he can live for such a long time? If he
was born once again…
Timo: People can’t be born once again!
Maria: I don’t know when Santa has his birthday.
Anna: How old is he and is he so old a granddad (with laughter)?
The conversation about Santa fades out. Children begin to talk about other topics.
[Later in the afternoon]
Anna and Timo are drawing.
Anna: Last Christmas, Santa didn’t come to our home, but the Christmas before that he came.
Timo: So he must exist!
Anna: You’re right! First I didn’t believe but now I believe in Santa. I’m writing here that “Dear Santa
(sniggering), dear Santa, from Anna”.
Anna begins to sing “Jingle bells, jingle bells …”
Analytical perspectives
• What are the structure and content of the
narrative like?
– Beginning? Middle? End?
– Plot? Series of events? Relationships between events?
• What is the process of narrating like?
– Interactional roles? Narrator? Listener?
– Children’s ways of narrating?
• How do the context and culture echo in this
– Time?
– Place (Finland, day care center…)?
– Culture (Finnish, pedagogical…)?
Does Santa exist?
Puroila, A-M., Estola, E. & Syrjälä, L. 2012. Does Santa Exist?
Children’s everyday narratives as dynamic meeting places
in a day care centre context. Early Child Development and Care,
182(2), 181-206.
• Fragmentariness of children’s narratives
– It is difficult to identify the beginning and the end of the narrative
– Children wove different elements into their mutual narrative
• Multimodality of narratives
– Children’s multiple means of meaning-making
• Collaboration in creating narratives
– Distinction between the teller and listener is not always possible
• The significance of context and culture
Topical theme (temporal context)
Face-to-face situation (interactional context)
Cultural story about Santa Claus
Day care center culture frames children’s narrative rights
1. Narrative methods are widely used in
diverse disciplines and research areas
Narrative research with children is dominated by
developmental and therapeutic orientations
2. Narrative research with young children is
quite scarce
Untapped scientific potential of young children’s narratives
3. Expansion of narrative research
New space for exploring young children from a narrative
Recent articles
Puroila, A-M. (2013, accepted) Young children at the stages: small stories performed in
day care centers. Narrative Inquiry.
Puroila, A-M. & Estola, E. (2013, accepted) Not babies anymore: Young children’s narrative
identities in a day care centre context. International Journal of Early Childhood.
Estola, E., Farquhar, S. & Puroila, A-M. (2013) Well-being narratives and young children.
Educational Philosophy and Theory. On-line version available.
Puroila, A-M. & Estola, E. (2012) Lapsen hyvä elämä? Päiväkotiarjen pienten kertomusten
äärellä. Varhaiskasvatuksen tiedelehti, 1(1), 22-43.
Puroila, A-M., Estola, E. & Syrjälä, L. (2012) Having, loving, being: Children's narrated
well-being in Finnish day care centres. Early Child Development and Care. Special issue:
Early Child Care and Education in Finland. 182(3-4), 345-362.
Puroila, A-M., Estola, E. & Syrjälä, L. (2012) Does Santa exist? Children's everyday
narratives as dynamic meeting places in a day care centre context. Early Child
Development and Care. 182(2), 191-206.
Other literature
Ahn, J. & Filipenko, M. (2007) Narrative, imaginary play, art, and self: Intersecting worlds. Early
Childhood Education Journal. 34, 279-289.
Bamberg, M. & Georgakopoulou, A. (2008). Small stories as a new perspective in narrative and
identity analysis. Text & Talk, 28(3), 377-396.
De Fina, A. & Georgakopoulou, A. (2008). Introduction: Narrative analysis in the shift from text to
practices. Text & Talk, 28(3), 275-281.
Engel, S. (2006) Narrative analysis of children’s experience. In S. Greene & D. Hogan (eds.)
Researching children’s experience. Approaches and methods (199-216). London: Sage Publications.
Engels, S. (2003) My harmless inside heart turned green: Children’s narratives and their inner lives.
In B. van Oers (Ed.) Narratives of Childhood (39-50). Amsterdam: VU University Press.
Gubrium, J.F. & Holstein, J.A. (2008) Narrative ethnography. In S.N. Hesse-Biber & P. Leavy
(Eds.) Handbook of emergent methods (241-264). New York: The Guilfrod Press.
Hyvärinen, M. (2012) Prototypes, genres, and concepts. Travelling with Narratives. Narrative Works:
Issues, Investigations, & Interventions, 2(1), 10-32.
Hyvärinen, M. (2008) Narrative form and narrative content. In I. Järventie & M. Lähde (Eds.)
Methodological challenges in childhood and family research (43-63). Tampere: Tampere University
Ilgaz, H. & Aksu-Koq, A.(2005) Episodic development in preschool children’s play-prompted and
direct-elicited narratives. Cognitive Development 20, 526-544.
Nicolopoulou, A. (2008) The elementary forms of narrative coherence in young children’s
storytelling. Narrative Inquiry, 18, 299-325.
Ochs, E. & Caps, L. (2001) Living narratives. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Zilber, T.B., Tuval-Mashiach, R. & Lieblich, A. (2008). The embedded narrative. Navigating
through multiple contexts. Qualitative Inquiry. 14(6), 1047-1069.

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