Ahhhh summer…. Those lazy days where you can sit back and relax. For teachers, summer is a chance to recharge our batteries. It’s also a great chance for kids to take a break too from the stress of school. But just because kids aren’t in school doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be learning, especially social skills. In fact, summer is a prime opportunity for kids to develop their social skills.
These days, kids have so many activities that unstructured play and social time can fall by the wayside during the school year. With more free time in the summer, kids have a chance to build those skills. Still, time with friends doesn’t always equate to better social skills, and if you have kids at home, you know that by about day two the ‘he said, she said’ already wears on your nerves.
Here are some tips for helping your kids develop social skills (and helping you keep your sanity!) this summer.
Provide Unstructured Time: Looking at the expanse of summer, you may feel the need to fill each minute of each day with a structured activity so that your kids won’t drive each other up the wall. While structured activities have their place, kids really do need unstructured time as well. And not just 15 minutes here or there, but large blocks of unstructured play time. Yes, they will probably argue. Yes, they will probably whine that they are bored. But when they argue they’ll learn to solve problems and being bored will spur their creativity.
Directly Teach Social Skills: Some kids pick up on these skills, but others, especially kids with ADHD or Autism, may not. Teach them to read the cues of their friends, how to react to their friends’ words (accepting no, etc.) boundaries, how to ask if they can join in play, give and take, asking for what they want in healthy ways.
Summer is the perfect time for students to brush up on the skills they need to thrive in their community, especially for those making the transition from school to work.
Role Play: Role playing can be an effective way to walk through situations that you either anticipate or to review past circumstances that might come up. Play with your kids. Use their dolls, Legos, action figures, or whatever and role-play situations with them. Help them rehearse responses to everyday problems. Practice situations such as asking to join a group or how to handle a situation where two friends can’t agree on what to play.
For the older students, help them prepare for work with mock interviews or scenarios they could encounter on the job. Students benefit from seeing how others navigate work situations, both successfully and unsuccessfully, so be sure to show them the First Job Survival Skills series before they enter the workforce.
Real Life Application: The best way to develop your child’s social skills is just like every other skill. Practice! You’ll need to make sure they have kids to play with to practice those skills. If you live in a neighborhood with a lot of kids, you are lucky! Neighborhood kids are a great place to start, but if you don’t have a lot of options around you head for the park, the pool, invite friends from school over or take them with you on some family activities. Siblings, while they tend to fight the very most, are another excellent source of social skill building.
Meet your kids where they are: Don’t expect an introverted child to be the life of the party suddenly. A shy child may do better playing with one or two close friends. If your child is behind socially for their age, a playdate with a slightly younger child or a more structured activity might be better.
Choose friends wisely: Not all kids have excellent social skills. Guide your children towards other kids with good social skills. If your child struggles socially, try to set up a time for them to play with a child who is patient and has the same interests as them.
Ask Questions: When your child struggles socially it’s a good idea to be close enough to break up any major fights, but still give them a chance to figure things out themselves.
If you do need to intervene, try to ask lots of questions and put the burden of problem solving back on the child. If we swoop in and save kids from any possible conflict, they won’t learn much.
Try asking things like ‘Tell me what happened?’ ‘What do you think would be fair?’ or ‘How did you feel when….’
Social skills don’t blossom overnight for kids, but summer is a great time to work on them. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a few peaceful moments of watching your children or students play happily this summer.
By: Amy Curletto
Amy has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.
Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.