Young children’s bodies: multiple perspectives on the embodied experience of starting school.

Preece, Victoria Kirstin (2021). Young children’s bodies: multiple perspectives on the embodied experience of starting school. EdD thesis The Open University.

Abstract

Transition into formal schooling is a significant life event with a long-term impact on achievement and wellbeing. This study explores the lived experience of six children starting school in England, as well as their parents and educators, to examine the question How do children experience the transition into school in the context of their families and educators? Taking place in England at a time when the need for children to be school ready is emphasised in government policy, the study aims to consider whether educational practice anticipates and responds to children’s lived experiences of starting school.

The mature bioecological systems model of development frames the study (Bronfenbrenner and Morris, 2006), enriched to account for power relations in school (Bernstein, 2000), the impact on children’s bodies (Foucault, 1977) and the agential nature of the material world (Lupton, 2019). The case study approach focused on the transition into one Reception class. Children’s perspectives were foregrounded and explored through participatory approaches (Clark and Moss, 2001): participant observations, draw and talk, and photo tours. Interviews were carried out with key adults involved in this transition: their key early years educator, receiving teaching staff, and parents. Data were analysed using reflexive thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke, 2019).

Findings emphasised the embodied, physical nature of participants’ transition experience: the sensory entanglements children experienced as they encountered the material world of school; how assemblages between children and objects shaped their experiences; the physical demands placed on children’s bodies; adults’ focus on ‘readying’ them for school; and the bodily reactions of children, particularly hunger and fatigue. Implications for policy and practice include recognising the importance of the material world as children start school, being aware of the physical demands of a ‘schooled’ body, reducing the emphasis on formal practices in Reception and meeting the needs of the body.

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