Humans form relationships with other people in their natural environment, i.e., society. Humans acquire values, behavior patterns, and the knowledge required by society in a process known as socialization (Park, 1988). The term “sociality” refers to the aspects of human nature shaped through socialization. Sociality is not gained spontaneously, but requires experiences in social environments (Park, 1988). Childhood is a critical period for the development of sociality, and much of this development occurs when the child’s social environment expands from just their immediate family and neighbors to their school (Choi, 2009). Children who have good relations with friends and teachers are less likely to become juvenile delinquents or social misfits compared with the children who cannot easily adjust to a peer group (Kim, 2011).
Peers can be defined as companions in an equal position (Garvey, 1984), or persons who are socially equal (Lewis and Rosenblum, 1975), and thus are in a socially horizontal position, which allows a child to freely try out new beliefs and actions. Therefore, sociality, which is difficult to acquire in hierarchal relationships, can be learned though peer relations. Additionally, children interact and play diverse roles in social situations with peers. Thereby, children are afforded with the opportunity to practice and learn various basic skills necessary for successful social relations (Choi, 2002).
Peers have various functions, according to Song (1995). First, peers become key role models for each other. In many situations, children observe, copy, and internalize the behaviors of peers. In addition, by observing the success and failure of peers, children discern how to behave and how not to behave. Second, peers become important reinforcers for one another. In particular, a compliment or criticism from a child who plays a dominant role in a class has a strong impact during the elementary school period. A culture that reinforces positive behaviors in class and encourages children to help each other and cooperate facilitates positive social development. Third, peers are models for social comparison because they are a standard by which children can evaluate themselves. Beginning in preschool, children compare and evaluate their character, value, and ability through interactions with their peer group. This type of evaluation becomes the basis of the formation of self-image and self-esteem. Fourth, peers provide social support, which refers to real and psychological support given by another person in a difficult situation. At times, peers give a type of comfort that adults are not able to provide and become social supporters, not unlike parents.
Children with close peers are able to talk about their worries and discuss solutions, which can help alleviate psychological damage resulting from peer bullying. Moreover, children may receive advice regarding ways to deal with conflicts and risks (Bukowski et al., 1994). However, inappropriate interaction with peers can result in social isolation and reduce the chances to develop and implement social skills. Children with poor peer interaction skills may form negative concepts about themselves and society, which may have a long-term impact on social adaptation (Jeong, 2010). Therefore, forming positive peer relations is essential to children’s development of sociality, and has long-lasting effects.
The term “peer status” refers to the position of a child within a peer group based on levels of social acceptance, social preference, and attraction or rejection (Rhee, 1999). Coie et al.(1982) used a peer nomination instrument to identify five categories of peer status: popular, controversial, ordinary, ignored, and rejected. Children who are rejected typically exhibit the most problems. Such children often manifest antisocial behaviors after experiencing social isolation, and they have few opportunities to acquire social skills. The level of acceptance of a child in a peer group is closely related to the child’s overall adaptation and sociality development. Furthermore, it profoundly affects the emotional development of the child, including the skills necessary to manage stress (Cho, 2012). Therefore, a multilateral approach toward improvement in peer status is necessary.
Plants have been used for refreshing and cultivating the mind and body, as they not only provide humans with clothes, food, and housing but also offer joy, peace, and the opportunity to rest (Son et al., 2006). Horticultural activities that take advantage of these benefits of plants enable students to interact with teachers and classmates, becoming cooperative, active, and independent without relying solely on verbal instructions (Choi, 2007a). Horticulture may also convey a sense of accomplishment and success to children because the tasks associated with growing plants are not always easily accomplished (Kim, 2006). In addition, as the tasks require much teamwork, cooperation with peers is necessary and encouraged (Yoon, 2001). Horticulture activities are conducive to effective interactions among peers that allow self-expression and encourage the acceptance of others’ decisions (Song, 2008). Furthermore, horticultural activities help children develop a sense of belonging and increase their self-confidence and self-esteem (Song, 2002). Moreover, horticulture may alleviate feelings of tension, despair, and aggressiveness, while providing opportunities for self-expression. In addition, Waliczek et al. (2001) reported that participation in school gardening activities improved attitudes toward school, especially in female students and interpersonal relationships in seventh grade students among all grades. School-age children are at a critical stage in the development of sociality, and because peers are so important to this development of sociality, this study was conducted to examine the impact of a school gardening program on peer relations, peer status, and sociality in older elementary school students.
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