We all know people are naturally social beings—we need interactions to survive. But just because we’re naturally social doesn’t mean we know how to be social. We have to learn social behaviors—from our families, caregivers, and peers. Teachers play a key role in promoting social development, which includes peer play and friendships.
Knowing how social development looks at different ages and phases is important so that your expectations match children’s needs. This allows you to promote developmentally appropriate peer interactions. At any age, you can encourage, facilitate, and model:
You can also provide words to help children communicate and reinforce positive behaviors.
Let’s see what this might look like in classrooms.
The teacher in this infant classroom facilitates joint play and sharing as two children roll a ball to each other. Watch what happens when she walks away!
These toddlers are practicing social skills as part of a song and movement activity as their teacher models and encourages respect, kindness, and positive relationships. The hug at the end is priceless!
This pre-K teacher takes advantage of a teachable moment to encourage a child to connect with her peers (“Maybe you can have the cake for the party....We could bring it to the party. Go deliver your cake.”). She gives her words to initiate the connection (“Ask whose birthday it is!”) and reinforces what she did well (“What nice manners!”). Notice the exuberant response from the child’s friends!
Learning social behaviors and understanding how to interact with peers is essential for children, especially in school. After watching the examples above think about how you encourage peer relationships in classrooms and what new strategies you can use from the videos.
As an infant classroom teacher, you know that talking to babies is important. For instance, you tell the infants in your care what they are looking at (“You see the new block basket on the shelf!”). You label objects (“You have the red ball!”). And you describe events that take place in the classroom (“The tray just fell off the table! That scared you.”). These are all examples of talking with babies. Why, then, can it be so challenging to do this consistently in the classroom?
A few years into teaching early childhood, I applied to work at a school that does incredible work in the local community. I was thrilled to get an interview but realized very quickly that, even though the environment was supportive and the students were wonderful young people, I was much too intimidated to work there.
One of the best things about teaching is having a fresh start every morning. Greeting your students plays an important part in setting the tone of your classroom. I like to think that, as teachers, we get a chance to make a good first impression each day. Let's take a moment to consider the impact greetings can have with students, not only at the beginning of the school day but throughout the day as well.