Exploring Transition through Collective Biographical Memory Work: Considerations for Parents and Teachers in Early Childhood Education

Article excerpt


This paper describes a study using collective biographical memory work (CBMW) as a means of deepening understandings of transition in early childhood education. By moving beyond the boundaries of dominant discourses of transitions, we explore the contradictions therein. As a group of early childhood lecturers (1) we approached transition as an embodied experience that could be explored only through collective interaction with individual memories. This process required us, as both participants and researchers, to see embodied memories of transitory experiences as 'discursive/textual sites' (Davies & Gannon, 2006, p. 14) for extensive mining. The results highlight the subjectification of individuals by self and others through transition. Several considerations for early childhood education practice arise from these, since transition is re-cast as a series of embodied moments over the life span, rather than a set of desirable hurdles that are dictated by well-meaning adults.

The literature

New Zealand early childhood education practice is framed nationally within a curriculum, Te Whaiki (Ministry of Education, 1996). This curriculum was developed by the early childhood education sector with a theoretical emphasis on sociocultural emancipation from traditional positivist approaches to learning (Nuttall, 2003). This, juxtaposed with a strong government agenda for a knowledge economy (see, for example, Farquhar, 2007), has resulted in the positioning of 'transition' in early childhood education practice as a series of valued social and developmental milestones to be mastered by the assimilating child. These milestones typically include cultural and societal events, such as starting school (Fabian, 2002; Graue, Kroeger & Brown, 2002; Ledger, Smith & Rich, 2000; Peters, 2000; Renwick, 1987), entering an early childhood service (Dalli, 2001) or moving from one part of an educational service to another (Podmore, Wendt. Samu, Taouma & Tapusoa, 2007). It is these geographical movements that typically capture pedagogical attention since it is argued that the smoothness of the transition creates important dispositions for future adaptation across the life span (Cowan, 1991) and is viewed as a key predictor of subsequent positive transitory experiences (Dockett & Perry, 1999; 2002; see also Griebel & Niesel, 2002).

The nature of 'transition' itself, however, is less easily understood, with an assumption inherent in the literature that every geographical or physical shift from one institution to another ought to constitute a meaningful educational 'transition' in childhood. The move from early childhood to primary settings is a significant example. Cowan (1991) goes beyond this interpretation to describe transitions as 'long-term processes that result in a qualitative reorganization of both inner life and external behaviour'. Seen in this light, transition represents some sort of:

qualitative shift from the inside looking out (how the individual understands and feels about the self and the world) and from the outside looking in (reorganization of the individual's or family's level of personal competence, role arrangements, and relationships with significant others) (Cowan, 1991, p. 5).

Such a view is reflected in the emphasis Podmore et al. (2007) place on the role of teachers in nurturing children's sense of belonging through transition in the Fa'a Samoa Aoga Amata Centre of Innovation research. The authors argue that, by emphasising children's sense of belonging, their identity is supported as an educational outcome leading to cultural competence or empowerment. This is achieved through the process of transitioning in small groups, with a primary caregiver as a stable figure, and promoting children's institutional knowledge, such as where to put their personal belongings and where their special sleeping place is.

Viewing transition for young children as a vehicle for desirable cultural shifts strongly signals a societal agenda that to be successful one must adapt quickly to new situations and, in doing so, exhibit a 'readiness' (be it physical, cognitive or social) to cope with new situations (Peters, 2003). …