Bear in a window: capturing children’s voices of the pandemic

Teddy bear smiles in a window
During the early stages of the pandemic, people placed teddy bears in their windows as part of a “bear hunt” to entertain children during the coronavirus lockdowns. Picture: Shutterstock

A new project is giving a voice to Australian children, inviting them to share their experiences of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Researchers from the University of Melbourne and other universities across Australia have put together the program that is specifically designed to gain broad-ranging responses from children aged three to 12 years.

The Bear in a Window survey asks children to tell a mascot, Covey Bear, two stories about life in lockdown.

The children are invited to speak into a tablet or laptop/desktop computer to capture audio about their experiences.

Lead investigator, sociolinguist Associate Professor Barbara Kelly said that in the Spanish Flu pandemic lots of adult perspectives were documented but not child perspectives. She noted that: “Children’s voices have often been left out of important historical events. We think it’s important  to hear what children are thinking and feeling, in their own words.”

The responses so far have surprised and delighted the researchers.

“We thought we’d hear things like ‘I miss my friends’ or ‘I like not going to school,’ but children are often hilariously specific with their observations on what’s happening,”  Associate Professor Kelly said.

"We got one child who said, ‘I don’t like it when my classmates are on Zoom and they eat snacks too noisily.’

Another said what they liked about lockdown was ‘getting to eat gnocchi for lunch.’”

Co-Investigator Dr Chloé Diskin-Holdaway said that the project will also provide a valuable opportunity to improve speech-to-text technology, especially for Australian English.

It is hoped that the stories will also contribute to archive projects to keep a record of the extraordinary time that is the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parents and carers can log into the Bear in a Window website to access the survey here: