Circle of friends originated as a method of special education. They are used by tutors or mentors to provide mental and moral support to children with evident disabilities or dysfunction that label them as different from their peers. Parents with children who are diagnosed with autism or Down syndrome are encouraged to allow their children’s participation. It is widely believed that every special child will have more chances of living normal lives if given the opportunity to interact with his or her own “circle of friends”.
This teaching and learning technique works on the principles of including a child in a social “circle of friends” instead of isolating them from the others because of their difference. As a result, the child tends to become aware of social behaviors, thus increasing his or her chances of being accepted in a bigger world.
Due to the success of “circle of friends” as a teaching tool in special education, it is now being integrated in some primary and secondary schools. There is awareness about the inability of some children to cope with school stress which only their peers can understand. The “circle of friends” approach has tapped the cooperation of some children to join this project as a way of helping their peers. They are able to provide help among children who go through their young life experiencing certain difficulties. Such difficulties include disability, family related problems and at times, self-identity and/or gender problems.
The adult or teacher in-charge of the “circle of friends” in these schools find that this approach helps develop the problem solving ability among less problem-saddled children. At a very young age, they seem to be more adept when it comes to handling their own personal difficulties.
The children are guided by mentors who adhere to a set of prescribed procedures on how to set up the “circle of friends”. They make use of case studies which are also recommended for use by parents in resolving home issues in relation to raising their children. There are activities which can be done in and out of school intended to reinforce the methods of teaching. They focus on the importance of giving and getting support from their “circle of friends”. In time, they will be able to adopt the skills they developed as they progress in life.
The “circle of friends” may grow by way of sending out invitations to other children whom the group feels can be provided with help. Invitations can also be extended to adults who may be a teacher, a parent or a community member whom the “circle of friends” feels can provide the group with help
The “circle of friends” approach has seen great success, that it has also been adopted by some women, as a means of extending help to single moms and those who have gone through bitter divorces or even on the verge of contemplating a divorce. Nevertheless, this method should not be carried out without thorough planning as well as ensuring genuine commitment of facilitators, since this is vital in achieving successful results.