Transition to Elementary School in Croatia: Examining the Determinants of Children's Early School Adjustment

Transition to Elementary School in Croatia: Examining the Determinants of Children's Early School Adjustment

Ivana Hanzec Marković (Faculty of Croatian Studies, University of Zagreb, Croatia) and Gordana Kuterovac Jagodić (Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb, Croatia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4435-8.ch008
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This chapter presents the results of an empirical study conducted in Croatia examining individual child characteristics (specific cognitive skills and social-emotional competence) and contextual factors (parental involvement in transition and the schools' readiness) as possible determinants of a successful transition to elementary school (i.e., children's early social and academic school adjustment). The results of the study with 417 first-grade students showed that specific cognitive skills were the best predictor of academic adjustment, and also a significant predictor of some social adjustment indicators, while social-emotional competence predicted the student-teacher relationship. Contextual factors showed no significance as predictors or moderators in the model. Patterns of relationships were equal for girls and boys. The chapter offers possible explanations for the study results, along with suggestions for future research and potential practical implications of the obtained results.
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The transition to elementary school is one of the major developmental milestones in a child’s life which requires complex adjustment to new social and academic demands. Successfully meeting these early schooling demands is associated with future adjustment and educational progress (Alexander & Entwisle, 1988; Bowes, Harrison, Sweller, Taylor, & Neilsen-Hewett, 2009). Thus, it is important to explore the determinants of effective school transition and early school adjustment.

According to Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model of development (1979), the child’s development and adjustment, including school adjustment, are the result of the interaction of the child’s characteristics and the environment in which the child develops and interacts. The child’s functioning during and after the transition to the school environment was most often explored in regard to the concept of the child's readiness for school. However, the traditional construct of school readiness is often criticized for giving the largest role solely to the child’s individual abilities and traits (Bohan-Baker & Little, 2002; Čudina Obradović, 2008; Petriwskyj, Thorpe, & Tayler, 2005; Pianta, Rimm-Kaufman, & Cox, 1999; Ramey & Ramey, 1999). Furthermore, a great deal of research on school readiness has not sufficiently recognized the importance of contextual factors in this transition period, although their role is emphasized within Bronfenbrenner’s model of development. Newer approaches therefore emphasize the importance of exploring contextual factors related to both school and family, as well as their interaction, and discussing not only the readiness of the child but also the readiness of parents and the school in the process of school transition (Brooker, 2008; Dunlop & Fabian, 2007; Rimm-Kaufman & Pianta, 2000). Although the importance of the ecological approach is theoretically emphasized, there is a lack of research, especially in Croatia, which simultaneously examines the effects of different individual and contextual factors and their interaction on the child’s school adjustment. Therefore, the aim of this study was to examine if particular individual characteristics of children (cognitive and social-emotional), and characteristics of their family and school contexts during school transition, represent determinants of early social and academic school adjustment, and if these relationships are moderated by the child’s gender.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Parental Involvement in Transition: The means by which parents are provided with information about the school, teachers and the challenges their child is likely to encounter in school. Parental involvement is also enhanced with school practices of supporting parental coping with the stress related to the worries of their child’s future school adjustment.

Social-Emotional Competence: The ability to interact with others, regulate one’s own emotions and behaviour, solve problems, and communicate effectively. Some of those competencies that contribute to the child’s social and academic adjustment to school include self-regulation of emotion and behaviour, communication and conflict resolution skills, persistence, self-esteem, and self-efficacy.

Social School Adjustment: An aspect of school adjustment related to social aspects of school environment including the child establishing close relationships with the teacher and peers. In addition, social school adjustment includes the child’s perceptions of the school environment, affective experience in school, and the engagement in school.

Specific Cognitive Skills: The child’s cognitive skills including memory, numerical, language, and graph-motor skills, attention and general knowledge that are central for the school academic achievement and adjustment.

Ecological Model of Transition: An approach to the construct of school readiness that, in addition to the child’s individual readiness as defined through certain abilities and traits, emphasize the importance of the contextual factors such as parents’ and schools’ readiness in the process of the school transition.

Ready Schools: The series of strategies conducted by schools in order to familiarize the future pupils and their parents with the school context, teachers, practices and procedures and to gather information about incoming children in order to be better prepared for their characteristics and needs.

Academic School Adjustment: An aspect of school adjustment that includes students’ academic achievement as well as skills, attitudes and behaviours that contribute to successfully completing academic requirements, primarily those related to learning and attainment of good grades.

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