Aims and objectives. To explore the information needs of children aged 7–11 years relating to planned admission for surgery. To identify the knowledge of a group of children prior to admission and their own identified information needs. Background. There is widespread agreement that children should be given information prior to surgery but continuing debate about the most appropriate form and content of preadmission preparation. There is little research evidence about children's concerns, fears and misconceptions about hospitals and surgery. Previous investigations have examined the views of parents/carers and health care professionals rather than the direct reports of children themselves. This study was designed to explore whether children could identify their own information needs prior to admission for elective surgery. Design. Qualitative. Method. Nine children aged 7–11 years were interviewed using the write and draw technique to ascertain their preadmission information needs. Data collection occurred several weeks prior to the child's first admission to hospital for planned surgery. Results. Children reported that they had not received direct information from the hospital or from health professionals. They obtained information from a variety of sources including leaflets for parents, television and the experiences of relatives and friends. Some children knew very little about hospitals and their own planned operation. Children identified 61 questions about their forthcoming admissions, including questions about: getting information; procedures; anaesthesia; timing; hospital environment; family support; feelings/pain; their condition; and concerns. Conclusions. Children aged 7–11 years can identify their own information needs and so contribute to the development of preadmission education. Relevance to clinical practice. Patients attending a children's hospital can have little information provided prior to admission. Information about hospital should be presented directly to children in the most accessible and flexible form.