Play to Teach Social Skills Before Your Child Reaches Kindergarten
by Dr. Amanda Gummer View Bio
Amanda has over 20 years experience working with children and families. Widely considered as THE go to expert on play, toys and child development, Amanda combines her theoretical knowledge with a refreshingly pragmatic approach to family life, that resonates both with parents and professionals.
Her book ‘Play’ was published in May 2105 and has already been translated into two different languages.
Amanda is regularly in the media, and continues to take an active role in research. She is often involved in government policy around children’s issues, rand is a member of two All Party Parliamentary Groups.
Amanda ran the research consultancy FUNdamentals for 10 years before combining that with the Good Toy Guide, and the Good App Guide to create Fundamentally Children, the UK’s leading source of expert, independent advice on child development and play, supporting children’s industries with research, insight and endorsement.
Making friends and cooperating well with others can help give your child a good start in kindergarten and is a valuable life skill for the future too.
- Giving your child a chance to play with others, without adult intervention, will give him or her a chance to independently solve disagreements and learn how to “play fair”.
- Playing together as a family means you can model positive social behavior for your son or daughter to copy.
- Mixing and matching playmates allows your child to learn social skills from children who are their own age, older or younger, as well as older family members.
It can be easy to get caught up in teaching numbers and letters when preparing your little one for kindergarten. While a little familiarity with these skills can give your child more confidence when the ABCs and 123s pop up in class, there are many other abilities that are key to success in that first year of school and beyond.
Being able to make friends and work well with others is important in a school environment. Think about a typical day in kindergarten and how much your child will interact with others - sharing toys, playing together at recess, or taking turns to speak to the teacher, are just a few examples.
One of the biggest worries that parents have when their child starts school for the first time is whether they will make friends. Unfortunately, you can’t do it for them! But you can help your child develop social skills that will give them a good chance of getting along well with others and, like many skills, these can be developed through play.
Child-led vs. Adult-led play
Activities led by the child, or the adult, both have benefits. As is often the case, balance is key. You can use adult-led play to model pro-social skills, for instance, demonstrating how to share and take turns.
On the other hand, child-led play is invaluable for really putting these skills into practice. When children are left to their own devices, they can negotiate with each other without adult intervention, so they must solve their own problems between them. They can see the consequences of their behavior, good or bad, and learn how to cope with this.
Pretend play is typically child-led and the most important part of a balanced approach to play, according to the Balanced Play Pyramid. During pretend play, children have that freedom to interact and learn to cooperate with one another. They will often dip in and out of the fantasy to discuss the narrative and decide their roles in the story. There’s lots of lovely verbal and non-verbal communication going on during this type of play, making it great practice for social skills.
Even when they are playing alone, pretend play helps children make sense of social experiences by acting out scenarios. This allows them to process the event from other points of view, supporting empathy.
Board and Card Games
Often adult-led, board and card games are another wonderful way for children to rehearse social skills through play. It is crucial to choose age-appropriate games, as children of this age have short attention spans and are still learning to manage their emotions when they lose!
Fast-paced, luck-based games with a focus on fun can be a great way of getting children to play with others - particularly older siblings, parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents. As well as learning how to take turns, children can begin to develop an understanding of friendly competition.
A little passive, solitary screen use is fine as a treat and can give stressed parents a much-needed break. But too much of this can take away from the time children spend playing with others and developing social skills. By encouraging a good range of play activities, as shown in the Balanced Play Pyramid, you can help your child develop their social skills through play.
It’s important to note that some types of screen time can encourage social skills though - for example, having a video call with grandparents, playing a video game as a family, or watching a TV show that promotes positive social behavior like sharing.