Researchers in Arizona State University's T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics found that pairing preschoolers with classmates of other genders — known as the “buddy up” technique — benefits social relations for the whole class.
The study, published in Early Education and Development, tested how working in pairs improves interactions with classmates. The researchers worked with teachers in public preschool classrooms to integrate the buddy up technique with classroom activities.
They found that not only did this method encourage more positive interactions among other-gender peers, but it improved relationships between children of the same gender (particularly girls) and between children who speak the same language (particularly English).
The importance of early, diverse socializing
Social interactions in early childhood are foundational and predict positive outcomes later in life. Children, however, tend to restrict their interactions to classmates who are the most like them — particularly those of the same gender.
This creates a cycle in which children only feel comfortable interacting with children who are most like them and segregate themselves, which further secludes them from other classmates. When these group dynamics form, they also increasingly tend to take on behaviors considered typical of their gender.
This is where teacher intervention comes into play. When teachers pair up students who are of different genders and give them a task to collaborate on, it helps them branch out from their social comfort zones. This intervention is based on intergroup contact theory, which says that when people have more contact with members of different groups, they’ll develop better relations.
At the end of the day, intergroup contact isn’t just healthy, it’s critical for children’s social and relational development, the researchers say.
“Helping children develop relationship skills early on is a priority,” said Laura Hanish, principal author of the paper and professor of family and human development at ASU. “Positive social interactions in early childhood not only help build relationships, but they predict successful academic and emotional outcomes later in life.”
Ultimately, the researchers found that the buddy up method is easy to implement and is an effective way to build diverse relationships early on. It also has the potential to create better, more inclusive classroom environments, which could have positive effects that last into adulthood.
“Interacting with other-gender peers helps develop a more egalitarian classroom environment where students feel they belong,” Hanish said. “This foundation is important if we want to help children carry on effective, inclusive social skills throughout their lives.”
In the future, the researchers would like to conduct a longer study to see the effects of the buddy up method over time.
This study was funded by the T. Denny Sanford Foundation in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics at Arizona State University.
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