Its the beginning of the school year, and for many students it means being in a classroom with a lot of new faces. Some children take on this challenge quite easily. They leave after the first day with a new friend or two that they will keep for the whole year. But every year there are students that find making friends more of a challenge. For them we need to make sure we are providing the support they need to learn this crucial skill. More and more research is finding that development of social skills in the early years is a key component in academic success throughout their school career. Here is a look at some friend-making skills and a few of my favorite activities to help the children learn them.
Introductions: Knowing someone’s name is one of the first steps to making a friend. We need to teach that it is ok to ask someone their name then have them practice doing so. Model going over to a student and say “Hi. My name is Mrs. V. What is your name?’ Then have the students practice by dividing the class into 2 groups and having each group take a turn finding a student from the other group to introduce themselves to. Be on the lookout the first week for children using this skill and praise them for their efforts. Likewise when children are playing together make sure they know each other’s name. If they don’t, have them introduce themselves while resisting the temptation to do it for them.
Class Books: Make several copies of a class book with every child’s picture, name, and a fact about them. Keep one copy in the classroom and let the children take turns taking the other copy home for the night. The parents will also appreciate the opportunity to learn the other children’s names.
Songs: Songs are great way to teach names. Many songs have the added benefit of using the name repeatedly so there is a better chance the students will remember it, and most children enjoy participating in songs that use their name. Sing it several days in a row and whenever you get a new student.
Publicly Praise: There are many acts of kindness in a classroom every day. Make sure you notice them and tell the students how you saw them being kind. “Darrin, I saw that you helped Joseph pick up his crayons. That was very kind. You are being a great friend.” Sometimes it is nice to send a note home to the parents about the child’s kindness. I’ve found if I put up a display in the classroom about being kind (or whatever character trait we are focusing on) it reminds me and other teachers in the classroom to take special note of those behaviors.
Read Books: Books are an excellent time to talk about how to make and keep friends. There are so many out there that you can choose the one that is just right for your classroom. If you’re reading it the first week of school, make sure it is not too long for your students. I love the book Rainbow Fish, but since it is so wordy, I hold off using it until later in the year. Instead I love the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems. They are short, funny and most have a friendship theme. They are always a favorite in my class. When you do select the perfect book, choose a friendship skill such as sharing, being kind, or having conversations that you would like to focus on. After the book is read, talk about the identified skill and have the children brainstorm how they could demonstrate those skills in the classroom. Give out awards, or publicly praise children you catch in the act.
Cooperation and Sharing:
Cooperation and sharing are important friendship skills. I put them together because it is difficult to cooperate if you can’t also share. It is impractical to think that children will be able to master these two skills in the first few weeks of school, but we can take steps to introduce them as important themes for our classroom.
Class Art Projects: Art is a great way to get children to work together toward a common goal. Set up a project that everyone can work on to create a single product. Last week I reposted Art Blog’s entry about decorating a stick, which is one example of an easy cooperative project. While the children are working, talk about the advantages of working together such as you can get done more quickly, everyone has different ideas to add, and its enjoyable to have someone to work with. When you’re done be sure you point out how all the individual efforts made the whole project great!
Games: Games are also a good way to practice cooperation. One of my favorite for pre-k and kindergarten is to have two children try to carry a balloon between two dowels and drop it into a laundry basket. My class has always loved playing this game. You must work together with your partner to be successful, but it’s not too difficult for most students. If you have more than one set of dowels and balloons, several groups can be going at the same time (but it is not a race). Once again you’ll want to introduce the word “cooperate” and discuss how the game was fun only when you were able to cooperate with a partner. Helpful tips: Shorter dowels are easier than longer ones; don’t over inflate the balloon; and if you have a child that is struggling have a teacher be his/her partner until they have enough practice to be successful with a classmate.
Another game that is good for developing cooperation is Pass the Mouse. It is appropriate for children starting around 3 years old, but older children will enjoy it too. Have the children practice passing a stuffed mouse around the circle without dropping it or any help from the teacher. Celebrate when the mouse makes it all the way around. Practice passing it fast, slow, or by placing it on the next person’s head or knee.
Helping Children Make Friends
Learning how to make and be a friend is vital part of early education. Having opportunities to develop friendships is one of the strengths of a play based curriculum. There are many ways you can help children develop their friendship skills. While we need to work on them the whole year, it is crucial to focus on it during the first few weeks when the children are introduced to so many new faces.
What are your favorite ways to help your children develop friendships in the classroom? Share your ideas including your favorite songs, games, and books in the comment section.