As another new school year begins, I would like to talk to you about some ways to help our students build their social competence. Understandably, much time is spend focusing on the academic curriculum, but I would like to help you grow your students socially, as well.
Why should we spend time working on social skills in school?
We should spend time focusing on social skills in school because competent social skills are necessary for both academic and social success. Students who have competent social skills will be able to engage with each other more successfully in the classroom, while working together on group projects, and while playing at recess.
Students who have the ability to take another’s perspective will understand what they read better and will be stronger writers. Students who have strong social skills will be able to solve problems, ask for help, and accept help or feedback when given.
The first month that we return back to school is a great time to work on the very important social skills of working and playing with others in a group. Being able to cooperate, negotiate and work as a team, is super important for both social and academic success.
Working or playing in a group requires so many social skills. One must be able to cooperate, negotiate, take turns, share space and materials, be a good sport, communicate, be respecful, take the perspective of others,
….just to name a few!
So much of our time in school is spent in groups. If children struggle to interact with others in groups, any and all learning will be difficult. Why not teach and practice the skills of working together in a fun and non threatening way?
The following activities are a great way to teach and support the social skills involved in Getting Along With Others:
This game is so much fun. Great for a rainy day indoor recess. It is great to work on many skills needed to work together as a group. Children must listen, focus, and attend to others in order to be successful.
Keep It Up
Using a beach ball or balloon, children will hit, or as I like to say “tap” it back and forth, (similar to volleyball) with the object being to keep the ball or balloon from hitting the floor.
I have the children practice “tapping” the ball/balloon before playing the game. Children who have challenges with self regulation will need lots of practice tapping the ball/balloon and will need some discussion before the game, about the need to work together to tap the ball/balloon in such a way that it is likely the other person will be able to receive it and send it back (as opposed to volleyball where the object is to make the other person miss the ball).
This can take some time for young children or children with self regulation challenges to understand and be able to do. Be patient and practice a little bit each session or as often as you can. You will see progress if you keep giving them the opportunity to practice. I promise!
This game is great for addressing teamwork, cooperation, self regulation and good sportsmanship.
One person starts being “it”, each time he/she tags someone they hold hands and become like tentacles on the octopus. As the children continue playing tag, they will make a chain or “octopus tentacles” every time the person on either end tags someone.
This is a great game to practice cooperation and teamwork because the group must move together to be successful.
The following books are a great way to highlight and discuss the social skills necessary to Get Along With Others:
Listen and Learn, by Cheri J. Meiners, M.Ed.
Don’t Eat The Teacher!, by Nick Ward
Danny The Dog’s Dilemma, by Sean Yue
Howard B. Wigglebottom Books, by Howard Binkow
The following games are a quick and easy way to support the social skills needed to practice Getting Along With Others:
Jenga (by Hasbro)
This is such a great game. It is found in most classrooms and if not, it is inexpensive and can be purchased in many stores such as Target or toy stores. Children must work together to build the tower higher and higher. This game works on self regulation (physical and emotional), teamwork, cooperation and especially good sportsmanship.
The tower will fall eventually, the group needs to remember to be good sports when it does.
When I play this game with my students, we practice what we will do and say when the tower falls. We talk about how the person who “makes it fall” may feel. We talk about how that person may feel if the rest of the group gets angry when it falls.
20 Questions (in teams)
Kids love this classic game. And the best part, no materials needed! Simply come up with an idea and your good to go!
It is helpful, however, to have access to a whiteboard and dry erase marker or something similar, to write down the questions as they are asked.
Putting kids in small teams to play this game fosters teamwork, cooperation and negotiation.
If you have themes or topics for the idea that is being guessed, you can also provide children with a game that works on perspective taking. Have the topic be “about me” and each child gets a turn being the person to come up with the item the others are guessing. The groups have to think about that person in order to narrow down their questions and make them smarter.
Hang Man (in teams)
Same as above, kids love this classic game and when you put children in groups and work with themes, it can really provide for some excellent opportunities to practice and improve a wide variety of important social skills.
Don’t like the reference of “hang man?”
Try “Plant a Flower” Same game as Hang Man but you draw a flower pot, then each time a letter is guessed that is not found in the word or phrase chosen, draw a part of the flower.
Start with dirt, a seed, roots, stem, leaves, petals…. This should be enough but you can always add on a bee, or a butterfly, sunshine, etc.
By teaching, practicing and growing our student’s skill and ability to work (and play) in groups, we will help them to have more successful school and life interactions, be happier, and learn more!