časopis pro pedagogiku v souvislostech * journal of education in contexts
Ročník: 2016Volume: 2016
Číslo: 2Issue: 2
Vyšlo: 17. ledna 2017Published: January 17th, 2017
Borbélyová, Diana. Adaptation to the School Enviroment in Early Elementary Education. Paidagogos, [Actualized: 2017-01-17], [Cited: 2017-04-24], 2016, 2, #13. P. . Availiable at: <>


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Adaptation to the School Enviroment in Early Elementary Education

Diana Borbélyová

Abstract: The study deals with the topical issue of school adaptation. It examines the individual aspects of adaptation in early elementary education. Special attention is paid to adaptation problems and their prevention. The aim of the contribution is to provide information about the contemporary approach to the issue and present some strategies which may be applied in practice in order to reduce the incidence of adaptation problems.

Keywords: School adaptation, adaptation problems, adaptation programmes.


The child’s transition from nursery or a family environment to the first grade of elementary school brings about great changes in the child’s life. Starting school totally changes the child’s way of living, which also involves a change in the child’s pace of life and daily routine. Play, which has had until now a dominant position, recedes into the background and demanding learning activity comes to the fore. The child has to adjust to new conditions, has to get used to a new environment and has to adopt unconsciously new behavioural patterns, as some of the previous reaction schemes do not work any more in the new environment as effectively as in old ones. These changes may exert excessive strain on the child’s psyche and whole organism and thus influence his/her heath.

School Adaptation and Its Dimensions

Adaptation is usually contemplated from three perspectives, namely in biological, psychological and social contexts. Therefore Korotajeva (2008) specifies individual adaptation aspects which are not isolated and which influence each other: physiological, psychological and social. Physiological adaptation is a process which involves the adaptation of the organism to the change of the external environment: man’s organism has to get accustomed to working under new conditions and a new regime. Adaptation at a social level is termed “adjustment” in professional literature. The social aspect of adaptation involves adjustment to social conditions, therefore sociologists examine adaptation in respect of the acceptance of a social status and social role. From the psychological point of view adaptation means change in sensitivity and research is done into the relationship between an environment and individual or, more precisely, into an individual’s reactions to stimuli. In some recent studies psychological adaptation and social adaptation are examined as a whole under the term “psychosocial” or “socio-psychological” adaptation (Rjumjanceva, 2012; Slezáková, 2012; Aleksandrovna, 2013), since in the process of adaptation psychological and social processes cannot be isolated and adaptation is always conditioned also by psychological factors. From this point of view psychosocial adaptation is considered to be a process of an individual’s active adjustment to conditions in social and psychological environments (Slezáková, Tirpáková, 2006).

Within psychosocial adaptation authors specify school adaptation, which is perceived as a process of an individual’s (pupil’s) active adjustment to the new changed conditions of a social environment, i. e. school. According to Bogomolov (In Saburčev et al., 2013) school adaptation involves a pupil’s adjustment to new educational conditions and social situations, a new daily routine as well as new interpersonal relationships, given requirements and demands. When a child enters a new environment, he/she has to adapt to new requirements and has to adopt new social roles. Therefore specialists agree that the basic condition of adaptation is man’s identification with a social role. Gennadevna (2012) also defines school adaptation as a process in which a pupil adjusts to the new social conditions of the institution, which is connected with the acceptance of new social roles and the development of new social relationships. According to the author, the level of adaptation is therefore the indicator of the stabilisation of the social development of the child’s personality. Soloveva (2012) and Rumjanceva (2012) are of a similar opinion and specify three aspects, or rather forms, of school adaptation:

Children aged six to seven are not yet able to regulate the process of their adaptation. Therefore school and a family environment play a significant role. Teachers and parents act as the primary participants and determinants of the process. For this reason the adaptation process has its specific dimensions, i. e. the child’s adjustment to school, the adjustment of school to the child and the family dimension of adaptation. Regarding the child’s adaptation to school requirements, it is necessary to consider the fact that it is a preschool child that starts school and his/her position of a schoolchild is gradually formed. The child becomes a member of a new social group and gains a certain social status. He/she gradually adopts the role of a schoolchild. For him/her this role is an obligatory, formal and inferior one (Vágnerová, 2001). The adoption of the role of a schoolchild, during which the pupil seeks his/her personal and social identity in a group, has an individual character, since each individual deals with it in a different way. It involves identification with the role of a pupil and fellow pupil. Significant factors in the process of adaptation include the preparedness of schools, teachers’ professional preparedness and, naturally, the teacher’s personality as well. It is necessary to consider the fact that while play at nursery was a means of the development of the child’s personality and the basis of learning activity, in the first grade it usually completely disappears. Therefore it would be good, at least in the first months after starting the first grade, to gradually transfer from play activities to learning activities so that the child experiences a less “shocking” transition. The need to apply play is accentuated also by Vekerdy (2010) who claims that although the child’s school adaptation starts to form at about five years of age, this “corticolisation process”, which is connected with organism maturing, does not finish until the child is seven or eight years old. Based on this it is recommended that the continuity of pre-primary and primary education should be ensured so that the character of classes in the first and second grades is similar to the process of instruction at nursery. According to Slezáková (2012) it is also advisable to eliminate risk factors on the part of schools such as: the teacher’s stressful pedagogical tactic, excessive intensification of the teaching process, inadequate methods and forms, the teacher’s knowledge being insufficient, the teacher’s personality being unsuitable, the teacher’s approach being tactless, lack of the system of work, non-acceptance of age and individual peculiarities, inadequate expectations, humiliating children, etc. Research results showed that in the classes where the teacher was very strict and directive the number of long-term ill children increased three times compared to the classes taught by an agreeable and nice teacher (Bezrukich, Jefimovova, 2001). Naturally, this dimension of adaptation is also influenced by the material technical and spatial conditions such as classroom arrangement, equipment, etc. Equally important determinants also include the planning of educational work and the organisation of educational activities. When starting the first grade, the pupil’s success is largely determined by the pupil’s family environment, his/her parents’ expectations and approach. Particularly close attention needs to be paid to this dimension since the extent to which the child succeeds in his/her role of a pupil largely depends on the preparedness of parents to manage their role – the one of the pupil’s parents. The child’s successful transition to school depends, for the most part, on the quality of the conditions which parents create for their children in their family. Therefore parents’ preparedness becomes a significant factor in adaptation. Chomenko (2007) specifies the following criteria of parents’ preparedness: psychological, pedagogical, social and legal and material preparedness. Lawson and Lawson (1997) highlights the need for parents’ active engagement in the improvement of children’s living space. Rabušicová and Pol (1996) find it important to apply Hornby’s model of parental involvement. However, they point out that parents’ needs and possibilities are differentiated. We agree with Wong (2001), who points out the need for cooperation between schools and parents, which should be initiated by schools in order to ensure a more flexible transition. According to him, nowadays schools are already expected to prepare a set of strategies with regard to the following aspects: health, social contacts, learning skills (habits and routine).

For this reason school adaptation needs to be perceived as a complex issue which is structured and defined by specific components, criteria and indicators (see Figure 1).

Table 1: School Adaptation Structure (according to Solovevova, 2012)

The adaptation process in the first grade of elementary school may be considered to be successfully completed when the pupil achieves mental balance, is composed and gives adequate performance with regard to his/her abilities and is able to successfully apply his/her strategies in the new environment. Good adaptation brings about a feeling of satisfaction and self-confidence in the given environment, in which an individual typically manifests reasonable confidence in people (Darílek, Kusák, 1998). An indicator of successful psychological adaptation is that the child goes to school with pleasure, is in a good mood, likes doing homework, enjoys talking about school events, has a feeling of success and is not withdrawn. Opposite manifestations prove that the child has not adapted yet.

Adaptation Problems

Under normal circumstances the child usually adjusts to a new school life, daily routine and the teacher’s requirements without major problems. However, many children experience adaptation problems, which fact is proved by recent research results (Nemes, 2001; Slezáková, Tirpáková, 2006; Kósáné Ormai, 2012; Masanskaja, Samsonova, 2013). Due to adaptation problems pupils often fail to give a real picture of their personality and they also fail to deliver optimal performance corresponding to their abilities. In this context adaptation reflects the extent to which the child is able to conform to school. Vekerdi (2010) is of the opinion that girls outwardly adapt to a new environment more easily and quickly than boys. He finds it important to focus attention also on the fact that in some cases problems may arise even when the child is seemingly very well adapted. In order to meet requirements at all costs, girls are inclined to adjust intensely, which is to the detriment of their health. Failure to fulfil their own needs together with the suppression of some components of their personality leads, after a certain time, to frustration, which may have a negative impact of children’s health. These children are characterised by having excellent academic results but, in the course of time, they become lonely, introverted, they distance themselves from social activities and conflicts, stop communicating with their surroundings. This is due to the fact that schools accept and “honour” only trouble-free adaptation, good behaviour and good results.

Based on individual personality differences and with regard to the realisation of the school adaptation process, the following levels of adaptability may be defined:

Level 1 – high adaptability: includes children with the highest level of adaptability. The adaptation process lasts no more than two - three months. They are characterised by completing their tasks without major problems, they enjoy school, make contacts with the teacher and classmates quickly and are in a good mood. Naturally, problems may appear at the beginning, but they quickly disappear, most often until the end of October/November.

Level 2 – medium adaptability: encompasses children who need more time for adaptation. These children require closer attention on the part of the teacher and parents. They are characterised by a greater need for play, they are timid, weepy or aggressive. Adaptation takes about half a year, children are mostly adapted by the end of the first term.

Level 3 – low adaptability: these children experience great difficulty in adjusting to the new role of a pupil and fellow pupil. Problems persist also in the second term. They usually disappear in the second term, but in most cases professional help is needed. Ideally, these children should be dealt with individually. The way these children behave and experience things is marked by negative manifestations.

Level 4 – maladaptation: the child is not able to adapt to changed conditions and fails to cope with strain. Professional help is needed (Vilčinskaja, 2000; Slezáková, 2012).

Maladaptation (inability to adapt) is termed social inadaptability by Kósáné Ormai (2012) and is characterised by the child’s failure to manage strain and adapt to the changed conditions of the environment. This is due to discrepancy between the pupil’s needs and the conditions of the educational environment. Until recently the term “maladjustment” was frequently used in Slovakia to denote „disharmony between an individual’s needs, values and norms and the environment, which corresponds to social maladaptation (maladjustment, disadaptation), i. e. the disturbed, inadequate or insufficient adaptation of an individual or a small social group“ (Kopányiová, 2009, 157). In Hungary the preferred term is inadaptation. The issue has been considerably deeper penetrated in Russia, where the inability to adapt is often termed “misadaptation”. In Slovakia the terms “maladaptation” or “disadaptation” are frequently applied. In professional and scientific discourses professionals’ opinions vary in respect of the use of certain terms. Therefore we may find also confrontational viewpoints. Frequently, we can find conflicting perceptions of the terms “maladaptation” and “maladjustment”. Several monographic studies were published in the given field quite a long time ago as well as recently. Some specialists consider these terms to be identical, as set out above. However, other specialists are of the opinion that the terms are not identical. According to them, “maladaptation” is a broader term and “maladjustment” is a narrower one. This concept is grounded in the basic fact that the term “adjustment” denotes social adaptation. Therefore we can talk about maladjustment in the social context, since it manifests itself only in social relationships (Marco, 1971). Řezáč (1998) does not consider the terms maladaptation and maladjustment to be identical either. Marco (1971) claims that bad school adaptation - maladaptation - denotes the situation when there is disharmony between institutional requirements and the pupil’s possibilities or the harmony is disturbed. As a result, adaptation problems arise. Maladaptation was more closely analysed by Průcha, Walterová and Mareš (2001), who define maladaptation as bad, incomplete or inadequate adaptation, which, in their view, is caused by mental, sociocultural or economic deprivation or sometimes also by a combination of these negative factors. Another view is presented by psychologists according to whom the extent and rate of a child’s adaptation is given by the child’s frustration tolerance. Low frustration tolerance gives rise to adaptation problems or maladaptation. Praška et al. (2003, 111) is of the opinion that „maladaptation (disadaptation) arises due to failure to reach harmony between man’s needs and the conditions of his/her environment, as a result of which either an individual or his/her surroundings suffer. If maladaptation regards social surroundings, such as manifestations of social inadequacy, difficulty in meeting people, delinquent acts, we term it social or moral maladaptation.“ According to Hartl and Hartlová (2009), the ability of an individual’s organism fails to create effective interactions with the environment, therefore they regard maladaptation as inadaptability.

Kagan (1984) defined three basic types of disadaptation:

Based on the aforementioned view, we may observe that maladaptation or its related terms such as inadaptation and disadaptation denote the failure of adaptation mechanisms, as a result of which the pupil is frustrated, dissatisfied and disturbed and these feelings prevent him/her from reaching his/her goals. The child may try hard, but despite all his/her efforts, he/she is not able to adapt to changed conditions and feels excessive strain. Consequently, the feelings of insecurity and danger give rise to adaptation problems. The research conducted in Slovakia and abroad has been mainly aimed at proving the fact that transition from nursery or a family environment to elementary school causes problems for a considerable number of children. The results of research in Hungary prove that for 15 % - 30 % of the children transition from nursery to elementary school is not problem-free (Ronkovicsné, Gergely, 2012). Adaptation difficulties of various nature arose mainly at the beginning of the school year, in the first weeks. The research conducted in Russia looked into the way how children adapted in the first grade during the first three months. It was found out that only 32 % of the children adapted without problems. 44 % of the children fell into the middle band of adaptability. These children had smaller problems to adjust and they did not adapt until the end of the first term. 20% of the children were characterised by low adaptability and they experienced bigger problems when adjusting. Their problems persisted also in the second term. There was an incidence of maladaptation, too: 4% of the children were not able to adapt to the changed conditions. (Masanskaja, Samsonova, 2013). It was also proved that girls were more adaptable and, as a result, were also more successful at school (Vágnerová, 2000).

According to Pavlov (2000) disturbed adaptation may manifest itself in active or passive protest, anxious or stormy reactions and the feeling of insecurity. Řezáč (1998) states the following manifestations of school maladjustment: inadequate tension, anxiety (e. g. fear, insecurity, stage fright, the feeling of dissatisfaction, stress) and inadequate reactions to the surroundings (e. g. inappropriate emotional reactions and attitudes towards oneself and towards others).

Vágnerová (1996) divides adaptation disorders into deviations regarding emotional experiencing and deviations regarding behaviour. Deviations regarding emotional experiencing may be interpreted by the teacher in different ways therefore they are often unidentified in practice. Deviations regarding behaviour can be identified easily. Another view is presented by Čačka (2000), according to whom adaptation difficulties appear in two areas. In the rational cognitive area difficulties manifest themselves in the way that the pupil does not react to the teacher’s presentation and is indifferent. Problems manifest themselves mainly in the first weeks in inattention and also later in reading, writing, arithmetic and drawing. Difficulties in the area of imagination and emotions manifest themselves in a restless sleep, vomiting, loss of appetite, etc. In any case the teacher’s sensitive and tactful approach is crucial, since constant admonishing increases tension and mere temporary problems may even develop into neurotic symptoms.

When identifying the causes of adaptation problems, scientific and professional views are usually based on contemporary theoretical perspectives on the issue, which examine the origin of adaptation difficulties mainly with regard to the psychological aspect of the development of a child’s personality, naturally taking into account age characteristics and accentuating children’s individual differences. The causes of adaptation problems have been more closely analysed by both domestic and foreign authors such as Pavlov (2000), Kumarina (2007), Sergejevna (2008), Bezrukich (2011), Slezáková (2012) and others. Bezrukich (2011) defined the following notable basic causes of disrupted adaptation: inadequate requirements/demands on the part of the teacher or parents, stress due to the limited use of time, emotional, intellectual and physical overload, failure to adjust methods, strategies and daily routine to pupils’ age and individual possibilities, disrupted psychological and physical health, psychological or functional unpreparedness in respect of schooling and requirements. Based on the research conducted in the academic years 2004/2005 and 2005/2006, Sergejevna (2008) proved that the most common causes of school disadaptation include school unpreparedness, insufficient mental functions, the hyperkinetic syndrome and intellectual competence disorders. The factor of insufficient school preparedness, as one of the causes of adaptation difficulties, is also dealt with by the authors such as Vágnerová (2001) and Valentová (2001). Hrabal (2003) states that a common cause of school maladaptation involves failure to cope with the role of a first grade pupil.

The symptoms of adaptation problems may vary and therefore it is not easy to identify them. Many studies provide evidence that the given issue was dealt with also earlier. First specialists that concerned themselves with maladaptation included Cole (In Cole, Hall, 1970), who defined seven indicators of maladaptation problems, Stott and Sykes (In Flekalová, 2008), who devised a method of diagnosing maladjustment in children aged 5 to 15. They conducted a survey and based on the results they defined 16 indicators of maladjustment symptoms. Regarding more recent views, notable perspectives include the aforementioned view of Bezrukich (2011), who categorised the typical manifestations of disadaptation from a different point of view. According to Šimegová (2008) the most common problems we encounter in school practice are pupils’ emotional issues such as school phobia and separation anxiety.

The above-mentioned implies that it is necessary to deal with this issue, which is highly topical, since the number of children with adaptation problems in schools increases. Prevention is, therefore, crucial as it should be aimed at forestalling adaptation problems.

Adaptation Process Facilitation Strategies in the Context of Optimised Conditions

During the adaptation process the child’s organism wants to achieve balance and therefore it seeks and applies new strategies. By means of these new strategies, the child starts to adjust to the changed conditions or, as the case may be, he/she tries to adjust the surroundings to his/her demands. Using adequate strategies, the pupil is able to overcome stress and these new strategies help him/her cope with onerous situations. The teacher’s task is to help the child to reduce the intensity of expended energy in favour of adaptation in such a way that helps the pupil overcome his/her insecurity and fear of the unknown. Therefore the teacher should optimise the pedagogical and organisational conditions in class and observe the following principles:

Slezáková and Kurincová (2013) lists and describes in detail other principles of the optimisation of pedagogical and organisational conditions which allow the child’s successful adaptation to school requirements:

The goal of each good school should be to create such favourable conditions that stimulate the child’s natural tendency towards growth and development and to make a pedagogically developmental environment, which is characterised, according to the systems of Elkonin and Davidov (In Voroncov, 2009), by being adjusted to pupils to the full extent. Therefore it is necessary to optimise pedagogical and organisational conditions so that children feel good and secure at school. The optimisation of conditions in the first grade of elementary school should enable each child to experience emotional security, protect his/her physical, mental and social health, overcome insecurity of an unknown environment and, in an emotionally comfortable environment, it should help to create a positive attitude to learning and school. In an environment with a positive atmosphere the child is able to create suitable strategies that help him/her to adapt to the new environment and requirements, overcome stress and cope with onerous situations. Therefore we recommend solving the situation in the first grade through the application of an adaptation programme, which is a set of methods and measures devised to regulate the adaptation process and reduce the incidence of adaptation problems. Our theory is based on the idea that it is necessary to forestall undesirable phenomena and the incidence of problems by early, intentional and thought-out prevention and by adopting measures to eliminate onerous situations. In the context of adaptation it is possible to provide a certain type of protection by means of a programme devised beforehand to eliminate, or at least reduce, the influence of risk factors and to contribute to the maintenance of children’s physical, mental and social health.

There is no universal or omnipotent model of solving the adaptation process in early elementary education, but based on the methodological materials and foreign professional literature that we have studied, we have come to the conclusion that adaptation programmes represent just one model out of a number of possible effective solutions. By means of these programmes it is possible to model an educational environment in the context of pupils’ adaptation to early elementary education. The aim of our research was to find such a solution that helps to prevent the origin of adaptation problems, namely through thought-out procedures and strategies which function effectively at a practical level. The success of these programmes is supported by the long-term experience of their practical application in Russia. As we have mentioned above, in Slovakia preventive adaptation programmes in respect of school adaptation do not belong to standard services provided by schools, they are not run in practice, nor are they incorporated in national programmes. In some foreign countries, especially in Russia, this issue receives more attention. With regard to the need to create specific conditions in early elementary education abroad, teachers may make use of various adaptation programmes, which may be inspiring for us as well. As a matter of fact, in Russia school educational programmes comprise sub-programmes at several levels of education. In primary education there is the Adaptation Process Organisation Programme for First-Graders. Elementary schools have these adaptation programmes prepared and use them in practice. They are elaborated by pedagogues in cooperation with psychologists or by methodological associations. They aim to prevent adaptation problems, maintain physical, mental and social health, eliminate stress and onerous situations or to restore the child’s mental balance when transiting to elementary school. In our view their effectiveness consists in optimal periodisation, taking into consideration the graduality and cyclicity of load increase.

These programmes have some common features, which may inspire us in many ways. They include:

One of the first programmes applied in Russia was the 1992 course called “Introduction to School Life”, which was prepared by Cikerman and Polivanova. The course was designed for the first two weeks of schooling. The most well-known and frequently applied courses include:

The common goal of all these modules is to familiarise the first grade pupil with school life in a playful form, prepare him/her for the adoption of the role of a schoolchild and introduce the child to the world of schooling. School adaptation may be successful only if changes take place gradually and the pupil has enough time to find suitable strategies through which he/she is able to facilitate the adaptation process. Naturally, the task of teachers and parents is to help children and try to make this period easier for them.


The adaptation period in early elementary education is a very demanding time in the child’s life and therefore in some professional literature it is also termed „the crises of age 6 - 7” (Vo roncov, 2009). Based on this fact, it is necessary to realise that during adaptation the child needs adults’ help when looking for new strategies. Therefore it is important to pay adequate attention to this issue. As a matter of fact, we are of the opinion that the problem of adaptation in early elementary education in Slovakia is not completely solved and therefore foreign models may inspire us a great deal, since in Russia they have been successfully used for a long time. We recommend that the adaptation programme should be experimentally verified in practice and research should be conducted into this area.


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Informace o autorovi

PaedDr. Diana Borbélyová

Department of Pedagogy, Faculty of Education, Constantine the Philosopher University in Nitra

Dražovská 4

949 01  Nitra

Slovak republic

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