We bring you news of our exciting new research with pre-school children. 

Back to all stories | Posted on 03 Oct 2019 in Blog

Joanna founded the first Mary’s Meals student society at Aberdeen University in 2013. She later joined Mary’s Meals’ programmes team as a volunteer during her studies. Now with a master’s degree in International Development, she is working as a policy and impact officer at Mary’s Meals. Here she shares her enthusiasm and passion for our exciting new research project with pre-school children! 

Here’s a story about a snail, a last-minute phone call and a driver called Kiki – and how it all helped us to talk to the youngest children in our programme! 

For a few years, we’ve been looking at the impact our school feeding programme has on children in Malawi, Zambia and Liberia. Our research has focussed on primary school-age children, but we also support children in pre-school and nurseries where the educational experience they have is completely different. So, we decided to do a smaller piece of research, one which will help us learn more about the impact of school meals on younger children specifically.  

One of the things I was most excited about in doing this research was talking directly to pre-school children. There can be a misconception among adults that children don’t know a lot or can’t tell us things, but all of us who know children or have children know that’s not the case at all! We as adults just need to think of ways to enable children to speak to us.  

In our impact assessments with primary school children, we asked them about concentration and participation and how they feel when they’re participating in lessons. We found that the school meal helps children participate more and engage in their education. So we thought, how can we do that with the little ones? How can you ask a four-year-old “do you participate more?” Instead, we ask them to show us, “which snail are you?”  

So let me introduce you to one of the tools we used to give younger children a voice: my good friend Kiki the snail! 

These snails were first introduced in Turkana – a hot, arid county in northern Kenya where I was working. I’m lucky to have a sister who is studying graphic design at Loughborough, and I managed to get a call through to her from Turkana. I said: “Can you draw me a snail?” 

“Of course. When do you need it? 

“How about tomorrow?” 

She dropped everything to help create the confidence snails.  

The confidence snails became an effective and powerful tool to talk to young children about their engagement in education. We told children the story of Kiki starting pre-school for the first time and being very, very shy. But as he enjoys his lessons more, he starts to come out of his shell. By the end of the story, he’s a very confident snail. 

Kiki the snail has now travelled to Zambia where we showed the children flashcards of the snails and asked them to act out ‘coming out of their shell’ as this video shows. (I love how he stays in character as he goes back to his seat!)  

And finally, the name Kiki. Well, it was given in tribute to the driver who spent three months ferrying me back and forth in Turkana. Nothing to do with his speed, but more to do with his reliability and how he came out of his shell the more we got to know one another!