Photo provided by hroylo.
While preschools are becoming more and more academic, many are losing sight of one of the premier goals of preschool: developing social skills. A play based preschool plunges young children into social situations with other egocentric preschoolers and provides them with meaningful, purposeful opportunities to learn how to negotiate, share, solve conflicts, and show empathy. Preschool is also one of the first environments where young children are taught to attend and listen, follow directions, and work effectively and cooperatively with a group of peers. While many parents (and schools for that matter) worry about assessing kindergarten readiness by ticking off a list of academic skills (“Recites ABCs…check. Writes own name…check check.”) the best predictor of school readiness is the ability to behave appropriately in a social situation, attend to instruction and follow directions, and get along well with others. Mastery of these behaviors is essential not only for school success, but for life success!
Social skills are developed through interactions with peers, observed and moderated by caring adults. You can model social skills through instruction (stories, puppets, discussion, role playing), but the skills are solidified most effectively through meaningful interactions. Think of it this way: Your teenager may have every rule in the DMV issued driver’s manual memorized, but until your teenager spends some time getting some guided experience behind the wheel, there’s no chance you’ll be handing over the keys any time soon!
Developing pro-social skills comes with moderated social interactions, but also requires a development of language skills to allow the child to express strong emotions appropriately, to negotiate, and to communicate needs. Often, children act out with tantrums and other undesirable physical behavior because their ability to feel intense emotions far exceeds their ability to verbally express those emotions. When we give children the vocabulary tools and social skills necessary to express their feelings and negotiate their desires they are less likely to rely on these negative behaviors. This skill can really only be built when children are given the opportunity to feel those intense emotions and gain the discipline to overcome them by using social tools. In fact, while it is desirable to have a preschool environment free from excessive contention, it is not productive for the children to have an environment free from all conflict. It is in conflict that they truly learn to create a positive outcome through sharing, mediating, negotiating, and communicating. All the social skills lessons will do little until the child experiences the tempest of frustration and feels the power and calm of creating resolution.