Cultivating a Culture of Friendship in Early Childhood Education

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D., RECE.  

How do the words of Vivian Gussin Paley translate to now? When Paley listened to children their conversations inevitably focused on fantasy, fairness, and friendship. Are these the current themes in the lives of children? Will we hear them when we listen? My grandson, Griffen missed his friends during the multiple pandemic lockdowns, and they became a subject of his drawings. His drawings spoke for him. His school friendships are important to him.

Drawings help children express their thoughts and feelings in relation to particular impactful events. Drawings can also help children express their thoughts and feelings about friendships that were formed but interrupted. Griffen was so excited to start the new school year, in person, as a first grader, because of his friends. Children’s school friendships can significantly affect their social and emotional competency and academic progress. Children want and need a way to express thoughts and feelings about friendships. Children want to share their perspectives on their social lives and peer groups. Using a visual method, such as drawing, provides an authentic mode of communication for children to share their views on their valued friendships (Streelasky, 2022). “Children’s friendships are often neglected by teachers and researchers” (Carter & Nutbrown, 2016, p. 2). Children and teachers can become researchers undertaking a collaborative inquiry about friendships within a culture where friendship is cultivated. I believe that if we cultivate professional friendships, we take charge of our own professional development and personal growth. If we encourage a culture of friendship, we can support children to navigate these complex relationships.

According to the Collins Dictionary if you cultivate an attitude, image, or skill, you try hard to develop it and make it stronger. When we cultivate a friendship, we give it special attention. Within every learning environment there is a prevailing culture that influences all the other components. Culture can be defined as the dominant values and beliefs that influence decision-making (Bates and Bates, 2019). What does it mean to cultivate a culture of friendship? What if, friendships were valued encouraged amongst teachers and children. What if we worked hard to develop a culture of friendship to make it stronger and better? Friendships formed can be cultivated when we create dyad spaces indoors and outdoors that offer child-led shared experiences with shared interests. Time is necessary to cultivate and with continuous provision of these experiences friendships formed will be joyfully maintained. The beginning of a school year is a good time to observe children as they reunite with friends and meet new friends. Children need friends and we can create spaces to support these relationships.

Friendships are formed when we consider the environment and make sure there are spaces where two children can play in close proximity. Friendships are formed when materials are provided that can shared. Children need experiences in duos as they are just beginning to learn social skills. They need opportunities and time to play without direct adult supervision. Adults can take on a secondary role and encourage children to interact with a peer rather than an adult. Adults can avoid interfering too quickly in a confrontation between peers. Children can “work out problems for themselves if they are given the time and support to do so” (Lauter, 2004, p. 17). When we provide opportunities to share interests and experiences within dyad spaces we are cultivating friendship formation and providing the basis for maintaining friendships.

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