Chasing Friendship: Acceptance, Rejection, and Recess Play

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Taylor & Francis for Association for Childhood Education International


The tension in a game of hide-and-seek typifies the social flight and pursuit recorded in an ethnographic study of recess play during weekly observations on an elementary school playground. Analysis of field notes revealed that 1st-grade children frequently blurred the line between acceptance and rejection while they worked through peer relationships within the complex social web of playground friendships. One body of research on childhood relationships indicates that children may suffer peer rejection or lags in their social development as a result of ineffective play behaviors (McCay & Keyes, 2001; Yanghee, 2003). Other ethnographic studies (Corsaro, 2003; Fernie, Kantor, & Whaley, 1995; Kantor & Fernie, 2003; Scott, 2003) expand interpretations of exclusion beyond individual deficits, situating peer rejection within the social context of children's culture and the institutional structure of schools. In this article, inclusion and exclusion are interpreted not as functions of individual developmental deficit but rather as socially constructed phenomena within the peer group, highlighting the need for teachers to intervene with the entire class rather than focusing on perceived social skills deficits of particular children. The article describes how children in this study used play materials and themes to create play group affiliations, restrict or challenge group membership, and stretch peer social boundaries. The final section offers a playground observation tool and classroom implications and suggestions for teachers to help young children form more inclusive play groups.


This is a post-print; the final typeset version is available on the Taylor & Francis website for the journal Childhood Education.


play, playground, peer culture, exclusion, inclusion, teacher mediation of children's play


Wohlwend, K. E. (2005). Chasing friendship: Acceptance, rejection, and recess play. Childhood Education, 81(2), 77-82.