Rather than simply eating cake, birthdays with preschoolers usually mean cake painted on clothes, tables and floors, which means lots of clean up for you! These moments are also prime opportunities for you to model and help children learn how to work well with peers. Your preschooler can learn social skills in small groups with other children such as play dates, church or work picnics, dance classes or play centers. The earlier your preschoolers are provided opportunities to work with other children, the better.
Even if you want it to be, cleaning is not second nature. To children, cleaning is a skill that needs to be learned. It’s not enough to say, "Pick up your toys." First, you need to show your child where the toy chest is. You can make this even more fun if you include a cleanup jingle. Turn on the music and sing along while the two of you tidy up. Music signals to your child that it is time to clean up and she can watch you do it the first time so that she knows what to do. Teaching your child to tidy up means that when Friday’s game night rolls around, your child will be more prepared to help others clean up. Whether your child is playing “Go Fish” or a board game with siblings or friends, your child will be prepared and know what is expected of her. She can help everyone pick up.
If you have more than one child, then you already know how different each child can be. Somehow, even though each child comes from the same environment, each one turns out differently. Seeing the world differently is a positive when it comes to reading strategies. One child’s perspective may be different than another's. By sharing ideas and talking about stories with other children and with you, your child learns to understand and retain what was read. You also need to help your child identify what strategies he uses to be a good reader. He can then help other children read words and make sense about what is being read, because he can say, “I point with my finger to help me read.”
Signing your child up for a local soccer club may not be in the cards for your schedule, and your preschooler may be too young for these types of activities. But, you can begin to incorporate activities that require teamwork in other ways. You could ask two preschoolers to help each other carry a lightweight box, such as a toy chest, to another side of the room together. This is a cooperative task where each child feels he’s successful, which builds self-esteem.
Learning social, cooperative and helping skills early on can smooth the transition from home to preschool or kindergarten. This also teaches life skills such as respect, teamwork and valuing diversity in opinions, approaches and backgrounds. Incorporating regular day activities with these skills is a sensible and practical way you can introduce your children to working with others.