Improving Social Skills on the Playground

Improving Social Skills On The Playground

It has long been understood that play is an essential factor in early childhood development. Unstructured play — or play that is not regimented or directed by adults — is about so much more than having fun. It fosters physical and cognitive development, as well as the development of healthy social skills. Though research has shown the benefits of play in early childhood, children today are spending less time than ever engaged in unstructured, outdoor play.

Read the full article or skip to a specific section:

Unstructured Play Is Declining

Increasingly, there is more focus on academics and structured, adult-directed activity in preschool and elementary school classrooms. As teachers face more pressure to meet academic standards and prepare students for assessments, unstructured play is falling by the wayside. Also, children are spending more time engaged in passive or sedentary activities like watching television.

Not only has today’s society allotted less time for unstructured play, but a large percentage of children today are also in an individualized education program, which is provided for students required to receive special education services. This means there is a great need for inclusive play environments that promote physical play and social interaction for all children. An inclusive playground provides a safe environment for children of all abilities to engage in physical activity, increase play exploration and practice social interaction.

Countless Benefits Of Play

With so many factors posing a threat to unstructured, outdoor play for all children, it’s more important than ever to discuss the countless benefits of play. One significant advantage is the development of social skills, which are necessary for successful, healthy relationships over the long-term.

What Are Social Skills?

Social Skills Help Us Relate To One Another

Social skills are learned skills that help us relate to one another. We need social skills to effectively interact with others in our society. We learn how to use social skills through observing others and through practice. It’s natural to want to interact with others, and having social skills can help us empathize and collaborate with others successfully, as well.

Young children develop these skills by practicing them in everyday situations, such as on the playground, in the classroom or at the park. Kids can learn social skills when they have the opportunity to practice them in group settings.

Happiness And Sense Of Well Being

Being able to interact successfully with other kids in a social setting will eventually lead to a child’s happiness and sense of well-being. However, if a child is struggling to socialize with their peers, it can cause them to feel unhappy, disconnected or even rejected.

There are several types of social skills a child should possess to become socially proficient. These may learn these skills through practice and observation, but those who are having trouble mastering these skills can learn them from teachers, parents or professionals using alternative strategies like role-playing or rehearsal. The types of social skills range from the basics of making an introduction and starting a conversation to the more complex topics, like conflict resolution.

Social skills will vary depending on the age of the child. Generally speaking, children will develop specific skills by the following ages:

  • 2 to 3 Years: Able to initiate social contact, say “hello” and exhibit some conversational skills, like taking turns and looking at the person talking
  • 3 to 4 Years: Able to initiate a conversation, take turns while playing games and engage in imaginative play with certain toys like dolls or stuffed animals
  • 4 to 5 Years: Able to cooperate with others and assert themselves, more likely to tattle on others or pretend to be the parent in role-playing games
  • 5 to 6 Years: Able to apologize, please their friends and understand good sportsmanship, negotiating, solving problems and playing fair
  • 6 to 7 Years: Able to empathize with others, share with their peers, wait their turn, lose more gracefully and use more conversational skills like listening, changing subjects and telling jokes

Types of Social Skills 

There are several categories of social skills we primarily focus on, which are:

Greeting Someone

  • Greetings and Initiating Communication: The first step to interacting with someone is greeting them. This includes both verbal expressions, like “Hi, how are you?” and nonverbal expressions like smiling, nodding or waving. These nonverbal expressions are equally as important as the words you use in a greeting because it communicates to others you’re happy to see them. A child who is lacking these skills might use a verbal address, but they may speak in an unfriendly tone, or avoid smiling or making eye contact.
  • Listening and Comprehension: After greeting someone, the next thing to do is start a conversation with them. To carry on a conversation, a child needs the ability to listen and pay attention, take turns and ask questions. Children that haven’t learned this skill yet might instead begin talking about themselves or something that interests them. A child that has mastered listening and comprehension skills will understand when to speak and when to listen.
  • Previewing: Part of carrying on a conversation is knowing your audience and how to speak to them. It’s important to consider who you are talking to and the effects your words may have before you start speaking. A child with strong skills in this area will be able to preview, or weigh their words carefully and craft the right tone depending on the person they’re speaking with. Children with weak impulse control may struggle with previewing before speaking. For example, socially adept children know they can talk in a casual tone to one another but must adopt a more formal tone when talking to their teacher, principal or other authority figures. They also know how to adjust their tone or conversation topics to match the mood of the situation. In practice, this could mean observing and listening to a group conversation for a few minutes before interjecting with their input. Failure to think before speaking could have negative results. To say the wrong thing in a group conversation could come off as inappropriate, rude or insensitive.
  • Reading and Understanding Social Cues: Social cues are hints — either verbal or nonverbal — that let us know what to say or do next in an interaction. Reading these cues involves not only listening to the words someone says but how they say it. For example, do they sound genuinely excited about something? Or can you detect sarcasm in their tone? Reading social cues also involves paying close attention to body language. Watching for these nonverbal cues, like how someone’s facial expressions or posture shift throughout a conversation, can tell you a lot about what they’re thinking.
  • Problem Solving and Conflict Resolution: Social interaction can sometimes involve conflict, so part of being socially proficient is reacting appropriately to problems and disagreements. Children who struggle with problem-solving might have difficulty when conflicts arise. They might not know how to handle a controversy or aggression directed toward them. As a result, the child might get angry and avoid the person who upset them, unless they get their way. Conflict resolution often requires the ability to compromise, and both parties have to be willing to give a little. Conflicts are inevitable, and it’s important to know how to work through them to be able to maintain relationships.

It's Essential To Be Able To Apologize

  • Apologizing: Because problems and conflicts are bound to arise in any relationship, it’s essential to be able to apologize. An individual with strong social skills will be able to recognize when they are wrong and have the courage to say they’re sorry. Some children may have a hard time apologizing because they feel too proud or embarrassed to say the words, “I’m sorry.” However, apologizing is an efficient way to take responsibility and right a wrong.

Why Are Social Skills Important for Children to Learn at an Early Age?

If a child is struggling to master social skills, it’s essential to address the issue as early as possible. Lack of social competence can become an ongoing problem into adulthood, and it can hinder a person’s ability to achieve success for the rest of their life. It’s crucial that any difficulties with socials skills be identified and addressed early, similar to the way a learning problem would be resolved.

Strong Social Skills

Having strong social skills can help a child succeed from childhood through to adulthood in several ways — here are four of them.

1. Making Friends

Around the age of four, children begin to develop what is called the “theory of mind.” This is what allows children to understand other people might have viewpoints or objectives that differ from their own. This ability to see things from someone else’s perspective is an essential factor in a child’s ability to make friends.

Having a grasp of this concept will help a child learn how to make introductions. Greeting others by saying “hi” and inviting them to play or asking them additional questions is an indication that the child has an understanding of these skills. If a child chooses to play in isolation, tends to act bossy or often tries to take over in a social situation, they might be having a hard time in this area.

2. Socializing in School

School is an environment where peers are continually grading one another on social performance. Children with more social competence will have an easier time relating to their classmates through listening and contributing to a conversation. A child with weaker social skills might have a difficult time understanding their peers and knowing when and how to jump into a conversation. A lack of social skills can make it more difficult for children to make friends at school or to collaborate on projects, which can cause them to feel lonely or left out and make school activities more difficult.

3. Reaching Goals

A Common Goal

Socializing can sometimes include collaboration and cooperation. A child who can work well with others toward a common goal will be better equipped in the long term.

Participation in group activities or team sports is an excellent way for children to develop these social skills. Being part of a team offers a child the opportunity to learn how to take turns, collaborate with others and take disappointments in stride. Not only does being part of a team help with collaborative skills, but it also helps children develop good sportsmanship, as well. A good sport will have confidence in their performance and be able to cope when losses or disappointments occur.

4. Building Blocks for More Advanced Social Skills

The ability to control emotions is another critical social skill. Being able to manage impulses and express feelings appropriately are essential factors in maintaining friendships. A child who can identify and process their emotions will have more success in social situations. They’ll also be able to identify their strong feelings and take a pause before reacting.

Conflict resolution is a social skill that comes with age and typically does not fully develop until adulthood. It can be difficult for children to understand how to resolve a conflict. Teaching a child to be confident, assertive and willing to make compromises can be helpful in developing problem-solving skills. Also, encouraging children to practice other social skills, like empathy, good sportsmanship and controlling their emotions, can help them improve conflict resolution skills in the future.

Often, a lack of impulse control is what causes a conflict to become aggressive. If a child learns to manage their emotions and think through their actions, they will be on a more clear path toward developing conflict resolution skills and positive social interactions.

How Playgrounds Can Help Children Develop Their Social Skills

Playgrounds Offer A Context For Children To Learn About One Another

Playgrounds can be for more than just play. These environments are an excellent opportunity for social interaction, and they offer a context for children to learn about one another.

Also, when children have the chance to play outdoors, it helps with the development of motor skills, which can aid in their social and emotional development. Young children with poor motor skills are more likely to identify as having behavioral and emotional challenges in school and experience anxiety and depression. Such essential could lead to a lack of competence and confidence on the playground, which could, in turn, lead to more problems with social and emotional development.

Many children possess a degree of mastery motivation, or their level of self-motivation to master motor skills. In a study of kindergarten children with developmental delays, it was shown that children who were encouraged to be autonomous in solving motor problems scored higher on mastery motivation and motor skill measures, while children whose activities were more adult-directed and less independent had less successful scores on the same tests.

These results suggest unstructured play is an important factor in the development of a child’s motor abilities. Children should be given the opportunity to engage in play they enjoy that doesn’t require encouragement or direction from adults. One way to do this is by increasing the amount of time children spend playing outdoors.

Numerous studies have shown outdoor play for children under the age of five aids development in a way that indoor activities just do not. Unstructured outdoor play allows kids to get more physical activity while also practicing social interaction and cooperation. Research shows social interaction is more likely to occur on playgrounds than in classroom settings. Because of this, children should play outside for at least one hour per day.

Different types of playground equipment contain features and benefits that help foster not only physical play but social interaction, as well. Some research suggests different types of playground equipment affect the kind of play that occurs.

Here, we take a closer look at five ways that children improve their social skills while playing on different types of playground equipment.

1. Taking Turns Using Equipment

Children Practice Taking Turns

One strategy for improving a child’s social development is providing the opportunity for them to practice taking turns. Playground equipment can be very interactive and fun to use, but it also requires some patience. When a playground feature can only accommodate one child at a time, children must learn to wait their turn. Waiting, taking turns and sharing are all skills they can develop through playground activity.

An example of playground equipment that can help kids practice sharing and taking turns are spring riders.

Spring riders are playground classics that come with plenty of benefits. They’re available in many imaginative and inventive designs, from ponies, ducks and bumblebees to boats, planes and trains. Some spring play equipment has tactile or auditory features, like bright colors or sound enhancements.

Playtime on the spring rider can help a child burn extra energy while building muscle, improving balance and even controlling anxiety. Also, it promotes unstructured play and the development of senses.

Adding spring riders to your playground can be a great way to promote collaborative play, too. Some spring riders are designed for multiple passengers, giving children the opportunity to develop social skills as they interact and work together as a team. Even if your playground’s spring riders only accommodate one rider, there’s still an opportunity for social interaction. Children can practice taking turns using the spring rider, which will help them practice patience and develop the ability to show empathy.

2. Practicing Dialogue and Communication in Pretend Scenarios

Having strong communication skills is a requirement of being socially adept. A child that struggles with communication might have trouble keeping up with their peers in social situations. They may not understand the words their peers are using or the meaning behind what is being said. Idioms and jokes might not register with a child whose language skills are lacking. They might struggle to find the words and expressions to convey their feelings, or they might be unsure of how to jump into a conversation.

Being able to have a successful dialogue with other kids is an essential factor in becoming socially capable. On the playground, children can practice skills like greeting, initiating conversation, listening and waiting their turn to talk. Specific playground features can foster a dialogue by inspiring kids to imagine scenarios and act them out with one another.

One playground feature that can help encourage children to play pretend is the toll booth.

With the toll booth, children can practice interacting with dialogue. One child can ride through the toll booth, while another can play as the toll booth worker, even setting the toll fare prices. The toll booth allows kids to practice communicating with one another, greeting each other, taking turns exchanging information and asking questions. Playing with equipment like the toll booth also promotes the understanding of math concepts and allows children to practice cooperating with one another.

3. Learning Personal Space

Playing together is an excellent way for children to learn the rules of social interaction and how to be respectful of their peers. One way to improve a child’s social skills is to teach them the importance of personal space. It’s important for kids to understand everyone wants and deserves their personal space, and when someone invades that space, it can be very uncomfortable. There are various ways children can practice giving others personal space on the playground.

One way to learn personal space is by waiting to use a slide. Children can practice waiting until the person in front of them has had a chance to go down the slide before taking their turn. Another way is to practice respecting the space of others while playing on a climbing dome.

The Home Dome is a climbing dome that combines physical play and role play. Not just for climbing, the Home Dome mimics a playhouse. The inside of the dome features a growth chart, room dividers and crawl-thru flaps, all of which help foster imaginative play.

4. Collaborating and Working Together

Playground settings are an excellent place for children to practice working together. Cooperation requires adaptability, compromise and the ability to work with another person toward a common goal. Collaborating on the playground can give kids a chance to practice their social skills like communicating, listening, reading verbal and nonverbal cues and solving problems. Working as a team can also help children learn to take turns and handle disappointments.

With Nature-Inspired equipment, kids can work together to uncover dinosaur bones and fossils or help each other climb the rock wall.

Nature-Inspired equipment allow children to play together in groups, collaborating on an archeological dig or a big climb. This line features textured plastic made to look like fossils, rocks, and trees. Place the Fossil Jam diggable in a sandbox, where children can pretend they’re on an excavation adventure working together to dig up fossils. This playground piece also paves the way for discussion and learning about fossils and dinosaurs. It’s a great way to stimulate senses, encourage working as a team and foster an interest in prehistoric discoveries.

Swinging in unison on a swing set is another form of play that can help children learn to work together. A study done by the University of Washington showed that synchronized movement helped young children develop collaborative skills. Moving in unison helped children engage with one another and enhanced their ability to cooperate.

Researchers found children who swung in unison were later able to complete tasks together more quickly than those who did not. For young children, a synchronized movement like swinging can make them feel connected or similar, which may encourage them to want to communicate and work toward a common goal.

5. Apologizing and Understanding Conflict Resolution

Sometimes in social situations, conflict occurs. It can happen on the playground if one child bumps into another by accident, or if someone doesn’t want to share or take turns. These are excellent opportunities to practice problem solving, conflict resolution and apologizing. A child with healthy problem-solving skills will be able to react appropriately to anger, insults or aggressive behavior. They will be able to settle disagreements through compromise and come up with a solution that works for everyone.

Part of solving problems is being able to admit when you’re in the wrong and offer an apology. Apologizing takes courage, and it’s crucial that children have the opportunity to practice saying “I’m sorry” to one another in times of conflict. Being able to set your pride aside and apologize is an important skill to have on playgrounds, as well as in any other social situation.

Inclusive Play Design

Nearly Twenty Percent Of People In The United States Have A Disability That Affects Their Day-To-Day Life

Nearly 20 percent of people in the United States have a disability that affects their day-to-day life. That amounts to one in every five people — or 56.7 million Americans. About 12 percent of the country has a severe disability.

If a play space is not designed to be inclusive, it’s not just the children with disabilities who will be affected. Consider the larger impact. A child with a disability may be closely connected to a variety of people, such as parents, siblings, classmates, neighbors, friends and extended family. If that child cannot play at his or her community playground because of inaccessibility, chances are other people in that child’s life will be skipping a visit to the playground, as well. If each child is associated with two people, then that means nearly 60 percent of the population is impacted by a disability every day.

Adhering to ADA Requirements

A playground needs to be designed for accessibility to be considered inclusive. To achieve that, playground design and equipment must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This civil rights law ensures those with disabilities are granted the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

It’s important to note inclusion is about more than just accessible playground equipment. Inclusive play design supports people of all abilities and makes everyone feel safe, valued and respected. Having inclusive playgrounds in our community settings is crucial for allowing all children the opportunity to experience play that is physical, outdoor and unstructured, which, as we have established, is an essential factor in every child’s social development.

Design Your New Inclusive Playground with Playworld

Unstructured Play Is Important

Playworld is a designer and manufacturer of American-made playground equipment. We are committed to providing spaces for children to engage in unstructured play. We offer high-quality, durable commercial playground equipment for both indoor and outdoor settings for children from 6 months to 12 years old. We believe unstructured playtime is important, and our play systems are designed to make the most of that time. We accomplish this by designing equipment that fosters a sensory experience, giving kids the option to experience fun sights, sounds, music and textures.

We also offer additional accessories and furnishings for your playground, such as benches, picnic tables, bike racks and litter receptacles. This helps create a pleasing environment for both children and adults and encourages social interaction among kids.

We have been in business since 1971, and our experience has given us a firsthand look at how playtime can aid in the development of social skills. Our knowledge and expertise allow us to create spaces that are fun, imaginative, safe and appealing to all children. Our playgrounds are designed to be more than an area for physical play, Playworld playgrounds are designed to provide a sensory and social experience.

Our playground equipment provides visual, auditory and tactile features like bold colors, textures and fun sounds to create playgrounds that appeal to a child’s senses and encourage them to interact with their play environment in a new way. Our play equipment is also designed to promote social interaction through imaginative play and role-playing. We create spaces that allow children to practice communication, working as a team and solving problems.

Of course, our playgrounds also provide ample opportunity for exercise. The equipment encourages a range of physical motion — kids can run, spin, slide, jump, climb, crawl and more. We keep children of all abilities in mind with our design.

Schools, parks, daycares, YMCAs, places of worship and other community spaces can all benefit from having a playground that is accessible to all the children in their community, regardless of ability or age. Playworld can provide a space for unstructured play that is fun and safe and fosters physical, sensory and social development. We would love to create a playground that fits the specific needs of the children in your daycare, church or community organization.

To find out more about our products and how we can help you create a quality space for play for your organization, contact one of our Play experts today. You can get in touch with us by phone, or visit our website and launch a live chat. Our Play experts are always happy to listen, answer your questions and help you come up with the best solution to fit your needs.

Related Posts:

The Benefits of Physical Play

Developing Balance, Coordination and Fine Motor Skills from the Playground

The Benefits of Recess for Child Growth & Development

Previous Article World Sickle Cell Day Next ArticleHow Play Can Improve Performance Scores in School