The first day of school can always be a little daunting for small children. Whether they are coming in with old friends or hoping to make new ones, social interactions go a long way in determining how the school year will play out. That’s why – as educators – we all have to do our best to encourage cooperative play and provide opportunities for friendships to blossom. It is not only an essential part of a child’s social and emotional development, but it will also make your classroom operate more smoothly during the school months to come! Without further ado, here are five ways to help students foster new friendships: 

1. Getting Social in the Classroom 

It’s easy to focus on academics and fail to put enough precedence on social skills in the classroom. Time must be made to ensure opportunities are provided for children to learn social interactions. It will build self-confidence, teach respect, and allow friendships to flourish! Make sure students both with and without disabilities are involved in activities that require cooperative play like greeting each other, listening to each others’ ideas with respect, taking turns, and putting minds together to problem solve. Ideas for social settings can include cooperative block play, dancing together with music, or collaborative interest centers where children can bond through experience. You can also have children play games like the “Cooperative Board Game Set” to instill concepts like sharing and respectful play. 

2. Keeping Friends Together

Many children have already forged new friendships and acquaintances by the time they reach your classroom. If you know the students from the previous year, you can make arrangements for children to be in the same class with their friends. This will give them more shared time to get to know each other better and strengthen the bonds between them.  Many times, developing friendships are not noticed by educators and can dwindle and eventually come to an end because opportunities were not provided to foster those friendships. Knowing a familiar face on the first day will also leave children more excited to begin the new school year!

3. Letting Friends Work It Out

Many times, students will get into heated arguments; however, these social interactions can actually be used to strengthen friendships if students are allowed to work out problems without being forced to “take a time out.” Using words to come to shared solutions will help students value friends even more through both the good and bad days. Observing arguments from the sidelines can be a good way to foster problem-solving skills in children, as long as things do not become loud enough to be disruptive.

4. Encouraging Involvement in a Group Setting

Some children are simply shy. Many times, a child will stand on the outskirts of a group, interested, but feeling too unsure of themselves to engage. By the child not being involved, children in the group may get uncomfortable or complain. If you notice a child standing to the side, step in and give the student a role that makes him or her important to the group. By providing a job that is seen as relevant, students will gladly accept the child into group play. Sometimes, all a child needs is an invitation, which you can easily provide.

Source: http://www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3747174

5. Getting Families Involved

Finally, friendships cannot truly blossom unless they are supported at home. If you see your students bonding in the classroom, communicate this to parents so they will know to set up play dates. Meeting outside of class is a great way for students to have more one-on-one time with friends. It’s also important to ensure that parents of children with varying abilities have the opportunity to interact. You can help with that process by suggesting that your school sponsor community events like open houses, potluck dinners, open gym, family nights, community classes, PTA meetings, or even family focus groups. Whatever you do, give families a chance to interact and support the efforts you are making in the classroom.

Source: http://ici.umn.edu/products/impact/162/over6.html

-We hope you found these tips helpful in aiding young students in building strong friendships for school years to come. If you have any tips on making the first week of school easier on children, feel free to share by commenting below or tweeting us @Kaplanco with the hashtag #backtoschool!

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