An investigation into the interactions of children and the social agents in their kindergarten environments was carried out within the framework of psychological ecology. The primary purpose of the study was to examine the extent to which the environmental agents modified the behaviour of the children, and, concurrently, the extent to which the children were able to move towards the attainment of goals they set for themselves. Evidence of qualitative differences in the communication patterns of the 3-, 4- and 5-year groups of subjects was also sought.
Twenty-four children, eight in each age group, were used as subjects. Observations of the ongoing behaviour of each subject for three consecutive hours on each of two successive mornings at kindergarten, were recorded. Specimen records, as devised by Barker and Wright (1955), were prepared. The 48 specimen records were divided into naturally occurring units of behaviour, based on Schoggen's Environmental Force Unit, each consisting of a goal-directed interaction between an environmental agent and a subject, or vice versa. These 6,172 interactions were classified according to such criteria as the goal of the initiator, the method used, and congruence between the goal of the initiator and that of the target. Staff at the Lady Gowrie Child Centre and parents of subjects completed a number of schedules relating to the children and to their home backgrounds.
Examination of the results revealed that the subjects were more active than were the environmental agents in initiating contacts, the volume of interactions recorded at the 5-year level being significantly greater than at the younger ages. Most of the contacts initiated by adult agents were concerned with persuading subjects to participate in the behaviour settings that comprised the kindergarten programme, or to respond with approved patterns of behaviour. Adults used temperate or very mild methods to move the subjects towards these goals and were highly successful in modifying their behaviour. Subjects viewed two thirds of the adults' acts as helpful and supportive. Eighty per cent of the small amount of conflict between adults and subjects was generated by programme-centred demands, and 20 per cent, by child centred and teacher-centred behaviour.
Child agents were less successful in persuading the subjects to help them attain their goals, which, except at the youngest age level, were more often peer-centred than ego-centred. They used antisocial techniques in one third of their contacts, certain methods being characteristic of children at the different age levels. Due, possibly, to the marked similarity between the goals of child agents and those of subjects, a considerable amount of conflict resulted.
Subjects directed behaviour related to personal and programme goals to adult agents, and peer-centred goals, to child agents. They were highly successful in attaining their goals when they interacted with adults, and moderately successful in their contacts with peers. A high level of adult-subject co-operation was recorded, whereas a considerable amount of conflict^ especially at the two younger ages, resulted from interactions with peers. A slight preference for playmates of the same sex at 3 years increased with age of subjects, until, by 5 years, 80 per cent of child contacts were with same-sex peers.
Relations between children of the same sex were generally more harmonious than those between children of the opposite sex. Four-year-old subjects experienced considerably more conflict in interactions with their peers than did the younger or older subjects. Attention or approval seeking was the most frequently occurring behaviour of these subjects, and also the cause of most of the discord. A marked improvement in the amount of co-operation and goodwill between peers and subjects at the 5-year level was registered. These children appeared to be on friendly and familiar terms with their environments.