04 SES 06 B, Innovative Research in Inclusive Education
Friendships have a unique and moderating role on children’s cognitive, social and psychological development (Rubin, Bukowski & Parker, 2006). Teachers and the school environment play a critical role in supporting the development of friendships. Our study takes the theoretical frameworks of Early Years Education and Inclusive Education as a starting point, and explores how they can inform a friendship development program addressed to kindergarten children. The study is also concerned with the impact of the program on friendship development and friendship quality.
Inclusive Education is concerned with equity (Gale, 2000), respect to diversity (Ainscow & Sandill, 2010) and citizenship (Vlachou, 2004). It is a radical approach, promising progress for all children and combating exclusion of any kind. Research about friendship development in inclusive education settings focusses mainly on students with disabilities, and suggests that they have limited peer interactions which prevent friendship development (Guralnick & Groom, 1987, Guralnick, 2000). Researchers often conclude that poor social interactions and absense of friendships is associated with a child’s limited social competence and/or prejudiced assumptions towards a child leading to low social status (Guralnick, Neville, Hammond & Connor, 2007). Thus, research is often concerned with friendship development programs aiming to enhance childen’s social competences and promote their acceptance in the group (Martino & Johnson, 1979, Slavin & Cooper, 1999, Wilton & Townsend, 2002). Other researchers shed light on the school barriers concerning friendship development such as non-inclusive school ethos (e.g. Davis and Watson, 2001), and policies that reinforce discriminatory rhetoric and practice (Symeonidou & Mavrou, 2014). We would argue that research on friendship development in inclusive settings needs to go beyond the binary of friendships between children with and without disabilities, and explore how the principles of inclusive education (e.g. quality education for all children, respect to diversity, equity for all, etc.) could have a positive impact on friendship development for all children. Therefore, our interest is on how (Allan, 2010) friendships can be formed through approaches that embrace the principles of inclusive education
Early years education is concerned with children’s mental and emotional empowerment, their motor skills development and their personal and social awareness (Gordon & Browne, 2014). Kindergartens are perhaps the first settings where children have the opportunity to interact with their peers and form their first friendships. Even though researchers support intervening during these early years to ameliorate peer relations this field had not gain the necessary attention in this age range (Kutnick, Genta, Brighi, & Sansavini, 2008).
Having in mind the theoretical framework of both disciplines – Inclusive Education and Early Years Education – we assume that they can inform a friendship development program that could benefit kindergrarten children. Therefore, our study sets to explore the following research questions:
- How can the principles of Inclusive Education and Early Years Education inform a friendship development program addressed to kindergarten children?
- How do children who participate in such a program engage in the process of friendship development?
- What is the quality of friednships and wider social relations (if any) that have been developed in the context of such a program?
The friendship development program consisted of two parts. The first part was titled “Skills for Friendship” and the second part was titled “Valuing Diversity”. The first part focuses on the development of skills that are necessary for friendship development (e.g. how I approach someone to become friends). The second part focuses on developing positive attitudes for all children, especially for children who belong in vulnerable groups, such as children from ethnic minority groups, children with disabilities, etc. Each part of the program consisted of ten lessons. The lessons were conducted within ten consecutive weeks. A convenience sample was chosen from a public kindergarten in Cyprus, in which one of the researchers has easy access. Fifty children (4 to 6 years old) attending two kindergarten classes (Class A and Class B), participated in the study. Data collection was twofold. One set of data concerned the program: program outline, lesson plans, lesson materials, etc. The second set of data concerned the children involved in the study: sociometric measures (peer ratings, friendship nominations); participant observation of children during recess (prior and after the implementation of the program); observation of children’s already established friendships (prior and after the implementation of the program); observation of newly formed friendships; video-recordings of all the lessons; group interviews with the children. Children were regarded as friends if both nominated each other as a friend and were also observed playing together. Quality of friendships was assessed through content analysis of observation narrative and through analyzing friendships at the dyadic level employing the Dyadic Relationship Q Set (Park, Lay, & Ramsay, 1993). Content analysis of children’s group interviews was also employed for gaining insight into children’s views on the program. Throughout the design of the research, the implementation of the program and the analysis of the data, both researchers employed our academic profile in a complementary way. The first author is an early years teacher with thirteen years of experience in public kindergartens, and is concerned with the fact that friendship development can be challenging for some children. The second author is an academic with a background in inclusive education and is experienced in curriculum development for inclusive education. .
Children’s peer relations were positively affected. The majority of children who exhibited peer difficulties gained at least one reciprocated friend during the implementation of the program. Quality measures of newly formed friendships showed characteristics of positive social orientation, cohesiveness and control. Quality measures of already established friendships revealed a decline in control and rise of cooperative behavior. Two important themes were unraveled from group interviews. Children enjoyed the opportunity they had during this program to play with their friend outside the classroom as part of measuring the quality of their friendship, to talk about and work with their friend. Nonetheless, they strongly complained for the restricted opportunities they have, both in school and in their home, to play with their friends. It seems vital, in a future research to consciously focus on more aspects of school life e.g. free-time activities and parent’s education. This may be the first attempt to coincide Inclusive with Early Years Education theory in researching peer relations. Analysis revealed aspects of the program that may have resulted in the promotion and enhancement of friendships. Importantly these aspects shape the common ground where the theory of Inclusive and Early Years Education merge. To name but a few these were (a) the a-priori teacher-selected working dyads that promoted children’s respectful and tolerating attitude (b) circle time that promoted classroom community and acceptance (c) use of inclusive images where friendships were portrayed as inclusive dyads/groups promoted a different perspective on friendship synthesis. It is expected that the success of this targeted program on promoting friendship will further conceptualize our understanding of peer relations in inclusive education settings. This in return will have implications for curriculum design and teacher education.
Ainscow, Μ., & Sandill, Α. (2010). Developing Ιnclusive Εducation Systems: The Role of Organizational Cultures and Leadership. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 14(4), 401-416. Allan, J. (. (2010). Rethinking Inclusive Education: the Philosophers of Difference in Practice. The Netherlands: Springer. Davis, J. M., & Watson, N. (2001). Where are the children's experiences? Analysing Social and Cultural Exclusion in "Special" and "Mainstream" schools. Disability and Society, 16(5), 671-687. Gale, T. (2000). Rethinking Social Justice in Schools: How Will We Recognize It When We See It? . International Journal of Inclusive Education, 4(3), 253-269. Gordon, A. M., & Browne, K. W. (2014). Begginings and Beyond:Foundations in Early Childhood Education (9th ed.). USA: Wadsworth,Cengage Learning. Guralnick, M. (2000). An agenda for change in Early Childhood Inclusion. Journal of Early Intervention, 23(4), 213-222. Guralnick, M. J., & Groom, J. M. (1987). The Peer Relations of Mildly Delayed and Nonhandicapped Children in Mainstream Playgroups. Child Development, 58, 1556-1572. Guralnick, M. J., Neville, B., Hammond, M. A., & Connor, R. T. (2007). The Friendships of Young Children with Developmental Delays: a Longitudinal Analysis. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 28(1), 64-79. Kutnick, P., Genta, M., Brighi, A., & Sansavini, A. (2008). Relational Approaches in Early Education. Bologna: Cooperativa Libraria Universitaria Editrice Bologna. Martino, L., & Johnson, D. W. (1979). Cooperative and Individualistic Experiences Among Disabled and Normal Children. The Journal of Social Psychology, 107, 177-183. Park, K. A., Lay, K.-L., & Ramsay, L. (1993). Individual Differences and Developmental Changes in Preschoolers' Friendships. Developmental Psychology, 29(2), 264-270. Rubin, K. H., Bukowski, W. M., & Parker, J. G. (2006). Peer Interactions, Relationships and Groups. In N. Eisenberg, W. Damon, & R. M. Lerner (eds..), Handbook of Child Psychology (6th ed. , Vol: 3: Social, Emotional and Personality Development, pp. 571-645). New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons Inc. Slavin, R. E., & Cooper, R. (1999). Improving Intergroup Relations: Lessons from Cooperative Learning Programs. Journal of Social Issues, 55(4), 647-663. Symeonidou, S., & Mavrou, K. (2013). Deconstructing the Greek-Cypriot new national curriculum: to what extent are disabled children considered in the "humane and democratic school" of Cyprus? Disability and Society, DOI:10.1080/09687599.2013.796879, 1-14. Vlachou, A. (2004). Education and inclusive policy-making: implications for research and practice. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 8(1), 3-21. Wilton, P. M., & Townsend, M. (2002). Promoting the Social Acceptance of Young Children With Moderate-Severe Intellectual Disabilities Using Cooperative Learning Techniques. American Journal of Mental Retardation, 107(5), 352-360.
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