Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Children Talk about Their Early Experiences at School

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Children Talk about Their Early Experiences at School

Article excerpt

Transition to school: A critical time in the child's life

Transition from preschool to school can be a challenge for children, parents, caregivers, and early years teachers They must manage change, tension and uncertainty relating to children's reactions to the social and physical differences of the school environment and the different expectations of their behaviour. It is not surprising that school entry is referred to as a major life change, a vital turning point, and a time of great stress (Christensen, 1998). Young children's early adjustment and attainment at school sets boundaries on later attainment: a 'slow start' often means carrying a record of failure. A 'good start' provides a competitive advantage throughout the child's schooling (Belsky & MacKinnon, 1994).

What the literature says about starting school

A range of studies has examined transition to school (Dockett & Perry, 1999, 2001; Kagan & Newman, 1998). Most report adults' perspectives on children's abilities to adjust to the comparatively inflexible school organization. Teachers dwell on the children's abilities to operate in a large group, exercise independence, and interact effectively with other children and adults.

Parents focus on children 'fitting into school' and making friends. Arising from the findings have come guidelines for 'getting young children ready' for school. Little has been written about the schools' readiness for the new arrivals. Notable exceptions to this are Wong and Wong (1998), in their book titled How to be an Effective Teacher: The First Days of School, and Fisher (1996) in her publication Starting from the Child? Briggs and Potter (1999) called for professional sensitivity to young children's early days at school and clarified those elements of the school environment that can cause trauma for the young child. They also identified the need for schools to work closely with parents and pre-school edu-carers.

Not much has been written about children's perspectives on starting school. However, studies by Clyde (2001), Perry, Dockett and Howard (2000), and Ramey, Lanzi, Philips and Ramey (1998) have explored and reported upon children's views. Generally it was found that most children adjusted to school well but, not unexpectedly, were very much influenced by the school environment, demands, expectations, teaching and management styles. Perry, Dockett and Tracey (1998) interviewed parents, teachers and children on such topics as 'What does it mean to be ready for school?' 'Who is responsible for getting children ready for school?' "What should be done to help children become ready for school?' They found that the overwhelming concern of children was about the rules of school, as opposed to parents and teachers who were more concerned with the children's adjustment and disposition.

Clyde (2001) reported children's comments, verbatim. She questioned them about their impressions of the big kids, how they found the first day of school, how they felt on the first day, and how they got ready for school. Clyde concluded that young children experience transition to school as a qualitative shift; they worry about not knowing what to do, being hassled by the big kids, not being allowed to touch (cuddle) the teachers, and not being allowed to play. They already differentiated play from work. "You really, really try to concentrate hard when you're working but not when you're playing" (p.31).

Recognising the need to listen to children

There is a slow though growing, international movement to foreground children's perceptions and constructions of their life's experiences (Oakley, 1994; Qvortrup, 1990). This is an important movement away from the notion that because children are egocentric, they cannot reason in a rational manner and therefore what they say about their experiences is of limited value. In the past, most studies of young children have emphasised an external view of children's knowledge, thoughts and competency. …

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