Lessons drawn from observing young peers together.
Based on studies during the past 13 years of what transpires between young peers, lessons are drawn about the nature of human sociability and the development of social skill during the first three years of life. Peer encounters have proven especially helpful for discovering the forms of sociability and social skill the infant is capable of without the aid of a more skillful social partner. From early in infancy, children are quite sociable with peers (age-mates), both in novel play settings and in their own home or customary group care settings, both with an unfamiliar peer and with those quite familiar, both at the start of acquaintanceship with a particular peer and after many encounters with that peer. Their sociability is seen in their attraction to peers, their directing to peers of such distinctively social behaviors as vocalizations, smiles, and gestures, and the predominantly friendly nature of their behavior. Peer encounters in the absence of customary play materials refute claims that attraction to peers is a by-product of interest in toys and the inanimate spectacles peers create through their actions on toys. Distinctions should be drawn between sociability and social skills, especially interactive skills. Interactive skills are systematic ways the young child relates his/her own behavior to the details of a partner's behavior that function to facilitate such valued social outcomes as the generation of a cooperative game or a conversation or the resolution of a dispute. Observations of young peers highlight the distinctive nature of the infant's interactive skills. Social influence between peers is present from 6 months, but rarely takes the form customary for older children. Joining a peer and manipulating the same play material as the peer are rudimentary interactive skills that emerge by 12 months. Interactive skills enabling the generation of extended sequences of social interaction on a common cooperative theme progress rapidly during the third year of life. The distinctive form of the young child's interactive skills produces distinctive patterns of interaction among young peers. Their interactions are managed largely nonverbally well into the third year of life, and extended cooperative interactions most often take the form of games in which one or both children imitate each other's actions. Despite the predominance of imitation, their encounters are also marked by complementary role relationships. The distinctive features of peer encounters prompt speculations about the role peer encounters can play in early development.
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