I am a firm believer that social skills should be taught directly, and then implemented and brought into habit through play and experience.  During the very first weeks, I introduce the tools for entering play and taking turns.  These are key areas of social conflict when you get a group of new preschoolers together!

I like to use puppets to teach social skills. (I got these from Oriental Trading.  They’re a great value, but I did have to trim up their hair when they arrived.)  Now don’t be intimidated by puppets.  I’m no puppeteer, despite countless hours of watching Mr. Rogers’ Land of Make-Believe, and almost every Jim Henson production known to man as a child.  You’d think I’d be a natural!  I usually just narrate what the puppets are doing rather than trying to be a ventriloquist (because I would fail miserably).  Just having the puppets act out the social situation helps make the hypothetical story become concrete.  Visualizing a scenario and then doing social problem solving on top of that just requires too much abstract thinking for most preschoolers.  So if you’re a regular Shari Lewis, knock yourself out, but for the rest of us mere mortals, narrating is just fine!

So to help give children a script for entering play or taking turns, I pull out two of my puppets.  I give one a ball to hold on to, and then narrate something like this:

“Sarah and Sally are good friends.  They get to play together all the time and have so much fun.  One day Sally noticed Sarah playing with a ball.  It looked really fun to play with that ball, so…(nice pause to get their wheels turning)..Sally just ran right up and grabbed the ball away from Sarah! (Gasp!)  Wow!  How do you think Sarah felt about that?  Was that the right way?  What could Sally do instead?”  (Usually, someone suggests they take turns.)  “Right!  You know, Sally could say, ‘Can I play with you?’ And then they could play together! (Show puppets tossing ball back and forth.)  Let me hear you say, ‘Can I play with you?’ (Have them say it a few times, just to get the phrase down.)  Now they’re both having fun, playing together!”

Then either on the same day, or the next day, I have the same puppets in a similar scenario.  This time Sarah is playing with something that only one person can play with at a time.  I’ve used a small dollar-store video game, just because I had one on hand.  You might also use a toy car or dress up item.  Either we’ve just had the previous lesson, or I remind them of it.  I point out that this time, they can’t play together because only one person can use the item at a time.  “What can they do?”  Someone will suggest they take turns.  I point out that a great way to ask someone to take turns is to say, “Can I play with that when you’re all done?”  I have the children repeat it again to get the phrase down.  I really like this phrase, because the “when you’re all done” part lets both children know that taking turns doesn’t mean the first person’s turn is immediately over.  It’s less threatening for the first player and reminds the second player to be patient. 

In implementing it in the classroom, if the children need help, I may ask the first player how much more time they need to be done.  They usually come up with a reasonable amount and I set a timer.  Almost always they relinquish the item without a problem because they had some control over when their turn would be over.

Once you’ve taught these phrases directly, you can coach the children, reminding them to use them in their own play, and reinforcing them when you hear them use them on their own.  Remember that it is not your job to keep your classroom free of conflict.  No one gains social skills that way.  It is your job to help the children appropriately deal with conflict!  Give them the skills, be there to coach or intervene if the situation becomes too heated, and help them learn to ultimately solve social problems on their own!

For more on social conflict, check out Verbalizing Emotions.

For more welcome week activities, click here.

Photo courtesy crazed2ins.



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