by Maria Denholm December 31, 2021 7 min read
An essential aspect of education in the early years is teaching children social and emotional development. Educators, parents and families play a crucial role in teaching these skills because they are role models and children often learn from what they see around them. Developing social skills from a young age will prepare them for a lifetime of healthier relationships and more confidence. Children aren't born with social skills; they need to learn, practice and refine. Being equipped with these skills can provide many benefits to children. Early childhood is the foundation of these vital skills, which will prepare them for life.
Birth to school age is a period in which children undergo maximum growth and development. The Early Years are crucial in supporting children to build a strong foundation that will set them up for life. Early Social skills refer to actions that encourage positive interactions with other people. Social skills can refer to simple things such as following rules, helping out, and listening to the teacher in a classroom setting.
If children start school and have weak social skills, they may lose motivation very early on, as they struggle to adjust to the new environment. That is why social skills should be taught as soon as children can talk. Students who develop these skills early in preschool settings will have a healthier transition to school as they know how to confidently interact with other children and form stronger friendships helping them adjust to kindergarten.
Building positive social skills at an early age has a wide range of benefits for children. When children learn to interact with others, they can form more positive relationships, develop better body language, maintain conversations with others, share, cooperate, turn to take and regulate their emotions.
Research findings demonstrate that greater social skills are linked to better success and a brighter future. Children can also build stronger friendships as they learn how to uphold friendship values leading to longer-lasting relations. Finally, the results revealed that childhood friendships and strong social emotional skills are fundamental for children's mental health and ensures students remain motivated to learn.
Teachers can create an environment in which children can practice these skills daily. Besides advancing academically, kids learn best in an environment that fosters a balanced approach between critical thinking, social and emotional skills. In the early weeks, whilst children are settling, ensure you build a strong, trusting relationship with each student, so they feel appreciated. Forming a close connection will allow you to teach kids social skills with more ease because they trust you.
Another great tactic is that the teacher should be able to adapt and find teachable moments that arise during the day, which can be highly beneficial as these are real-life examples to which children can relate. For example, if you see two children quarrelling over a toy, it can be changed into a positive role modelling example on sharing and taking turns. This is an informal way of teaching a more relevant lesson to the child's life.
Educators can use other teaching tools such as stories, puppets and role-playing to help children understand how to react in different situations. Additionally, Your Teacher's Pet Creature is explicitly created to encourage positive social skills and model for children how to interact with others. The pet can grow with the child as they move to different year groups and help refine students' skills as they get more complex. You can develop a child social skills checklist to assess children's progress and identify which areas need more improvement.
You might be wondering what are examples of social skills! Here are 10 of the most vital social skills for students to learn in the Early Years:
Listening is one of the most critical skills during early learning, but it doesn't come so quickly to all children. Listening skills need to be developed and cultivated as they grow. Basic communication starts with two essential skills: listening and understanding. Therefore, it's important to understand that listening is different from hearing. Listening refers to not only hearing sounds but also understanding their meaning. Effective listening refers to listening to the words and taking actions to follow through.
Students learn about themselves and others through sensitive interactions. These quality interactions to practice listening skills are often missed due to our hectic lifestyle and the additional screen time we are often engaged in. Spending time with children, asking them questions and giving them undivided attention is the best way to refine these skills. Teachers can play games such as Simon says, Eye spy or Red light green light to strengthen auditory skills in the classroom.
Cooperation is quite a challenging skill for young children as it involves balancing one's own needs whilst also factoring in the demands of others. Sharing and turn-taking are common behaviours associated with cooperating with peers in the early years. To promote these positive behaviours, teachers must provide positive reinforcement for children to repeat these actions. Embedding opportunities within the curriculum to enhance these skills will allow children to explore and be curious participants in the environment and collaborate with others to find answers and learn more about the World.
Play is an excellent avenue for children to learn social skills informally. Play is not only fun, but it provides countless opportunities for interactions with others, understanding different perspectives and collaboration between children. There are various types of play, but adults need to value and turn experiences into teachable moments. Play is how children learn about the world around them and make new discoveries. Students can use their imagination and engage in role-playing. The types of skills activities educators plan for children should be collaborative and encourage students to interact with each other.
Although older kids are able to interact more actively in decision-making we must give children of all ages choices. A great way to do this in the classroom is by giving students choices, to fulfil their needs whilst maintaining the classroom schedule. For example, a teacher could say, "We need to do reading groups for 15 minutes today. Would you prefer to do it before or after a short break"? Students will be less likely to complain as they are given a choice, as you have shown them respect and a sense of partnership is created. Making small choices allows children to do active problem solving and be more assertive.
The adults surrounding children each day are the most important influence on how students learn to respect. Simple signs of respect include: using manners such as 'please' and 'thankyou' appropriately and showing empathy for others. If a warm and respectful relationship is kept in the classroom, students will feel valued and be able to feel a sense of belonging. Children who feel respected will, in turn, respect others.
Being able to listen, understand and follow directions positively impacts children's ability to not only have a more successful schooling life but also achieve life outcomes. Students can often get overwhelmed if they are told to do too many things at once. For toddlers and pre-schoolers, you can start off by giving extremely short and clear instructions and wait for them to complete things one step at a time. School-aged children should be able to follow more multi-step tasks.
Children should be taught to identify the basic emotions such as happy, sad, scared, and angry when they are toddlers. Once a child can identify their feelings, they can also learn to self-soothe and calm down. For example, children may like to read in the book corner to engage in some mindfulness and distract themselves. Give children personal space to breathe and take a moment. Sometimes children may choose to share their emotions through non-verbal methods by exploring creativity such as art, music, or dramatic play. We should aim to normalize talking about how we feel so children can better regulate their emotions. Teach children how to deal with their emotions. Always encourage them to use their words rather than actions.
As adults, it's easy for us to say, 'no two people are the same'. However, the values behind this need to be instilled into children during their early years. Generally, young children accept differences without any questions asked, but as kids develop their self-identities, they may also begin to see the differences between people more. This could be related to background, beliefs, culture, gender, skin colour, or other disabilities. Students may even pick up on different learning abilities and speeds. Children should grow up accepting and respecting one another.
In order to become socially responsible, students must recognize that everyone has different opinions and desires. By teaching children and scaffolding ways on how to resolve conflicts, students learn how to listen and negotiate with others. Educators must set a good example by speaking calmly to the children and treating them with respect. Try resisting the urge to solve things for children but instead guide them to the correct answer. For example, ask questions to assist them in analysing the situation with a different lens. Model empathy for children and show them how to apologize so children can resolve disputes in healthy ways.
An important aspect of communication skills with others is maintaining eye contact. This is a sign of confidence. Ensure you don't cause shy children any additional anxiety, but rather help students practice these skills by providing opportunities in their daily routine. If you make eye contact whilst talking to children, it is a sign you are giving them your undivided attention.
Therefore, there are many reasons why social skills are key to learning. Improving children's social development at an early age will set them up for better success in life. If a child seems to be struggling, don't be afraid to ask for help from a professional to guide you and support children. Learning, facilitating, and strengthening these skills early on will provide countless benefits to young children. Educators must model and create an environment where children can be curious participants and practice these skills daily.