Transitions are now recognised as central to young children’s experiences and well-being, as well as a powerful integrative framework for research. This review surveys major conceptual tools that shed light on different aspects of early childhood transitions. The objectives are twofold: 1) to review major research perspectives on early childhood transitions and 2) to identify significant trends (and gaps) in the knowledge base of scholarly as well as professional studies. The findings of the review point to the value of widening perspectives on transitions in order to inform integrated and contextualised child-focused policy and programming. The major purpose of the review is to assist the Bernard van Leer Foundation and its partner organisations in their efforts to foster realisation of universal child rights in culturally sensitive ways. By linking concepts, theories and practice, the review offers an accessible resource that will, we hope, have wide appeal for both researchers and practitioners concerned with early childhood transitions. Following the working definition of General Comment 7 to the Convention on the Rights of the Child,1 ‘early childhood’ is understood as the period below the age of 8 (Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2005: 2). Early years transitions research and policy is especially important to realising the rights of young children, as this phase of life is generally acknowledged as a period of accelerated and intense change, usually involving multiple developmental, social, and (for increasing
numbers of children), institutional transitions, each of which has implications for current well-being and long-term outcomes. The term ‘transitions’ has a variety of meanings that are not readily captured in a single definition. The review takes an inclusive
understanding of transitions as its starting point. We aim to situate different approaches within relevant theoretical frameworks in order to highlight the underlying assumptions about childhood and child development that inform them. One generic definition would be that transitions are key events and/or processes occurring at specific periods or turning points during the life course. They are generally linked to changes in a person’s appearance, activity, status, roles and relationships, as well as associated changes in use of physical and social space, and/or changing contact with cultural beliefs, discourses and practices, especially where these are linked to changes of setting and in some cases dominant language. They often involve significant psychosocial and cultural 1 In 2005, General Comment 7 arose out of the Committee of the Rights of the Child’s concern about the lack of information being offered about early childhood and a perceived need for a discussion on the broader implications of the Convention on the Rights of the Child for young children. Through General Comment 7, the Committee wishes to encourage recognition that young children are holders of all rights enshrined in the Convention and that early childhood is a critical period for the realisation of these rights.
adjustments with cognitive, social and emotional dimensions, depending on the nature and causes of the transition, the vulnerability or resilience of those affected and the degrees of change and continuity of experiences involved. In practice, transition concepts are often used in much more differentiated and specific ways, for example, in terms of vertical and horizontal ‘passages’ (Kagan and Neuman, 1998: 366). Vertical transitions may be thought of as key changes from one state or status to another, often associated with ‘upward’ shifts (e.g.,, from kindergarten to primary school; from primary to secondary school, etc.). General Comment 7 as well as most research conducted within the field of education studies is primarily concerned with the kinds of vertical shifts produced within the context of formal schooling. Indeed, in many secularised societies...
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