Sep 08, 2009

“You Can’t Say You Can’t Play”


“You Can’t Say You Can’t Play” is a social aggression prevention program that
seeks to reduce social exclusion in Kindergarten children. Guided by the rule
named in the title of Vivian Paley’s book, You Can’t Say You Can’t Play,
this intervention uses storytelling and group discussion to help children become
more aware the different ways they may exclude their peers and learn ways to act
in more accepting, friendly ways. Results of a partial-randomization study found
positive impacts on social acceptance but null impacts on behavioral markers of
social competence like peer group entry skills and time playing alone.


Target population:Children enrolled in Kindergarten.

“You Can’t Say You Can’t Play” (YCS) is a year-long intervention that is one of
the first to target the problem of social exclusion by peers. This eight-week
curriculum is delivered by two graduate research assistants who lead story
telling sessions and group discussions in the classroom. For the first three
weeks, classroom leaders spend the first 10 minutes of each session reading
Paley’s fairy tale about a girl named Magpie who is excluded by her peers and
then lead a group discussion around the issues raised in the book. During the
following weeks, children are told to follow the YCS rule during while at school
– during lunch, recess, and in the classroom. The subsequent sessions focus on
classroom discussions that allow children to share their experiences and small
group activities, such as role playing, that help sensitize children to the
effects of social exclusion. Classroom materials, such as colorful banners,
bookmarks, and coloring pages, are used to reinforce the YCS rule.

The “You Can’t Say” book costs approximately $15.


Study 1:
Harrist, A. W., & Bradley, K. D. (2003). “You can’t say you can’t play”:
intervening in the process of social exclusion in the kindergarten classroom.
Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 19, 185-205.

Evaluated Population:144
Kindergarten children from 10 classrooms in three different schools participated
in this study. Most children were from lower-middle class families. The ethnic
composition of the sample was 57% European American, 34% Mexican-American, 5%
Asian American, and 4% African American.

Approach:All Kindergarten children
attending three schools were required to participate in the study.
Children who were not 5 years old on or before September 1 of the Kindergarten
year and children who were repeating a grade were excluded from the study. Also,
classrooms that shared playground time or were team taught were also excluded.
The remaining classrooms were randomly assigned to the experimental (n=6) or
control (n=4) groups. Teacher, child, peer, and observer ratings of students’
social competence (peer liking and exclusion, perceived acceptance, and social
dissatisfaction, for example) were collected at baseline and at a 12-month
follow-up. Children who teachers rated as disliked and neglected were observed
12 times during free play period (about 1 hour of observation per child).

The authors note that excluding these classrooms led to the
use of partial randomization procedures. Thus, probability of being assigned to
a treatment or control group was not equal for each school. Given this
circumstance, findings should be interpreted with caution. Results may be
confounded with pre-existing group differences.

findings of this study suggest that the program led to increased social
competence. Children in the experimental group received higher peer ratings of
acceptance (a small effect size of 0.17) and reported lower levels of social
dissatisfaction (a small effect size of 0.21), although children’s perceptions
of being accepted were not affected. In addition, there was no evidence of
improved social interaction and peer group entry as measured by measures of time
spent alone, the frequency of being excluded by peers, the number of peer group
entry attempts, and the frequency of being accepted into a group.


Purchase the book here:


A. W., & Bradley, K. D. (2003). “You can’t say you can’t play”: Intervening in
the process of social exclusion in the kindergarten classroom. Early Childhood
Research Quarterly, 19, 185-205.

categorized in this guide according to the following:

Evaluated participant ages: Kindergarten

Program age ranges in the guide: Childhood

Program components: school-based

program outcomes: social/emotional health

KEYWORDS: Children, (3-11), Kindergarten, School-Based,
White or Caucasian, Hispanic or Latino, social skills

Program information last updated on 9/8/09.

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