Activities to Teach Prosocial Behavior to Preschoolers

Preschoolers sometimes play in parallel -- engaging in the same activity without interacting.

Prosocial behaviors are included in every state's preschool standards and in the goals for Head Start. These behaviors typically include the sharing of materials, taking turns, cooperating with others toward a common goal and empathizing with others. Training in these behaviors starts early and continues throughout life.

1 Sharing

Read a book about sharing, and have the children suggest solutions to the various problems posed.

Distribute an insufficient number of materials for a task, then wait for the children to devise a solution; if the children do not suggest a way to share, suggest one.

Give each pair of children one large sheet of paper and a pile of collage materials, then encourage them to share the materials to create one collage.

Have children "prepare dinner" in a play kitchen. Encourage them to devise a way to share the equipment -- for example, one child might use the stove while the other uses the oven; one child might cook while the other cuts vegetables for a salad.

2 Turn-taking

Show two to three children how to blow bubbles. Tell children you will give them each a wand, but you have only one bottle and it can accommodate only one wand at a time. Children should take turns inserting their wands into the bottle.

Give a child a cup of red beads, and his neighbor a cup of beads in a different color. Give the pair of children one string, and ask them to create one necklace in alternating colors.

Children can play horseshoes to practice taking turns as well. A child throws one shoe one time, then lets another child do the same with his own shoe. After everybody has taken a turn, play resumes with the first child. There is no reversal of roles.

Children can also throw a ball back and forth. This activity requires turn-taking and role reversals as well.

3 Cooperating

Pairs of children can plant seeds to learn to cooperate. One child in each pair drops individual seeds into a furrow; the other child waters each seed.

Another activity involves placing a ball on top of a pillowcase held at the edges by two children. Children move across the room while keeping the ball on the pillowcase, or launch the ball into the air catching it on the pillowcase. Increase the number of children, and use a sheet rather than a pillowcase.

They can also learn cooperation with an activity where each child holds the handle of a spoon in his mouth. The teacher places a plastic Easter egg on the spoon held by the first child. Children pass the egg from one to the other using only the spoons held in their mouths.

4 Empathizing

Play charades in which the words guessed refer to emotions. For example, one child pretends to be angry, while the other children try to guess the word "angry."

Children work in pairs. A blindfolded child goes through an obstacle course as directed by his sighted partner. The course should be on a soft material, and children should go through it on their hands and knees.

Children exchange gifts. Each child asks what his partner would like, then designs and creates a gift accordingly.

Jo Pick has a master's degree in speech pathology from the University of Florida and has studied child development at the University of Kansas. She has worked with children and families for more than 35 years and is a certified Early Intervention Service Coordinator. A book Pick edited on children's acquisition of communicative competence was published by University Park Press in 1984.