Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Children's Views and Children's Voices in Starting School

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Children's Views and Children's Voices in Starting School

Article excerpt


Starting compulsory schooling is an important time for all involved. Much has been written about assessing children's readiness for school (May & Kundert, 1997), their adjustment to school (Hadley, Wilcox & Rice, 1994) and differences in adult perceptions of readiness for school (Harradine & Clifford, 1996). However, comparatively little research has considered the views, perceptions and expectations of young children as they start school (for exceptions, see Brostrom, 1995; Clyde, 2001).

Early findings of the Starting School Research Project indicated a clear difference in the perspectives of the children and adults involved in transition (Perry, Dockett & Tracey, 1998). Specifically, children commented on two major areas: they emphasised rules and the importance of knowing the rules in order to start school; and their feelings about school. While most children had positive comments about school, these often related to friends and having or making friends. Children who commented that they did not have friends reported feeling sad, scared, or lonely at school.

Part of the underlying philosophy of the Starting School Research Project has been that effective transitions to school involve all stakeholders, particularly children (Dockett & Perry, 2001). Drawing on an ecological model of transition, where `a child's transition to school is understood in terms of the influence of contexts (e.g. family, classroom, community) and the connections among these contexts (e.g. family-school relationships) at any given time and across time' (Pianta, Rimm-Kaufman & Cox, 1999, p. 4), we are interested in describing ways children influence the contexts in which they live and the ways those contexts also impact on experiences. This view regards children as competent and interpretive social participants.

Investigating children's views about starting school

Including children in discussions about starting school has the potential to inform adults from the direct experiences children have of the implications and outcomes of these experiences and to signal directions for change. Involving children `introduces into critical conversations the missing perspectives of those who experience daily the effects of existing educational policies-in-practice' (Cook-Sather, 2002, p. 3).

A range of issues are encountered when considering research with children. Clearly, the relationships that exist between children and adults exert a strong influence on children's involvement (Graue & Walsh, 1998). In some instances, the perceived differences between children and adults have set up expectations that children, particularly young children, cannot provide reliable information about issues that affect them. The Starting School Research Project rejects this view, working instead to establish relationships and interactions that are comfortable, meaningful and relevant for children. One way of achieving this involves engaging children in research conversations, rather than structured or formal interviews. Such conversations `hand over the agenda to children, so that they can control the pace and direction of the conversation, raising and exploring topics' (Mayall, 2000, p. 133) of relevance and interest to them. These conversations, when conducted within small social groups, have the potential to encourage children to discuss things that matter to them. Issues of power and control are not eliminated, but children can feel more in control of the situation.

Other issues to be considered when incorporating children's views include the realisation that, even when children's perspectives are sought and listened to, these are not necessarily representative of all children in all situations. Some voices and some views are not heard (Viruru & Cannella, 2001), perhaps because they are not expressed, or perhaps because the adults listening do not hear them. Some children do not feel empowered to express their views, and some choose to remain silent. …

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