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From playmate to pal: Children's experiences of friendship in an elementary school

1 December 1992


The purpose of this qualitative study was to answer two research questions: 1) What does friendship look like among first graders in an elementary school setting; and 2) how are developmental changes reflected in children's friendships between grades one and six. My research to address the question of developmental changes was based on the work of Anita Gurian and Ruth Formanek (1980). Gurian and Formanek's theory proposes that children's friendships progress through an orderly sequence of stages going from simple to complex, and concrete to abstract, as children develop and mature.

This study took place at a rural K-6 elementary school located in the Pacific Northwest. The participants were first through sixth grade children. Information was gathered in the classroom and on the playground through a variety of methodological approaches including observations, taped interviews, written surveys, and children's illustrations. In order to protect the participants' rights to privacy and anonymity I have provided pseudonyms for all participants in this study.

After collecting and organizing extensive field notes, interviews, and survey responses, various patterns emerged in the way these children conceived of and experienced friendship in grades one through six. My research revealed that the children's conceptions of friendship did progress from simple to complex and from concrete to abstract. Moreover, children's friendships in the upper grades were more permanent and on-going, they became more of a two-way exchange, and the children's criteria for choosing a friend became more defined and selective.


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