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• Head Start preschoolers’ peer play increased over time during preschool on average.
• There were significant individual differences in peer play trajectories.
• More peer play at the start of preschool predicted kindergarten school competence.
• Increases in preschool peer play predicted kindergarten school competence.
Time-sampled observations of Head Start preschoolers’ (N = 264; 51.5% boys; 76% Mexican American; M = 53.11 and SD = 6.15 months of age) peer play in the classroom were gathered during fall and spring semesters. One year later, kindergarten teachers rated these children's school competence. Latent growth models indicated that, on average, children's peer play was moderately frequent and increased over time during preschool. Children with higher initial levels or with higher slopes of peer play in Head Start had higher levels of kindergarten school competence. Results suggest that Head Start children's engagement with peers may foster development of skills that help their transition into formal schooling. These findings highlight the importance of peer play, and suggest that peer play in Head Start classrooms contributes to children's adaptation to the demands of formal schooling.
Journal: Early Childhood Research Quarterly - Volume 29, Issue 3, 3rd Quarter 2014, Pages 345–356