The place of children in the ELFE study

Over 18,000 children born in metropolitan France in 2011 are included in the ELFE study—more than one in 50 of the children born in the country that year. This unique opportunity to observe children born in the same period over the first twenty years of their lives will lead to a better understanding of what influences their development and how they find their place in society. ELFE researchers are focusing on these children’s health, schooling, diet, family and social life; also their environment. The scientific power of the study lies in its inclusion and combination of these many different types of information.

Most data is collected by way of regular surveys of ELFE children’s parents.

An unprecedented online survey with children

However, from age 3 and a half, ELFE children themselves are studied directly, initially by way of a home visit from interviewers, who give them cognitive tests and have them draw a picture. Now the ELFE cohort will soon be turning 6, and for the first time they will be asked to communicate their habits, preferences and perceptions of the world. Because the study centres on childhood at this stage, it is natural to have them communicate directly through computer games, an appropriate medium for their age and generation. In playing the games mentioned above, the children spontaneously indicate their likes and dislikes to researchers.

These playful questionnaires, designed by a team of specialists of socialization, will enable researchers to better understand how children see the world surrounding them.

The three game-questionnaires were developed with the help of a graphic artist; for the technical component, the ELFE information system team was assisted by a private company. This new mode of data collection, adapted to young children, was modelled on Serious Games: Gaming-Assisted Web Interviewing (GAWI). The games were presented to ELFE children in 2017. In order to successfully track a cohort of children, it is essential to obtain their active participation at the earliest possible age. Moreover, directly collecting information from children as soon as they know how to express themselves will provide the ELFE survey with original scientific data.

About the games

The three game-questionnaires explore the children’s construction of social identity and acquisition of moral and social understanding.
The first, called “Activities”, takes up the question of child preferences in the areas of clothing, games, scholastic and home activities (meals, television) and it tests children’s sense of justice in the preschool context.
In the second, “Animals”, each child attributes properties to five animals, designating the one they prefer; they then make choices (magic object, mode of resolving a conflict between animals) that enable the researchers to apprehend the moral principles that are most resonant for them (authority, equality, altruism).
In the third game, “Jobs”, children rank by preference a series of cards representing jobs often known to children at a very young age—doctor, schoolteacher, construction worker and others—and are asked to identify which cards “go well together”. They are then asked a question on resource sharing by job.
The question of how people acquire a sense of justice, particularly distributive justice, is currently of great interest to national and international research communities. Meanwhile, studies of social and sexual identity construction over the childhood years represent a new approach to the classic topic of socialization. ELFE is participating in these research developments by producing precious indicators for analysing these processes and improving our knowledge of children’s emotional and social development.

Source: The Elfe study Website

Contact: Marie-Aline Charles

Online: November 2017