How do infants interact in groups in Long Day Care across the first two years of life?

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Long day care is seen as niche for the social development of infants. It provides opportunities for infants to interact with familiar and similarly-aged peers, and develop the skills needed to participate in and contribute to group play. Although research has described some of the ways that infants interact in groups, the pathway of social development among infant-peer groups in long day care has yet to be fully understood. Furthermore, studies of infant social development in laboratory-based settings as well in early childhood settings have been restricted by the behaviours and interactions chosen to be observed and interpreted. The aim of this research was to expand understandings of early sociality and infant social development by taking an infant mental health approach to examining the interactions amongst infants in groups, and educators’ perceptions of infant-peer group interactions. Across a 19-month period, 20 infants ranging from 3 to 21 months of age and four educators from two long day care centres participated in a mixed methods design that collected: 1) video recordings of third- infants and an interacting infant-peer dyad (a triad) and 2) educator interviews about the behaviours and interactions occurring in extracted video clips of infant triads. A microanalytic approach was used to extract examples of infants’ interactions in a triad from the video recordings. Guidelines were developed to code the video recordings. A data set of 564 coded observations of infant interactions in a triad was generated and analysed using frequency analyses, correlations and group comparisons. A total of 18 interviews were conducted, and analysed using structural and thematic approaches. Key concepts of infant social development, dynamic systems theory (Thelan, 2005) and educators’ perceptions were brought together to generate new understandings of infants’ social development in groups. These analyses highlighted: 1) the role that looking behaviours play in instigating infant-peer groups, 2) how third infants’ and the dyad’s responses to each other shaped infant-peer groups, 3) third infants’ capacity to develop an awareness of the relationships between their peers and what they were playing with, and their social position within the group, 4) third infants’ capacity for groupness and collective intersubjectivity, 5) the motivations that underlie third infants’ behaviour in a triad, and 6) the influence of educators’ presence and actions on infant-peer group interactions. Findings also indicated that gross motor ability and age influence some of the ways that third infants behaved with their peers in groups. Overall, results suggest that infant-peer group interactions are an open and flexible dynamic system consisting of specific group processes that are fleeting and yet underpin longer-term social developmental change in infants.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Harrison, Linda, Principal Supervisor
  • Elwick, Sheena, Co-Supervisor
  • Dolby, Robyn, Co-Supervisor, External person
Award date09 Sept 2022
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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