Intercultural communicative competence in young children at the playgroud: comparative analysis between Italy and other European countries

Intercultural competence - Master in Mediazione interculturale, comunicazione interculturale e gestione dei conflitti - UniVerona

One of the ways in which intercultural communicative competence (ICC) can be defined is as “the ability to communicate effectively and appropiately in intercultural situations based one’s intercultural knowledge, skills, and attitudes” (Deardoff, 2006, p. 247).

I did observations on interactions among children, parent-children, and among parents in urban forests and public green spaces, in particular at the playground around many different countries in Europe, for their potential to facilitate social interaction between local children and young immigrant children.  I visited various playgrounds to observe the behavior of youngsters and get a general impression of what occurred in these public areas. However, the observer did not use monitoring sheets to record the behaviors.

Patterns of socializing and making friends in these outdoor locations were found to differ depending on age and the percentage of immigrants in each residential area.

One of the main things I noticed was that in many playgrounds in other European countries such as in Slovenia, Croatia and Austria, children can already find toys when they get there. The toys are there for everyone to play. This encouraged children to interact with other children at the park to negotiate and share and to communicate despite their linguistic differences.

When children are internationally minded and become competent in considering perspectives of others, they develop a deep-rooted sense of empathy, respect and understanding for people of different cultures and nationalities.

In most parks visited in Italy, toys were not found. Therefore, children brought their own if they brought at all. This, in some ways, limited children’s interactions because then they were playing with their own toys.

Some of the phrases recorded from parents at parks in Italy were “play with yours(toy)” or “don’t touch that one because it isn’t yours”. Although parents were encouraging respect for other people’s belongings in their children; it defeated the purpose of socialization that going to a playground can offer.

Parent-child and children interaction were found to be the predominant activities in most counties whereas socializing and talking with other parents they already knew were observed more frequently by Italian parents.

What can contribute to develop intercultural competence

An interesting observation was that many parents in the places we visited spoke a language  other than their native language. This might have motivated cross-cultural interactions among parents at the playground.

The fact that children see their own parents interacting with adults of different ethnicities and in different languages can contribute to develop the same intercultural competence in their kids.

My observations this summer were mostly in line with those of Gerlich et al.(2010), confirming that children exposed to intercultural situations exhibit skills, attitudes, and knowledge associated with ICC. This means that ICC is a concept relevant to individuals as young as 3-6 years old, and there should be more studies examining it in detail, instead of focusing only on ICC (Intercultural communicative competence) in adults.

Early childhood teachers and parents should be given recommendations to facilitate the development of children’s ICC during children’s outdoor play especially when public open space is still the dominant arena for personal interactions and face-to-face communication.

Dr. Katherine Armstrong, PhD
Docente di Psicologia della Comunicazione
Master Intercultural Competence and Management – Mediazione interculturale, Comunicazione interculturale e Gestione dei Conflitti