Kids Exploring Friendship and Fun

Helping Your Child Explore Friendship and Fun

Early learning childcare centres such as Kool Kidz are often where a child has their first extended experiences outside the home environment. These experiences are where children learn to deal with change, interact with peers and develop new skills, especially in the child’s social development.

When exploring the concept of establishing connections with others, developing relationships and making and maintaining friendships in early childhood, it’s helpful to start with an understanding of the developmental stages of play.

There are six stages of play that evolve over time, and children’s play becomes more complex as they learn the social skills to interact with others. It starts when they are infants playing by themselves, to toddlers who observe and play alongside others, and ultimately as young children developing the skills to actively participate with peers and within a group in early learning environments.

Each stage is crucial for children’s social, emotional and cognitive development. Knowing which stage of play your child is at is helpful to understand and be able to support their interactions with others.

  • Unoccupied (0-3 months): The child makes random movements as they begin to explore their environment.
  • Solitary (0-1 year): The child will play independently with minimal interaction or engagement with others.
  • Onlooker (1-2 years): The child is observing and closely watching others play without actively participating.
  • Parallel (2-3 years): The child begins playing alongside other children with similar toys or activities but without significant interaction.
  • Associate play (3-4 years): The child’s play involves more social interaction, engaging with others in similar or complementary activities and sharing materials. The child is showing more interest in their peers at this stage.
  • Cooperative and collaborative play (4 years onward): The child begins to share resources, ideas and feelings. The play is more organised and structured, and they may develop sets of rules for their play. At this stage children are engaging the foundational social skills that have been developing over the past four years.

What are ‘the foundational skills’?

Acquiring social skills is a bit like ‘on the job training’. Through play, children are learning how to make friends and maintain friendships. The desire to connect with others is innate, but the intricacies of navigating social encounters are developed gradually.

This is why we say “it’s not as simple as ABC”, it’s more like A-Z as children require many skills before a friendship can be established, and more importantly, sustained. Strong, positive relationships rely on social and emotional competence (the social skills, and emotional knowledge and regulation for getting on well with others). This includes skills such as active listening, turn taking, flexibility, conflict resolution, effective communication, emotional regulation, empathy and cooperation.

Learning these skills early and having the time, space and support to practice these regularly set children up for a lifetime of managing social situations, and being a good friend. This is why play is so important, through unstructured and authentic interactions with peers, children are provided with plenty of opportunities for play-based learning, to practice and refine their skills.

It is helpful to note that Social Learning Theory suggests children develop by observing others’ behaviours and copying them. This is where our roles as parents and teachers is vital. As we model and demonstrate turn taking, sharing or conflict resolution, children are observing and learning from us. Sometimes our efforts can be a little too subtle, this is where it can be helpful to praise the desirable behaviours when we see them or commentate our actions we hope the child will adopt.

Striking a delicate balance between actively providing support and serving as a role model, while also allowing children the autonomy to independently navigate social and emotional interactions, requires thoughtful consideration.

There are many ways we as teachers and parents can help children to connect with one another to form friendships.

  • Model good friendships skills – Point out friendly behaviours such as greeting others, sharing, turn taking, listening, respecting and caring for each other. “That was so kind of you to check on your friend when they were upset”.
  • Encourage verbal expression: Acknowledge and / or prompt children to express their feelings and thoughts verbally, fostering communication skills crucial for social interactions. “I can see you are frustrated, what support do you need from me right now”.
  • Teach Turn-Taking: Introduce games or activities that involve taking turns, instilling the importance of patience and cooperation in social settings.
  • Social Stories: Read books with social lessons with children, discuss the themes and concepts and relate them back to real life events or potential future scenarios.
  • Practice role-play: Use toys to demonstrate how good friends behave with one another. Engaging the children to take part might help them overcome shyness and practice making friends before attempting it for real.
  • Facilitate connections: Look at what’s going on and find ways to connect children to one another, for example “Jack I can see that Dana is interested in climbing this tower with us, shall we climb down and show her how we got up here so she can play with us too?”.
  • Nurture friendships: If you see children have bonded, nurture this by arranging play dates or creating opportunities for them to play together and when they are not together, talk about their friends. “I wonder if Dana likes dancing too, we will have to ask her next time we see her”.
  • Consider the possibilities of nature: Create opportunities for children to connect in places that aren’t overstimulating or places that don’t have too many resources, like the beach or a park. This supports children’s collaboration and imagination in ways that do not rely toys.
  • Acknowledge the natural consequences: Where children’s social skills may have resulted in a less desirable interaction, discuss why: “they didn’t want to play because you weren’t listening to them”, ”what do you think you could do differently next time?”

Likewise, it is also beneficial to highlight the elements of the play that supported the interaction “did you notice what happened when you shared your bucket?”

Childcare centres, such as Kool Kidz, provide creative play spaces and social settings that are designed to nurture a child’s social development. Children in early learning environments can quickly develop friendships in early childhood, and parental involvement in their child’s social development can even be as simple as asking them who they played with, what did they do, and how they felt about their interactions with other children.

Want to know more visit Kool Kidz early learning centre to learn more or find Kool Kidz early learning centre in your area.