Starting Childcare Before Three: Narratives of Experience From a Tri-Partite Focus
This thesis explores the event of starting childcare as experienced by five under-three year old children, their mothers and at least one teacher in the childcare centre attended by each child. Narrative accounts of the adults' experiences were gathered through journal records kept by the mothers and the teachers, and during two semi-structured interviews. The children's experiences were recorded through non-participant observation fieldnotes and video-taped records of three events during each orientation visit by the children and their mothers to the childcare centre, and once weekly for the following six weeks. Narratives of experiences were re-constructed from these data using a combination of methods from grounded theory, narrative enquiry and deconstuctivist analysis. The tri-partite focus of this thesis reveals the experience of starting childcare as an emotional one for all participants, not just for children; it argues that the traditional research focus on the emotional significance of this event for children is an incomplete one. Additionally, starting childcare was an experience of induction: through processes of social canalization and guided participation, the mothers and the children were inducted into the ways of the childcare centre by the teachers and the established children in the centre. Deconstuctivist analyses of the adult participants' narrative accounts suggested that both mothers and teachers defined their roles in the children's experience of starting childcare, and their relationships with each other and with the children, against the background of dominant discourses about motherhood and early childhood teaching. For teachers this meant that they expressed their role as subsidiary to that of the mother. The paradox emerged that while teachers saw themselves as less powerful than the mothers in influencing the children's starting childcare experience, the observational data revealed that the teachers' actions determined the way children were 'canalized' into the expected ways of relating to them. Theoretical statements emerged from this study which point to new directions for how the event of starting childcare may be conceptualised in the context of shared care between home adults and early childhood teachers. Implications for enhancing the experience of starting childcare are highlighted.