The social interactions in two preschool classes, in graphic form


Each preschooler at my daughter's school was asked a few simple questions, and the answers were printed in the yearbook. Among other things, the preschoolers were asked to complete the sentence, "I like to play with (person)."

This is the type of question that leads to tears and hurt feelings.

Whatever. Their parents are going to be stuck with the therapy bills. (My daughter is not a preschooler at the school, so I avoided a therapy bill. At least not over this.)

From this data, I created a graph. Each arrow points from a student to the person they said they like to play with.

1 7 16
2 8 17
3 9 14 18
10 19
4 11 15 20
5 12
6 13

This class breaks up into four cliques. Two of the cliques consists of a pair of playmates, and one hanger-on. The large clique consists of two focal points (students 9 and 10) who play with each other. The medium-sized clique has a single focal point (student 18) who plays with a best friend (14).

I think that student 14 is in the best spot. He (or she) is not himself popular, but the popular kid plays with him (or her).

The second preschool class has a more complex structure.

21
22
23 30
24 31 35
25 32 36
39
26 33 37
40
27 34 38
28
29

The upper left group consists of a core of four students (23, 30, 31, 24) who play with each other, plus some hangers-on.

The lower left group consists of a pair of friends (27 and 28) and their hangers-on.

The right-hand group consists of one very popular student (37) who plays with a best friend (36), and their hangers-on.

The most interesting student is number 26.

All of the other students gave only one name in response to the prompt. But student 26 gave three names. As a result, that student links together the three cliques in the class.

Student 26 is bringing people together. I admire that.

Comments (34)
  1. Brian_EE says:

    "This is the type of question that leads to tears and hurt feelings."

    Maybe if they learn to do with that in pre-school they won't grow up into those types of adults who run around being hurt and offended (and demanding apologies) in the real world.

  2. Daniel says:

    Having been a "Student 26" myself: It's not about "bringing people together" it's probably more like "don't really belong anywhere, but with those three I at least can play sometimes". Don't start to envy him over it…

  3. Joshua says:

    Preschoolers and bad question format … Hmm I don't know how reliable that data is.

    [You seem to have confused this fun little diversion with an actual scientific study. The actual social structure is clearly more complex than this. -Raymond]
  4. RRR says:

    Nobody likes to play with student 26. He's not bringing any people together.

  5. JAHA says:

    Student 26 – The new tween romance

  6. frenchguy says:

    I agree with Joshua: the question is worded in such a way that a single answer seems expected. Student 26 is the only who challenged that assumption. I'll bet 23, 24, 30 and 31 all like to play with one another. And they're the only cycle involving more than 2 kids (that the question detected).

  7. Chris Crowther says:

    I note some teachers actually use questions like that to figure out who's being excluded and do something about it.  Although if they're printing in a yearbook, I suspect that isn't the case here.  I'm so glad we don't have yearbooks in the UK (or didn't back when I was at school anyway).

  8. ChrisR says:

    @Joshua: Does the Apple keyboard have any way to click Shift+F10?  That's how I bring up context menus on keyboards without a dedicated button (such as the full-size keyboard I'm typing on now).

  9. icabod says:

    It's interesting to analyse that sort of data.  However, I would bet that if you asked the same question two days later, the graphs would be quite different.  Children can be fickle beasts.

  10. icabod says:

    @ChrisR: Wow, I've been reading Raymond's blog for a while now, and that's about the most off-topic comment I've seen yet. Congratulations, you win the internet.

  11. ChrisR says:

    @icabod: Thanks for the heads up.  I read this in an RSS reader and clicked on the wrong article to post that comment.

  12. Sockatume says:

    Brian raises an interesting point but I dare say he has it backwards. The exercise artifically imposes, upon a group that's still learning social norms, a model of friendship in which it is a well-defined social network, that said links are not necessarily reciprocated, and where the structure in its current form is given permanence (it's going in the book). That social rigidity, and the moments in which one realises that he or she is not in the social position they assumed they were, strikes me as exactly the sort of thing that leads to needless butt-hurt in adult relationships. It would probably be more helpful to allow children to continue in the free-wheeling unstructured system to which they are accustomed.

    Not to wildly extrapolate beyond all common sense of course.

  13. Maurits says:

    Advance all the ages by a couple of decades and we have the potential for some romantic comedies:

    No C3s, but a C4: 23 => 30 => 31 => 24 (=> 23)

    26 and 37 would be an interesting challenge to write about, too.

  14. Gabe says:

    I'm just impressed that they managed to get 40 different 4-and-5-year-olds to name a member of their own class!

    When they asked my 4-year-old what her favorite sport was, she responded "pig riding", so it seems unlikely that every single one gave a reasonable answer (and not a pet, fictional character, family member, neighbor, or toy) without coercion.

  15. Cheong says:

    Well, at least there aren't child who can't write names on it.

    (I have lots of sick time while I was in kindergarden. Half of the time over the 3-years period was spent at home. So I didn't made any friend there.)

  16. Cheong says:

    However my brother was worse in his childhood. He had cancer when he was baby has spent lots of time in hospital. Fortunately he did made it. He is one of the 3 people who had been diagnosed with paediatric cancer and live past age 20 in Hong Kong.

  17. Larry Hosken says:

    "I think that student 14 is in the best spot."

    I independently reached the same conclusion. Therefore, it must be totally true.

  18. foo says:

    Not surprising for at least two separate 'cliques' in a group of school children: male and female -> separation of the 'cooties'. Certain societies may segregate things further, but again not surprising that there would be at least one sub-clique in each parent clique. Shmumans…

    Also, student 36 gets to experience a hanger-on and reciprocal friendship with a popular person. What an honour! (said in a Zoidberg voice)

  19. gedoe says:

    Hey a sociogram :-) they do that at my kids school at least once a year. The question is a bit broader though. Which 3 kids do you play with most and which one do you never play with.

    If your kid is often on the second list you'll be visiting school for a plan on how to 'fix' that.

  20. A regular viewer says:

    Please don't do this, Raymond.

    …"I think that student 14 is in the best spot. He (or she) is not himself popular, but the popular kid plays with him (or her)."…

    Not just because you missed out "herself", but because it is unnecessary.

    [I work very hard to avoid gender-specific pronouns while still sounding natural. The one time I fail, you get on my case. -Raymond]
  21. hilton smith says:

    "hangers on". hahaha, everytime i read that i kept having flashbacks to high school and those people that were always around the people i knew but never actually knew myself.

  22. carbon twelve says:

    I found this fascinating. We have a child at preschool at the moment, and spend a lot of our time trying to work out what's going on and whom we should invite for playdates.

    @A regular viewer: what's wrong with it?

  23. Bill P. Godfrey says:

    I would rewrite the sentence to use the "singular they".

    "I think that student 14 is in the best spot. They are not themselves popular, but the popular kid plays with them."

  24. A regular viewer says:

    @carbon twelve, nothing wrong. It is my opinion that by letting conventions be, idioms can continue to be a meaningful communication tool. Trying to fit a gender neutral sentiment into a gendered idiom with an omni-gender construct is not worth the effort to avoid accusations of sexism. Method seldom influences intent. Even the increasingly popular singular "they" is a forced fit. Or maybe, I'm just showing my age :-)

  25. Gabe says:

    A regular viewer: The use of singular they has been around for centuries. It may have fallen out of favor lately, but has been used by the likes of Chaucer and Shakespeare — at least if you believe Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/…/Singular_they

  26. A regular viewer says:

    @Gabe, Oh! Yes. Both Professors Liberman and Pullum have been hammering it in for quite some time now, languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/…/index.php It still sounds needless to me, though.

  27. foo says:

    Well, maybe it's an all girls' school or an all boy' school, in which case distinction becomes important in grammar, and removes one point of bias in the survey.

  28. Sockatume says:

    "Singular they" and "genderless he" are rather nonstandard usages of the respective words. However "singular they" has the advantage over "genderless he" in that the former's singularity is always obvious from context, whereas the latter's genderlessness is not. That ambiguity can easily lead the reader up the garden path. (E.g. in this instance we might conclude that student 14 is male.)

  29. A regular viewer says:

    [I work very hard to avoid gender-specific pronouns while still sounding natural. The one time I fail, you get on my case. -Raymond]

    Ha! Ha! Raymond. I've noticed; Manhattanite social skills aside. 10 years of reading your writings is not without its learnings. No, I'm not on to your case. A peeve of mine, that's all. Will stop with this comment. Sorry for the thread usurp.

    @others – If context is the decider, 'he' is as good as 'she' which is as good as 'they' which is as good as 'ghoti'. Last one, perhaps not! Which is what I'm on about. Context is shorn of its validity if we keep trying to make explicit any and every implicit connotation.

  30. Jeff says:

    26 is that guy nobody likes to talk to but he thinks he is everybody's friend.

  31. Evan says:

    I'm with Sockatume and others. I really dislike male-pronoun-as-generic. Why? Because I think there are two conclusions. If people regularly use "he" as generic, then it is right to assume that "he" is generic and thus there is no way to indicate that you *really* mean "he", short of saying "and by that I mean he is actually male." If people do not regularly use "he" as generic, then it is right to assume that "he" actually indicates a male sex, and thus the atypcial generic uses are exclusionary.

    IMO both of those options suck, and the least bad one is to use "he" as actually referring to sex and then use something else, either "he or she" or singular "they", when you want a generic word.

  32. Another regular viewer says:

    It's interesting to note that some languages such as Finnish do not suffer from this problem. Instead, the Finnish language uses the gender neutral word "hän" to refer to both he and she. But then, that brings up other problems, such as when you need to distinguish by gender but cannot easily do so.

  33. carbon twelve says:

    @A regular viewer: I'm glad you clarified; I read your comment to mean quite the opposite.

    @Gabe: Yes, Chaucer and Shakespeare may have used it but I wouldn't base correctness on their work — have you seen their spelling?!

    Isn't English the only language in the top 10 (by use) that doesn't have some sort of organisation regulating its correct use (cf. The French Academy)? I think we should embrace this aspect of English.

  34. MNGoldenEagle says:

    @carbon twelve: Haven't you learned anything from programming? http://xkcd.com/927/

    This isn't even considering that there are multiple dialects of English, even within the United States.  Not to mention just how huge the U.S. is, how resistant the population is in general to regulation, and so on.  Sometimes there are good reasons to have such institutes, but it has to come from a majority consensus, not from people who are tired of pushing their standards on everyone else.

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