social skills gamesHumans are social creatures. We thrive on being around and communicating with others–yes, even introverts need a tight set of people who understand their social needs and can give them the type of interaction they crave. This social development begins when we are young–typically when a child is three years old, and sometimes even before then–they have begun to engage in cooperative play; meaning that they will actively seek out the company of their peer group and interact with them. Of course, while a large part of social development and peer interaction is just intuitive for kids, social skills games and exercises can help to develop a greater understanding of the nuances of navigating the sometimes tricky world of social interaction.

Games are a wonderful way to introduce social concepts to children of varying developmental stages, because play is the primary way in which children receive and process information. All of that playing is actually quite a bit of work! We’ve compiled a list of social skills games that can be initiated at varying levels of development, whether you are a teacher or a parent who is looking to implement long-term social concepts in your child in a positive way. 

Developmentally Appropriate Learning

There are a number of concepts that can be taught through the use of social skills games, including empathy, conversational communication, and active listening, but the key to making these concepts stick is to begin with an understanding of how a child develops and grows at each stage of their life. Keeping activities age- and developmentally appropriate will ensure that your child will have a solid foundation for learning social skills in the years to come. We’ve divided developmentally appropriate social skills games up for you, so you’ll know just where to begin!

Preschool (Ages 3-4)

The preschooler is an adorable and tumultuous creature. Kids of this age are just beginning to understand concepts like respect, sharing, listening, and curiosity. The thing to remember when initiating social skills games and social play among children of this age is that the ability to think abstractly is not yet on a preschooler’s radar. This doesn’t mean that you can’t model and teach abstract concepts like empathy, it only means that you must craft your lessons and activities in a way that introduces those concepts as concretely as possible. Here are a few ways to do just that.

Game: Space Invaders

Concept: Respecting another’s space

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Process:

Game: My Friend Is In The Middle

Concepts: Self-esteem, sharing, following directions

This game works best with a group of children, either in a playgroup or preschool setting.

Materials: None, or a shaker instrument like a maraca or tambourine.

Process:

This game will ultimately teach kids to listen and follow instructions (get up, down, etc.), and teach them to involve other children in play by sharing the spotlight. It’s also a great way to instill self-esteem in children by allowing them to be the center of attention for a moment.

Kindergarten and First Grade (Ages 5-7)

Game: One Question Interview

Concepts: Active listening, meeting new friends

Materials:

Process:

Game: I Think You Are Feeling…

Concepts: Reading Social Cues, Empathy

Materials:

Process:

The point of social skills games like this one isn’t to discern a “right” or “wrong” answer. Instead, it’s to help children understand what certain non-verbal cues look like when a person is feeling a certain way, and to get them to think about how they can empathize with people who feel that way.

Second and Third Grade (Ages 7-10)

At this age, social groups generally begin to appear–you will start to see your child or the children you teach split into peer groups based on friendships that have already been formed or shared interests among certain kids. You may also notice that children begin to feel stress; they want to be liked by and included in their peer group, which can be particularly challenging, especially if a child is shy or reserved. Learning how to manage this stress and how stress can effect a brain in development can be a positive way to address these changes. Social skills games at this age should focus on building a sense of empathy among peers.

Game: Superhero Stations

Concepts: Empathy, Integrity

Materials:

Process:

 There are a multitude of other ways to develop social skills games to instill the social values that children must navigate as they move through life, these are just a small sampling to get you started. Remember that social development and understanding how to interact with people is a lifelong learning process. Children are remarkably resilient, and need to understand that they are loved. There are other activities–like martial arts–that you can engage your child in outside of the home and classroom to teach social concepts and give them the confidence they need to navigate the sometimes choppy social waters of life! Above all, be mindful that children can’t be what they can’t see, and that their first social role model will be the adults in their life, like you.

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