It is fun to watch children develop into little social beings. I think my most favorite time was when I was a Montessori Teacher and had a multiage classroom of 3 to 6 year olds. The group became a little family during the three years together. The oldest took care of the youngest and the 4 year olds learned from the 5 and 6 year olds. They learned from each other! It was nice to spend time with the children for three years. We really got to know each other and enjoyed watching the children blossom and grow through this experience.
Children go through several different levels of social development. At three, their social play is parallel. When I say that, I mean that they may play near others, but are really doing their own thing. They may be in the sandbox that is filled with children, making their own sand castles – not really interacting with others. By the time they are four, they may have found a friend or a small group of friends that they seek out to play with or do work with in the classroom. By the time they are five and six, they are extremely social, play with many friends or a few depending on their personality.
Teaching children proper social behavior is so important at a young age. Understanding and acting respectfully towards others is a must. Having discussions about how our actions may affect others needs to occur. When children exclude others from play, it can be very hurtful. We had a rule that no one was to be left out. I would watch friendships blossom and crumble – best friends one day and “not being invited to my birthday party” the next. Stopping and talking about how their actions made people feel was a natural “teachable moment”.
Obviously different personalities affect social learning. Some children have strong personalities, while others do not. Trying to find a balance can be challenging. There is usually a “leader” and those that follow – that is, until the “followers” get tired and move on to another game. This experience can be good because it teaches children that their choices may have made others not want to stay and play. They can learn a great deal through this experience.
Role modeling lessons are helpful in teaching children the proper language to deal with such situations. Stopping and discussing how things could have been handled differently can help with the learning process. Children learn through daily interactions and as adults we need to guide them to a place where they become respectful, caring human beings.
To promote the development of solid social skills in your child, try apps from VINCI’s Social & Emotional Curriculum.
Sarah Cowan is a mother, veteran educator and early childhood specialist who worked with preschool and kindergarten children since 1996 in both public and independent school settings. She graduated from Colby-Sawyer College in 1994 with a B.S. in Early Childhood Education, later receiving her Master’s in Education, Reading from Salem State University. She is a Massachusetts State Certified Teacher, and a certified Montessori teacher by the American Montessori Society since 2004. Before joining Rullingnet Corporation as an Early Childhood Education Expert, Sarah was an administrator at a Montessori school in Sandwich, Massachusetts.