The development of social skills is an important part of early childhood education. Many children enter preschool or kindergarten with little or no exposure to individuals outside their own families. Teachers can encourage social skills development through activities that introduce concepts such as verbal communication, negotiation, active listening, non-verbal communication and social conventions.
Once a week, have a community or class meeting to discuss issues that arise in the classroom. Teachers need to involve all students in the problem solving process. Students take turns sharing concerns and offering solutions to problems. The class meeting is also a time to introduce giving compliments. Students give one another compliments when they see classmates acting appropriately or doing good work. The act of giving compliments is a positive behavior to replace the negative act of tattling, and provides students with positive feedback from their peers. Teachers introduce complimenting during the class meetings by modeling. Class meetings are part of a classroom management approach known as Positive Discipline, and are an excellent method for teaching interpersonal communications skills.
Reading Facial Expressions
Teachers will need a stack of pictures representing various facial expressions. Students should sit in a circle or grouping that allows everyone to see the pictures. The teacher allows the students to guess the emotion shown in the picture. This can lead to a discussion of the clues the students used to figure out the emotion. A follow-up activity for this is to have students choose a picture and make up a story about why the person feels that emotion. These activities can help students build the concept of empathy and reading facial expressions.
Another activity for practicing reading body language and facial expressions is a modified game of charades. The teacher can whisper an emotion to one student and have him act out that emotion. The other students try to guess how he feels. For older kids, teachers can write down names of emotions on slips of paper and let kids draw from a hat.
Cooperative Decision Making
Encourage negotiation skills by involving students in cooperative decision making activities every day. For snack time, have pictures or representations of three possible choices. Have students discuss ways they could come to a decision: voting, drawing out of a hat, allowing one person to choose each day, etc. Students must use creative problem solving skills and diplomacy to reach a decision as a group. This activity is useful for deciding on activities or games for the group as well. It can also lead to discussions of fairness and how to behave if your favorite is not the class choice.
Role-playing is an excellent way to teach social skills. Students can act out scenarios that have occurred in the classroom while the other students brainstorm various resolutions. The students can then act out “what should be done” in the situation. Role-play is also a way to practice social conventions, such as: greetings; saying please, excuse me and thank you; handshaking or hugging appropriately. Role-play is also useful for teaching safety procedures, such as calling 911, fire drill procedures and “stop-drop-and-roll.”
Social stories are typically used with children with disabilities, particularly autism. However, these also can be useful when teaching young children who are unfamiliar with social conventions. In a social story, the children imagine an everyday scenario, and instead of acting it out, they write a “script” about how the situation should unfold. This can easily transition into a role-playing session.
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- Parenting Science: Social Skills Activities for Children and Teenagers
- American Academy of Pediatrics: The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds
- Poly XO: Social Stories
- Courage to Risk: Class Meeting Format
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