‘I can sign like you’ - Social connections and friendships between peers in early years settings

Parry, John (2012). ‘I can sign like you’ - Social connections and friendships between peers in early years settings. In: European Conference on Educational Research, 18-21 Sep 2012, Cadiz.

URL: http://www.eera-ecer.de/ecer-programmes/conference...


From an early age, most children are seen to engage in complex social interactions with other children in their preschool settings and we recognize that through these connections essential skills of how to interact and relate to other people develop (Lillivist 2010). As such although these early friendships can be ‘highly colourful, elusive and unpredictable phenomena’ they are regarded as ‘full of promise and potentially robust’ (Deegan 1996 p.5). However for some disabled children or children labelled with special educational needs a more reductionist view of their social relationships may be assumed. There can be a tendency to focus on impairments or perceived differences as the barrier to forming early friendships (Guralnick et al. 2007, Engle et al. 2011) and to make the tenuous link between cognitive competencies and the quality of peer relationships (Dunn 1993).

Attempting to understand the nature of social connections that are made between disabled children and their peers in early- years settings in terms of an individual child’s ‘deficits’ overlooks the context in which these relationships develop. Because ‘every early years setting represents a culture which is created by children, practitioners, parents and others’ (Nutbrown and Clough p.1 2006), the dynamics of this culture will impact on children’s interactions with each other. In order to explore developing friendships within a setting it is therefore necessary to consider attitudinal, environmental and organizational factors that will effect how the children identify with each other. It is also important to see all the children as active interpreters of their social situations and not passive recipients of support. In exploring the social interactions in the early years a key concept is that ‘children with learning disabilities are active in making meaning within social and relational networks to which they contribute differently, depending on the barriers to doing and being that each network presents.’ (Nind et al 2010 p.653)

This study aims to examine how social connections and friendships between disabled children develop in an early- years nursery through the interplay of all the people and processes within the setting. Drawing on small scale qualitative research study of two children’s experiences in a nursery setting, the study reports on the contexts and dynamics of the social interactions that take place between children and looks at the adult’s role in facilitating these early friendships.

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