Feeling At Home with Other People

[Moore, T. 1999. Socially Speaking. In Children and Families, 18 (Summer): 20-21, Alexandria, VA: NHSA]

Can you walk into a room full of people and start a conversation? Do you feel comfortable in a setting where you are a minority? If so, as a child, you probably had teachers or other influential adults who helped you develop social competence. Social competence is the ability to feel at home with and appreciate people. I believe this will be an essential skill for our children as they become adults in an increasingly diverse world. The social child not only understands the world, she understand herself. She is aware of her feelings and knows difficult feelings will pass. She also has the ability to recognize and respond appropriately to other people’s feelings and behaviors.

Try these ideas for teaching social competence through an integrated curriculum:

1. Plan a field trip to a grocery store. Grocery stores are an ideal place to learn about all kinds of foods and all kinds of people. Schedule a visit to a supermarket or a specialty grocer. Call ahead to develop rapport with the person who will lead the tour, and make sure that person speaks the children’s primary language well. Explain what’s developmentally appropriate for the children to hear and learn. Talk with the children while you’re there or afterwards about the food and people you see. Encourage them to ask questions.

2. Use play to show children how to get along. Say you see a four-year-old boy who wants to join three other kids in play, but doesn’t know how to enter the group. You could instruct him to "use his words" and ask for what he wants. Or you could show him if he brings a ball and suggests they all play catch, he’ll be creating a new game for the group.

3. Honor diverse families in the classroom. Have a Relatives Day where each child is invited to bring a beloved parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or friend into the classroom. In "circle time," ask children to describe their guests and what they like to do together. Plan play or craft activities for the day that teach about diverse cultures. You might ask visiting relatives to bring tapes of their favorite music or copies of their favorite books to share in the classroom.

4. Bring diverse community helpers into the classroom. Does your local library have a bilingual storyteller? Is there an Officer Friendly nearby who represents a culture your children may not have experienced? Invite these community helpers to explain what they do, and subtly teach about the diversity in the world. (Before the police officer’s visit, you might want to read the children Officer Buckle and Gloria, a fun book by Peggy Rathmann about a police officer and his very unusual dog.)

5. Select a Child of the Week. Mature four-year-olds respond well to this activity. Put names into a hat and draw a name each Wednesday. That child will be Child of the Week the following week. Choose one, some, or all of these activities to honor the Child of the Week:

* Ask the honoree to make a poster about her life. The poster can include photos of self, friends and relatives, photo captions, drawings, mementos from special places -- anything the child likes. Encourage parents to assist their children through your Parent Involvement Coordinator.

* Ask the child to bring in his favorite book for storytime, favorite toy for Show ‘n Tell, or favorite song for a sing-a-long..

* Create a poster in class for the child take home. If possible, glue her photo in the middle of the poster. Ask her to describe her friends and what she likes to do. Write her comments under her photo. Ask other children to say what makes the honoree special. Add their comments, written in colorful markers.

* The Child of the Week project not only teaches each child about the concept of taking turns, but also builds self-esteem, helps children explore different cultures, and encourages children to combine art and language skills, both oral and print.

6. Look carefully at activities that can limit social competence. Children can learn much about their world from television and computers. But playing a computer game will not provide all that is needed to build social competence. It’s not a hands-on social experience. All these creative techniques will pay off not only when the children are grown, but right now, too. Socially competent children are well-liked by their peers. They play and learn their way cheerfully throughout the day.

© Thomas Moore, 1999 Thomas Moore, Ph.D is a keynote speaker, workshop leader, early childhood consultant, and children’s recording artist. He is author of Gryphon House award-winning teacher resource books "Where is Thumbkin?" and "Do You Know the Muffin Man?". He is contributing author of Wright Group/McGraw-Hill’s curriculum, DLM Early Childhood Express and author of their literacy series "Music, Movement and More". He has also produced ten recordings for children.