Social Sustainability through Children’s Expressions of Belonging in Peer Communities
- How do children create and express peer communities during free play?
- What do the children gather around in these communities?
- How do these communities create boundaries, and what conditions do they set for children’s belonging?
2. Theoretical Framework
2.1. Social Sustainability
2.4. Politics of Belonging
2.5. Situated Intersectionality
2.5.1. Social Positions
2.5.2. Identification with and Emotional Connection to Various Communities
2.5.3. Ethical and Political Values to Which Children Relate
3. Materials and Methods
4.1. Emotionally Tight Communities
The School Game
In the middle of the room is a large sofa. A lot of activities are going on in the large room in the preschool department. Mari and Geir are sitting on the sofa. The adults sit at different tables spread out across the room. Several groupings of children are spread out across the room, playing. The children move back and forth between the tables and other activities. In between the two children on the sofa there is a backpack, some books, and a teddy bear. The children are focusing on each other; they talk, they look at each other, they mirror each other’s initiatives playing with the sack. The other children approach them, sometimes taking a seat on the sofa, sometimes just stopping and watching them, and then leave to play elsewhere. Mari and Geir seem not to register the other children. They are totally absorbed in each other, building up their play, eagerly chatting with each other (inaudibly).
After a while, Mari initiates putting the toys in the sack. ‘I can pack’, she says. Quickly, she puts the teddy bear and some books in the bag. ‘Yes, these are your homework’, confirms Geir, with a supporting tone of voice, while he also put books in the backpack. Geir looks at the sack. ‘I can help you to put it on’, he says. He lifts the backpack and places it on Mari’s back. Then he crawls down from the sofa, sits close beside her, and fastens a strap around her body. ‘I can accompany you to school’, he says, friendly. ‘Yes’, says Mari and smiles. Together they walk across the room. Eventually they stop to adjust the backpack and the straps, helping each other.
Now Mari closes her eyes and turns her face towards the ceiling (acting as though she cannot see). ‘I can accompany you, so you don’t have to walk (alone?)’ says Geir. He grabs a strap of the backpack and leads her across the floor. Mari takes his hand. They walk hand in hand into the locker room. There is no one there. Playfully, they tease each other, throwing drawing papers, holding and pulling each other while laughing.
When another child Judith enters the locker room and asks if she can join, Mari quickly turns around towards her, saying firmly, ‘no, we are playing the school game’, and quickly turns back towards Geir. Judith quickly leaves the locker room. After a while, Mari says: ‘Let’s go home’. ‘Yes’, Geir responds. ‘School has ended now’, he continues. The children continue to playfully pull each other and laugh while moving out of the locker room. Entering the large room, they are encountered by an educator asking them if they denied Judith joining in their play. ‘We said yes’, Mari and Geir respond quickly. ‘You did not listen to us’, continues Geir, looking at Judith. Now the educator offers some suggestions for playing together, but the children do not accept these. ‘We are playing the school game’, says Geir in a low tone of voice, looking down at the floor. Mari and Geir stand still and quiet for a while. Then they walk close together, away from the sofa. Judith remains sitting on the sofa looking in a book.
4.2. Communities Based on Norms and Power Struggles
Jumping from the Wall Bar
It is playtime in preschool. Iselin is standing in the middle of the room looking at the activities going on between the children. An educator asks Iselin if she wants to join her in the sports room (a large room with cushions, mattresses, and climbing walls). Iselin nods, confirming. She smiles a little. When the door is opened by the educator, all the children quickly spread out. Some children run to some large mattresses and a climbing house. Dimitri is first to the house and he fetches a large cushion, looking (surprised) at the other children running towards him. Other children join; some enter the house, others search for cushions. Dimitri picks up the cushion, walks over to the educator, and lies down beside her, observing the other children enthusiastically building a house.
Now the educator initiates a jumping activity from a wall bar, which immediately catches the attention of several children. The educator informs the children when to jump and that they need to queue in a line. She encourages them: ‘You are indeed skillful’. The play is intense and there is a lot of noise, screaming, and laughter in the room.
Iselin is standing still on the floor, watching. Now the educator invites Iselin to join. Iselin takes a position at the end of the queue of eight children. She stands quietly waiting for her turn. There is noise and distress in the queue. The children do not agree on how to play, they push each other, blame each other for “sneaking” into the queue, they hit each other. Iselin looks gently over her shoulder. She climbs a few steps up the bar and then down again; thereafter she jumps down on the mattress. She walks away from the bar and stops, looking at the children in the queue. Conflicts still appear around how to jump, and some of the children leave the queue and return to building the house. Iselin jumps a little by herself on a small mattress beside her. Later, she sits down on the educator’s knee. Dimitri is lying on a cushion beside the educators. Iselin and Dimitri look at the other children jumping. After a while Dimitri leaves the sports room. /.../ After 30 min the educator says that it is cleaning up time.
4.3. Communities of Open Borders and Joyfulness
No Walking in the Lava
Dimitri, Stefan, and Mina are in the sports room with an adult. Mina runs around, jumping on the mattresses. Stefan and Dimitri are building a tower with cushions, following the educator’s initiative. After a while, Mari and Geir enter the room. Dimitri observes them, silent, and then lies down on a mattress.
Geir starts to walk around on the mattresses, which are spread out on the floor in a circle. Mari quickly follows and says, smiling, ‘shall we play don’t step on the lava, Geir?’ Geir says ‘yes’ with a happy tone of voice. He starts running on the mattresses, trying to avoid touching the floor. Mari follows, laughing. After a while, Stefan, Jon, and Dimitri run around on the mattresses following the same pattern. Mina and Charlotte are now in the room and they join the activity. Now and then, Mari and Geir instruct their peers on how to run and how the mattresses should be ordered. Now, all the children in the sports room join the activity. Eventually they stop, sit down for a while, and then start running again.
From the CD player, one can hear music (A song “The Rescue Boat Elias”). After a few running rounds, Jon stops by the CD player and skips to another song, which results in a loud sound. Jon and the children look at each other and they all start to laugh. Jon continues to play; he runs, stops by the CD player, and turns up the sound. The children look at each other, laughing. Jon repeats the play. Sometimes he turns up the volume. Other times, he skips to another song. The children look at him and laugh. The adult tries many times to make Jon stop, but he ignores her. After a while, she turns off the CD player. The children continue running on the mattresses, eagerly trying not to step in the “lava”. After 10 min, the play is interrupted by some children running into the room with paper airplanes in their hands.
5.1. Communities of Closeness, Conflicts, and Joyfulness
5.1.1. Communities of Closeness
5.1.2. Communities of Conflict
5.1.3. Communities of Joyfulness
5.2. Social Sustainability: Safeguarding the Individual and the Community
6. Conclusions and Implications
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
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Johansson, E.; Rosell, Y. Social Sustainability through Children’s Expressions of Belonging in Peer Communities. Sustainability 2021, 13, 3839. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13073839
Johansson E, Rosell Y. Social Sustainability through Children’s Expressions of Belonging in Peer Communities. Sustainability. 2021; 13(7):3839. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13073839Chicago/Turabian Style
Johansson, Eva, and Yngve Rosell. 2021. "Social Sustainability through Children’s Expressions of Belonging in Peer Communities" Sustainability 13, no. 7: 3839. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13073839