My daughter wanted to go to the park after kindergarten. So I walked her over and then, ignoring the knots of chatting parents, went and sat under a tree. I was feeling introverted; I had a crossword in my bag; I thought I could solve a few clues while my daughter played.
Within a few minutes, kids were gathering round. 'What are you doing?' they asked, then 'Look at me! Look at me!' they called. A two-year-old sibling leaned into my side. 'You're her [my daughter's] mother,' she said knowingly. Then she offered me a gumnut.
I thanked her for the gumnut, and we talked about its shape and pretty colour. Then I turned back to my crossword and filled in a few squares. She went for a wander, telling to me to watch her.
'No thanks,' I said, 'I'll do my crossword while you go for a walk.'
'Ok,' she said. A few minutes later she was back, with a pocket full of gumnuts. 'We're making cake,' she announced. I asked what was in her cake. Silence. 'Broccoli?' I asked. 'No!' she said, laughing. 'Beans?' I asked. 'Noooo!' she said again. 'Chocolate?' I asked. 'Yes!' she crowed, 'and sugar! And eggs!'
'Sounds delicious,' I said.
She had a little stick which she was using to stir the 'gredients' in her pocket. 'Mix, mix, mix' she said.
Then she found another little stick and handed it over. 'You stir,' she instructed, holding her pocket open and leaning towards me.
I gave up on the crossword, and gave the cake a good stir. She baked it, cut it up, and gave me a slice. Together, we ate. 'Good!' she said.
There are reams written about how to study kids and childhood. There are certainly projects which seek to find out particular things and which require formal methods; but in general I find the suggestion that researchers need special techniques to talk with kids slightly ludicrous.
I'm not naturally good with kids. I'd never make a kinder teacher; I don't like children's birthday parties; and group work will never be my forte. I always find new kids and groups of kids slightly terrifying; and too much time with children drives me batty. Even so, it seems pretty clear to me that kids are just people. They swell up when we remember their names; they like us to speak quietly and with respect; they appreciate it when we join in their games. It's not rocket science – and it's hardly different from adults. I may not mix gumnuts in your pocket, but if I remember your name, take you seriously, and engage in whatever you think is fun – a coffee, a chat, a walk, a joke – chances are you'll think I'm a good egg.
At the park, the little girl and I were just playing; but I have no doubt that, had I asked a few gentle questions while we mixed our cake, she would have told me to the best of her ability whatever I wanted to know. In fact, I didn't need to ask her anything to learn something about my own interests. I'm studying friendships between children and adults; and just the way our interaction unfolded spoke volumes about how kids and adults communicate and share small intimacies.
If I had been wearing my researcher hat, I could have described my role as 'participant observation', and written about the event from an 'autoethnographic perspective'. But she's not a formal part of my project, and I was only wearing a sunhat, so I wrote this post, instead.