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Encouraging Social Development

During early childhood children are learning to get along with others. Early social skill is important in children's overall development as children build a sense of their abilities at a very early age. In addition, social interactions play an important role in other developmental domains. For example, children use social interactions as a way to practice language and problem solving skills. In fact, children who interact most often with peers are the children who have the best-developed language skills. And, of course children enjoy interacting with peers as other children are more likely to share the same interests and have similar abilities. When children have healthy social interaction skills we find that by age three they are interacting more with peers than with the teachers in the classroom.

The teacher's role

Most children develop healthy social interaction skills quite naturally. They easily move from depending upon adults to begin and sustain interactions to creating and sustaining their own interactions with others. In doing so, children learn to see things from another point of view, to make compromises and resolve conflicts, and to share, collaborate and negotiate for themselves.

Some children need a great deal of support learning to develop and sustain social interactions and all children need support at some times. Teachers can help encourage healthy social interaction in the following ways:

  • Plan and implement group games and activities that entice children into sharing, turn taking and other social interactions.
  • Create learning centers within the classroom that accommodate small group play. Small group play can be less intimidating to children who are reluctant in social situations.
  • Offer activities that children can do in pairs. Assign 'buddies' so that children who have trouble finding a partner get a chance to practice games and activities in pairs.
  • Draw attention to mutual interests among the children. Comment on the things children have in common and make suggestions that draw them into social play. For example, "Bill, I notice you like to play dominoes. Sue is great at dominoes. Perhaps you two can start a tournament!"
  • Set up equipment to encourage social play. For example, place two paintbrushes at an easel or three puzzles at the puzzle table.
  • Watch for children who are having trouble finding play partners. Invite these children to join an activity. For example, "Sam, we are starting a game of lotto. Would you like to join?"
  • Arrange classroom equipment to encourage face-to-face interactions. For example, set chairs across the table from one another or pull tables away from walls so children can surround the table rather than using only one side.

Most important, show your enthusiasm for children's social interactions. Positive attention will increase the likelihood that social interactions continue.

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