Preschoolers need guidance when learning to work together.

Engaging Preschoolers in Collaborative Activities

by Dana Tuffelmire

Preschoolers' social skills are still developing. Emotions can easily take over at this age, causing problems in social situations. Some preschoolers hit and run when faced with conflict, and others fall into a crying heap when things don't go their way. As wonderful as it would be to keep each perfect child inside a beautiful bubble, it's time to pop it and let the world in. It is important to teach children how to collaborate with other children in positive ways. Put on your referee uniform, though; you're going to need it.

1. Plan Social Opportunities

There's no doubt that it's easier to stay home, where the blocks don't need to be shared and your child's favorite snacks flow freely. But that's not the way to teach a child how to get along with others -- a skill he'll need from the first day of preschool through the rest of his life. It's your job to be your preschooler's social planner for the next few years, until he can fend for himself. Bring him to playgroups, invite friends over to play or take him to the park, children's museum or another kid-friendly place in your area. Make an effort to be social with your child a few times each week. In order to engage in collaborative activities, your child needs the opportunity to do so.

2. Point Out the Benefits of Working Together

After a successful play date or activity, talk to your child about how much fun he had playing with friends. Highlight the value of working together when the kids help each other clean up or create a project that is too big to accomplish alone. Point out the benefits of working with peers on a regular basis so your child begins to understand the importance of collaboration. You can even talk about how you work and play with other adults to make life easier, more productive or more fun.

3. Provide Structure

Unfortunately, it's not enough to just throw a group of preschoolers together and say, "Play!" if you want them to learn to work and play well together. Chaos will soon erupt. When you invite a group of friends over to play, provide structure in the environment so the kids know what's expected of them. Set out the dress-up basket and let them role-play, bring out the board games or plan a craft they can do together. Once the kids get going, encourage them to interact and problem-solve on their own, but stay close by in case your negotiating services are needed.

4. Play Games

Games are a fun way to teach preschoolers important social skills like sharing, taking turns, listening and following rules. It's much easier to learn and listen when you're having fun, after all. They need you, Mom, to be the coach until they are well into their elementary school years. Try an interactive game to get everyone moving and working together. Toss a few balloons around the room and challenge the kids to keep them off the floor. Add a twist to Musical Chairs by asking kids to share chairs with each other as seats dwindle instead of eliminating players. To help your preschoolers take turns and work together nicely, you can play Robot, where one child directs another through the house and around objects, reversing roles after a few minutes.

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