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Friendship Group at Penn State

Friendship Group at Penn State

FG 6 Two boys with pipe cleaners

What is the Friendship Group program at Penn State?

Friendship Groups help elementary age children develop the basic social skills necessary for making and keeping friends. Small groups of 4-6 children of similar age meet together once a week to practice social skills while doing fun games, crafts and activities. Three or four adult coaches facilitate each group, using teaching methods developed by Dr. Karen Bierman. All coaches are Penn State students interested in careers in psychology and education. They are trained and supervised by Jennifer Murray Connell, the Friendship Group program director.

Who attends Friendship Group?

Any child (kindergarten through fifth grade) can participate. Friendship Group is most helpful for children who are experiencing difficulty with friendships or who could benefit from more opportunities for social skill development. Children who have difficulty resolving conflicts peacefully and children who feel anxious about interacting with peers are likely to gain confidence in their social skills.

What do Friendship Group sessions look like?FG 1 Leader and three boys coloring

Friendship groups consist of three basic instructional components:

First, the coach introduces the skill or skills for the day, using a variety of media (stories, videotaped presentations, role-plays, quiz-show games). The coach helps children understand the importance and use of each skill and encourages children to think of examples.

Next, the children are given a chance to practice the skills with each other in the context activities selected to encourage and support the development and use of those target skills.

FG 3 Group leaders and three boys steppingGroup time also includes a wide variety of activities and games that give children a chance to practice social skills in a naturalistic peer interaction context. At the mid-point and end of each session, the coach engages the children in a review of the skills and a discussion of their performance.

Most children love Friendship Group, which is viewed as a club or weekly recreational event. Most children develop a positive regard for their peers in the group and some children develop friendships that they continue outside of the group setting.

The groups are designed to promote new social skills, and hence they are challenging for children at times, and children may struggle during some group sessions. The groups are a place to learn how to resolve conflicts and peer problems, and problem-solving is a core focus in group sessions. A primary goal is the development of skills that will transfer to the children’s usual school and social environments, allowing them to form new friendships in their daily life.

What social skills are covered in this program?

The program focuses on building skills for positive social interaction, such as being part of a group and working as a team. It also emphasizes communication skills and cooperation. For example, some of the target skills include:

Good Teamwork (participation)
Tell About You (self-expression)
Talk About Feelings (labeling and understanding emotions)
Share and Help (cooperation)

Friendship Group also focuses on principles of fair play, and appropriate self-regulation (controlling and redirecting inappropriate social behaviors) and problem-solving skills. The parallel goals are to increase positive behaviors and decrease negative behaviors — both accomplished by strengthening the skills that give children a choice and control over their social experiences.

Self-control skills include:

Going to the Red Light or Doing Turtle (tell yourself to stop, take a long deep breath, and say the problem and how you feel)
Fair Play (take turns, follow rules, don’t tease or boast)
Make a Deal (give an idea, check it out, say “yes” to good ideas)

At the older ages, we work on advanced skills, such has handling bullying, avoiding gossip, and talking through problems.

What is the time commitment for a Friendship Group?FG 2 Boy stepping onto paper

Groups meet once per week on a weekday, from 4:00-5:30 p.m. Groups begin in October and run until the holiday break, then resume in January after the holiday break and run through the end of March.

Who are the Friendship Group coaches?

Each group has 3-4 coaches who are upper level undergraduate students with some experience working with children and are studying to start a career working with children. Coaches take a 400 level course in conducting Friendship Groups and are supervised weekly by graduate students and Jennifer Murray Connell.  All registrants for this course must get pre-approval.

Is there a cost?

Friendship Group participation is free. Families participating in Friendship Groups at the Child Study Center are asked to pay a $30 materials/supply fee, but if this poses a hardship, the fee will be waived. All supplies are paid out of the program budget.

Where are Friendship Groups conducted?

Child Study Center
279 Moore Building
University Park, PA 16802

When may a child enroll in a Friendship Group?

Ideally, interested parents should contact Jennifer Murray Connell in September and then complete an application form. As long as there are openings in the groups, children may join throughout the school year.

For more information, contact:

Jennifer Murray ConnellFG 5 Three boys
Child Study Center
Department of Psychology
The Pennsylvania State University
279 Moore Building
University Park, PA 16802
Phone: (814) 865-2791

PSU undergrads interested in participating in this program, please see our undergraduate Friendship Group page.

Some photographs on this page provided by Phillip MacKenzie