Capturing talk and proximity in the classroom: Advances in measuring features of young children's friendships

Abstract Young children's friendships fuel essential developmental outcomes (e.g., social-emotional competence) and are thought to provide even greater benefits to children with or at-risk for disabilities. Teacher and parent report and sociometric measures are commonly used to measure friendships, and ecobehavioral assessment has been used to capture its features on a momentary basis. In this proof-of-concept study, we use Ubisense, the Language ENvironmental Analysis (LENA) recorder, and advanced speech processing algorithms to capture features of friendship – child-peer speech and proximity within activity areas. We collected 12,332 1-second speech and location data points. Our preliminary results indicate the focal child at-risk for a disability and each playmate spent time vocalizing near one another across 4 activity areas. Additionally, compared to the Blocks activity area, the children had significantly lower odds of talking while in proximity during Manipulatives and Science. This suggests that the activity areas children occupy may affect their engagement with peers and, in turn, the friendships they development. The proposed approach is a groundbreaking advance to understanding and supporting children's friendships.
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