Leadership at Play in Preschool Children: A Systematic Synthesis of Nearly Nine Decades of Research

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Research Findings: While leadership is not a novel concept, child leadership is still an under-cultivated field. Despite nearly nine decades of research on play leadership in preschool children, there still remains a paucity of empirical studies examining this developmental area, especially considering that leadership in the preschool years is an essential aspect of social competence. To ascertain the current state of knowledge concerning child leadership in the context of social play, this systematic synthesis analyzed the only 11 research studies that met the inclusion criteria. A content analysis revealed that the knowledge base on child leadership may have been impeded by a lack of clear definitions and conceptualizations of this phenomenon. Nevertheless, it yielded insights in three areas: (1) typology of leadership styles using labeling, dichotomizing, and dimensionalizing as strategies, (2) typology of leadership behaviors, and (3) attributes of child leaders. This synthesis also suggested two important directions for future research on play leadership: (1) within-culture studies on diverse child populations, and (2) cross-cultural comparisons. Practice or Policy: Play leadership should be integrated into the early childhood curriculum to promote social competence in young children. Teachers should also provide children ample social opportunities to develop, exercise, and hone their leadership abilities.

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Early Education and Development

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