How to Build Social Skills on the Playground
Playgrounds provide valuable opportunities for kids to grow physically and have fun. These spaces also benefit kids through social play, an essential aspect of healthy child development. Social play gives kids the chance to interact and develop essential social and emotional skills. Kids will carry these skills beyond the classroom and into their future relationships and careers.
Playgrounds encourage building social skills by giving children socializing opportunities and the chance to practice social scenarios. You give the kids at your park, school, or organization a lifelong benefit by helping them develop these essential social skills. This guide will provide you with ideas to help build social skills on the playground and teach you how to choose playground equipment for social development.
Read the full article or skip to a specific section:
- What Are Social Skills?
- Types of Social Skills
- Why Is It Important for Children to Learn Social Skills?
- How Do Playgrounds Help Children Develop Social Skills?
- How to Encourage Social Development on the Playground
- Creating an Inclusive Playground to Promote Child Development
What Are Social Skills?
Human society relies on our ability to share our thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Social skills are the tools we use to accomplish that, helping us communicate and interact with others throughout our daily activities. Kids need social skills to develop healthy inner and outer lives. Social skills let kids effectively communicate and build relationships, helping them accomplish their goals.
Kids develop social skills over time by engaging with others and observing their behavior. Building better social skills takes trial and error, so kids need to get as much practice as possible. The classroom, playground, park, grocery store, and anywhere kids interact with others are places where young kids can practice their social skills.
These skills include more than a kid’s ability to use spoken language — it takes mastery of verbal and non-verbal messaging to communicate effectively. Kids exhibit social skills through their:
- Tone of voice
- Body language
- Personal appearance
When Should Kids Develop Social Skills?
It’s important to teach children social skills from a young age. These skills equip them to form healthy relationships at each stage of their life, so building a solid foundation is crucial.
Kids go through several developmental stages where they build upon the social skills they’ve already gained:
- 2 to 3 years old: Kids begin playing next to others, initiating interactions, and practicing manners like saying “thank you” and “please.”
- 3 to 4 years old: Kids at this age engage in pretend play and use their imaginations to create complex storylines.
- 4 to 5 years old: Four- and 5-year-olds begin playing with several peers and create games with more complicated themes.
- 5 to 6 years old: Kids begin following directions, listening to rules, apologizing for their mistakes, and praising others for a job well done.
- 6 to 7 years old: At this age, kids are capable of forming closer friendships, empathizing, and using enhanced conversational skills.
Types of Social Skills
Kids have several critical social skills at their disposal. These skills create a complete toolkit for navigating interpersonal connections, from friendships to romantic and professional relationships. It’s vital to teach a student social skills like:
The first step in healthy communication is greeting and initiating contact with someone else. After all, a simple “hello” can be the first step to a new relationship. Kids as young as 1 year old can learn how to greet others. However, it may take time for more reserved kids to build the confidence to do so.
Greetings also include nonverbal gestures like nodding, smiling, and waving. Kids demonstrate whether they feel happy, sad, or something in between by using these greetings.
Communication is a two-way street. While many kids can explain their thoughts and feelings, they may need some practice listening as others explain theirs. With the unstructured environment of outdoor play, kids learn how to listen to each other to accomplish common goals. As they begin to listen more, they also start asking questions and seeing things from other people’s points of view.
Previewing is the ability to understand your audience and the effect your words might have on them. Closely related to empathy, this skill is vital for carrying on healthy conversations. Kids with the ability to preview can change their words and tone to suit a particular listener or social situation.
Controlling your impulses is a significant step in learning how to preview. Kids that have mastered previewing will be able to take turns when speaking. They will also learn to observe a group before speaking up to match the tone and topic of the conversation.
4. Understanding Social Cues
Social cues are subtle hints about what a person feels. These verbal or nonverbal cues indicate someone’s reactions and can help kids learn to communicate better. Reading social cues involves paying careful attention to what and how someone speaks. Kids who are adept at reading and understanding social cues will be able to switch communication tactics to create their desired effect on their listeners.
Some social cues kids might experience include:
- Eye movements
- Crossed arms
Sometimes conflicts happen. As kids learn to solve problems, they develop healthy ways to manage controversy and aggression. Knowing how to resolve these conflicts is vital for maintaining friendships and solving problems.
Problem-solving often involves compromise. When conflicts arise, kids need to use their listening, previewing, and empathy skills to develop a solution.
People sometimes upset others accidentally. It’s vital to learn to apologize at the right time and in the right way. Kids with strong social skills will be able to recognize when they’ve hurt someone else, whether emotionally or physically, and say, “I’m sorry.”
Whether a kid didn’t respect someone’s personal space, said unkind words, or treated them unfairly, apologizing is an essential skill that takes humility and courage.
Why Is It Important for Children to Learn Social Skills?
It’s essential to teach children social skills as early as possible. Kids can start learning social skills through interactions on the playground as early as a few years old. When kids learn basic social skills when they’re young, they build a foundation for their relationships as adolescents and adults. Having the skills to thrive in social situations helps kids succeed at each developmental stage.
The benefits of children socializing from a young age are:
1. Making Friends
When they’re young, kids’ closest friends might share most of their experiences, interests, and beliefs. However, as kids age, their friendships require more communication, empathy, and even sacrifice. Friends will sometimes want different things and have different viewpoints. Understanding and respecting each other’s differences is an essential part of making friends.
2. Communicating in School
Kids constantly evaluate each other on their social skills in a school environment. When kids can effectively preview, listen, and understand social cues, they better understand how and when to speak in social situations. This greater social competence enhances a kid’s chances of being able to relate to their peers and make genuine friends.
3. Reaching Goals
Teaching a child social skills can help them reach their goals later in life. Social skills help kids accomplish goals together and collaborate on shared objectives. Kids will frequently need to work with a group to achieve a goal, whether finishing a school project or playing on a sports team. Kids who can cooperate and listen effectively are better team players.
4. Developing More Advanced Skills
Social skills will carry kids into adolescence and adulthood as they encounter more complex social situations. Conflict resolution and emotional expression come with experience and these skills can last a lifetime. When kids learn basic social skills like listening, empathy, and problem-solving, they can apply them to more challenging situations.
As they develop their social skills, kids gain the foundation to successfully tackle:
- Solving conflicts between coworkers.
- Making compromises in relationships.
- Controlling their emotions in difficult situations.
5. Enhancing Career Opportunities
Most jobs involve interacting with other people to some degree. Employers look for candidates who can successfully navigate social situations to contribute to the company’s success. Many careers require people who can motivate and encourage others to act. Kids with more developed social skills are better equipped to take on challenging roles like these.
6. Improving Overall Happiness
People with healthy relationships are happier overall. Numerous studies have shown that positive social relationships enhance self-esteem, meaning that making healthy relationships boosts a person’s confidence and self-respect. Getting along with others also opens personal and professional opportunities that can contribute to a better quality of life. Ultimately, teaching a child social skills sets them up to be a happy and healthy adult.
How Do Playgrounds Help Children Develop Social Skills?
Playgrounds provide opportunities for unrestricted social interaction, making them important places for kids to learn social skills. On a playground, kids are surrounded by their peers, who are also developing stronger social skills. In these situations, kids learn how to process their experiences and discover that their actions have consequences.
Fortunately, playgrounds give children socializing opportunities suited to assorted ages and ability levels. Here are the top ways that playing on a playground helps kids develop socially:
1. Kids Play Freely
Social play in a free, unstructured environment provides several benefits for kids. A playground allows them to play without direct adult supervision, even if their caregivers are watching from the sidelines. Unstructured play allows kids complete freedom over how they spend their time and with whom. That freedom gives them the chance to make their own decisions and interact naturally.
When kids engage free in social play, they can:
- Express their emotions: Physical activity in a safe environment allows kids to express their feelings healthily. If a kid is frustrated or upset, expending their energy on the tire swing or the log roll can help them reorient and manage their emotions.
- Experience honest communication: While guided activities have their place, they can’t replace the genuine reactions and consequences of unstructured play. Free play allows kids to experience different social interactions and learn social skills through practice.
- Expand their imaginations: The freedom kids have on the playground encourages them to imagine and create new worlds. Creating pretend situations can help kids develop greater empathy for others.
2. Kids Engage in Age-Appropriate Play
Kids become equipped for new social situations at different ages and stages of development. Playground equipment challenges kids in new ways, both socially and physically. Having an age-appropriate playground helps kids play comfortably while honing their social skills.
Playing on age-appropriate playground equipment gives kids opportunities for social play suited for their development level. For instance, playground equipment for early childhood often focuses on solitary or parallel play. Younger kids often don’t have the social abilities to play in large groups, so they need equipment that enables individual play. As kids get older, they frequently enjoy more cooperative playground equipment.
3. Kids Practice Communication in Pretend Scenarios
Play enhances cognitive development by giving kids the environment to communicate and use their language skills. Kids have active imaginations, and the playground is the perfect place to try them out. Kids use dialogue and actions to develop games and pretend situations to play with. Playing pretend also encourages kids to listen to others and compromise to move the story forward.
A playground offers opportunities for any pretend scenario kids can dream up, from a pirate ship to a rocket to an underwater paradise. Pretending gives kids new scenarios to practice their ability to create, collaborate, and cooperate. One playground component that encourages communication is the Drama Village, which provides the perfect stage for kids to act out their stories.
4. Kids Learn to Respect Personal Space
Respect is essential for cooperation, teamwork, and working toward common goals. It’s vital for kids to respect each other as they play. Showing respect helps kids to make and maintain healthy friendships. One way to teach children social skills is by emphasizing respect for personal space.
Part of respecting personal space is developing empathy. Kids have different physical boundaries and preferences for play. They learn that if they wouldn’t want to be crowded on the slide, they should also give others their space. To practice giving others their space, kids can learn how to take turns on the slides or the climbers.
5. Kids Collaborate and Take Turns
Collaboration and teamwork are essential in many areas of life. Playgrounds give kids a safe setting where they can practice collaboration through storytelling, playing games, and working toward goals.
Taking turns is another essential skill that requires patience. As kids get experience collaborating and taking turns on activities, they build the social skills needed to overcome challenges as a team. Playground equipment like the revolution inclusive spinner encourages kids to cooperate and take turns. Motion play equipment like the bulldozer spring rider also gives kids the chance to practice taking turns and sharing the equipment.
6. Kids Practice Conflict Resolution
Kids practice their previewing, listening, and problem-solving skills to reach common goals when they play. Conflict can sometimes hinder those goals. For example, when acting out a pretend scenario, one kid might accidentally bump into another. If someone gets upset, they may have to pause their game to resolve the issue. Learning to say sorry and react appropriately to anger are essential social skills.
Playgrounds support kids’ mental health by allowing them to work out their real-world problems in pretend scenarios. The playground is a welcoming environment where kids can practice conflict resolution without real risks. When kids settle disagreements during play, they learn to do the same in real-life situations.
How to Encourage Social Development on the Playground
You can use several tools to encourage social development on your organization’s playground. The most important thing kids need to practice social skills is a space that gives them opportunities to interact. Kids will naturally hone their skills as they play. However, caregivers and teachers can also help them develop socially by practicing a few helpful behaviors.
Here are a few tips caregivers can use to teach children social skills on the playground:
1. Design an Inclusive Space
Whether your organization is a school, place of worship, apartment complex, or park, you probably serve kids with various needs. Some kids may use wheelchairs. Some may have sensitivities to overstimulation. The playground should be a space for kids with different abilities to play together and include one another.
Designing an inclusive and accessible playground gives more kids the chance to play freely. Providing an inclusive play experience encourages kids to include new people in their games. Inclusion helps kids learn to appreciate and befriend people whose abilities are different than theirs.
2. Model Positive Interactions
The playground is an inherently positive space full of discovery and fun. However, kids can become frustrated or discouraged in specific social situations. Encourage kids to interact with each other in a positive way by modeling positive communication. Give a high five or a compliment to celebrate someone’s problem-solving or listening abilities. Acknowledging good effort goes a long way in promoting good communication. You can also include positive messaging in your playground equipment, like murals with positive affirmations.
3. Intervene to Correct Problem Behaviors
Kids can often sort out disagreements amongst themselves. However, sometimes problem behaviors persist and require intervention. If kids pick on others or intentionally leave others out, they can cause feelings of isolation and resentment. In these situations, it’s time for a teacher or caregiver to step in. Adults can offer constructive solutions to conflicts and reinforce appropriate behavior to help kids learn to manage their actions.
4. Develop Conflict Resolution
While they might sometimes need some additional guidance, kids should learn how to solve conflicts independently. While deciding who gets to swing first can be challenging, kids need to learn constructive ways to navigate these situations. Help kids develop conflict resolution through simple techniques like Rock, Paper, Scissors that give the whole group a chance to have a turn. Learning to interact with grace is a valuable skill.
Creating an Inclusive Playground to Promote Child Development
Playgrounds need to be accessible and inclusive to provide play opportunities for kids of all ability levels. Inclusive playgrounds are also accessible and should comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. Building an inclusive and ADA-compliant playground provides the kids in your community with inclusive playground equipment for social development that fits their needs. Inclusive playground equipment includes elements like:
However, inclusion goes beyond accessibility. An inclusive playground aims to create a space where kids of all abilities can play together in meaningful ways.
Designing an inclusive playground that encourages kids to hone their social skills takes careful planning. Playground designers have to choose inclusive playground surfacing and play elements. Kids have unique physical, emotional, and social needs that typical playgrounds may not meet.
Promote Social Development With Little Tikes Commercial Playground Equipment
Playgrounds are the perfect space for kids to learn social skills that will benefit them their whole lives. At Little Tikes Commercial, we design and create playground equipment to help kids interact, pretend, and hone their social skills through play. We’re committed to providing innovative and inclusive playground equipment to equip kids of differing abilities with the social skills to thrive and grow through wonder.
If you’re looking to design the perfect playground for your organization, Little Tikes Commercial can help. Get a quote on our playground equipment today, or find a representative near you to start the process.