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Emoticons help gauge school happiness level in young children

February 03, 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 questionnaire, designed by experts at the University of Exeter Medical School, is available to download for free. It uses emoticon-style faces with options of happy, ok or sad. It 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.

The project was supported by the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Applied Health Research and Care South West Peninsula ( NIHR PenCLAHRC).

Professor Tamsin Ford, Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Exeter Medical School, led the design, involving children to give feedback on which style of questionnaire they could relate to 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."

The questionnaire is now the subject of a paper in Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry. It finds that parents and teachers consistently score children's happiness levels slightly higher than children score their own. The team consulted children to find a format that they could relate to and engage with. 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 arose from the Supporting Teachers and Children in Schools study, 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."
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To find our more and to download the questionnaire, visit the Medical School website.

University of Exeter

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