Building Social Foundations in Early Learners (and ALL ages!)

To play or not to play? Well truthfully there really is no question. YES TO PLAY! What we might tend to overlook, though, is teaching kiddos how to play.  Even older students.  Sure, the play might look different, but the basics are the same.  In my county, we rely heavily on the Maryland Early Learning Standards.  I love them because they list explicit learning progressions and examples of what these skills might look like.  I really really love that there are multiple levels because even as young as three years old, not all of our learners may be at that developmental level.  Let’s be real here for a second.  How many times are you shown grade level standards and, in your mind, you’re thinking ok I get what it SHOULD look like at this age but what comes before that?  How do I get there? What in the world does the skill conflict resolution strategies look like in a student who is on a 24-month-old level?  Well at Level A it counts as “shows awareness of other people”.  Level 3 is “verbally identifies conflicting feelings or goals as a strategy to resolve conflicts with peers on own but will seek adult guidance…”. Wow big difference!    As I always preach, I love to be as maximally efficient in my day as possible.  I want my classroom design and materials to work for ME.  I have restructured my schedule and now my assistants and I all take a center and work on “playing” with the kiddos.  It has made such a big difference in all of my kids and social foundations is such an important skill.  If that is missing, so much will crumble!!

Working on social foundation skills during play

 All of my daily routines, circle time and centers encompass the social foundations in some way.  Add in teacher and peer modeling and you are really working at full capacity!  Here are some of the ways I like to incorporate social foundation skills.

Go Noodle


Have you heard of this awesome FREE movement website?  If you have not, google it and create a free account immediately! I use this during my circle time, indoor recess and when we need a mental break!  What I love most about it is that it really targets following directions and imitation skills.  The videos are so engaging to kids and targets all ages.  Each day we start our day with the video, “Hello” and the kids LOVE dancing along with the different characters and learning to say hello. Next up we love a pattern dance called, “Banana banana meatball”.  The amount of language and interaction I now get because of these videos is amazing! Check it out!

Old School Cardboard Boxes


God bless our custodians. They put up with my box hoarding and constant need of furniture movement.  I love them so much and appreciate them holding onto my latest boxes!  I quickly cut and taped together two cube chair boxes and made a fun house.  Or castle. Or barn. Whatever it is to them, it sure helped them work on the skills of interest, play/work with peers and social behaviors.  The kiddos who do not have as much functional language yet were able to watch others and interact in their own way.  I was able to show them how they could interact with this new magical building and before you knew it everyone was having fun and engaged.  I modeled how to play and talk to others and how they could crawl under and in it.  We pretended to knock on the doors and greet each other and ask if we could come in. I let them go ham with crayons and color on it.  It’s fun to let loose with them!  It’s clear there is nothing fancy at all and I wish I had time to make it more complex but sometimes the best things in life are simple!  They sure loved it!

Blocks and other centers

I like to make sure my kiddos try different centers.  Everyone always wants to play in the kitchen area, and I get it.  It has a rotary phone with the cord that you can stretch across a room. However, if you want to work on other skills such as persisting with tasks and self-control strategies, you have to stretch your kiddos.  Model for them how they can play with the toys in different ways.  When they have a tantrum because they would rather be in kitchen, model how to work through that through breathing, calming down and learning to play in a new center first.  My biggest tip with working on social foundation skills is to model model model model!  Even through those tough tantrum times.  Or maybe you’re in middle or high school and you are working on more functional play skills. Whatever age you’re at just make sure to incorporate those skills!  Happy playing!

Gina Russell, B.S , M.Ed
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