The preschool setting is a place social emotional skills develop, and these friendship activities for preschoolers are sure to be a hit in the preschool classroom. We’ve covered friendship activities in the past, but these preschool activities support development during the early years. Preschool is a wonderful age, full of exploration and a thirst for knowledge, and making friends in preschool is one aspect of learning. It also comes with a set of challenges while learning to navigate social skills.
This blog discusses the foundational social and emotional skills that support friendships in preschoolers. It also includes seven friendship building activities. If you are looking for ideas for friendship lesson plans, these ideas are founded in developmental progression.
Friendship Activities for Preschoolers
Young children in preschool begin to practice friendship building skills with others, such as cooperation, negotiation, turn taking, communication and trust.
Children as young as three years of age may make inseparable friendships that prove the importance of social function. While participating in specific activities designed to develop friendship skills, children are participating in social emotional learning.
Preschool Friendship and social skills
Emotional intelligence is part of development during the preschool years. Over the course of ages 2-5, many of these skills develop in order to support friendship.
The emotional intelligence skills that impact friendship include:
- Awareness of others
- Awareness of impact of self on others
- Relationship management
There are six social skills needed to make and sustain friendships at any age. Preschoolers often experience their first group experiences at the park, preschool, in a community sport, or family event.
The more that children have opportunities to participate in group activities, their social and emotional skills develop and refine, as they prepare for less adult intervention in Kindergarten and beyond.
Social emotional considerations that impact friendship skills in young children include:
- Turn taking
- Emotional regulation
Let’s take a closer look at the friendship skills preschoolers develop during the ages of 3-5, and explore friendship activities for preschoolers that support development in each of these areas:
When children are engaging in activities with others, understanding the needs of others, while also acknowledging their own needs, they are cooperating. As described in this Zero to Three blog, “Cooperation is the ability to balance one’s own needs with someone else’s. We often think of cooperation as children doing what adults want.
That is compliance. True cooperation means a joint effort—a give and take that is mutually satisfying. To develop a cooperative spirit in children, we need to help them understand how our requests and rules are good for everyone.”
Negotiation is the ability to communicate with others in order to compromise on how to complete a task. This Embracing Horizon’s blog describes the difference between negotiations and arguments. It is important to understand that negotiation is a life skill. “The art of successful negotiation is a skill which is important to social situations throughout life; going far beyond agreeing on a movie to watch with the whole family.
Negotiation involves abilities such as listening to others, expressing empathy, and to coming to a good compromise.”
Turn taking is a skill that often needs adult intervention, especially with preschoolers. Children who are working together, often need to take turns with toys or objects.
Children can utilize turn taking resources, such as turn taking cards, lists, timers, picture symbols, or participate in teacher directed turn take activities, such as group games, or assignment of class jobs, to become familiar with waiting until it is their turn. My book, Sammy Learns to Share: A Lesson in Turn Taking includes some great turn taking tips and resources for the classroom.
As children develop communication skills, they are able to be understood, and understand other children. Communication can be verbal, gestural, non verbal, or through using picture exchange cards. When children can communicate their wants, needs, and ideas clearly to each other, they are more equipped to be able to cooperate in large group activities.
As children advance into new developmental stages, their communication skills advance, and their play skills become more sophisticated. Lack of language skills is often a source of frustration and maladaptive behavior among small children, especially those with communication disorders.
It’s through play that children develop skills like communication and social emotional skills. Read here about fine motor activities for preschoolers that support these areas of development.
The foundation of any relationship is trust. If someone says they are going to do something, then they need to do it. This consistency and reliability builds trust. As preschoolers grow and engage with others, they learn to follow through with their promises, and expect others to do the same.
They learn that adults generally do what they say they are going to do, follow routines, follow-through with promises, and offer positive reinforcements.
When young children become overwhelmed and are unable to communicate their feelings with others, completing a group task can be difficult. Children who practice calm down and problem solving skills, are more easily able to participate in a variety of group activities, even when they become frustrated.
My book, Soothing Sammy’s Emotional Program, teaches children how to help calm down, communicate and problem solve in a positive way.
7 Friendship activities for Preschoolers
Include these games and activities when developing preschool lesson plans:
- Friendship Hands Group Project is one of my favorite pre-K activities! The handprints are of the kids in the class, and we write down exactly what they like best about their friends inside the heart! All you need is a marker, some paint and a large piece for cardboard!
- Group Art- is a great way to encourage cooperation, collaboration and negotiation. Roll out a long piece of butcher paper and provide only one package of markers. Children are able to decorate the paper however they would like, but they have to take turns with the markers, discuss how they want to split up the area of the paper, and figure out where each peer will be drawing. A lot of times, the kids end up sharing the space with their peers, creating some amazing images together.
- Dramatic Play Roles and Props – Creating a pretend play area in the classroom that is based off of the interest of the children, by the children, and for the children, is one of the most exciting and collaborative experiences that I have had the pleasure of taking part in. Props that preschoolers can use in play include interactive toys, sharing toys, imagination toys, and manipulatives for pretend play. As children create props, assign roles, and negotiate through the process, they are able to practice all of the components of building friendships.
- Talk about a personal bubble with a hula hoop. Being a friend means not getting too close to other’s personal space. Use the hula hoop as a space divider, or get two kids into the hula hoop, but then move away, and talk about how a friend doesn’t want to be on top of their friends all of the time.
- Friendship Gross Motor Activities – Preschoolers love to move. These super fun gross motor activities make building friendships fun! They include activities such as, “move like your friends,” that supports the developing and awareness of personal space.
- Friendship Books – We have many friendship activities for preschoolers in our Exploring Books through Play book. Reading books about friendship is a wonderful way for children to talk about characters in a book, describe how they became friends, and what make their friendship special. Our Leonardo the Terrible Monster activity that pairs with the book, Leonard and the Terrible Monster, is fun way to extend the conversation about friendship into small group time. My book, Sammy Goes to Preschool, talks about friendship between children of all abilities.
- Friendship Science Activities – These friendship science activities are bound to be a great time for everyone! They include measuring activities, fingerprints, homemade telescopes, flowers, and more! You’ll find more science and exploration activities in the book Exploring Books Through Play.
- Circle Time Friendship Games – When all the children in the classroom are sitting together and ready to engage, this is a great time to participate in some friendship games. Friendship games to use during circle time activities are fun. They include the Friendship Yarn Web, Friendship Matching Game, and Friendly Music Chairs!
A final note of preschool friendships
Building friendships takes a lot of different skills, most are learned in the early years. Preschoolers will not be able to do it on their own, so it is up to adults to help facilitate friendship skills through modeling, providing resources, and having age appropriate expectations of early childhood development. As children practice their language, social and play skills, friendships will form, and children will learn life-long skills.
Jeana Kinne is a veteran preschool teacher and director. She has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Her Bachelors Degree is in Child Development and her Masters Degree is in Early Childhood Education. She has spent over 10 years as a coach, working with Parents and Preschool Teachers, and another 10 years working with infants and toddlers with special needs. She is also the author of the “Sammy the Golden Dog” series, teaching children important skills through play.
Exploring Books Through Play contains 50 hands-on, multi-sensory play-centered activities for anyone helping kids learn about friendship, acceptance, empathy, compassion, and differences in others.
In this preschool friendship activity book, kids can develop social emotional skills resource, you’ll find therapist-approved resources, activities, crafts, projects, and play ideas based on 10 popular children’s books.
Each preschool book covered contains activities designed to develop fine motor skills, gross motor skills, sensory exploration, handwriting, and more. The resource helps preschoolers understand complex topics of social/emotional skills, empathy, compassion, and friendship through books and hands-on play. Get Exploring Books Through Play today.