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Emoticons help gauge school happiness level in young children

Posted on February 3rd 2017

A simple new questionnaire based on emoticon-style facial expressions could help teachers and others who work with children as young as four to engage them on their happiness and wellbeing levels in the classroom.

The How I Feel About My School (HIFAMS) questionnaire, designed by experts at the University of Exeter Medical School and supported by PenCLAHRC, is available to download for free. It uses emoticon-style faces with options of happy, ok or sad. The questionnaire asks children to rate how they feel in seven situations including on the way to school, in the classroom and in the playground. It is designed to help teachers and others to communicate with very young children on complex emotions.

Professor Tamsin Ford, Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Exeter Medical School, led the design, which involved children giving feedback on which style of questionnaire they could relate to and engage with best. She said:

“When we’re carrying out research in schools, it can be really hard to meaningfully assess how very young children are feeling. We couldn’t find anything that could provide what we needed, so we decided to create something new.”

The questionnaire is now the subject of a paper in Clinical Childcare Psychology and Psychiatry. It finds that parents and teachers consistently score children’s happiness levels slightly higher than children score their own.

Once completed, the questionnaire has an easy scoring system, out of 14. An average score is around 11 or 12, with children who are encountering particular difficulties at school scoring lower. Those experiencing suspension or expulsion from school, for example, typically scored around eight or lower.

The need for the questionnaire arose from the Supporting Teachers and Children in Schools (STARS) study, a PenCLAHRC project led by Professor Ford, which is analysing whether a course designed to improve teachers’ classroom management skills is effective.

Professor Ford said:

“We needed a simple way for children of all ages to tell us how they are feeling in relation to different areas of schooling. Our new resource makes that possible. More than 2,000 children in Devon have now completed the questionnaire. It has proved a very useful tool, and I hope schools will take advantage of this free resource to open up conversations with children in talking about their feelings and to give them a voice, particularly around key decisions that may affect them.”

To find out more and to download the questionnaire, visit the University of Exeter Medical School website. Read the journal paper here and view a bite-sized summary of the STARS project here (PDF) . 

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