Working with Kids and Data

Helpful ways to explore MDI data with children

Children's Voices Matter

One of the core beliefs underlying the Middle Years Development Instrument (MDI) is that children’s voices matter. Asking children for their input can be powerful because it provides rich data on child well-being that would not otherwise be accessible if we did not ask them – data that can be used to create environments and interactions which can promote children’s well-being. It is also tells children that their thoughts and feelings are valued and provides them a say in how their schools and communities should support them.


One way to obtain further insight into your MDI results is to conduct focus groups with children that ask them to reflect on your MDI data. Focus groups can provide a unique opportunity to obtain insight into how children perceive the results and their voices on the factors that matter.

Further Resources to Guide You

Created: October 8, 2019

Last Updated: November 24, 2020

Duration: 00:15:06

Janelle Zebedee & Tricia Penny, Health Promoting Schools Coordinators in SD 23 (Central Okanagan, BC), discuss how they have used MDI data to promote students’ well-being in schools, in their district, and in their community, including diving deep into the data with children as well as educators in schools.

Created: May 27, 2020

Last Updated: November 23, 2020

Duration: 00:16:17

Gail Markin, Social Emotional Learning Support K-12 for SD 35 (Langley, BC), discusses how she has used the MDI in her district, including conducting focus groups with children to dig into the MDI data.

Tips for Focus Groups with Children

In Advance:
  • Reduce barriers as much as possible by having a convenient location, such as at the school, providing transit access or bus passes, and providing healthy and enticing snack options.
  • Determine suitable times that do not conflict with children’s other commitments.
  • For the most effective sharing, groupings of 4-6 children work the best. Avoid a wide age discrepancy, which may create barriers to participation.
  • Consider how to recruit a balanced group that represents the children in your school, community, or target demographic. Gathering peers can facilitate greater discussion, but may provide feedback that is not representative. Ensure inclusivity so viewpoints from children of all abilities, interests, and backgrounds are included.
  • Building trust is key to any successful discussion. Moderators can set the tone by being approachable, warm, and non-judgemental from the very beginning, including the recruitment phase. Ensure that children know that their participation is voluntaryand that they do not have to take part in the activities or answer any questions that they do not want to.
  • If possible, moderators should already be familiar faces to participants.
  • Communicate to participants that they are experts and that you want to learn from them. Emphasize that there are no right or wrong responses, just opinions.
During the Focus Group
  • Circles create a democratic environment and allow for equal eye-contact and interaction.
  • Start the session with an ice-breaker activity or game to set a fun tone and help participants feel comfortable with one another and learn one another’s names. For example, have colouring materials so participants can design their own name tags and personalize them.
  • Give a clear explanation of the purpose of the focus group and offer a personal introduction about your role in the school or community. Set clear expectations for the group and ask participants to contribute to a community agreement. Agree upon whether discussion will be in rounds, popcorn style (no sequence), or if you will use a talking stick. Allow time for questions before starting the discussion.
  • Openly sharing thoughts and feelings can be a vulnerable experience for many children. Identify this as an opportunity to discuss the values of vulnerability and how participants can encourage each other to feel comfortable by creating a supportive environment. This includes active listening and empathy, as well as no put downs, sarcasm or shaming.
  • Many people do not feel comfortable speaking in front of a group. Include other options for participating, such as writing ideas on a slip of paper to hand in at the end of the focus group or providing an email address or a comment box where children can add ideas later.
  • Include open-ended questions, such as “how” or “why” questions, to encourage more detailed feedback. If responses are superficial, this could be an indicator that a trustful environment has not yet been established within the group. Be careful not to force sharing before an emotionally-safe environment is created.
  • Keep an eye on participants’ energy levels and intersperse focus-group questions with calming or energizing activities as needed. For a calming activity example, have the group close their eyes, raise their hands, and listen to the ringing of a bell or chime. When they can no longer hear any sound, have children lower their arms. For energizing, invite children to play charades, perhaps miming one of their favourite things to do after-school.
Sample Questions, Games, and Activities

Games and activities can be used to make focus groups more interactive and maintain attention. Here are some examples:


  • Have children draw what they wish they could do after-school and offer the opportunity to describe the drawing to the group or facilitator if the child chooses.
  • To rank enthusiasm for particular ideas or activities, have a visual of a ladder with numbers going from 0 at the bottom, to 10 at the top. Children can write down the number they would give for each suggestion on a prepared worksheet. Children who would like to discuss their answers can share at the end to provide the “why” behind the ranking to give you more detailed responses.
  • Have children show their approval ratings of ideas using thumbs up (yes), thumbs down (no), or thumbs middle (for I do not know or maybe). You can also create paddles with “yes” on one side and “no” on the other. If children are unsure, they do not raise their paddle. Follow up with related how and why questions.
  • Role-play a guardian and child who are disagreeing about how the child should spend after-school time. What does each person suggest for how the child should spend their after-school time? What are the reasons the adult and child disagree? What are the reasons they agree? What activity do they choose? Follow up by asking participants any thoughts or ideas the roleplay may have brought up.
  • Play with a spectrum; explain that people’s opinions and perspectives are typically not black and white, but fit somewhere in between along a spectrum. Ask participants to stand in the room and designate either side of the room as “yes” and “no,” “agree” and “disagree,” or “not at all like me” and “very much like me.” Ask participants a question, such as “The most important thing I look for in an after-school activity is how friendly the staff are.” Have participants stand between each side of the room, which marks their opinion. Next, invite participants to share why they chose that spot in the spectrum. Reflect on differences and similarities with respect and curiosity.
Bringing it to a close

Remember, reaching a consensus is not the goal!


  • Ensure each participant has had a chance to be heard and ask for any final thoughts or questions before finishing.
  • Use closure questions to allow participants to reflect on their focus group experience. For instance, ask children to share one word about how they are feeling and why.
  • Thank each child for their participation. Avoid any indulgent rewards, but consider a token of appreciation for all participants. Inform them about how the information will be used and any possible next steps. As much as possible, keep participants informed of outcomes or results after the focus groups are completed.
  • Consider asking for participant feedback on their focus group experience through a short, written questionnaire.

Have questions about Focus Groups with Children?

Please don’t hesitate to contact us.