Collaborative Competence during preschooler’s Peer Interactions: Considering Multiple Levels of Context within Classrooms

  • Rebecca GarteEmail author
Regular Article


The present study introduced an interaction based, contextually contingent method for the study of social competence among preschoolers from low income families of color. Contrary to prevailing methods that assess social competence among individual children, this study used the interacting group as the unit of analysis. The constructs of intersubjectivity and collaborative complexity were adapted for an observational measure of 277 naturally occurring episodes of children’s free play. The results of a multi-level analysis demonstrated a significant impact of the flexibility of the play environment and the characteristics of the peer group on the social complexity of children’s peer interactions during play. To explain the study’s findings a theory of how children’s collaborative competence emerges according to the features of the physical and social context is proposed. More specifically, there is a bi-directional relationship between the flexibility of space and materials in the immediate play environment and children’s focus on either interpersonal dynamics or collective goals of shared activity during peer play interactions. Implications for both empirical study and theorization of children’s collaborative competence is discussed. More specifically, the need for measures that consider the interactive nature of social development, include non-verbal indicators of collaborative competence and consider environmental influences on children’s peer interactions is highlighted. Including consideration of collaborative competence as framed by shared activity and collective goals during peer interactions in an understanding of social competence, rather than an exclusive focus on individual development of social skills is proposed.


Preschoolers Social competence Intersubjectivity Peer interactions Collaborative play 



I would like to acknowledge Rui Lu of Teacher’s College, Columbia University for his assistance with this manuscript. I would also like to thank Anna Stetsenko for her mentorship in relation to this manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The author of this manuscript, Rebecca Garte, declares that she has no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Institutional Review Board and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Borough of Manhattan Community College of the City University of New YorkNew YorkUSA

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