Law in Children's Lives

This project has used a specially-designed digital game Adventures with Lex to explore how far children see law as an empowering force in their lives. The project is now complete and we have made a short film that explains how the project developed and tells you about some of our findings.   

Law in Children's Lives

Children and law

There are many laws that relate to children in most areas of their lives; at home, at school or in public spaces. In this project, we have been able to gain an understanding of how far children are aware of these laws and perceive themselves as being protected and empowered by them. We hope that this project will stimulate discussion and further research in this area and that it may provide the foundations for the development of legal and educational reform in the UK and elsewhere.

Game-based research 

An exciting feature of this study has been the use of  a digital game as a way of carrying out research with children. Rather than being interviewed, children used a specially-designed tablet-based game to negotiate everyday legal challenges. This avoided the issue of children trying to give the ‘right’ answer to adult interviewers. The game  provided a fun and child-friendly way for us to see how children respond to dilemmas in familiar contexts.

The tablet-based game tracks the choices that children make as they play the game, and also audio records children’s explanations. This meant that we gained insights into both the types of decisions that children made, and also their reasons for making them. The children played the game on their own in school, and some also played it back at home with their parents. This helped us to see how parents and children affect each other’s decision making.

A new opportunity for research?

With 60% of children aged 6-11 years old using tablets each week (Ofcom 2014) and 99% of 8-15 year olds regularly playing games (UK Interactive Entertainment, 2015), digital gaming is an activity with which most children are comfortable and familiar.  Part of the aims of the LICL project has to be to investigate whether ‘gamification’ presents a new opportunity for research.  As indicated by the children’s comments below, we have found that this is a highly successful way of motivating and engaging young research participants.

Tablet and headphones

“I loved it and I would love to download it on my iPad” (Boy, Year 5)

“Brilliant – I would do it again!” (Boy, Year 5)

“I would give it a 10/10” (Boy, Year 4)

“The game was AWESOME! And I learnt a lot!” (Girl, Year 5)

“I think every child should try this game - it is amazing!!” (Girl, Year 4)

“I found the game fun and it is cool to record your own voice, it's like actually speaking to Lex.” (Girl, Year 6)

People

We are deeply saddened to report that Dr Elee Kirk died on Monday 1 August after battling with secondary cancer. Elee made a hugely positive contribution to the LICL project and she was a much-loved member of the team. She will be greatly missed by us all.

Project Team

Dr Dawn Watkins was the Principal Investigator for Law in Children’s Lives. Dawn is a former Solicitor, who carries out research in law and humanities, family law, property law and legal education in the School of Law at the University of Leicester. She is now the main point of contact for further information on the project.

Dr Effie Law was a Co-researcher on the project. Effie is based in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Leicester, and her research interests are human-computer interaction (usability and user experience) and Technology-enhanced learning (game-based learning and computer-supported collaborative learning).

Dr Joanna Barwick worked as a Research Associate on the project and remains in post until the end of June 2016. Jo has a PhD in Information Science, and previously worked in academic libraries and taught on Publishing and Information Management and Business Studies programmes. Her interests are digital preservation and the social and cultural significance of digital games.

Dr Elee Kirk completed her work as a Research Associate on the project and she took up a position as a Senior Lecturer at the UCL Institute of Education, teaching on the MA in Museums and Galleries in Education and pursuing her research interests in childhood studies and using innovative methods in research with children. 

Game designers

The game is being built by Enigma Interactive, a Newcastle-based company who have produced previously worked with the University of Leicester on games and apps for educational and research projects.

Advisory board

  • Dr Rose Griffiths, Senior Lecturer in the School of Education, University of Leicester.
  • Alex Moseley, Educational Designer, University of Leicester
  • Prof. Fiona Cownie, formerly Professor of Law and Pro-Vice Chancellor, University of Keele
  • Lisa Wintersteiger, Chief Executive, Law for Life
  • Prof. Pascoe Pleasence, Faculty of Laws, University College London

Project consultants

  • Dr Caren Frosch, School of Psychology, University of Leicester
  • Dr Alana James, Department of Psychology, Royal Holloway University of London
  • Dr Julie Gawrylowicz, formerly of Department of Psychology, London South Bank
  • Tony Thorpe, Associate, Law for Life
  • Young Research Advisors at the National Children’s Bureau

Publications 

The project’s key findings are due to be published in a forthcoming article ‘Exploring children’s understanding of law in their everyday lives’ in Legal Studies.

Findings concerning children’s understanding of criminal responsibility have been published in a special issue of the Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly in 2016

  • D Watkins, E Lai-Chong Law, J Barwick and E Kirk, ‘If you are 10 you go to prison: Children’s Understanding of the Age of Criminal Responsibility’ (2016) Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly, Vol. 67. No.3, 311-26

For discussions of the 'gamification' elements of the project see

  • J Barwick, D Watkins, E Kirk and E Lai-Chong Law, ‘Adventures with Lex: the gamification of research’ Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, published online: November 23, 2016. DOI:10.1177/1354856516677682
  • E Lai-Chong Law, D Watkins, J P Barwick and E S, ‘An experiential approach to the design and evaluation of a gamified research tool for Law in Children’s Lives.’ In Proceedings of the 15th Conference on Interaction Design and Children (Association for Computing Machinery, 2016), 322-333, DOI:10.1145/2930674.2930722