As a parent and an early childhood educator I have watched how friendships evolve and how they don’t. I have been a child once who dreaded the whole “friendship” equation when I entered a new school, new classroom, or new program of any sort. As an adult making friends is still a topic that makes me uncomfortable. When I start a new job or join the PTO I wonder who will be nice to me and who will treat me like an outsider.
I watch my children go through the anxiety of friendships and their meanings. I hear the moaning of “I don’t have any friends” or “I wish my friends were better friends”. Yes, to hear my children speak of loneliness and friendship does bother me, but I had to find a way to take some of the power of friendship away. Children in general put so much of themselves and their self-worth in friendships and how others perceive them, that I had to put a stop to it.
I tell every new group of children that enter my classroom that we are all friends in this classroom. We will all learn to depend and uplift each other through our group experiences and when we are exploring things as partners. Everyone has a mind of their own and the ability to make choices that are comfortable for them. We do not exclude others and we do not judge one another. We are all new to this classroom and we are all excited and anxious about the opportunity to create and build friendships.
Classroom Activities that build friendships
I have group time in the morning and in the afternoon. My group time is my students time to share with each other the things that make them special. The seating arrangement changes daily and the topic changes daily. We ask questions, make comments, and challenge each other. Sometimes I may have those who are quieter than others partner up with a more talkative child and encourage them to learn three new things about their partner. In the afternoon group time I ask tough questions, like what was something that upset you today, was their something that you did that you would have done differently, did you make a new connection today, or simply is their someone in the class you would like to get to know better. I don’t see this as forcing a friendship, because I am offering opportunities that sometimes won’t come around because let’s be honest it is not an important factor in education. Social/emotional goes out the window once a child enters elementary school, without those in charge realizing how much it is needed throughout a child’s time in school and beyond.
I offer partner projects and small group projects, but I give each child their job within the group. I usually ask the quieter ones to take on a leadership position and the more outgoing ones to learn to take direction and maybe even learn how to listen to others.
I have game days, which allow group interaction and fun all rolled up into one.
I bring in a box of art and craft material and have the students build me something. Some days I give them the object and other days I ask them to use their imagination.
We pretend to explore media. We interview each other, we create forums, pretend to do a talk show, create a panel of “experts” to try foods or gadgets and give their opinions.
We work together to create our classroom newsletter. Each child contributes in some way, but because of the time constraints this is done once a month. Believe it or not it is one of the things they look forward too.
I offer after school and weekend physical activity group play. We may play a friendly game of volleyball, soccer, or anything that requires us to work as a team.
I know you are probably thinking, where is the time for all of this. You find the time, you make time, because it is important. It teaches something that children are lacking and that is empathy. We live in a society that does not encourage face to face interaction and where children, and adults for that matter, hide behind computers and social media. Friendships are lost and new ones are not created purely, but with the possibility of fakeness.
These activities are possible with all age groups from Pre-k up. You can tweak them to fit your group and make the time for interactions that are positive and life changing.
As far as my kids
I tell my kids not to put so much effort into asking the question of why they don’t have friends.
I encourage them to join groups or clubs that interest them and create real life interactions with those that share their interests.
I create opportunities for them, by allowing them to have small gatherings or parties (paint parties, craft parties, pinterest parties,etc…) and invite their classroom or a small group of kids from school.
I try and get to know other parents who have children that are my children’s age, by attending school meetings, join school organizations, participating in different school activities, and meeting others in the neighborhood.
I remind my children that friendships will come and go, the ones that are the strongest will stay, but the joy of it all is meeting new people throughout life who contribute something to your life for a moment or even a lifetime. It is not everything, and sometimes you have to open yourself up to the idea of meeting new people.
Never forget that your family can also be your closest friends.