A successful adaptation to the school environment implies that
children have success both cognitively and socially. In fact, social interaction
with peers improves cognitive achievement (Burleson et al., 1986). Free play,
as confirmed in previous studies, is very important in children’s school experience;
it seems to be closely related to academic outcome and the acquisition and development
of social competence (Pellegrini and Smith, 1993). Indeed, the behaviors that
children learn in peer groups train them for adulthood society.
The use of the construct social competence has been differently
defined by each investigator (Dodge, Pettit, MacClaskey and Brown, 1986; Walden
and Field, 1990; Waters and Sroufe, 1983; Wright, 1980). Though, in general,
there is agreement in that social competence should be related to the capacity
for establishing and maintaining social relationships (Waters, Noyes, Vaughn
and Ricks, 1985). Thus, for Schneider (1993), social competence implies the
ability to implement developmentally-appropriate social behaviors that enhance
one’s interpersonal relationships without causing harm to anyone.
Moreover, from our point of view, a single measure of social
adjustment (i.e. implication in social interactions) is not sufficient to establish
the degree of social competence of an individual. It is important to take into
account the different behaviors that an individual performs in peer-groups,
in order to know his or her social ability.
Preschool children’s flexibility in employing a wide range
of behaviors and strategies is representative of the behavioral complexity of
the individuals at older ages. Following this reasoning, the number of different
behaviors a young child exhibits in peer group settings might determine his
or her level of social ability.
In previous studies the authors have designed an Index of Amplitude
of Behavior (IAB) (Braza, Braza, Carreras and Muñoz, 1993) for each individual
during free play periods. This index examines the contribution of time children
dedicate to the different social patterns considered (it is calculated as an
index of diversity applied to the time an individual dedicates to each pattern
of behavior). Furthermore, this index was an useful measure to determine levels
of social ability and could be used to study the contribution of several factors,
both familial and cognitive, to the child’s social competence (Braza, Braza,
Carreras and Muñoz, 1994).
In order to validate the Index of Amplitude of Behavior as
a measure instrument of social ability of preschool children, the following
questions should be considered: Is children’s social adjustment modified during
the academic year? Is preschool children’s capacity for developing different
behaviors related to individual or school factors?
To answer these questions, in the present study the variation
of the IAB during an academic year in an Andalusian school was analyzed. We
have also pretended to determine the minimum period of observation needed for
a reliable value of the IAB, considering the variation of this index with the
progressing time of observation.
Material and Methods
The study was carried out at an elementary school in Cádiz
(Southern Spain). The preschool children, members of a single group (n = 31;
23 girls and 8 boys, aged 5 years;
= 61.7 ± 3.7 months) were Caucasian and according to family income could be
classified as middle-lower socio-economic class. Most of the parents had a primary
or middle level of studies.
The area surveyed was a 190 m2 patio with two distinct
zones: one is a sports ground (football and basketball), and the other has a
fountain and several trees. The preschool children shared the study area with
children up to nine years old without any adult present.
Children were filmed (SANYO UMD6P video camera) while unaware
of the observers, with prior consent of the parents and teachers, during 30
minutes of daily free play at least twice a week.
Behavior was recorded using the focal sampling and continuous
recording methods (Martin and Bateson, 1986). The group filmed was selected
at random, and the behavior of each child of the group was analyzed sequentially
with a program written in FoxPro (Microsoft Software), which provides the measure
of true duration of the behavioral patterns performed each child in each sequence.
The social patterns considered (Table 1) are based on prior
observations (Braza and Braza, 1989). Nevertheless, we previously revised those
lists made by other authors, specially those studies more related with the behavior
of preschool children (Blurton Jones, 1967, 1971, 1972; Brannigan and Humphies,
1972; McGrew, 1972; Smith and Connolly, 1972). In order to contribute to independence
of the data no group was filmed excesively (
= 49.30 sec., SD=31.34 sec). A total of 21142 minutes of observation (682 minutes/individual),
obtained through the whole academic year was analyzed. The observations were
carried out from November 1989 to June 1990. Recording occurred during three
different periods separated by 10 days of holidays.
To measure the diversity of the behaviors shown by each subject,
we used the Index of Amplitude of Behavior (IAB) (Braza et al., 1993, 1994).
This index was calculated using Shanon’s Index (H’ = -ΣPilnPi) as a measure
of diversity (Ludwig and Reynolds, 1988), with the relative frequency of time
dedicated to the different behaviors considered.
For the statistical analysis of data we calculated the coefficient
of variation of the IAB in each term and the Pearson’s correlation between the
values of the IAB in each term and in the whole academic year.
The IAB for each subject was calculated chronologically during
the academic year. Graphic representation of the IAB over time shows that by
about 300 sec of observation the value stabilizes in all subjects (Figure 1).
Because children leave the school twice a year for holidays,
and taking into account that the value of IAB stabilizes by about 300 sec of
observation, we have calculated the IAB for those subjects who have a minimum
of 300 sec of observation in each term. If we compare the IAB in each of the
terms, we find a decrease in the coefficient of variation (Table 2). The decrease
appears to be marginaly significant according to the test of Lewontin (Zar,
Considering that the IAB distribution in each term is not significantly
different from a normal distribution (Test of Kolmogorov and Smirnov; p>0.20
in each case), we have calculated the correlation between the values of the
Index of Amplitude of Behavior in each term and in the whole academic year (Table
3). Only the correlation of the IAB in the first term with the total IAB approaches
a significant positive level. We could also point out that there is a tendency
towards a change in the diversity of the behaviors expressed between the first
and the second terms.
Despite the problems which may derive from the size and nature
of the study sample, the results seem to confirm the fact that the IAB of all
subjects increases at a first moment and stabilizes when the time of observation
increases, though in a different value for each individual. Taking into account
that the Amplitude of Behavior makes an important contribution to the social
adaptation of each individual (Braza et al., 1994), we can argue that the IAB
can be useful as a discriminating measure which evaluate individual differences
in social ability. In any case, the testing of these results in larger samples
would appear to be very interesting.
According to the data obtained in this study, the Index of
Amplitude of Behavior of each subject reaches a stable value at 300 sec of observation
from the moment in which the subject meets the rest of his or her peers.
However, over the course of the academic year, the Index of
Amplitude of Behavior of each individual seems to gravitate towards the mean
value of the study sample.
In a model for the development of peer relationships proposed
by Whaley and Rubenstein (1994), it is suggested that behavioral similarity
is what cements relationships. Considering that the benefits of the relations
with peers are mainly social (Salzinger, Hammer and Antrobus, 1988; Smith and
Connolly, 1980), perhaps preschool children become more conforming in order
to consolidate their relationships and thereby enhance these social benefits.
Nevertheless, we also have to take into account the preschool
children’s possible interest in establishing differences between themselves
and others, especially in concrete areas such as possessions and activities
(Erwin, 1993). So, a deeper analysis is necessary to assess the possible existence
of individuation in children’s behavior, with each subject attaining a special
role in the group, which would also reflect a decrease in the Amplitude of Behavior.
Future research on preschoolers might clarify these social
processes of similarity or individuation, and it is possible that the Index
of Amplitude of Behavior could be an useful variable to explore the social effects
of peer groups during the academic year.
The correlation detected between the Index of Amplitude of
Behavior of each child at the first term and the value obtained over all observations
suggests that at the first contacts with peers children are already expressing
their "measure of behavioral amplitude". In a previous study we showed
that the Index of Amplitude of Behavior obtained at the first term could be
a good predictor for social adaptation of preschool children (Braza et al.,
1994). The results of the present study confirm this approach. Therefore, to
obtain a good mean of amplitude of behavior, it is advisable to observe the
first peer encounters.
This study was supported by the Dirección General de
Investigación Científica y Técnica in Spain (project PB94-0010).
We are grateful to Enrique Collado for his help in the analysis of data, his
comments and his participation in the discussion of the results. We sincerely
thank to Glenn Weisfeld his critical reading of this manuscript. Alicia Prieto
also made an important contribution to the preparation of the manuscript. We
also thank the Head and teachers of the School Josefina Pascual in Cádiz
and the parents who enabled us to undertake our observations.