This is the author’s version of a work that was submitted/accepted for pub-
lication in the following source:
Danby, Susan J.,Thompson, Cathy,Theobald, Maryanne Agnes, &
Thorpe, Karen J. (2012) Children’s strategies for making friends when
starting school. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood,37(2), pp. 63-
This ﬁle was downloaded from:
Copyright 2012 Early Childhood Australia, Inc.
Notice:Changes introduced as a result of publishing processes such as
copy-editing and formatting may not be reﬂected in this document. For a
deﬁnitive version of this work, please refer to the published source:
Danby, S., Thompson, C., Theobald, M., & Thorpe, K. (in press). Children’s strategies for
making friends when starting school. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood.
Children’s strategies for making friends when starting school
Starting school is a critical and potentially stressful time for many young children, and having
supportive relationships with parents, teachers and peers and friends offer better outcomes for
school adjustment and social relationships. This paper explores matters of friendship when
young children are starting school, and how they initiate friendships. In audio-recorded
conversations with a researcher and their peers, the children proposed a number of strategies,
including making requests, initiating clubs and teams, and peer intervention to support a
friend. Their accounts drew on social knowledge and relational understandings, and showed
that having someone, a friend, to play with was important for starting school. Children gave
serious attention to developing strategies to initiate friendships.
friends, early childhood, research interview, peer culture, child-initiated strategies, play,
children‟s perspectives, children‟s accounts, starting school
Children’s strategies for making friends when starting school
Starting school is a critical and potentially stressful time for many young children, with the
transition to school marking the entry into a school system and into a particular set of new
institutional and social practices (Dockett & Perry, 2001, 2004). Major changes for children
include learning about a new environment and engaging in different social experiences
(Fabian, 2000). During the critical time of transitions, supportive relationships with parents,
teachers and peers have been found to alleviate the adjustment phase (Brooker, 2008;
Tomada, Schneider, de Domini, Greenman, & Fonzi, 2005). In particular, having friends is
identified as a critical immediate benefit as well as offering better long-term outcomes for
school adjustment and social relationships (Petriwskyj, Thorpe, & Tayler, 2005). However, as
Dunn (2004) points out, starting school is an uncertain time, offering opportunities for new
friendships while also possibly being rejected by others. The process of transitioning to
schools can be made more difficult when children move schools, or attend a school outside
their local community (Dunn, 2004).
This paper explores matters of friendship when young children are starting school, and how
they initiate friendships. It examines children‟s accounts of starting school and their strategies
to make friends at this period of change in their lives. Using an interactional focus informed
by sociological understandings of children as active participants in social interactions, we
show how young children entering school pursue and actively employ strategies to initiate
and manage peer relationships.
The value of friends and peer relationships in starting school
Peer interaction is where children interact with peers in “a stable set of activities or routines,
artefacts, values, and concerns” (Corsaro & Molinari, 2000, p. 214). In other words, being a
member of a peer group suggests young children “doing things together” (Corsaro &
Molinari, 1990, p. 221) and opportunities for shared social interaction. On entering school,
children who have friends already, and who have high levels of peer acceptance, have a better
adjustment to school than those children who do not (Johnson, Ironsmith, Snow, & Poteat,
2000). Children starting school seem to enjoy school more and adjust better if they have
friends, contributing to successful transitions to school, especially in regard to children‟s
reports of how much they like school (Diehl, Lemerise, Caverly, Ramsay, & Roberts, 1998;
Ladd, 1990; Tomada et al., 2005). On the other hand, children who are rejected by their peers
at school are more likely to participate less in classroom activities, report feelings of
isolation, and indicate that they do not want to go to school, with children rejected by their
peers achieving less well in school (Buhs & Ladd, 2001). Friends provide social support and
protection against the difficulties of starting school (Dunn, 2004; Dunn, Davies, O'Connor, &
The growing attention in how children experience the transition from preschool to formal
schooling informs understandings of children‟s everyday experiences and can support school
transition practices. The focus on school transitions has been investigated through a variety
of theoretical positions and starting points around how children adapt and adjust to school,
and how adults can support the transition. For example, a number of studies use sociometric
assessments, surveys, tasks and assessment tests to evaluate academic achievement, and
emotional, social and moral development (Buhs & Ladd, 2001; Diehl et al., 1998; Dunn,
2004; Dunn, Cutting, & Fisher, 2002; Rubin, Fredstrom, & Bowker, 2008). An increasing
number of studies examine transition to school through a theoretical lens interested in
understanding the children‟s collaborative work of peer culture. Studies aiming to understand
the significance of the peer relationship use observations of friendship dyads and groups
(Corsaro & Molinari, 2000; Dunn, 2004; Dunn et al., 2002). Studies also have asked teachers
and parents to report on their children‟s transitions to school (Dockett & Perry, 2004; Fabian,
2000; Peters, 2000). Some studies identify the transition to school phase as an “anchor point”
(Koizumi, 2000), and indicate the importance of preschool “priming events” such as
preschool routines that help children to understand school culture (Corsaro & Molinari,
2000). Other studies ask children about their experiences of starting school (Dockett, 2004;
Dockett & Perry, 1999, 2001; Fabian, 2000; Peters, 2000) and invite them to represent their
starting school experiences in drawings (Einarsdottir, Dockett, & Perry, 2009). These studies
highlight the significance of transitioning to school, and many offer suggestions about how
schools, parents and teachers can offer prevention programs and build strategies into their
programs to support individual children (Fabian, 2000; Koizumi, 2000; Ladd, Birch, & et al.,
Despite the interest in children‟s transitions to school, the focus predominantly has remained
on what adults can do to integrate children into school life and only a few studies have
explored the children‟s own accounts of how they initiated and managed friendships and peer
relationships in the first few weeks of school life. In this paper, we draw on children‟s
accounts to examine their standpoints on matters that concern them (Mayall, 2000) and we
found that they presented a wide range of strategies describing how to make friends. Similar
to Dockett and Perry‟s (1999, 2005) Australian Starting School Research Project, and Yeo &
Clarke‟s (2005) study of children in Singapore, we found rich descriptions and accounts of
how the children initiated and built friendships. Their accounts showed their social
knowledge and relational understandings related to having friends for starting school.
Data and method
This paper draws on a corpus of data collected from a study of children‟s friendships and
their social networks that investigated their experiences in their beginning weeks of school in
urban and regional settings. Children were aged four to six years and enrolled in Year 1
classrooms in Queensland, which is the first formal year of schooling. Participation in the
project was voluntary, and parents and children who were starting formal schooling for the
first time were invited to participate in the study. As well as seeking parental consent,
children were invited to participate in the study by discussing their experiences of starting
school. Data have been de-identified through the use of pseudonyms and removal of
In total, four researchers and 162 children were involved in the study that included video
recorded observations of classroom interactions, and child-initiated drawings and research
conversations about beginning school experiences. From this larger study, the data used for
this paper were drawn from the audio-recorded conversations approximately 30 minutes long,
in small groups of up to six children at a time, and within their first few weeks of the school
year. As the aim of the research conversation was to understand children‟s recent experiences
of transitioning to school, we asked them to talk about their recent experiences. Within these
discussions, children discussed a range of matters about starting school, including strategies
they used to initiate social contact. We focus specifically on those strategies in this paper.
In line with work by Theobald (in press) and Pomerantz (2005) on accounts, our interest was
not on the accuracy of the children‟s memory, but rather to uncover the “interpretations, aims
and concerns” (Pomerantz, 2005, p. 93) of the children as they discussed their perspectives
on the first days of school. In asking children about their experiences of starting school, the
focus was on how they accounted for those experiences. The children‟s discussion was
treated as accounts, that is, as generating and producing versions that identify cultural
knowledge (Baker, 1997) that, in this instance, was about understandings of strategies for
supporting peer and friend relationships. We cannot know, in practice, the ways that the
children actually engaged with each other but we can highlight the work of both the
interviewer and respondent in making sense of the cultural and social activity of building peer
and friend relationships.
The first analytic step, often used in qualitative research (Corsaro, 1979; Genishi, 1982;
Silverman, 2007), was to transcribe the audio-recorded conversations with the children. A
transcript is a visible and accessible piece of data to which others have access (Peräkylä,
1997; Silverman, 1993). Audio-recordings offer the opportunity to study the transcripts
repeatedly and others also can study the transcribed data “to make of it what they could, if,
for example, they wanted to be able to disagree” (Sacks, 1984, p. 26). Second, we selected for
analysis all segments of the transcribed talk where the children talked about strategies they
used to initiate friendships. These segments were categorised into different types of
strategies, and the initial sorting process led to some changes so that categories were
combined or segments moved from one category to another. Third, we selected for analysis
those extracts that represented clearly the predominant strategies identified and discussed by
This paper uses an interpretative approach grounded in the sociology of childhood studies to
understand the children‟s strategies as they actively constructed friendships (Corsaro, 1985,
1997; Dunn, 2004; Waksler, 1996). The social studies of childhood are based on principles
that recognise the agency of the child (Hallett & Prout, 2003; James, Jenks, & Prout, 1998;
Prout & James, 1990; Johnson, 2010; Mason & Danby, 2011; Speier, 1982; Waksler, 1996).
Analysis examines the children‟s descriptions of friendship, and their accounts to show how
they initiated and built social and peer membership. In this way, this study reflects earlier
studies that draw on an ethnographic interview approach interested in children‟s everyday
experiences to provide rich insights of their social processes of friendship and school
transition (Christensen & James, 2000; Corsaro & Molinari, 2000; Danby, Ewing, & Thorpe,
2011; Hagerman, 2010).
The research conversations
In the research conversations, we first asked the children about how they felt about starting
school. The conversation then moved to friends at school, with specific questions, including
“what is a friend?‟ and “what sorts of things do friends do at school?”. The conversation
began with a general statement by the researcher about their interest in friends: “We‟re really
interested to know about friends at school”. We specifically and carefully introduced the
topic of friends in this way, as this construction does not suppose that the child does or does
not have friends. We next invited the children to “tell us about school”, with specific follow
up questions, including “What can you tell us about starting school?” and “What was the best
and worst thing about starting school?”.
Table 1 outlines a broad sketching of the children‟s perspectives on starting school, with
children describing a wide range of responses from eager and excited, to apprehensive and
Insert Table 1 here
A more detailed understanding is evident in the transcripts of the conversations, where the
children‟s accounts highlight their key strategies for constructing new friendships and
building peer interaction in new school settings. Excerpts from these transcripts are discussed
below showing how children managed a major matter of concern to them – making friends
when starting school. Their reported strategies included finding someone they knew from
their previous experiences before coming to school, and joining in already existing play
activities before asking someone‟s name. In this paper, we discuss the three main strategies
they identified: making requests, initiating clubs and teams, and child intervention to support
In the extracts below, we show how children made requests to be a friend and to participate in
play. The children‟s accounts display their social knowledge and experiences of making
friends. It is not possible to show all the extracts relating to the strategies, nor the accounts of
all children who participated in the research conversations, and so we have used those
extracts that show most clearly the children‟s perspectives. The extracts and a brief
discussion will be presented first, and then a discussion follows.
In Extract 1, as in many of the accounts offered by the children, we see how the activity of
play features strongly in descriptions of making friends, making it a serious concern for the
Extract 1 Aaron (G2 ph 2, 276/04)
Researcher: You felt good. Why did you feel good?
Aidan: Meeting new friends.
Researcher: Meeting new friends, was that fun?
Researcher: Was it hard meeting new friends or was it easy?
Aidan: Pretty hard.
Researcher: Pretty hard. How did you go about meeting new friends?
Researcher: What did you do to try and finds friends?
Aidan: Play with them.
In Extract 1, Aaron points out that making friends is “pretty hard” but, once achieved, it feels
“good.” The actions of asking and being asked require the serious business of actively
choosing, or not choosing, a friend. As Denzin (1982) points out, children need to work at
“construction rules of entry and exit into emergent social groups” (p. 192). These matters are
serious ones for children (Danby, 2005; Denzin, 1982). In Aaron‟s view, the activity of play
is the medium through which friendships are made.
In Extract 2, we see how Anna, who had moved schools to start the new school year, first
displays her main concern about starting school (“I won‟t make any friends”) and then she
presents how she went about initiating friendship.
Extract 2 Anna (G1 ph 2, 210/07)
Researcher: That‟s a good idea. On this side of the paper, can you remember when you
started school in grade one? What was it like?
Anna: I was a bit nervous.
Researcher: What were you nervous about?
Anna: I won‟t make any friends. Nobody will be my friend.
Researcher: And what happened?
Anna: I did have some friends.
Researcher: How did that happen?
Anna: I asked, do you want to be my... And then, I found out who they played with,
and asked if they want to be my friend, and they said yes I do. And then we go
off and play together.
Researcher: How did that make you feel then about school?
Researcher: So making friends was an important part of coming to school? Did the teacher
help you to make friends?
Anna: No, I did it.
In Extract 2, Anna self-discloses that, as she had recently moved schools to start the new
school year, that she was “a bit nervous,” and her concerns were that “I won‟t make any
friends” and that “nobody would be my friend.” Her formulation of her concerns in the
extreme case (“nobody”) displays her high level of concern (Pomerantz, 1986). Later, when
asked by the researcher about how she made friends, Anna indicates that she was “happy” as
she was able to “go off and play together”. In this account, Anna introduces her strategy of
“asking” several members of an already formed social grouping. First, she asked one
member, and then she asked the friends of that member, producing a snowballing action.
Anna takes all the credit for this strategy, disagreeing with the researcher‟s question that the
teacher might have helped.
In Extract 3, Leon identified the pragmatic nature of making friends. He describes that there
needs to be a „fit‟ or „match‟ for friendship, and trialing a friendship requires a period of
“trying them out.”
Extract 3 Leon (G2 ph 2, 271/14)
Researcher: How do you make friends?
Leon: If you don‟t know them maybe if you changed, don‟t want to be there for them,
try them out if you want to be their friends.
Researcher: How do you try to be their friends? What do you do when you try to be their
Researcher: You ask?
Leon: Yeah. And they said yes or no.
Here, Leon suggested that making friends is a serious matter that requires some thought and
decision-making by the children. Within Leon‟s account is the implication that friendship is
more than being together or sharing some activity; it is about being a “match”. While it is not
possible to know exactly what Leon was considering, it is possible to suggest that the match
could involve shared interests, and perhaps liking someone for their particular qualities.
Extract 4 also shows that making friends is undertaken strategically. Here, Wilson indicates
that “it took some time to know each other.”
Extract 4 Wilson (G1 ph 2, 173/04)
Wilson: I asked people if they wanted to play with me and they would.
Researcher: How did you find Wal to be your friend?
Wilson: Because I asked everyone their names and they told me.
Researcher: Yeah and what made you pick Wal to be a special friend? Were you his friend
right from the very first day you started here or did it take you a little while to
get to know each other?
Wilson: It took a little while to get to know each other.
Here, Wilson‟s comment that “it took a little while to get to know each other” might imply
that it took some time to meet up with a friend, but another understanding is that it took some
time to connect as friends. In other words, it takes time to develop a friendship as making a
friend is more just being together. Wilson‟s perspective, then, suggests that friendship
involves being in a particular relationship built over time.
In Extract 5, we also see Cathryn‟s strategy of observing her peers‟ interactions before she
asks to be their friend. She also identifies the strategy of asking, with the realisation that this
approach may not be successful.
Extract 5 Cathryn (G2 ph 2, 279/01, 02)
Cathryn: I found friends very quickly at this school but last year at that school it took a
long time for me to find friends.
Researcher: Did it? So this year when you found some new friends, how did you go about
finding new friends? What did you do to get some new friends?
Cathryn: I just looked and listened to what they do and what they say. And then I found
out who will be nice to play with and to worked.
Researcher: When you wanted to find a new friend to play with, how did you go about it?
Did you have to talk to them first or did you just join in with their game?
Cathryn: I had to talk to them first.
Researcher: Was that easy or tricky?
Researcher: That‟s good. What sorts of things did you say to try and make a new friend?
Cathryn: If I wanted to join in the game then I said, can I please play with you?
Sometimes the answer is yes; sometimes the answer is no.
Researcher: So when the answer was yes, you just joined in and played.
Researcher: What happened when the answer was no? How did you feel about that?
Researcher: What did you do?
Cathryn: Just walked away to see if I could play another game with someone else.
Researcher: That‟s a very sensible thing to do, Cathryn.
Anne: I did that as well.
Cathryn‟s account focuses on her strategy of observing: “I just looked and listened to what
they do and what they say. And then I found out who will be nice to play with and to
worked”. Here, Cathryn makes visible her idea of a friend being a “„match”‟ or “„fit”,‟
similar to the strategy described earlier by Leon (Extract 3). Friendship, here, is reported as
something more than simply being located in the same place at the same time, and making a
pragmatic choice based on that. Rather, asking someone to be a friend is described as a
thoughtful, considered action formulated over time and following periods of observation and
assessment of a peer‟s qualities. Cathryn‟s account shows children‟s awareness that they have
to be prepared to identify themselves as seeking someone to play with or to engage in some
shared activity. That is, they need to display their own dispositional state of seeking a friend
and, along with that, the recognition of the possibility that their request will be rejected.
Asking someone to play, then, is not a straightforward request but involves skill in social
knowledge and well as a particular disposition of being able to put oneself in a position where
rejection is a possibility.
Clubs and groups
Mutual interests and sharing things within a peer group, “team” or “club” can work to create
an interactional space for friendship. Extracts 6 and 7 show how children, through shared
peer culture, build social networks. Both extracts are examples of peer social networks that
are formed outside the teacher‟s direct influence, and are peer self-initiated, highlighting the
importance of opportunities for unstructured activities for children to actively engage with
Extract 6 Iris (G1 ph 2, 212/01, 03)
Researcher: Because you were telling me before that you‟ve made up a colouring in club
Researcher: And there can be you in it and three other people and the people can be
different every day can they?
Researcher: That‟s good.
Mary: [Overlapping with researcher speaking] But mainly we are starting...we started
it yesterday. We just started colouring – the club – yesterday.
But normally the same people...
Iris: The club started in term one the club started. But then I had these friends and
then they wouldn‟t play with me so I started it in term one and then all of a
sudden I got my friends wanted to play with me again and I cancelled it and
blah, blah, blah...
In Extract 6, Iris reports that she initiated a colouring-in club as a strategy to encourage
friends to play with her. She reports finding that “all of a sudden” she had friends to play
with. Mary also reports that she started a colouring-in club yesterday, and next describes a
different membership composition. While Iris‟s colouring-in club was open to different
members, Mary‟s club had regular members. Iris‟s and Mary‟s accounts indicate that the
strategy was not spontaneous, but designed with the intention to encourage friendship
through club activities.
In the following extract, Regan engages in a similar description, describing his motive to
make friends as a “mission”.”
Extract 7 Regan (G2 ph 2, 276/01)
Researcher: When you started school? How did you make friends when you started school?
Regan: I had a mission and the mission was that we had to choose people that would
play with us in our team.
Researcher: Okay so you had some teams that helped you choose friends?
Regan: I‟ll tell you all of my team. Its John, Jenny is the boss, Jim, Jeb, John Smith,
Researcher: Sounds like a pretty big team.
Regan: I‟ve got a little team. I‟ve got some people in my team.
Here, Regan brought together peers by using a strategy of choosing friends to play in
football teams. The selection of membership into the team constituted a way of making
friends visible. Regan points out that, while it was his mission to build a team, it was actually
Jane who was the “boss” of the team. It is then unclear whether Regan then refers to a
separate team when he talks about his “little team” or whether he is correcting the
researcher‟s description of the size of the team. Both extracts are examples of peer social
networks that operate outside the teacher‟s culture.
Child intervention to include others
In the previous extracts, we saw how the children observed what was happening in their
social worlds as a strategy to find ways to join in with others, or to construct new contexts for
others to join them. Observation also was reported as a strategy for realising that someone
was alone before joining them in shared activity. In Extract 8, we focus on Sam‟s account of
observing another member of the class, Paul, and his discussion of how Paul manages
without friends. Sam‟s account suggests a sensitive approach when he describes how he
thinks Paul might feel.
Extract 8 Sam (G2 ph 2, 271/06)
Researcher: What do you do if somebody hasn‟t got a friend?
Sam: I play with them.
Researcher: Do you?
Researcher: How do you think they feel if they haven‟t got a friend?
Sam: Pretty sad. One kid in my class called Paul, not the Paul in this class, Paul in
my class, well I don‟t know how but he knows how to play by himself without
Researcher: Does he?
Researcher: Do you think he wants to play by himself?
Sam: Well no, but I think he manages it.
Researcher: Is he the sort of boy you‟d think you‟d want to be a friend with?
Sam: Yeah, and I am a friend with.
Researcher: Well that‟s lovely, isn‟t it?
Researcher: Do you play with him sometimes?
Sam: Yep, a lot of the time.
Researcher: I think you‟re following that lovely school rule, Sam, about including people.
In this extract, Sam describes a classmate, Paul, whom he has observed as not having a
friend. Sam comments that Paul “knows how to play by himself without anyone.” His
observation, with great insight, reveals an empathy and responsiveness to Sam‟s situation of
being alone, and also an awareness and appreciation of the competence of Paul to manage
this situation. In addition, in response to the researcher‟s question asking if Sam played with
Paul “sometimes.” Sam upgrades his response to report that he plays with Paul “a lot of the
time.” In this extract, we see evidence of awareness of understanding how the social world
works and how to support friends. Sam‟s account of his awareness of, and sensitivity to, the
needs of his classmate, Paul, makes relevant a sense of solidarity, a quality of friendship
(Dunn, 2004). As this extract 8 shows, children do orient to the work of including and
helping others enter into peer interactions.
Through these extracts, we showed three main strategies identified by the children in building
peer interactions. The first strategy was to make requests. Suggesting to a child to make a
request to enter a play interaction already occurring is a typical pedagogic strategy used by
early childhood teachers (MacNaughton & Williams, 2009). On the surface, this suggestion
appears to be straightforward. However, the act of asking is a complex interactional task that
requires understanding the children‟s organisation of peer relations and how they
communicate effectively in that social context.
Asking, or making requests, is an interactional resource that requires “different kinds of
social knowledge” (Wootton, 1997, p. 176). The social knowledge might include a number of
considerations, such as the child‟s judgment of how favorably their request will be received
and the likelihood of their request being or not being met (Wootton, 1997). In addition,
making requests requires knowledge of a range of interactional strategies, such as how to use
politeness markers, and how to negotiate ownership and access to places and materials
(Author, Author, & Author, in press; Corsaro, 1985, 1997; Corsaro & Eder, 1990; Wootton,
1997). The social knowledge required to be a friend extends beyond the initial asking to
include an understanding of how relationships work, such as understanding how others feel
and why friends act in particular ways (Dunn et al., 2002). Children with these skills are
successful in cooperative play, have low levels of conflict and communicate well with peers
(Dunn, 1999; Dunn et al., 2002). Making a request, then, is not straightforward as the child
draws on expertise in social knowledge and well as the recognition of the possibility of
A second strategy identified by the children was evident in their descriptions of how they
worked to build shared interactions around a specific collaborative action in the playground
in either their morning or lunch breaks. Their accounts also discount a trivialisation of “play”
as something not serious. Here, play is a serious activity that builds friendships and social
order (Danby, 2005; Denzin, 1982).
A third strategy identified by the children was how they observed what was happening
around them and intervened to include others. Teachers do a lot of work to build social
networks. For example, Paley (1992) describes how she constructed a new social order for
her kindergarten class in Chicago when she posted a sign saying, “You can‟t say that you
can‟t play.” In seeing the sign, she describes how most of the children opposed the rule and
tried to find loopholes to get around the rule. As some of the children reported in this study,
they also worked to construct a social and peer order of inclusion.
While peer rejection is mentioned as being done to them, missing were reports of their
disliking or rejecting someone. Other studies found in their observational data of children
operating in their peer cultures in everyday interactions engage in criticism, conflicts,
gossiping and joking, and excluding others (Church, 2009; Danby & Baker, 1998; Dunn,
2004; Evaldsson, 2007; Goodwin, 1990, 2003). The absence of such discussion in these
conversations with the researcher may be due to the researcher‟s presence, and the children‟s
awareness of the identity work happening within the interview. Accounts are collaboratively
produced with the researcher, and there is a shared orientation to presenting identity in a
positive light (Danby et al, 2011; Rapley & Antaki, 1998).
Asking someone to be a friend, often a suggestion offered by teachers, and a strategy used by
children, can appear to be a straightforward suggestion. As shown, however, this action
requires complex understandings of social knowledge and the interactional work involved in
building relationships. Evident in the children‟s accounts of the strategies they used to build
peer interaction was the thoughtfulness and attention they gave to the qualities of friendship.
The children spent time observing their social environment before making requests to be a
friend. As well, children made visible their awareness of the high stakes of making requests,
not least having to consider the possibility of rejection as well as the reality of rejection.
An interactional analysis highlighted the concerns that children place on social matters of
friendship and peer relationships as they transition to school. The children‟s accounts
identified the complex nature and approaches they used as they endeavoured to build peer
relationships in the early years of school. They clearly identified the serious attention
children gave to making friends and building peer interactions, qualities identified as offering
immediate and long-term benefits for school adjustment and social relationships (Dunn,
2004; Petriwskyj, Thorpe, & Tayler, 2005).
Working from the children‟s accounts, we now outline four considerations for early
childhood educators. First, teachers and schools who value and support children‟s
competency and social relationships support children‟s success and participation at school.
This paper offers understandings about the agency of children and shows that the concern for
making friends is neither located within or outside adult culture, but reflects broader social
understandings of how to be a friend, regardless of whether one is an adult or a child. It is
possible that the children draw on their experiences and understandings derived from
participating in adult social worlds, but their strategies do not mirror or mimic adult
strategies; rather they make them their own in how they enact them.
Second, teachers and schools who entrust children with time and opportunities to attend to
social matters, foster the agency of children in their quest to make friends. A pedagogic
concern for teachers is supporting children to develop friendships and social networks. Yet,
in the accounts presented in this paper, we see children clearly describing their own practices
in establishing strategies to initiate friendships with less attention given to the adults‟ roles in
this process.. This finding, however, does not discount the significance of the work that
teachers and parents do in supporting friendships rather highlights the role teachers have in
supporting and making time for children‟s social encounters.
Third, the children‟s accounts of self-initiated and collective activity suggest the importance
of schools providing opportunities for unstructured activity and periods of time for children
to have both the physical and social space to build and maintain peer group culture. The
playground is an important resource for children engaging in building peer interactions, as is
the time required to undertake such relational work. Reducing the amount of time that
children spend in playground activity reduces the opportunities for social interaction.
Finally, there are serious implications for teachers‟ understandings of the importance of
children‟s social matters. This paper found that having someone, a friend, to play with, is
crucial to how the children feel about starting school. Teachers and schools who understand
and value the link between children‟s social relationships and their success and participation
in school activities support the short and long term well-being of children. Children‟s
accounts showed that it is important not to be left out or to be isolated from others. Further,
these accounts show the serious attention and the strategising that the children undertake in
initiating friendships. Making friends is serious business.
Brooker, L. (2008). Suppporting transitions in the early years. MAaronhead: McGraw-Hill
Buhs, E. S., & Ladd, G. W. (2001). Peer rejection as antecedent of young children's school
adjustment: An examination of mediating processes. . Developmental Psychology 37(4), 550-
Christensen, P., & James, A. (Eds.). (2000). Research with children: Perspectives and practices.
London: Falmer Press.
Church, A. (2009). Preference organisation and peer disputes: How young children resolve conflict.
Corsaro, W. A. (1979). "We're friends, right?": Children's use of access rituals in a nursery school.
Language in Society, 8, 315-336.
Corsaro, W. A. (1985). Friendship and peer culture in the early years. Norwood, New Jersey: Ablex.
Corsaro, W. A. (1997). The sociology of childhood. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.
Corsaro, W. A., & Eder, D. (1990). Children's peer cultures. Annual Review of Sociology, 16, 197-
Corsaro, W. A., & Molinari, L. (1990). From seggiolini to discussione: The generation and extension
of peer culture among Italian preschool children. International Journal of Qualitative Studies
in Education, 3(3), 213-230.
Corsaro, W. A., & Molinari, L. (2000). Priming events and Italian children's transition from preschool
to elementary school: Representations and action. Social Psychology Quarterly, 63(1), 16-33.
Danby, S. (2005). Preschool girls, conflict and repair. In J. Mason & T. Fattore (Eds.), Children taken
seriously in theory, policy and practice (pp. 172-180). London: Jessica Kingsley.
Danby, S., & Baker, C. (1998). How to be masculine in the block area. Childhood, 5(2).
Denzin, N. K. (1982). The work of little children. In C. Jenks (Ed.), The sociology of childhood:
Essential readings (pp. 189-194). Aldershot: Gregg Revivals.
Diehl, D. S., Lemerise, E. A., Caverly, S. L., Ramsay, S., & Roberts, J. (1998). Peer relations and
school adjustment in ungraded primary children. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90(3),
Dockett, S. (2004). 'Everyone was really happy to see me!' The importance of friendships on the
return to school of children with chronic illness. Early Childhood Australia, 29(1), 27-32.
Dockett, S., & Perry, B. (1999). Starting School: What Do the Children Say? Early Child
Development and Care, 159, 107-111.
Dockett, S., & Perry, B. (2001). Starting School : Effective transitions. Early Childhood Research and
Practice, 3(2), 1-18.
Dockett, S., & Perry, B. (2004). What makes a successful transition to school? Views of Australian
parents and teachers. International Journal of Early Years Education, 12(3), 217-230.
Dockett, S., & Perry, B. (2005). Researching with children: Insights from the Starting School
Research Project. Early Child Development and Care, 175(6), 507–521.
Dunn, J. (1999). Making sense of the social world: Mindreading, emotion and relationships. In P. D.
Zelazo, J. W. Astington & D. R. Olson (Eds.), Developing theories of intention: Social
understanding and self-control. Mahwas, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Dunn, J. (2004). Children's friendships: The beginnings of intimacy. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Dunn, J., Cutting, A. L., & Fisher, N. (2002). Old friends, new friends: predictors of children's
perspective on their friends at school. Child Development, 73(2), 621-635.
Dunn, J., Davies, L. C., O'Connor, T. G., & Sturgess, W. (2001). Family lives and friendships: The
perspectives of children in step-, single-parent, and nonstep families. Journal of Family
Psychology, 15(2), 272-287.
Einarsdottir, J., Dockett, S., & Perry, B. (2009). Making meaning: Children's perspectives expressed
through drawings. Early Child Development and Care, 179(2), 217–232.
Evaldsson, A.-C. (2007). Accounting for Friendship: Moral Ordering and Category Membership
in Preadolescent Girls‟ Relational Talk. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 40(4), 377–
Fabian, H. (2000). Small steps to starting school. International Journal of Early Years Education,,
Genishi, C. (1982). Observational research methods for early childhood education. In B. Spodek
(Ed.), Handbook of research in early childhood education. New York: Free Press.
Goodwin, M. H. (1990). He-said-she-said: Talk as social organization among black children.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Goodwin, M. H. (2003). The Relevance of Ethnicity, Class, and Gender in Children's Peer
Negotiations. . In J. Holmes & M. Meyerhoff (Eds.), Handbook of Language and Gender (pp.
229-251). Oxford: Blackwell.
Hallett, C., & Prout, A. (Eds.). (2003). Hearing the voices of children: Social policy for a new
century. London: RoutledgeFalmer.
Hagerman, M. A. (2010). "I like being intervieeeeeeewed!": Kids' perspectives on participating in
social research. In H. B. Johnson (Ed.), Children and youth speak for themselves:
Sociological studies of children and youth (Vol. 13, pp. 61-105). Egmore, Chennai: Emerald
James, A., Jenks, C., & Prout, A. (1998). Theorizing childhood. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Johnson, H. (2010). Scholars giving voice so that children and youth can speak for themselves: An
introduction to this special volume, in H. Johnson (Ed.) Children and Youth Speak for
Themselves (Sociological Studies of Children and Youth, Volume 13) (pp. xiii-xv). Egmore,
Chennai : Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Johnson, C., Ironsmith, M., Snow, C. W., & Poteat, G. M. (2000). Peer acceptance and social
adjustment in preschool and kindergarten. Early Childhood Education Journal, 27(4), 207-
Koizumi, R. (2000). Anchor points in transitions to a new school environment. The Journal of
Primary Prevention, 20(3), 175-187.
Ladd, G. W. (1990). Having friends, keeping friends, making friends, and being liked by peers in the
classroom: Predictors of children's early school adjustment? Child Development, 61(4), 1081-
Ladd, G. W., Birch, S. H., & et al. (1999). Children's social and scholastic lives in kindergarten:
Related spheres of influence? Child Development 70(6), 1373-1400.
MacNaughton, G., & Williams, G. (2009). Techniques for teaching young children. Frenchs Forest:
Mason, J., & Danby, S. (2011). Editorial to special issue: Children as experts in their lives: Child
inclusive research. Child Indicators Research, 4, 185–189.
Mayall, B. (2000). Conversations with children: working with generational issues. In P. Christensen
& A. James (Eds.), Research with children: Perspectives and practices (pp. 120-135). New
York: Falmer Press.
Paley, V. G. (1992). You can't say you can't play. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Peräkylä, A. (1997). Reliability and validity in research based on transcripts. In D. Silverman (Ed.),
Qualitative research: Theory, method and practice (pp. 201-220). London: Sage.
Peters, S. (2000). Multiple perspectives on continuity in early learning and the transition to school.
Paper presented at the European Early Childhood Research Association Conference, London,
Petriwskyj, A., Thorpe, K., & Tayler, C. (2005). Trends in construction of transition to school in three
Western regions 1990-2004. International Journal of Early Years Education, 13(1), 55-69.
Pomerantz, A. (1986). Extreme case formulations: A way of legitimizing claims. Human Studies, 9,
Prout, A., & James, A. (1990). A new paradigm for the sociology of childhood? Provenance, promise
and problems. In A. James & A. Prout (Eds.), Constructing and reconstructing childhood:
Contemporary issues in the sociological study of childhood (pp. 7-34). London: Falmer Press.
Rapley, M., & Antaki, C. (1998). 'What do you think about ...?': Generating views in an interview.
Text, 18(4), 578-608.
Rubin, K., Fredstrom, B., & Bowker, J. (2008). Future Directions in . . . Friendship in Childhood and
Early Adolescence. Social Development.
Sacks, H. (1984). Notes on methodology. In J. M. Atkinson & J. Heritage (Eds.), Structures of social
action: Studies in conversation analysis (pp. 21-27). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Silverman, D. (1993). Interpreting qualitative data: Methods for analysing talk, text and interaction.
Silverman, D. (2007). A very short, fairly interesting and reasonably cheap book about qualitative
research. London: Sage.
Speier, M. (1982). The everyday world of the child. In C. Jenks (Ed.), The sociology of childhood:
Essential readings (pp. 181-188). Aldershot: Gregg Revivals.
Tomada, G., Schneider, B. H., de Domini, P., Greenman, P. S., & Fonzi, A. (2005). Friendship as a
predictor of adjustment following a transition to formal academic instruction and evaluation.
International Journal of Behavioral Development, 29(4), 413-322.
Waksler, F. C. (1996). The little trials of childhood and children's strategies for dealing with them.
London: Falmer Press.
Wootton, A. J. (1997). Interaction and the development of mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Yeo, L. S., & Clarke, C. (2005). Starting school - A story told by Singapore children. Australian
Journal of Early Childhood, 30(3), 1-8.
Table 1 Feelings about starting school and strategies for making friends
Feelings about starting school –
Best things about starting school
Frightened about learning
Meeting old friends
Making new friends
Worst thing about starting school
Finding new friends
Going every day
Fear of having no friends
Thought work would be too hard
No one would play with me
Had the wrong lunch
In the playground
In the classroom
Teacher gave us name badges
From out of school
From pre or prep
Friends in higher grades
Role of siblings, cousins, twin