When my son started preschool his teacher talked with us about playdates and suggested that we set up some opportunities for the kids in the class to play outside of school to help them get adjusted and feel more comfortable around one another. She mentioned the names of a few kids that my son seemed to gravitate towards, so I chatted with their moms at pick up and we arranged a time for each child and mom to come over for a "playdate."
Over the past two years my son has had tons of playdates. This summer we plan to have several more playdates with friends from school and church along with new friends that we've made. I am hoping that these practice interactions will help him continue to develop the social skills he'll need next year in kindergarten as he makes new friends. Over time I have learned several important ideas for creating a successful playtime with friends. Successful play interactions aren't always perfect and almost always involve some work on the part of the parent. In most cases, just saying, "go play" doesn't work. As kindergarteners, kids have a lot less supervision and teacher involvement in their playtime, so I think it is essential to help kids practice how to play successfully at home (and in other environments) with friends.
This week for the Get Ready for K Through Play Series we are talking about social skills.
In my previous post titled Social Coaching Tips, I shared some ways for adults to help kids play more cooperatively. The ideas in today's post are suggestions for ways kids can play together that can be set up by kids (with adult help) and allow kids to interact together and get to know one another better while doing open-ended play activities.
Here are 5 ways that my kids help create a successful playtime with their friends:
1. Work together to accomplish a task
One of our favorite ways to work together with friends is by building with blocks or other creative toys (tinker toys, recycled materials, etc). We also get out our Lego Challenges or go outside to do pulleys in the backyard. Another way to work together is to set up a pretend play scenario. On a recent playdate my son and his friend set up a store and they labeled all the toys with prices. Later on in the playdate, my daughter and I got to dress up and go "shopping" at their store. You can find some other pretend play scenario ideas here and on my Pretend Play pinterest board. Getting your kids involved in community activities with other kids can also help them develop new friendships. Working towards a common goal helps kids (and adults) feel connected to one another and also allows for some awesome opportunities to practice conversation skills. As an adult I find that some of my best friendships are formed as I work with other adults in jobs at church, our neighborhood, and in schools. By encouraging our kids to work together with their friends (new or old) they can deepen their friendships in a powerful way.
2. Go outside on an adventure
Our favorite adventure is to walk across the street and down the block to the spider wall (a large bush with loads of spider webs on it). We also love to walk to the park with friends or go on a nature hunt in the backyard. Getting kids outside opens up the conversation and gets them focused on things other than who is using which toy or who isn't sharing, etc. The other day we had some friends over and after awhile of playing indoors and in our backyard, we headed outside on a nature hunt around our neighborhood. The new environment gave the kids more to talk about and jogged their imaginations and caused them to come up with different activities. Kids can get in a rut with friends and just do the same things over and over again. Changing the environment can change the dynamic a bit. There are unlimited things they can do outside, so make sure your kids spend some time outdoors with their friends!
3. Participate in a sensory play experience
Our favorite sensory activity right now is water & ice play. The kids love using the hose and water guns and water balloons and really any tool they can find as they play with our water table and in our baby pool. Yesterday with friends they combined dirt and water and big bowls and were occupied for almost an hour with minimal adult intervention in one grassy section of our yard. They got dirty and wet, but they had a blast. Another simple favorite sensory activity when we have friends over is playdough! We get out all sorts of cutting tools, duplos/Legos, and assorted accessories like candles or paper ice cream cones/dishes. Googly eyes, pipe cleaners, and muffin tin liners are also fun to pull out. The kids seem to enjoy sitting together and creating while chatting and I love eavesdropping on their conversations. Making goop or cloud dough or doing splat painting is fun too. Sensory activities (especially new ones) give kids a shared cool experience that they can talk about and reflect on. As an adult I find that when I have positive sensory experience with a friend, we have a stronger connection and I remember the details of our time together really well because more than just one sense was involved.
4. Engage in an invitation to play or create
Several of my blogging friends create amazing "invitations to play" or create. These invitations are open-ended and are really cool to use when your child has a friend over. My son love to come up with ideas of things to do when friends come over and I like to help him realize that he can't dictate every moment of the playdate. Invitations to play allow him some control (he gets to pick the materials we use) while still making sure that the friends can do their own thing too. Anna at The Imagination Tree does daily invitations to play and she shares them on her Facebook page and on Instagram. She uses everyday materials from around her house. Earlier this week I put out toothpicks and pieces of pool noodles as an invitation to create for my kids and their friends. It was cool to see what they came up with. Tinkerlab also shares frequent creative challenges. These are perfect to use with your kids and their friends.
5. Enjoy a snack or a cooking activity together
Creating a snacktivity is another great idea for when your child has a friend over. Your child can come up with favorite snack materials and then the kids can create with their food... and eat it too. Meet the Dubiens has so many fun food creation ideas. My kids are picky eaters and so I don't mind if they create with their food as long as they eat it too. You can make this structured (like the one above) or just have it be open ended. Having snack time with friends is another big thing in kindergarten. Snack time is a really good time to work on conversation skills. Kids that can have a conversation, ask good questions, listen to the answers, and maybe also give follow up comments are ones that other kids want to hang out with. I love embedding snack time into a playdate because it gives my kids a great conversation practice time. I get a kick out of what kids say too. Even doing simple cooking activities together before you eat can be a fun way to get to know friends better.
This post just shares a few of the things that we like to do when friends come over that are sneaky ways of also preparing my son for kindergarten and developing friendships.
I am hopeful that as he has more and more successful scaffolded playtimes, he'll take these ideas and then use them in the less structured playtime he has at school next year. Other social skills we are working on to get ready for kindergarten include taking turns, following directions, listening, and sharing.
What are ways that you help your children have successful play experiences with friends? What social skills does your child struggle with or excel at? How do you help teach these skills in playful ways?
Make sure to check out these other social skills activities shared by the other Get Ready for K through PLAY! hosts:
(by Mom to 2 Posh Lil Divas)
(by Coffee Cups and Crayons)
(by Mama Smiles)
(by Mess for Less)
(by Rainy Day Mum)