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The System of Rites of Passage to Adulthood

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Young children are bound to experience several transitions during their childhood. The early years mark the beginning of these shifts in children’s lives and thus call for sensitive and strategic management of these transition periods by the key actors. As a prospective early years educator, you are required to critically reflect on how different transitions are experienced by children and their families, the impact they have on their development and learning, and the role that the home, the school and society play in facilitating smoother and healthier transition phases.

Disclaimer: When talking about person experiences, pseudonyms were used to keep the anonymity of the children involved in the situation.

Transitions are defined as important events and/or processes that happen during particular periods and turning points during life. Usually, they are associated with change in a person’s appearance, activity, status, roles and relationships, as well as associated changes in use of physical and social space, and/or change contact with cultural beliefs, discourse and practices, especially where there are linked to changes of setting and in some cases dominant language”.

Transitions include important psychosocial and cultural changes with cognitive, social and emotional dimensions. These are dependent on “the nature and causes of the transitions, the vulnerability or resilience of those affected and the degree of change and continuity of experiences involved”.

Rites of passage

The term rites of passage was developed by anthropologist Arnold van Gennep. Van Gennep explored ceremonial milestones which marks a person’s life and which influence their identity – from childbirth to puberty, marriage, parenthood and death. He also explored seasonal celebrations such as Christmas, Easter and harvest amongst others.

In these rites, van Gennep identifies three stages/phases – separation, liminality and reaggregation/incorporation. Separation occurs when an individual or group is dissociated from their former lives and identities. Liminality refers to the period in between two states – the one when he disassociates with former lives ad identities and the one where he enters a new state i.e. reaggregation. In incorporation, the individual or group is readmitted into society with their new status. When experiencing transitions, children leave behind their sense of identity. In the new place/situation, they start experiencing new things, come face-to-face with new physical, social and behavioural changes and experience new challenges and new expectations.

Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory

Urie Bronfenbrenner defines children’s entry to school as an ecological transition. Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems theory looks at children’s development “within the context of a system of relationships that form his or her environment”.  Bronfenbrenner defines complex layers of the environment. Each layer of the environment has an effect on children’s development. The interactions children have with their family/community and societal landscape helps in their development. Any changes in one of the layers will affect the other layers. The layers/ environmental structures are the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem and chronosystem.  

The microsystem is the layer closest to the child. It contains the structures which the child has direct contact with.  It involves the relationships and interactions children have with their immediate surroundings. These structures include the family, school, neighbourhood and childcare environment. There is a bi-directional influence as the child can affect the way the environment behaves and vice versa. These relationships have the greatest impact on a child.   

The mesosystem is a layer that provides the link between the structures of children’s microsystem. Some examples include the child’s relationship with his/her teachers, church etc.  The exosystem is the larger social system.  The structures in this layer have an impact on children’s development through interactions with some of the structures in the microsystem. An example is the parent’s work place. Even though the child is not directly involved in this level, any positive or negative things that happen affect the child.  

The macrosystem is the outermost layer in children’s environment. This layer is made up of cultural values, customs and laws. Any changes in the macrosystem has an effect on the other layers.  The chronosystem includes the dimension of time in relation to the children’s environments. The elements within this system can be internal – physiological changes as the child gets older, or external – death in the family.  As the child gets older, s/he will react differently to the changes in the environment.  Any changes within any one of these systems can influence how children experience a transition. This theory

Bourdieu’s social theory

In his theory, Bourdieu argues that cultural capital is the foundation of social life. His concept of cultural capital denotes to a repertoire of symbolic elements. Some of which can skills, tastes, clothing, material belongings, mannerism and posture amongst others. These are gathered by being part of a society/social class. “Sharing similar form of cultural capital with others … creates a sense of collective identity and group position”. Pierre Bourdieu also talks about Habitus. This include the physical embodiment of cultural capital i.e. habits, skills and disposition that one gain through experiencing life. Habitus also explains a person’s personal taste for cultural objects like clothing, food and arts amongst others. All these characteristics influence whether children experience a transition in a positive way or a negative way.

Transitions experienced by children bourdieu and cultural capital

Through the early years of life, children experience a number of transitions. From the day they are born, children start experiencing a number of physical transitions such as from drinking milk to liquidized food to solid food, from laying down to sitting up to crawling to walking to running, from wearing a nappy to potty training amongst others. Another main transition that children experience is starting a nursey, childcare, preschool and eventually school.

Children may also experience other transitions such as moving from one country to another or from one locality to another. This may result in having children move schools. Sickness or hospitalization in the family is also a transition that children experience as this can cause major changes in their lives. Financial problems in the family and a change in the parents’/guardians’ professional careers also causes a transition for children as they might have to attend before school or after school clubs. Abuse or neglect can cause children having to change their living situation which is quite a big transition for children.

The birth and the death of a family member is also a transition that children may experience. During last years’ teaching practice experience, Eva had just lost her father. This was quite a difficult transition for her as she was quite close to her father. Her mother helped Eva with this transition by trying to keep the memory of her father alive. In her school bag, she had a photo of her father to help her remember him. Eva’s mother also took her to see a therapist as well to help her to deal with the situation. At first, Eva found the memory of her father quite difficult at first but after a while, it became a bit easier to talk to him.

Change in family structure is a major transition child may experience. In my experience with children Julia and Ben used to stay for after school hours for just half an hour until their father picked them up from school. Since last summer, their father cannot legally see his children without their mother being present and he can no longer pick his children up from school. Due to this situation, Julia and Ben are dropped off at Breakfast club at seven in the morning and they have to stay at Klabb 3-16 either until 3:30 in the afternoon when their grandmother picks them up after work or till 6 in the evening when their mother picks them up.

Other transition that children experience is the change of an educator or caregivers. Throughout my experience with children, I have experienced this transition, children have to go from having their KGEs carry out their activities to having me be the main educator in the classroom. I think that children found this transition quite hard especially when the teaching practice was during the beginning of the year. Children tended to be more challenging at first (until they got used to me being in class). Throughout the whole experience, children still asked for their KGE – Where she is? Why did she go out of class? What was she doing? amongst others.

One of the main transition children experience is the morning transition when all of the family is preparing to go to work or school. In this case study, the Sanchez family is preparing to go to school. This family consists of a 6-month-old boy, Arturo; 3 year old twin brothers, Ricardo and Raymond; and mother, Renya. The twins have just been enrolled to Las Cruces Head Start centre-based program. Ricardo and Raymond are getting dressed to go to school and Raymond cannot find his shoes. Arturo was given a book and put on a blanket until the mother helps him find the book. However, Artur wants his mother’s attention so he falls, starting kicking and crying loudly. Once they found Raymond’s shoes, the mother ties the boys’ shoes and kisses them goodbye. Ricardo does not want to go to school and clings to his mother’s leg. Renya assures him that Maria will be taking them to school and she will be picking them after lunch. The twins leave the house and the mother goes to give Arturo breakfast and change his diaper.

In this difficult morning transition, the children are learning how to express their feeling and needs through their behaviour. Children need ongoing support from adults to help them manage their feelings, impulses and attention. Having clear knowledge about how children develop would help adults to better understand what children are feeling “during transition and set reachable expectation based on their developmental stage”. How prepared children are to experience theses different transitions – physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively amongst other domains will determine how children will experience the different transitions they do through every day.

Vertical and horizontal transitions

These transitions that children experience may be classified into two – vertical and horizontal transitions. Vertical transitions include key changes from one status to another, often associated with ‘upwards’ shifts. An example of this can be when children change grades/schools examples from kindergarten to primary schools and from Grade 3 to Grade 4. Horizontal transitions happen on a daily basis. Many children experience a number of transitions on a daily basis such as going to from home to school and back home. They often have a number of activity/events between school and home. In recent years, children’s horizontal transitions have increased as most children are going to a program before school and an afternoon program after school. When going to such before school or after school clubs, children may be moving from a homogenous group (all the same age) to a heterogenous group (having mixed ages in the same class). This implies that children encounter at least two different social systems besides their families and friends in a school day. Children have to adjust to the different situations their encounter every time.

Factors influencing transitions

There are four main levels that influence transitions – personal level, interactional level, contextual level and socio-cultural level. A persons’ individual traits and characteristics influence children in their transitions. Such traits include how resilient the child is, how perseverant the child is, the child’s attitude towards school, whether the child is an introvert or an extrovert amongst other. The child’s social competences such as their ability to play, listen, take turns amongst others also influence the transition the child experience. If children are not developmentally ready to experience transitions, they will experience a difficult transition. Vertical and Horizontal Transitions

Interactional level that influence transitions include the parents’ attitude towards school and learning. If the parents/guardians have a positive attitude towards starting school or learning, the child will view school in a positive way. If parents/guardians view school and learning in a negative wat, the child may view school negatively. The same goes with sibling. How a child’s siblings view school may influence how the child views school. Having positive relationships in the classroom, both with peers and the educators will help child’s transition into school.

The contextual level that influence transitions include any transition activities that the school organizes. Communication between the school and the family members before the children enter the school and once the children enter the school also influence the children’s transition. Cooperation between the parents, the school and the community can also influence how the child experience the transition.

In the socio-cultural level include the school’s disposition of celebrating the children’s different diversity. If the school does not celebrate children’s different cultures and diversity, children may experience a difficult transition. How capable the school is in catering to different ethnic groups and lingual minorities will also influence the transition children will experience.

Throughout their lives, children experience vertical and horizontal transitions. Vertical transitions include key changes from one status to another, often associated with ‘upwards’ shifts . An example of this can be when children change grades/schools examples form kindergarten to primary schools and from Grade 3 to Grade 4. Horizontal transitions happen on a daily basis. . Many children experience a number of transitions on a daily basis such as going to from home to school and back home. They often have a number of activity/events between school and home. In recent years, children’s horizontal transitions have increased as most children are going to a program before school and an afternoon program after school. This implies that children encounter at least two different social systems besides their families and friends in a school day. Children have to adjust to the different situations their encounter every time .

School readiness model

School readiness is defined by three interconnected dimensions, how ready children are for school, how ready school are for children and how ready the families are for school. “Children, schools and families are considered ready when they have gained the competencies and skills required to interface with other dimensions and support smooth transitions”.

The first dimension – ready children, focuses on their development and learning. This dimension refers to what children are expected to know and are capable of doing to enter school ready and eager to learn, thus enabling a successful transition. To schools, success refers to knowledge in literacy, numeracy, following directions, working with peers and engaging in different activities. These abilities are related across different domains of learning – “physical well-being, motor development; social and emotional development; approaches to learning; language development; cognition and general knowledge; spiritual and moral development; appreciation for diversity and national pride”.

The second dimension ‘ready schools’, focuses on the school itself. This dimension is divided into two – strategies that the school uses to foster and support smooth transitions; and promoting learning to all the children. Schools which are ready to accept children and create a smooth transition, creating continuity of experience between different experiences children have example early year to primary school. This includes quality of school environment i.e. enough time allocated to learning; good and appropriate supply of books and teaching; effective pedagogical practices, teaching and competencies.

The ‘ready family’ dimension main focus is on the attitude of the parents’ and caregivers’ attitudes in their child’s learning, development and transitions to school. Support from parents/caregivers and home environments which are stimulating for children which will help them in school. “Parents’ educational goals, beliefs, attitudes and commitment are considered crucial for school success”.

Policy and procedures on transitions

To make sure that children experience smooth transitions, one must make sure that there is continuity of experiences for children. Policies, procedures and practices should “promote consistency in key relationships, liaison within and between setting, the keeping and transfer of relevant information (with parental consent) and the close involvement of parents and relevant professionals”. Continuity of experience is also important between one setting and another. This is in relation to learning experiences, relationships and physical differences – some of which include class size and child to adult rations. Having clear policies and procedures will ensure that parents, children, schools and staff all share the same views and same goals to support children in their transitions. A developmentally appropriate curriculum will also make the transition easier for children.

School and educators

The school and the educators need to work together by creating a number of strategies to help make the transition easy for children. A welcoming environment can help ease a transition for children. The educator can organize home visits to get to know the children and understand what they like or dislike. Schools and educators can create a questionnaire and an interview with the parents to get to know the children and their background. With parental consent, prior to entering the school, the educator can visit the child at their previous setting and get the child’s portfolio from the previous setting to get to know the children and their different needs. Visiting their previous setting can help with continuity of experience as one can adopt similarities from the old environment (whether pre-school or home) to the new environment. A home corner can also help to ease the transition as children are constantly reminded of their families and home. Another strategy one can use is to have children get something that reminds them of home such as a toy, blanket, soother, photograph of a family member or pet.

Before the first day, the school can organize an activity for the parents and children. When I was entering year 1, the school I was starting in created an activity day for me and my parents. I remember my mother coming to school with me, meeting me teacher and seeing my class. During this day, the teacher created a number of games to help us make friends with the children in the classroom. I feel like this day really helped me in my transition from my old school to this new school.

Another strategy I saw implemented during one of the teaching practice experience was visiting a Year 1 class with their KGE. The children had a specific day when they visited the Year 1 classes in their school towards the end of Kinder 2. Children spent a few hours in the classroom to get to see what happens in Year 1 and get to understand the procedures that go on in class.

Throughout the year, the parents can be invited in the classroom to help out with different activities. A variety of activities can be created to help children understand the different cultures in the classroom and to help all children feel included in the classroom. Having a good and welcoming environment will make this the transition easier for them. A graduation day can be organised for children when they finish a year and go on to the next. This serves as a rite of passage for them were they celebrate their previous year and start the new one.

Key worker system

To help ease transitions, one can used the key worker system. When using this system, each child and their family is allocated a particular person who is responsible for liaison between the families and children. The key worker can carry out home visits before the child starts attending the school or centre. This can help the key worker assess, understand the needs of the child and their family. The key worker can help support children in their transition to school by working closely with the parents to help the children settle into the centre. It is also important that the key worker understand the cultural differences of the children and knows key words form the child’s main language. Keeping in contact with the family and the child during the beginning and the end of the day. The keyperson should ensure that the horizonal transitions children experience during their daily routines are planned in a sensible way. Key workers can monitor the curriculum available for the child for its depth, relevance for the child and balance. The keyperson is the bridge between home and the school setting.

Similar to the key worker system is the buddy system approach. Each child can be assigned a buddy, can either be a previous friend the child had in a previous setting or a new friend so help ease the transition. These approaches go well with Bowlby’s attachment theory. The child forms a bond with his/her key worker/buddy. They feel safe and secure in their transition which makes the transition easier for them.

Children experience smooth transitions when there is constant communication and discussion between each setting – home, school, children and staff. Sharing information between these setting and having welcoming environments for children and their families will help to create smooth transitions.


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