Intergenerational Practice: A Participatory Action Research Study Investigating the Inclusion of Older Adults in the Lives of Young Children within an Urban 'Forest School' Environment

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This research emerged from a partnership developed between one pre-school setting and myself as a university tutor, and from my commitment to participatory ways of working. Within the pre-school, Early Years practitioners were eager to develop their offsite ‘Forest School’ provision further, and to engage in research, so participatory action research (PAR), which inclusively encourages participants to contribute to all aspects of the research process (Kemmis et al., 2014), was adopted. A Research Circle (Persson, 2009) was formed to create an arena for planning, development of the research questions, reflection and later analysis. The main aim of the research project was identified and developed within the Research Circle where it was agreed that we would investigate the inclusion of older adults in the lives of young children within the urban Forest School environment. This mutual decision was inspired by recent practice within pre-school, by literature and current research. It also resonated with my prior experiences when working with young children. Six Early Years practitioners became my co-researchers and engaged in each stage of the research, to varying degrees. We worked in partnership to recruit, interview and welcome the older adults while the practitioners managed the Forest School activity as part of their usual practice. They also took responsibility for preparing the twelve children for research and supported them to participate and to make sense of their experiences. This thesis, submitted for examination for Doctor of Education (EdD), therefore examines the experiences of a newly formed company of participants, of varied ages from three to seventy-four, having a shared interest in working together and setting out on a journey to create new knowledge. Societal changes and increasing lifespan reported by Vanderven(2011) and Yasunaga et al. (2016), among others, reveal examples of a growing amount of both familial and non-familial intergenerational practice, together with potential benefits and causes for concern. Our literature review considered how people of different generations interact and how they can learn from each other. Age-friendly environments (Steels, 2015) were then explored together with literature about ‘Forest School’ (Doyle and Milchem, 2012) and Place-Based Education (Mannion et al., 2010; Mannion and Adey, 2011). This literature identified a number of gaps in knowledge, including a focus on how the benefits associated with intergenerational practice occur (Park, 2015). A need for more qualitative data in respect of intergenerational interactions (Yasunaga et al., 2016) was evident. The research questions which emerged from the literature review sought to determine what occurs when older adults and young children are brought together in an urban forest school environment, with a particular focus upon interactions, knowledge exchange and benefits. Data was analysed thematically resulting in four main findings, relating to the different forms of participation which emerged and their value for those involved: affective participation, collaborative participation, learning through intergenerational participation and challenging participation. The research indicates that investment in well-planned intergenerational relationships, where older adults and young children choose to engage with each other, is key to subsequent learning for both age groups. Furthermore, non-formal places afford a relaxed atmosphere and it is there where trust, essential for reciprocity in opportunities for challenge, can grow. This collaborative research project is proving to be impactful. A case example has been included within a book for researchers, concerning research methods for social justice and equity in education (Atkins and Duckworth, 2019). In addition, the pre-school where the research took place is now engaged in another successful intergenerational project and members of the research team have attended Oslo Metropolitan University in order to share with academic and practitioners HOW participatory research can be embedded in partnerships between kindergartens and universities.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Sheffield
  • Parry, Becky , Supervisor, External person
  • Levy, Rachael , Supervisor, External person
Award date10 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 17 Feb 2020
Externally publishedYes


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