School is so much more than academics! It is learning to survive and thrive in the world where there are many unspoken and unwritten expectations about how we all should behave in all kinds of situations.
For some, these skills are innate and for others they must be taught and spelled out and repeated and practiced and repeated again. Learning the acceptable social standards can be the hardest part of school for some children. Those who struggle have difficulty with peer relations, and school can be something they dread when they feel disconnected.
Essential social skills kids need include the ability to:
Manage strong emotions and develop coping skills for them
Engage in appropriate interactions
Understand importance of following rules
Show good sportsmanship and/or humility
Exhibit acts of kindness.
Schools are a great place to teach these skills because opportunities present themselves naturally. Teachers can help students gain the competency they need. Curricular choices can also lend themselves to lessons on social and emotional topics. (Read more about the Responsive Classroom approach to social and emotional learning.)
Preschools are also an ideal environment for students to learn and practice these skills before getting to grade school. In her book, Raising Happiness, Christine Carter states that “Kids who devote more time to complex pretend play before grade school (versus kids who spend a lot of time in structured or care-giver directed activities) are more likely to be cognitively and socially competent with peers and adults.” (You can read more about how the Lower School has embraced Carter's work here.)
Unstructured pretend play also increases emotional intelligence, empathy, resiliency, concentration, motivation and problem-solving, all of which contribute dramatically to school success. In addition, it lends itself to plenty of opportunities to learn and practice social competencies. Play is so important! It also teaches kids to negotiate, share, cope with disappointment, and express their needs.
Formal ways that preschools and elementary school can teach social skills to young children are:
Daily routines, like morning greetings/meetings
Discussing empathy and pointing out others’ feelings
Coaching them on their own emotions and helping them identify them
Praising effort and joy of learning (growth mindset)
Giving lots of opportunities for unstructured play.
Parents and early childhood educators who want to give children the best preparation for school and the academic work that will follow should focus on developing these social skills. Play is important work for children as they develop habits of character and mind.
Vanessa Robinson (P ’18, ’22, ’24) is the K-8 Counselor. She joined Randolph in 1998, with extensive experience as an adolescent and adult counselor at Crestwood Hospital. Vanessa shared these remarks at a recent lunch & learn for early childhood educators. Join her for our first Randolph Stroll, an hour for mothers of babies, toddlers and preschoolers, to meet up and walk or jog on Randolph’s track. Vanessa will be happy to answer questions about how parents can help their children to develop these skills. If you would like more information about this event, which is free and open to the community, please call our Admissions Office, 256-799-6103.