If you've spent any amount of time in the company of a toddler group, you already know that every little munchkin’s favorite word is "Mine!" While they’ve developed an awareness of the people and the world around them, a toddler’s social skills are still in a rudimentary stage. Sharing is a relatively foreign concept, and they are just beginning to see the benefit of playing with other children rather than beside them. To foster healthy social development in childcare, you have to arrive each day armed with a calm demeanor and plenty of activities that help the toddlers learn to interact successfully.
1. The Ground Rules
Good fences make good neighbors, and good rules make good playtime. A toddler can’t really grasp the concept of sharing until she approaches her fifth birthday, but you can teach some basic rules that she can understand. “Tommy gets a turn and then you get a turn”; "If you leave the toy, then it's okay for Sally to play with it"; and "If you bring a toy to daycare, you have to let everyone play with it too." Once you’ve got these basic guidelines established, you can work on promoting social development and interaction without any fear of toddler-sized fist fights. Because sharing is a difficult concept for toddlers, it might be a good idea to have duplicates of some popular toys (just to help you keep your sanity through the day.)
2. Toddler Pairs
You want them to begin interacting at this age, not just playing side-by-side. Incorporate some two-person toys to get the kids playing together one-on-one such as a toddler-appropriate teeter-totter. Instead of forming a big circle at song time, divide the toddlers into pairs and have them spin around together to songs such as “Ring around the Rosie”. You can even get them to do the Hokey Pokey in groups of two or three. By interacting in small groups as well as in a single large group, the toddlers become more accustomed to one-on-one play and begin to enjoy the individual play connections.
3. Roll a Ball
Sit in a circle and have the toddlers roll a ball back and forth between them. It sounds like a very simple game, right? But you're actually encouraging sharing. Rather than hoarding the ball, Sally will roll the ball to Tommy because she wants to play the game. When the ball get’s rolled back to Sally, she sees that the ball came back to her. It’s the basic concept behind sharing. She sees that even though she let the other kids have the ball, she had fun and got another turn with the ball too. Just remember to keep the game going until everyone has had a turn or two. You can incorporate one-on-one play into this activity by dividing the group into pairs and having them roll a ball back and forth between themselves. Sally rolls the ball to Jimmy, and he rolls it back to her – the basics behind sharing on an individual level!
4. Guess Who Game
Help the group get to know a little bit about each other with a "guess who" game at carpet time. Think about one of the toddlers (or begin with yourself) and give a few clues, such as "This friend is wearing a purple shirt; she has dark hair and brought her special teddy bear to show us yesterday." Other clue ideas include "This friend likes to play with blocks"; "This friend loves princess fairy tales"; or "This friend always wears her hair in braids." Encourage the kids to raise their hands when they think they know the answer. Continue until everyone gets a turn and then once the toddlers get used to the game, let them take turns making up some clues. This is also a great game to play when a new toddler joins the daycare group so she can get to know the other kids.
5. Social Role Exploration
Toddlers love to dress up, but what they’re really doing is exploring different roles. Three-year-old Isabella instantly becomes a fairy princess while Luca is transformed into a brave knight. With a grocery basket and some pretend food, Victoria is suddenly a mom at the grocery store while Natalia and Cole venture on an African safari with binoculars and jungle hats. Encourage them to explore the world through imaginative play on their own and with their toddler peers.