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Getting ready for school: social skills

Help your child settle in to primary school and make friends

Making friends in their new class can be very exciting for Reception children. As a Reception teacher, it's lovely to see these friendships blossom in the classroom. The shared learning experiences that take place with these new friends from big school is something I really enjoy helping to develop. At the same time, I am aware that this can be a daunting prospect for you as a parent!

Your child's new teacher will be aware of this important aspect of starting school and will set up their classroom to provide the best opportunities for these social skills to be practised. They will probably plan specific activities which use play as a way of modelling good social skills to the children. The social skills developed in these early years of school become a model for friendships, and play a vital role in future development. With that in mind, here are a few ideas to help your child develop these skills before starting their Reception year.

Practise greetings

This may sound obvious, but you would be surprised how many children have started in my class not knowing how to initiate a conversation with someone! I use lots of dolls and soft toys to practise greetings, asking to join others games or inviting others to join a game they are playing. Giving your child this language will support them when faced with lots of new friendly faces to play with.

Choose cooperative play resources

Choosing toys which invite cooperative and social play – such as a tennis set – rather than toys which invite solitary play can be a great way give your child opportunities to practise negotiation and turn-taking.

Share stories and talk about the friendship between characters

When reading stories with my class, we often talk about whether the characters are kind, helpful, and friendly, or the opposite (like the naughty queen in That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown )! Talking about negative social situations in stories is a helpful way to encourage your child to think about what they could do if someone isn't being kind. For example, they might decide to use their words to try to sort out any problems, or seek help from a teacher.

Play turn-taking games

Sharing games such as snakes and ladders or snap provide plenty of opportunities for children to practise social skills and turn-taking. Be sure to use the language of turn-taking to reinforce this. For example, 'First it is your turn, and now I will have a turn', 'Whose turn is it next?', and 'Thank you for waiting for your turn'.

Teach the language of feelings

Describing how you are feeling, as well as giving commentary on the emotions that your child may be experiencing ("I can see that you are cross that we have to leave the playground because you are having fun"), can help increase your child's emotional literacy. This can in turn help them understand their own and others' feelings in social situations. You might develop this further with a shared notebook of feelings, where your child can describe how they felt in particular situations. You could use Mary Hoffman's The Great Big Book of Families to help your child understand their feelings and to give a name to those feelings.

Practise conversations

Giving your child time to talk – and also time when they have to listen – is a good way to teach vital speaking and listening skills. For example, you could take turns to talk about the best part of your day over the dinner table. Focus in on their listening skills: can they ask a question to find out more? Can they remember what their sibling's favourite part of the day was?

Plan some play dates

Once they have started school, try inviting other children over from their new class, or meeting in a local play park for time to play together. Comment on their positive social skills: "I like the way you have chosen to take turns with the lorry, what a great way to play together!". You can also support your child if they are struggling in this situation by playing alongside them and offering suggestions for solutions.

Give them time to reflect

After school, give them time to reflect on their day and share any highlights or concerns they are having about friendships (or anything else). These concerns can then be monitored by you and the teacher, who will want to work with you to ensure your child thrives in their friendships.

The social skills and friendships which your child develops in their first year at school will stay with them for many years to come. I hope these ideas are helpful in getting your child off to a great start with their new classmates!

Next: First day at school

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