Definition peer group
The term peer group means something like “the group of peers” or “the group of equals”. In the educational field, people like to use this term to describe groups of children or young people who come together for specific reasons. These can be very different reasons. Often a peer group is formed by the same age, interests, hobbies, origin or gender. Institutions such as kindergarten or school are particularly conducive to the development of different peer groups.
The advantage of early peer groups
If you take a closer look at the definition of peer groups, you can see that a peer group can form at a very early age. Children today are coming together earlier and earlier outside the family. They meet in toddler groups with their peers, then go together to children’s gymnastics, the playground, kindergarten and elementary school. Along the way, peer groups form over time through regular play with the same children.
Especially for young children, this game is very valuable. They learn from the beginning that the world does not revolve around them alone and that there are more children. While playing together in the peer group, they learn to be considerate, to settle conflicts, to share and to assert themselves. The earlier they are allowed to learn these skills in a group with their peers, the more they will be able to fit into a community later. Besides, the effect to learn is much greater if they learn it in the peer group than if the parents try to teach the child to share, for example.
Learning from each other – right from the start
Children under the age of two are more likely to play alongside each other rather than with each other. This is quite normal and nothing to worry about. Nevertheless, a peer group is already very valuable at the age of less than two. Here, toddlers can already learn a lot from each other. Over time, children decide on their own with whom they would like to play and with whom they would rather not. They form their peer group without the help of adults.
Emergence of peer groups in early childhood
In fact, it’s already important for babies and toddlers to have lots of contact with children their own age. Already in the first year of life, most babies have great interest in other babies and children. They practice first steps in social behavior such as smiling, babbling, and touching. In the second year of life, imitative play is added. Children are very important for this very purpose. Babies find it easier to learn from other children than from adults.
For the viewer, it may not seem from the outside as if babies and toddlers are in contact with each other. However, if you look closer, you can see the beginning of the first peer group. The first such joint games are, for example, babbling together, imitating movements or dancing together to music. Over time, children in a peer group develop common games such as the popular role-playing game.
Around age three, a toddler’s peer group expands from just one or two play partners:inside to larger groups. Now, more extensive games emerge that often seem very complex even to observers. At this stage, the peer group is usually formed not by gender, but by gaming preferences and age. Shortly before elementary school age, most children begin to divide into gender-specific peer groups. From the initial peer group, which was still open to other children, firm friendships now develop. At elementary school entry, the peer group is reshuffled.
How adults can support the formation of a peer group
For a child to bond well with a peer group, he or she first needs a good bond with his or her parents. After all, only children who have developed trust in the world can also break away from their parents to connect with their peers. If the child is insecurely attached, i.e. does not know for sure whether he or she can rely on his or her parents, this often has a negative impact on social behavior. Children who grow up very isolated also usually have great difficulty connecting to a peer group. That’s why parents should maintain as much contact with other children as possible. This can be a toddler group or a regular visit to a playground. Meeting with friends who have children is also part of it. This allows the child to experience interaction with peers at an early age.
Goetz, S. (2020). Peer group in infancy. You cannot replace friends of the same age. ISSN: 2748-2979. Accessed 11/21/2020. Available at: https://krippenzeit.de/institutionsanalyse-mit-reflexion-als-erzieher/