Teaching Preschoolers about Cooperation

Foster Friendship Skills in the Daycare Setting

Helping preschoolers learn to form friendships involves helping them develop social skills like cooperation and providing developmentally appropriate environments.

The key to helping children foster friendships in preschool environments involves teaching them to cooperate with peers, role-playing, and modeling by adults, and cultivating environments that foster the development of friendship skills.

Teaching Children to Cooperate with Peers

In order to help preschoolers learn to get along with each other, child care providers should first take into consideration children’s interactions when grouping children together. Sue Adair, Director of Education at Goddard Systems, Inc, recommends that child care leaders encourage small group interaction, and pair socially competent children with shy or less socially skilled children.

Susan Cooper, educator, author, and member of Applied Scholastic International, suggests that several times each day educators stage activities in which children need to communicate with other children. Instead of the educator asking questions, he or she should have a child ask a question and then relay the answer. The more often children can interact with children and learn communication skills, the better chances of other social skills building on this basic foundation.

Dr. Susan Bartell, child psychologist and author of The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask [Sourcebook, 2010], offers the following quick tips for teaching children to get along with peers:

  • Role model empathy and cooperation in adult friendships and relationships (kids learn from watching).
  • When playing with children, don’t always let them win. This teaches frustration tolerance and the ability to play with others in all circumstances.
  • Be prepared to intervene and help kids negotiate difficult situations, they aren’t old enough yet to work it out themselves. Young children need guidance. They need an adult to give them the words and to teach them how to see the other person’s point of view.

Childcare Providers can Nurture Friendship Skills

Child care providers can implement activities and prepare environments in order to enhance children learning of friendship skills. Begin with scheduling time each day for free play. “This is not free for all play but an organized time each day for children to play with children. This gives them a chance to interact and practice [friendship] skills,” says Cooper. However, there must be close supervision. The child care provider should always emphasize cooperation and facilitate it. Children can misinterpret the skillset, so an adult needs to be there to get it back on track quickly.

Teachers and educators can provide an environment that is set up with defined spaces for learning centers so that children have clear boundaries when playing. “Make sure there are enough centers to accommodate all children, offer items that promote social play, such as dress clothes, puppets, and figures. Make sure that there are enough for every child to carry out their plans for play and therefore, do not get frustrated waiting for what they want to use,” says Adair.

Preschool teachers and daycare center educators can help nurture friendship by modeling good communication and listening skills. In addition, early childhood educators must show empathy, sharing, and consideration.