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Seeing the bigger picture: exploring the stories of children from migrant backgrounds

Updated Thursday, 30th July 2020
Photography is one way of listening to children’s voices and discovering their multifaceted lives. EdD student Karen Horsley describes her research on the stories and experiences of young children whose families have migrated to the UK made visible through documentary photography.

Photos from Karen Horsley

Although there is often a surprise at the idea of young children using cameras intentionally to communicate and tell visual stories, my study, and others before, exemplifies their ability to do so.

Building on the idea that children have funds of knowledge that they have developed in the home and in their communities are seen as resources for learning, my study involved children in an English nursery, who were asked to make images of special people, days out, toys, cooking, FaceTime calls to family in home countries, friends and more. I worked closely with the children’s teacher, practitioners and parents to listen to children’s photo conversations and the making of their personalised photo storybooks.

Stories are conveyed through the layered images within, and connections between, individual photographs. In the photograph below, four-year-old Sasha communicates visually and emotionally the close relationships shared between his family and the importance of nurturing routines.

  Photos from Karen Horsley I'm an uncle arleady

The way in which Sasha has composed one of his ‘favourite’ and ‘important’ photographs tells a story. Sasha’s mother is smiling as she holds her grandson close, and at the same time, she leans forwards communicating her love for them both. Other storytelling objects and symbols within the frame include her necklace, a hand-knitted blanket draped over the crib, the clock and many family photographs in the background. Sasha’s photographs express his family though generations, time, and space in the FaceTime call with his grandmother below.

Photos from Karen Horsley She lives in her house

We can see those very young children are able to express complex feelings and ideas about their social worlds. Sasha is in control as the author of his own story about the close bonds and love shared within his family in everyday life.

Many possibilities for rendering young children’s knowledge more visible are emerging. For example, in daily conversations, shared collective memories and stories, development of cultural archives, community (everyday life) and individual explorations. 

They show different facets of children’s rich, complex and nuanced lives. Photo stories about what’s close and very personal can be intimate, emotional, bringing touching connections and ideas between people. Other children also made for very enthusiastic audiences. The children’s teacher commented:

...with this, they are in control and I am the one interested and asking the questions… it’s almost like a role reversal, it gives the children that power… you’re both human beings.


A photo of a group of students studying at a wooden bench. Aerial view
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