Initiating Friendships – The Circle of Friends Process

While it is not possible to force friendships, it is possible to create opportunities that encourage friendships to develop.  Students with vision impairment benefit from specific assistance with fitting into the school’s social environment.  The Circle of Friends (Perske & Perske, 1988) is an approach that can be used to make opportunities for friendship available to the student with vision impairment.  

Circle of Friends is a support structure that aims to assist the student who is having difficulties with making friends.  The object is to make sure the student is included in activities and feel a part of a group.  The process provides peer support, encouragement and friendship to the student.

How do you set it up?

  1. As a group discuss with all students the importance of friendships and what it would be like not to have friends.  Inform them you will be starting a program called Circle of Friends.  This program will assist students who would like to make new friends, but for a number of reasons are finding it difficult.  Ask students to volunteer for this program.  Encourage those students to join who would like to make friends.  Alternatively, you could ask all students in the class to be involved in the Circle of Friends program so as not to single out the students who have no friends.
  2. Once the students who would like to volunteer have been identified, set a meeting time where you can begin the program.   In the meeting

Draw 3 concentric circles on a chart. 

The inner circle should represent the student with vision impairment.  The student’s name should be written in that circle.

The second circle should include names of friends of the student with vision impairment.

The outermost circle should be filled with names of classmates who would like to volunteer and act as “social helpers” (mentors). 

If friendships develop, the classmates who were initially volunteers can move into the second circle.  As “social helpers,” their role is to assist the student in feeling a part of the school community.  The “social helpers” can be assigned responsibilities of assisting the student in different school location areas.  For example, all “social helpers” have to greet the student, be friendly and helpful to the student as appropriate throughout the day.  Some “social helpers” can help the student on the playground, whereas others can be responsible for helping the student in the cafeteria, and so on.  Along with assisting the student with vision impairment, encourage the “social helpers” to think of ways in which they can become true friends. 

NOTE:  It is important that the “social helpers” are provided support and given opportunities to talk.  Initially, a weekly meeting needs to be organised so that they have the opportunity to talk about the good things that happened during the week and to discuss issues that may have arisen.  Suggestions on how to deal with problems can be provided.

You can find out more about Circle of Friends in an article by Frederickson, N. & Turner, J. (2003):  “Utilizing the classroom peer group to address children's social needs: An evaluation of the Circle of Friends intervention approach.”  Journal of Special Education, 36, 234-245.