Co-Constructing the Transition to School
Research on the impact of parental involvement with children’s teachers and teachers’ attempts to show parents how they can help their children make an easy and successful tran- sition to school fall into this category (Berger, 1995; Comer, 1993; Gelfer, 1991; Honig, 1979; Leeper, Witherspoon, & Day, 1984; Mangione & Speth, 1998; Pianta, Cox, Taylor, & Early, 1999; Read, Gardner, & Mahler, 1993; Swick, 1992). An alternative approach to home–school links is one that focuses on aspects of the home environment that make the transition to school more or less easy (Bradley, 1995; Christian, Morrison, & Bryant, 1998; Clarke & Kurtz-Costes, 1997; Parker, Boak, Griffin, Ripple, & Peay, 1999). This is the ap- proach adopted by Philip and Carolyn Cowan and their colleagues (Cowan, Cowan, Ablow, Johnson, & Measelle, 2005).
Cowan et al.’s study of 100 children and their two-parent families began in the year prior to kindergarten entry and followed the children through the first 2 years of school, us- ing a five-domain model (individual psychological adjustment; family relationships, both with the child and as a couple; the ways in which the parents themselves had been raised; and stresses and supports outside the family) to explain the children’s successful adaptation to school. The research also involved an intervention component that attempted to alleviate risk factors (“unresolved marital conflict [and] ineffective parenting”; Cowan et al., 2005, p. 14) that might make adaptation to school more difficult. As the authors point out, there is a glar- ing need for longitudinal studies that deal with the transition to school from the perspective of the home, rather than that of the school, and their research does a fine job in showing clear links connecting children’s adaptation to school with such household dynamics as authorita- tive parenting, children’s autonom , the quality of the parents’ relationship (both with one another and with their children), and the children’s perceptions of those relationships. A ma- jor weakness of this research is that the sample is overwhelmingly White (84%) and relatively wealthy (79% above the median family income in the area from which the participants were drawn [the San Francisco Bay area]).
The goal of this chapter is to examine children’s transition to school from a broader perspective than those listed above by framing this developmental transition as a cultural process. To understand the links between children’s experiences in the years before they go to school and their transition to school, it makes most sense to take a cultural perspective, given that culture is powerfully implicated in (among many other things) the types of set- tings that are made available to children, the experiences the children have in those settings, the types of interactions that are encouraged and discouraged, and beliefs about what count as competent behavior habits. This argument is one that is rooted in theory, particularly the contextualist theories of Lev Vygotsky and Urie Bronfenbrenner.
As we have written elsewhere (Tudge, Doucet, & Hayes, 2001; Tudge & Hogan, 2005), con- textualist theories take an interactionist and ecological view of human development, paying particular attention to everyday activities that are influenced both by characteristics of the in- dividuals involved and the context (proximal and distal) in which those activities are taking place (see Goldhaber, 2000; Pepper, 1942). Bronfenbrenner’s theory (Bronfenbrenner, 1989, 1993, 1995, 1999; Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998) illustrates this nicely; at the center of this theory are proximal processes, the regularly occurring activities and interactions with other people, objects, and symbols in the developing individual’s environment. For Bronfenbrenner,