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Bodies in transition – children starting school

Updated Thursday, 30th July 2020

Starting school for the first time is a significant time in a child’s life and has a long term impact on both their later school achievement and their wellbeing. EdD student Vicky Preece explains how researching the experience of children starting school in England has highlighted ways in which this transition could go as smoothly as possible so that the impact is a positive one.

Photos from Vicky Preece Creative commons image Icon Vicky Preece under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license

In order to understand the experience of children, my study also looks at the experiences of those around them; their families, early years educators and teaching staff.

I explored the perspectives of six children using three different methods. I observed them in their first few weeks in school as they experienced events such as their first lunchtime and their first assembly. Once they were full time in school, I had a Draw and Talk session, where I asked them to draw me something about school and I recorded our conversations.

Just before their first half term break, I went on Photo Tours with them. Children were given an iPad and were asked to go anywhere around the school and take photos of whatever they wanted to tell me about. I recorded our conversations and afterwards, we looked through their photos together and they deleted the ones they did not want to keep. This meant that the children were actively choosing what was important to them.

Photos from Vicky Preece Creative commons image Icon Vicky Preece under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license

The children experienced the start to school in a multi-sensory way through their bodily encounters with their new environment. For example, they talked about how the hall floor felt on their legs as they sat on it during assembly, the feel of their uniform, the unfamiliar taste of food at lunchtime, the smell of flowers in their outside classroom and the sound of the school bell. They were also asked to adapt and manage their bodies in particular ways in the new space of the school. For instance, they described learning to use the soap dispenser in the bathroom, timing their physical needs and sitting in particular ways at particular times of the day. Interestingly, the most photographed objects from the photo tours were the chairs in the school hall which they could sit on at lunchtime but were only for grown-ups in assembly.

In the next phase of my research, I will be examining interviews from the adults involved to see how these fit with the children’s experiences. As an early years practitioner, my hope is now to highlight the importance of paying attention to the physical aspects of starting school so that the transition is as smooth as possible.

 

A photo of a group of students studying at a wooden bench. Aerial view
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