Transitions in early childhood education

Dunlop, Aline-Wendy; (2018) Transitions in early childhood education. In: Oxford Bibliographies. Oxford University Press, Oxford. (

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Transitions are ubiquitous: they start as our lives begin and we all experience them as we travel the life-course. In the context of early childhood (UN Convention on the Rights of the Children, UNCRC: 0–8) the single transition that has attracted the most attention has been the transition to school. In today’s society children have often experienced many changes before reaching this moment of school start: in educational and academic circles these changes are often described as transitions and so it is essential that the term “transition” is defined. The child does not function in isolation from family or community and models held of children influence approaches to their early learning and childcare. It is therefore important to address the nature of transition and the ways in which transitions in life may affect transitions in early childhood education and vice-versa. A range of issues challenges definition of transition: it is suggested here that these issues have become more complex over the historical time in which transitions have been studied. It may be argued that there has been considerable consensus over the years about what may matter in early childhood educational transitions, but this is no longer without debate or challenge. The contested issues are frequently presented in a dichotomous way. Transitions may be single or multiple; continuous or discontinuous; suggest readiness or lack of it; highlight resilience or vulnerability; imply agency or lack of control; be visible or silenced; rest on a developmental or a sociocultural model; may infer that the child should be the site of change or conversely that the system should change to accommodate the child. Multiple perspectives are called for as the child in transition is variously understood in the context of family, relationships, identities, culture, services, and community. For a considerable time Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory was the most commonly invoked conceptual framework for the study of transitions in early education. Now other theoretical sources are being used: researchers draw on, for example, anthropology, educational theory, creativity, philosophy, and psychology and consequently new approaches and paradigms are developing. Transition in early childhood education has become a field of study in its own right. Findings of transition studies argue for acknowledgement of young children’s experience before, during, and after any time of transition and illustrate the many ways in which current systems shape children’s experiences. The understanding generated by research into early childhood educational transitions and the processes involved, must reach into policy and practices: a job done very well by many of the authors cited in this article.


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