Grant holder
Veronica Read, University of Roehampton
Project status
In Progress

A study analysing the lived experiences of children, parents and practitioners on the threshold of nursery, concerning the nature of saying farewell, with specific reference to the two-year-old early education entitlement.

Project summary

This doctoral study describes the lived experience of what is often referred to as the nursery ‘drop off’, regarding it as an opportunity to learn and explain the phenomena afresh in an authentic and innovative manner.

The aim of the study is to analyse the nature of what passes between young children and adults at significant threshold moments in their lives. It proposes that the goodbye narratives, as told by those involved in daily transitions between the family home and childcare settings might be an under-used source of knowledge, worthy of further consideration, as indicated through previous narratives of parents who have felt marginalised during settling in processes at nursery (Hughes and Read 2012).

The experience of saying goodbye might be felt in the early weeks by some children and their carers as intense, acute, short lived episodes of profound daily distress. This study follows a group of nine children who are two -years -old, their parents, and key staff during their first month at three respective nurseries. Adults tasked with the ability to begin where each child is and not where national drivers say they ought to be, require an attitude of respect and interest in young children’s experiences during these early separations. The research focuses on the lived experiences of young children and adults shaped by the networks of relationships which bind them together through the farewell process.

The study proposes there might be more to these experience of goodbye than meets the eye. This research offers a contribution to the area of developing compassionate paradigms (Taggart 2016) and contextually sensitive practice which values and places children at the heart of all social processes which affect them and respects their contribution as participants in change. Furthermore, it investigates whether parental knowledge is equitable with professional pedagogy (Hughes and MacNaughton 2000) and whether the narratives gathered at both an individual level and group level reveal any common preoccupations for participants concerning early separation processes. This study offers the potential for transitions to be hybrid spaces where pedagogical practice is subject to reflection and listening, and attentive to very young children’s congruent states of being both ‘competent and vulnerable’ (Kalliala 2004).

Research design

In a Froebelian spirit of respect and interest in each child as unique, the research uses an Adapted Tavistock Observational Method (ATOM) (Elfer 2017) intent on reflecting a deep involvement in the experience of the child through the process of feeling, hearing, and seeing what the experience might be like for those involved. The research focuses primarily on the engagement between adults and children and will emphasise the Frobelian principle of ‘the right of children to protection from harm, or abuse and of the promotion of their overall well-being’.

The research will use a Foulkesian group analytic lens, namely the idea that there are multiple communications occurring within the open system of the nursery context at any one time. This concept of a matrix of connections relating to interconnectedness has dictated the range and variety of data to be captured and the research questions:

  • What do observations reveal about children’s arrival at nursery?
  • How do children express their feelings about coming to and settling into nursery?
  • What do parents tell us about their experiences of separation from their children?
  • How do practitioners understand their role in the transitional process from home to nursery?
  • How do practitioners talk together about children arriving and going home?

A final report is due in 2024.