14 SES 07 B, Parent Engagement in Schools and Communities (Young Children)
Prior research on children’s transition to primary school has emphasised the importance of positive connections between the school and home to support children’s adjustment to primary school (Galindo & Sheldon, 2012). Informed by ecological systems perspectives, family-school connectivity is a lens through which researchers, practitioners, and policymakers can understand how schools and families can create positive interactions and linkages to support children’s learning and engagement throughout their school career. Family-school connectivity is defined as the intersection between the ecologies of the home and school that influence children’s acquisition of school-related skills and facilitates valuable communication and socialisation practices necessary to promote children’s success in school (Serpell & Mashburn, 2011). Family-school connectivity can be studied as the quality of the relationship and quantity of contacts between families and schools through the systems put in place by schools. These systems provide opportunities for parents and teachers to develop a bidirectional relationship in order to contribute to children’s learning and development (Serpell & Mashburn, 2011).
The complexity and multiple interacting systems during the preschool to primary transition period lends itself well to an in-depth analysis of human experience during transition. Prior literature has acknowledged a gap in understanding parents’ lived experience when their child is transitioning to primary school from preschool (Connolly & Gersch, 2016). Therefore, the current study uses an interpretative phenomenological analytic (IPA) approach to build upon existing literature on family-school connectivity and examine parent perceptions of elements of family-school connections during their child’s transition to primary school in the Irish context. The current study specifically explored parents’ experience of family-school connectivity in Ireland during the transition to primary school through two research questions. Two research questions guided the study methods: (1) what are parents’ experiences of family-school connectivity within Irish primary schools during the transition to primary school?, and (2) how does family-school connectivity influence parents’ management of their experiences during their child’s transition to primary school?
This study was part of a broader study, the Children’s School Lives (CSL) national longitudinal study of Irish primary schooling (Devine et al., 2020). A qualitative, interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) approach was used in order to provide an in-depth investigation of mothers’ experiences of the transition to primary school from preschool. In line with IPA methodology, a small, homogenous sample of mothers was recruited in order to ensure the interview questions were meaningful to participants and the data was relevant to the phenomena under review (Connolly & Gersch, 2016; Pietkiewicz & Smith, 2014; Smith et al., 1999). Furthermore, this allowed for a rich analysis of psychological similarities and differences within a group that was been defined as similar (Pietkiewicz & Smith, 2014). Data was collected from five mothers of children in their first year of formal schooling (Junior Infants, equivalent to Kindergarten), living in middle class, urban areas in Ireland. The mothers’ children had participated in a sub-study (the CSL preschool transition study) and had started primary school by September 2019. Of these five mothers, three were mothers to boys, and two were mothers to girls. Children ranged in age from four years and ten months to five years of age, and attended three separate primary schools (two all-boys’ schools and one all-girls’ school). Data were collected through audio-recorded semi-structured interviews with the five mothers. Four interviews took place on the phone and one took place in person. The interview schedule consisted of thirty-two questions, and each interview lasted approximately forty minutes to one hour depending on how much each participant had to say. The semi-structured nature of the interview was used to prompt the conversation and to focus the direction of the participants' reflection and conversation with the interviewer. The interviews were not conducted in a strict question and answer format. The same interview schedule was used with each participant; however, a strict protocol was not followed by the interviewer as some questions may have been elaborated on while others were not relevant to certain participants. Interview questions were reviewed by multiple researchers before interviews were conducted.
Findings indicate that overall, mothers spoke positively about their experience of family-school connectivity during their child’s transition to primary school. Mothers spoke of a high level of trust in their child’s teacher and her abilities and were confident that they would be contacted if there was a problem or issue. Mothers also believed that teachers partnered with them to engage in their child’s learning and work out any academic or behavioural issues their child might have experienced. However, there were mixed experiences of the opportunities to contact teachers, school policies surrounding parent-school connectivity, and experiences of transitions activities held by the schools.
Galindo, C. & Sheldon, S. (2012). School and home connections and children’s kindergarten achievement gains: The mediating role of family involvement. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 27, 90-103. doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2011.05.004 Serpell, Z. & Mashburn, A., (2012). Family–School Connectedness and Children’s Early Social Development. Social Development, 21(1), 21-46. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9507.2011.00623.x Connolly, M., & Gersch, I. (2016). Experiences of parents whose children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are starting primary school. Educational Psychology in Practice, 32(3), 245–261. https://doi.org/10.1080/02667363.2016.1169512 Devine, D.; Symonds, J., Sloan, S., Cahoon, A., Crean, M., Farrell, E., Davies, A., Blue, T. & Hogan, J. (2020). Children’s School Lives: An Introduction, Report. No.1, University College Dublin. Available at: https://cslstudy.ie/news/ Pietkiewicz, I., & Smith, J.A. (2014 )A Practical Guide to Using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis in Qualitative Research Psychology. Psychological Journal, 20, 1, 7-14. Smith, J.A., Jarman, M. & Osborn, M. (1999). Doing interpretative phenomenological analysis. In Murray, M. and Chamberlain, K. (Eds.), Qualitative Health Psychology: Theories and Methods, Sage: London, 218-241.
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