Rimm-Kaufman, S. & Pianta, R. (2000). An ecological perspective on the transition to kindergarten: A theoretical framework to guide empirical research. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 21(5), 491-511.
The transition into kindergarten signifies a very import step in the lives of young children and their families. Although many children in the United States attend various types of preschool programs, the transition into formal schooling is a big step for children that have never had preschool experience as well as for children that have had the opportunity to engage in a preschool program. Rimm-Kaufman, Pianta (2000), conceptualizes the importance of transition programs or activities in the year prior to kindergarten, and offers an approach to these activities that focuses on an ecological perspective. This approach included three main areas of focus. First, a focus on relationships between children and their environment, such as schools, peers, families and neighborhoods (Rimm-Kaufman & Pianta 2000). Second, measures of school readiness need to take into consideration the effects that these relationships have on the child. Third, Rimm-Kaufman & Pianta (2000) discuss the importance of examining on how these relationships changes over time and have an effect on the child and their transition success.
There has always been a research interest in the process of children transitioning from home or preschool into formal schooling, but the popularity of this topic has increased even more in the educational research field in the last 10 years due to the dynamic nature of our current educational system as well as the changing landscape of our family structures.
The expectations for early learners are continuously changing, increasing, and developing as mandates from federal and state policy makers are implemented to try to raise the bar for educators and their students. Along with demands for higher level of academic performance, kindergarten students also have many social-emotional adjustments to make during this transition year. Independence from their parents, being alert and attentive for five hours a day in school, and transitioning from mostly parent – child relationships, to forming and maintaining relationships with their peers are all significant social-emotional adjustments (Rimm-Kayfman, Pianta, 2000.
Other factors that promote the popularity of research in this area of education are the increased number of children between the ages of 4-7 in our country. The United States has shown a two-fold increase in the population of preschool age children from 1973-1993. Changes in family dynamics are also factors that warrant research in this area. There are many more families now than a decade ago that have single parent households or both parents working when they have small children. Also, there is growing population of children that are subject to the consequences of welfare reform and are experiencing more stressful home lives (Rimm-Kayfman, Pianta, 2000).
With all of these factors taken into consideration, it is clear to see that educational systems need to create educational reform that includes a comprehensive program that takes into consideration all of these risk factors as preschoolers transition into formal schooling. The goal of new research would be to help students begin their kindergarten year with as much support as possible given their family dynamics and experiences prior to kindergarten to set them up for success.
The authors noted that with all of these changes, the way this transition process is studied is evolving. This evolution has everything to do with the increasingly complex family dynamic and other societal factors.
When researchers first began to look at the transition period into kindergarten, they often focused on child characteristics. In other words, they focused on gender, behavior, ethnicity, etc. More popular now is the idea that there are far more impacting elements in a child’s life that can have an effect on the success of their transition into kindergarten. Researchers now are focusing on societal influences, such as programs to help the child transition, such as meet the teacher or hello parties, quality of preschool experiences, and interactions between the parents and the child as well as parents and the teacher (Rimm-Kayfman, Pianta, 2000). The authors argued that the approach to looking at what determines the success of transitioning into kindergarten is complex and should take on a more ecological approach. An ecological approach can be best understood as looking at persons, families, cultures, communities, and policies and to identify what the effects are on the child.
All of these factors can help researchers conduct research to better inform policy makers and school districts not only on the importance of preschool to kindergarten transition programs, but also help develop them so that they are created for the specific needs of the community they service.