04 SES 12 D, Vulnerability, Belonging And Friendship: Three Paths To Inclusion
Friendship relations are of exquisite importance in the life of a developing child. Research has shown that they uniquely affect his/her cognitive, social and psychological development (Rubin, Bukowski & Parker, 2006). Moreover, they act as moderators in instances of harsh family background or behavioural difficulties (Schwartz, McFadyen-Ketchum, Dodge, Petit & Bates, 1999, Schwartz, Dodge, Petit & Bates, 2000).
This study is part of a larger project aiming to promote the formation of friendship among kindergarten children. A “Friendship Development Program” (FDP) was organized and implemented in two kindergarten classrooms. The FDP consisted of fifteen lesson plans that involved whole class activities focusing both on the development of skills for friendship (e.g. how I approach a peer) and on supporting children to value diversity (e.g. individual characteristics as assets).
The FDP was developed combining the theoretical framework of Early Years Education and Inclusive Education. Early Years Education is the academic field concerned with children’s mental and emotional empowerment, their motor skills development and their personal and social awareness (Gordon & Browne, 2014). Despite the fact that kindergarten is often the first setting where children have the opportunity to form their first friendships, it is argued that targeted programs to ameliorate peer relations had not gain the necessary attention in these settings (Kutnick, Genta, Brighi, & Sansavini, 2008). Inclusive Education is about educating all children in the mainstream school, alongside their peers, and ensuring that they receive quality education (Barton, 1997). Research in the field of inclusive education has viewed friendship development through various lenses. It started by focusing on the difficulty of students with disabilities to engage in friendships (Guralnick & Groom, 1987, Guralnick, 2000) often concluding that their poor social interactions and the absence of friendships is associated with the child’s limited social competence and/or prejudice towards him/her (Guralnick, Neville, Hammond & Connor, 2007). Thus, research is often concerned with friendship development programs aiming to enhance children’s social competences and promote their acceptance in the group (Slavin & Cooper, 1999, Wilton & Townsend, 2002). Other researchers though 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).
It is often the case that programs aiming to promote friendship focus solely on whether the number of friendship dyads increased after their implementation. It has been observed though that befriended children exhibit stability and specificity in their behavior within a friendship relationship (Park, Lay & Ramsay, 1993). This behavior has been characterised as stable and specific as it differs when one examines the same child within two different friendship dyads (Park, Lay & Ramsay, 1993). Examples of behaviors that have been observed between two friends are positive social orientation, control, cohesiveness, responsiveness. Thus, it was important to qualitatively explore the behavior of children within the friendships formed after the implementation of the FDP and also to examine whether there was any change in the quality of already formed friendships. More specifically our study aimed to explore the following research questions:
1. What is the quality of friendships and wider social relations (if any) that have been developed in the context of the FDP?
2. Were there any changes in the quality of already formed peer relationships, and if yes, what kind of changes?
A convenience sample was chosen from a public kindergarten in Cyprus, in which one of the researchers has easy access. Thirty-seven children (4 to 6 years old) attending two kindergarten classes (Class A and Class B), participated in the study. The data collection for this part of the study was completed in two phases: before and after the implementation of the FDP during a whole school year. Before applying the FDP, children were asked to nominate their friends. Each participating child was also observed during outdoor play. Children were regarded as friends if both nominated each other as one and were observed playing together during participant observations. Reciprocated friendship dyads participated and were videotaped in a twenty-minute play in a room outside their classroom, set up to involve drawing, block building, construction play and fantasy play. After the implementation of the FDP children were again asked to name their friends and were also observed during outdoor play. New and old reciprocated friendship dyads participated and were videotaped in a twenty-minute play in the same room with the same activities as before the beginning of the FDP. Assessing the quality of friendships will be two-fold: through content analysis of observation narrative and through employing the Dyadic Relationship Q Set, a tool designed to qualitatively assess the behavior of children within a friendship dyad (Park, Lay, & Ramsay, 1993). Content analysis is currently underway and it focusses on the seven themes of the Dyadic Relationship Q Set (positive social orientation, cohesiveness, harmony, control, responsiveness, self-disclosure, coordinated play). The research assistant and one of the researchers read independently through the narrative of children’s outdoor play and pinpoint instances were such behaviours are portrayed. They examine independently the video recordings of each dyad (before –if applies- and after the implementation of FDP) and cluster the 55-items of the Dyadic Relationship Q Set based on the seven themes mentioned above as the method described by Park, Lay & Ramsay (1993) suggests. Results from the cluster analysis and the content analysis of the participant observations, before and after the implementation of the FDP are being compared for old friendships in order to gain insight on whether there was a change in the quality of behaviour within the friendship relation.
Preliminary analysis reveals that children’s friendships were positively affected. The majority of children who exhibited difficulties in forming friendships gained at least one reciprocated friend and in some instances this was a younger one. Also, children in general, extended their pool of friends during and after the implementation of the program. Thus, the number of reciprocated friendships increased after the completion of the program. It is expected, based on the strategies and skills promoted by the FDP that the quality measures of newly formed friendships will present characteristics of positive social orientation and cohesiveness. It is also expected that comparing old reciprocated friendships before and after the implementation of the FDP, instances of harmony and coordinated play will be more apparent. Nonetheless, based on some preliminary data (e.g difference in age of friends in newly formed friendships) it is expected that new friendships developed during the program will also present controlling behavior. It is expected that the success of this targeted program on promoting friendships and the qualitative data of behaviour within the friendships will further conceptualize our understanding of peer relations. In addition, taking into consideration that this may be the first attempt to coincide Inclusive Education with Early Years Education theory in researching peer relations the results are expected to enhance our thinking as to how inclusive education can be promoted in mainstream schooling. This in return will have implications for curriculum design and teacher education.
Barton, L. (1997). Inclusive education: romantic, subversive or realistic. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 1(3), 231-242. 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. 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. 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. Schwartz, D., Dodge, K. A., Petit, G. S., & Bates, J. E. (2000). Friendship as a Moderating Factor in the Pathway Between Early Harsh Home Environment and Later Victimization in the Peer Group. Developmental Psychology, 36(5), 646-662. Schwartz, D., McFadyen-Ketchum, S., Dodge, K. A., Pettit, G. S., & Bates, J. E. (1999). Early Behavior Problems as a Predictor of Later Peer Group Victimization: Moderators and Mediators in the Pathways of Social Risk. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 27(3), 191-201. 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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