Surveying children is necessary for planning and evaluating youth programs. However, it can also present unique challenges from those encountered when surveying adults. It is important to understand what to avoid and what to implement when surveying youth so that you can get better response rates and data.
4 Dos and Don’ts to guide you in creating youth surveys:
#1. Don’t Expect Surveys to be “One Size Fits All”
Children go through different phases of development as they age. Depending on their age and individual temperaments, kids have limited attention spans and get restless when asked to answer too many questions or spend too long on a single activity. It is important to tailor your survey according to your population’s stage of development. When considering survey length, children aged 4-7 will be able to answer questions for 10 to 15 minutes maximum. Kids aged 8-11 should be able to answer questions for 15 to 45 minutes. Children aged 12-15 can answer questions for 45 to 60 minutes. Young adults aged 16 years or older typically have similar attention spans to those of adults, so they can answer questions for longer than 60 minutes.
Avoid overtaxing kids’ attention and abilities by keeping their ages in mind when developing surveys. Shorter surveys are often better for any survey participants, so do not feel obligated to max out the time ranges described above.
#2. Don’t Use All Qualitative or All Quantitative Questions
Using only qualitative or quantitative questions increases your chances of gathering insufficient data or losing kids’ attention more quickly. Asking only qualitative questions leaves participants, especially kids, susceptible to survey fatigue. Depending on their age, children may take this as an opportunity to ramble and discuss things that are not relevant to the evaluation, limiting time for data collection. Asking only quantitative questions leads children to answer on autopilot, giving less thought and consideration to each question. Including a healthy mix of both qualitative and quantitative questions will help keep kids engaged and make your data richer.
#3. Do Include Clear Instructions to Prep Youth
It is important to provide youth participants with instructions that adequately prepare them for the topic at hand. Kids have an especially hard time remembering events that occurred over extended time periods and are better able to reference events that occurred most recently. Providing clear instructions primes youth to provide more accurate answers about their experiences. In addition, due to their developmental stages, kids aged 4-11 years benefit from having an adult facilitator help them navigate surveys. Similar to conducting interviews, these adults read questions aloud, provide kids with any additional information, and move them through to survey completion. It is also important to provide clear instructions or training for any adults administering the survey. This guidance ensures that both parties understand all survey questions and concepts, and helps prevent adults from biasing youth participants’ responses.
#4. Do Use Simple Question Structure and Language
Consider how kids’ understanding of language, vocabulary, and sentence structure affect their ability to answer questions. Ensuring that survey content is easy for kids to understand will increase the accuracy and completeness of their responses. Check your survey’s reading score to determine its readability and simplify the survey if the score is too high. Helps kids conceptualize ideas by using pictures and symbols. Incorporating graphics will give youth concrete meaning to intangible concepts or ideas. For example, you could ask kids to give your project a star rating, with more stars showing higher satisfaction with the program. Pictures and symbols make surveys more fun and interesting, helping youth complete survey questions without becoming restless.
Have more questions about youth surveys?
Using these tips can help improve your youth survey. If you have additional questions about youth surveys, contact REC! We provide tailored support to help you develop the right tools to collect high quality data to meet your organization’s needs.
Borgers, N., de Leeuw, E., & Hox, J. (2000). Children as Respondents in Survey Research: Cognitive Development and Response Quality. Link: https://www.epicentro.iss.it/okkioallasalute/documenti/letteratura_scientifica/borghers_questionnaires%20children.pdf
Shtivelband, A. (2017). 5 Tips for Creating a Survey. Research Evaluation Consulting LLC. Link: https://researchevaluationconsulting.com/tips-survey-creation/
Shtivelband, A. (2017). Quantitative Versus Qualitative Data. Research Evaluation Consulting LLC. Link: https://researchevaluationconsulting.com/quantitative-versus-qualitative-data/
Shtivelband, A. (2017). Tips for Conducting Qualitative Interviews. Research Evaluation Consulting LLC. Link: https://researchevaluationconsulting.com/tips-conducting-qualitative-interviews/
Weber, P. (n. d.). Know the Importance of Flesch Kincaid Grade Level Score. Ink. Link: https://inkforall.com/copy-editing/readability/flesch-kincaid-grade-level/