Preschool Prep for Social Skills
by Meghan Campbell, OTR/L
Parents often look forward to the time when their children are old enough for preschool. What a great opportunity it is when your child reaches that magical stage of maturity when they get to go off and play and learn with others. That free time often translates into a welcome timeout for busy moms and dads, too. So the entire family should be excited, right?
Unfortunately, just because a child is age-ready to start preschool doesn’t always mean the child is socially ready too.
According to Martha D. Austin, pediatric occupational therapist and owner of WeeCare Occupational Therapy in Hoboken, New Jersey, there are three groups of children that often have difficulty with social skills in the school environment.
• those who have sensory processing challenges (diagnosed and undiagnosed)
• those who are young for their grade compared to their peers
• those who have had a lack of exposure to interaction with other children prior to beginning preschool
Challenges for little ones can include, but are not limited to:
• separating from caregivers
• sharing with peers
• respecting others’ personal space
• playing together with friends
• communicating (verbally and non-verbally) effectively
With a little “practice” young children’s social interaction challenges can be overcome.
Parents, caregivers, teachers and therapists can implement simple strategies and terminology to help develop and shape social skills through age-appropriate games and activities at home and in school.
Here are some opportunities using an adult-led craft activity where many social lessons can be learned if the activity is set up and prepared for ahead of time.
1 – Set-up physically to encourage children to learn the difference between “shared” space and “personal” space. Craft supplies (paper, glue, scissors, etc) can be positioned in the middle of the craft circle. Individuals can work on their craft in their own space inside a hoola-hoop or another structured visual boundary like colored duct tape.
2 – Each child can be assigned as “captain” of a craft supply. This teaches the importance of being a leader and having responsibility.
3- Incorporate verbal communication into the activity. When a child needs a supply, he or she needs to ask that supply captain for it while exhibiting good manners using “please” and “thank you.”
4 – Encourage eye contact. Some children have difficulty making eye contact (a non-verbal communication skill) with others, especially an adult. For those kids, it helps to tell them to look at a person’s nose. It’s not quite as intimidating and encourages looking at someone’s face when talking with or listening to others.
5 – Avoid saying, “look at me,” but rather touch your nose when asking them a question. That gets them to look at you without having to remind them that they are not making eye contact.
Incorporated into everyday activities to facilitate appropriate social skills, these lessons not only translate to preschool performance, but generalize to many other settings such as play dates in your home, Saturdays at the park and family gatherings throughout the year.
A flood of outreach to the occupational therapy community has followed parents’ and teachers’ heightened awareness of the potential social interaction struggles of young children.
To assist parents and caregivers, WeeCare Occupational Therapy in Hoboken has developed a curriculum of summer groups, including social skills groups that provide an intensive, yet fun way for children and parents to learn these skills together.
More information about these groups and other workshops can be found at http://www.weecareot.com/summer2012
Weekly discussions and tips can be found on Facebook at http://facebook.com/weecareot
WeeCare Occupational Therapy provides child-centered and individualized comprehensive therapy services, combining basic techniques with the latest advances in therapy. They are located in The Monroe Center at 720 Monroe Street, Studio C408, Hoboken, NJ. Free parking available.