Peer Effects in Preschool Classrooms: Is Children’s Language Growth Associated With Their Classmates’ Skills?


  • The authors are grateful to Sonia Cabell, Alice Wiggins, and Sarah Friel for their assistance in executing this project. We are also thankful to the numerous teachers, children, and families who participated. This work was supported by R305F050006 from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). The content of this report does not necessarily represent the views of IES.

concerning this article should be addressed to Laura M. Justice, The Ohio State University, 356 Arps Hall, 1945 North High Street, Columbus, OH 43210. Electronic mail may be sent to


With an increasing number of young children participating in preschool education, this study determined whether peer effects are present in this earliest sector of schooling. Specifically, this work examined whether peer effects were influential to preschoolers’ growth in language skills over an academic year and whether peer effects manifest differently based on children’s status in reference to their peers. Peer effects were assessed for 338 children in 49 classrooms. A significant interaction between the language skills of children’s classmates and children’s fall language skills indicated that peer effects were strongest for children with low language skills who were in classrooms that served children with relatively low skill levels, on average. Findings further showed that reference status, or children’s relative standing to their peers, has the greater consequence for children with very low language skills in relation to their peers.