Education and children’s schooling can be said to be a place where time, and especially the future, is present. This is a consequence of how education is organized, and is partly due to the fact that the purpose of education is change. This makes expectations of the future an important part of schooling and of transitions in and between types of schooling. The aim of this presentation is to understand what expectations children express about the future in preschool class and how these expectations are used when children make sense of preschool class and the transitions to and from preschool class. The point of departure is to study how socializing activities contributes to transition, and to show how children act and shape their own and each other’s everyday-life (James, Jenks and Prout, 1998) in the preschool class.
Preschool class is a voluntary type of schooling that Swedish children attend the year they turn six, between preschool and compulsory school. It is a type of schooling with a specific assignment to work with children’s transitions. The Swedish National Agency for Education (2014) stresses that this must be connected both to what children should be prepared for (compulsory school) but also to their past experiences (preschool). In an institution with such a clear preparatory mission, it is important to understand ideas about the future and the past and how these ideas are used in the everyday work with transitions.
In a previous study Lago (2015) has demonstrated how temporal aspects, such as the future, is an important part of children’s schooling and that future and other temporal aspects are used by the children to create meanings about the specific context of preschool class. Future and change were present throughout the transition process. In this presentation this is studied further by using the concepts of socialization and anticipatory socialization to understand what expectations children have of the future and how these expectations is connected to past experiences and used by children to shapes activities in preschool class. To analyse transition an interpretive approach to socialization is used where socialization can be described as processes through which people understands and give meaning to their social contexts. The focus is on how they gain knowledge about norms of conduct and how they negotiate, as well as adapt to such norms (Corsaro 2005; Gaskins, Miller & Corsaro 1992). The specific activities that contribute to socialization are analysed, and the focus is on how socialization is done rather than on the result of socialization (Wentworth 1980). The notion of anticipatory socialization except this also includes how people adjust their conducts to expectations of the future (Corsaro & Molinari 2005; Wærdahl 2005) and how such expectations are connected to social practice and the expectations of others. The concepts of future orientation and children as “becoming” are also used to analyse the progression of school and transition (Adam, 1995; Hockey & James 1993).
Methods: To study the transition process, ethnographic methods were used, mostly participant observations and interviews, while following a group of children during their transition from preschool class to first grade. This presentation primarily draws on the interview material since children’s expectations and experiences are in focus, but observed situations of how the children talked about their expectations with each other and their teachers are also used. With ethnographic methods come ethical considerations due to the closeness of the method and research with children. It is important to be sensitive to what the participants express and to the imbalance of power between researcher and participant as well as between adult and child. The closeness is, thus, crucial for an ethnographic approach, since it leads to a better understanding of, for example, how the processes of giving meaning to transitions is done and allows for thick descriptions of the field.
Results: Being a preschool class child, having been a preschool child, becoming a first grader and doing transitions is not a matter of conforming to already existing contexts. Instead, the transition can be said to concern the creation and re-creation of social practices. Because the transition between preschool class and first grade was marked in different ways, transition became something that must be made sense of. The future and expectations as well as the past and experience become a part of this meaning-making. In the transition children expressed different expectations of how school could or should be like. The results show that although the children expressed excitement about starting school they also talked about school as difficult and boring. When interacting with the children, the teachers more often reinforced negative ideas than they draw on children’s excitement for school. This meant that the future in school was more often constructed as something difficult and boring which also reflected in the children’s ways of dealing the transition from preschool class to school. In line with this preschool was talked about as easier and more fun than preschool class. The children constructed a picture of a schooling that was constantly becoming more difficult and boring.
The construction of the transition to and from preschool class is thus related to what school is and what it is expected to be. Understandings of children’s expectations are important to be able to work with children doing transition. Knowledge about children’s overall expectations of school is important to be able to work with negative expectations and reinforce children’s positive expectations since this may affect long-term results and attitudes towards education.
Paper presented at Petite Enfance Transitions et Socialisations, 13-14 November 2015, Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, Métro Arts et Métiers, Vendredi, Paris, France