Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Faculty of Education


The perspectives of boys on their experience in school during kindergarten have not been explored in any significant way. Still missing in the literature is critical interpretive research on young, male children’s early schooling experiences and the implications for the academic outcomes of these students. There is evidence that some boys do not perform well in secondary school (West, 1999; Coulter, 2003; Martin, 2003) and this is predictable as early as the first year of formal schooling (Barrett, 1989; Alexander et el., 1993; Rimm-Kaufmann & Pianta 2000). This study adds to the literature by seeking the views of boys in kindergarten classes about what schooling means to them.

A goal of this study is to understand the complex world of the lived experience of being a boy in kindergarten, from the point of view of boys who live it (Schwandt, 1998) so a qualitative, interpretive approach to the subject matter is used. Uncommon in other studies of young children, the hermeneutic phenomenological perspective of the philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer (2004) and a process of analysis proposed by Max van Manen (1990) provide the framework, using a mixed methodology derived from diverse sources. Data is generated primarily by conducting individual semi-structured interviews with fourteen boys in kindergarten classes in three schools in New South Wales. This data is interspersed with excerpts from the researcher’s retrospective reflective journal covering more than forty years of teaching. In keeping with the philosophical stance of Gadamer, these statements help to illuminate the personal position and bias of the researcher. Field notes that evaluate the processes and the techniques used to collect information from young children, supplement the primary data.

Interpretation of the transcripts generated by conversations with the participants shows school routines and rules figure prominently in the boys’ views of school life, and play and friends, are important features of the school day. The boys say learning is work, and it is generally conducted using a pencil and paper. This study contributes to research on what school means to young boys and what factors engage or alienate young male students in school. It demonstrates links between these views and current education policy and classroom practice.

The study provides insights into the effectiveness of various research techniques used with young children. Three scaffolding techniques were used to support the interview process, including the boys drawing a picture of school life and talking about their drawing, looking at pictures of typical school activities and commenting on those, and playing a game of ‘schools’ with the researcher using the construction toy, Lego. The study found that talking to the boys in an engaged and supportive way generated more useful data than any of the other strategies or scaffolds used. The study adds evidence to the growing body of literature that suggests children are competent in providing information about issues that are relevant to them. Future research, using a hermeneutical phenomenological approach, could include girls in Kindergarten, in order to compare and contrast their experiences with their male counterparts, and contribute to unravelling further what makes school engaging for some students, and alienating for others.

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