At the beginning of the school year, I tend to focus on the fact that I don’t know my students. I do all sorts of activities to try to get to know them better, both personally and as learners.
But sometimes I forget (or at least don’t think much about) the fact that the kids don’t know each other, either! This is particularly true when you teach preschool or Kindergarten. Your kids may know a handful of other students in the class, but they rarely know all of their classmates before school starts. In order for students to feel truly comfortable in their classroom, it’s important to support them in building positive relationships (friendships) with their peers!
Starting on the very first day of school, I try to promote friendship and kindness above all else. Even if it means taking away time from academics, I spend time talking with my kids about treating others nicely – especially as conflicts or other incidents arise. Addressing these issues is important for the kids’ social development, and doing so allows you to spend more time on academics (rather than managing problems) as the year goes on.
But speaking of conflicts, I actually try very hard to focus on the positive, especially at the beginning of the year. When I see a child exhibiting kind behavior, I drop everything to point it out to the rest of the students. The “spotlighted child” loves the positive attention! And my preschoolers and Kindergarteners always love to give a round of applause to their friend.
In addition to making a big deal out of kind behavior, I have also taught my “Our School Family” friendship unit in preschool, Kindergarten, and first grade. The purpose of the unit is to teach kids about positive social behaviors and help them understand that our class is a kind of “family.”
Through readalouds, writing/drawing, and class activities, we build a positive community and develop kid-friendly classroom rules. Click on the image below to read more about this low-prep unit:
And if you’d like to focus on friendship at the beginning of the year (or your kids need a little refresher mid-year!), here are 3 friendship activities you can try out in your classroom:
1. Friendship jar: Designate a small jar in your classroom for keeping track of kind deeds. As you talk with students about what it means to be a good friend, explain that friendships are built on lots of kind behavior over time. Then, when you (or a student) notices kind behavior or hears kind words, add a marble to the jar. Always talk to the class about why you are adding a marble. Another alternative would be to actually write down the behavior on a sticky note. It might take up more time, but how much fun would it be for the kids when you go back and re-read the notes to them a few months later? When the friendship jar is full of marbles or sticky notes, have a “friendship party” to celebrate kind behavior in your classroom.
2. Craft stick people role-play: Make craft stick people by gluing people cutouts onto thick craft sticks (or have the kids make their own). Explain to students that even friends have problems and argue at times. Use the craft stick puppets to role-play various situations that your students might find themselves in. Some example scenarios to try are: feeling left out at recess, two children trying to play with the same toy at the same time, being bothered by someone humming, pushing in line, etc.
When you introduce the activity, take two craft stick people and use different voices to model how two friends work out their problem. Then, role play a different situation. This time, have a child come up to the front of the class to do the voice for one of the craft stick people. When (and if) kids are ready to try it on their own, give each child a popsicle stick person and have them do their own role-playing in pairs (you should still specify particular social situations to act out).
Not only is this fun (and pretty funny when you listen to what kids come up with), but it gives students a chance to try out kind words and positive behaviors outside of challenging situations. It’s one thing to tell your students repeatedly to “say stop” when someone is bothering them, and it’s another to actually let them try out those words in a pretend scenario.
3. Friendship book: With parent permission, take a photo of each child in your class. Then, use a word processing program to type out each child’s first name (1 name per page). Place a small thumbnail image of the photo next to each name. Leave a large amount of blank space on the page. When you’re done, create a cover, and print the book single-sided (each page should have one child’s name and photo) and staple the pages together. Show the children the book.
Place the book in your writing center. As children visit the center, they can draw small pictures (or write, if they are able) on the back and front of their friends’ pages. Model how to draw special pictures – for example, if Bradley knows that Liam likes soccer, Bradley can draw a picture of a soccer ball on Liam’s page. Monitor the book to ensure that each child is receiving drawings and messages on his/her page, so no one feels left out.
The kids will LOVE taking a peek at their own pages to see what their friends drew for them! If you notice that the kids’ drawings are large and they are filling up the book quickly, consider making another copy or using large white construction paper to make a second book.
When the book is finished, place it in your classroom library or reading corner. The kids can practice reading each others’ names and looking at the class creation!
Do you have any go-to friendship activities that you love using in your classroom? Comment below – I’d love to hear your ideas! And if you need some ready-to-go lessons on friendship for your classroom, check out my “Our School Family” unit here.