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Special Programs: Special Friends

This program, founded in 1986, was designed to meet the need of children in full-time child care for at least one unshared relationship with an adult. One of the challenges of child care is each child's need to share so many resources with the peer group. This built-in lack of individual ownership and personal privacy is sometimes difficult for any child. In addition, children in full-time placement are rarely “in charge” of their relationships with adults, most of whom are in positions of developmental “authority.”

Special Friends (SF) is one way of giving the child an exclusive relationship with an adult where power is equally shared between the two participants in the dyad. These supervised relationships, carried on directly in the classroom, are a powerful tool to self-discovery and growth on the part of both the preschooler and the Tufts undergraduate. The Tufts students, who are volunteers from the Leonard Carmichael Society (our University service association, where the TEDCC Director serves as a faculty advisor), are recruited and trained by the teachers of TEDCC prior to meeting their child. Great care is taken in making child-adult matches, with consideration of the following factors: gender, race, national origin, native language, special interests, preferences of the family, and teacher knowledge about each child. In the same way we attempt to match children and undergraduates who have a common special need (attempting to offer each a strong positive role model of someone with a similar disability).

Once matched, SFs visit the child weekly (at the same time each week and for between two and three hours) under the guidance of the classroom teachers and the SF coordinators. SFs must make a full-year commitment, with the option to return the following year. We have SFs who have been in the program for as many as four years; every child has a SF every year. SF pairs play in the presence of classroom teachers who provide any needed support or feedback. SF workshops occur throughout the year, on topics such as: how to start a relationship with your child, how to manage challenging behaviors, saying goodbye, or talking with your child about difficult issues.

Teachers, the Tufts undergraduates, and the families evaluate the SF program each year; program changes are made in response to this feedback. A large number of SFs have, as a result of this experience, become Child Development majors, and many SFs remain in touch with their child/family well beyond their Tufts years. Research undertaken by a TEDCC teacher/SF coordinator indicates that this program has a significant positive impact on both the preschoolers and the adult students. SF has been featured at a number of local, regional and national conferences, and was recently showcased on the television show Chronicle, a New England news/magazine program. In addition, Special Friends has been the subject of a Tufts Masters Degree thesis.

Meeting once weekly for the entire school year has proven to be immensely beneficial for all involved. Over the course of the year, Special Friends work closely with the Coordinators and their classroom teachers to address any issues that might arise, and simply to keep each other informed of the visits. They gain a wealth of information not only about their individual child, but also about children and child development in general. Children also benefit greatly from this program. Among many other things, children learn to average time, and to discriminate the days of the week simply based on the time their Special Friends come to visit. Children become experts at balancing their wishes with those of their Special Friends. In essence, they are able to build trusting relationships and negotiate a variety of interpersonal situations. The Special Friends Program is indeed a marvelous opportunity for all involved.

Department Info:
Mon.-Fri., 8am - 5:30pm

Tel: 617.627.3412
Fax: 617.623.2902

Tufts Educational
Day Care Center
165 Holland Street
Somerville, MA 02144
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