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Wright, Susan (Susan Kay)
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Peer relations are critical for cognitive and social development in young children. Experts (Hartup, 1991; Johnson, Ironsmith, Snow & Poteat, 2000; Katz & McClellan, 1997) in this field assert that preschool friendships are crucial in enabling well-adjusted adults of the future. Hence, studies have sought to understand and document criteria and processes used by children to engage in friendships, exploring both gender and race influences on preschool friendships (Dewitt, 2000; Irving, 1994; Molina, Coplan & Younger, 2004; Philipsen, Bridges, McLemore & Sapanaro, 1999; Sharpe & Gan, 2000).

This study explored the views and behaviours of a select group of Singaporean children, aged between four and six, in order to understand how these children defined friendships and to pinpoint the various criteria they used in determining whom they befriended. Special focus was placed on examining the role of race, ethnicity and gender on peer selection within the context of a preschool in the South West of Singapore. Using a mixed method approach, grounded in a poststructural research framework (Derrida, 1967; Foucault, 1975, 1977; MacNaughton, 2005) children’s views on “differences” between themselves and others and the effect of this understanding on peer choice were gleaned via participant observation, and interviews with the aid of both persona dolls and colour photographs.

The results of this study have shown that children are aware of “differences” between themselves and others, discerned through visually apparent physical features like skin colour, hair type and facial features, and that these discernments influenced friendship choices amongst some children. Results suggested that a colour bias takes root early amongst some children, including minority race youngsters. Biases against dark skinned children by the majority of the interviewed children indicate that prejudice and its sister, discrimination, begin as early as the preschool years in some youngsters. Additionally, this study suggested that identity formation, especially ethnic or racial identity in young minority race children, might be thwarted by their desire to be part of the “norm” i.e. to be seen as part of the Chinese population even though they may be aware of their own non- Chinese racial membership. All minority race children interviewed in this study were aware of their race but when asked whom among the dolls and photos they most resembled, they would invariably pick the Chinese or Caucasian ones, suggesting a preference to be seen as part of the perceived popular racial groups within Singapore society.

The findings have pointed out the benefits of implementing a multi-cultural curriculum in Singapore’s various preschools to enable authentic relationships between the various races in Singapore, and to maintain and further deepen the harmony that is the hallmark of Singapore. Additionally, teacher training by the respective agencies needs to equip teachers to work in a multi-cultural setting, respecting diversity and working towards fostering healthy understanding of differences among their young charges as they go about their duties to enrich their students’ minds. Limitations of the study were noted, and recommendations for further research in this area were also discussed.
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LB1140.25.S55 Ana
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Appears in Collections:Master of Education

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