The family car as a "vehicle" for children's use of distant time referents

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The conversations of nine preschool-aged children (C.A. 4:0-5:2) were tape-recorded as they interacted with teachers and with peers at preschool, as they traveled home from school with their parent in the family car, and as they engaged in routine home activities. The speech samples were coded to identify the time referents the children used in their topics of conversation in the three settings. The study sought to explore suggestions that young children, although generally context-bound in their talk at home and school, are capable of decontextualized talk when settings and conversational partners are familiar and supportive, and when contexts are transitional and prompt talk about other than the here-and-now. Significant differences were found in the children's use of present, past and future time referents in the three settings. Overall, the children spoke most often about the here-and-now, making frequent references to the present activities or to people in each setting. References to past and future events, however, were significantly more frequent in the car setting than in the home or school talk. Most references to the past occurred during the first 5 min of travel and were often prompted by the presence of a project remnant in the car or parents' questions or comments. References to future events occurred more frequently during the latter portion of the car trip. Differences in the children's proportional use of fantasy time referents were not significant. Possible implications for teachers and parents are discussed along with suggestions for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)185-203
Number of pages19
JournalEarly Childhood Research Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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